Friday, May 13, 2016

The 1882 Amos Morrill House -- No. 8 East 67th Street

In 1880 prolific real estate developer Ira E. Doying commenced construction on three upscale rowhouses at Nos. 6 through 10 East 67th Street, just east of Fifth Avenue.  Doying had commissioned architect James E. Ware to design the residences.

Architects working in the Queen Anne style most often produced rows of harmonious houses that complimented one another, yet boasted their own personalities.  These brownstone-fronted structures, however, were unexpectedly identical. Four stories tall over a high English basement, they featured the decorative panels, stained glass, bays and dormers that defined the style.

The fashionable tone of the Lenox Hill neighborhood and the high-end status of the nearly-completed houses were evidenced on October 1, 1881 when The Real Estate Record wrote “Mr. Ira E. Doying is putting the finishing touches upon his three new palatial dwellings, on the south side of Sixty-seventh street, east of Fifth avenue…In the words of one of the best known of our builders, ‘they are without their equal on Manhattan Island.’  No houses have ever been built on this side of the water for the purpose of sale, in which artistic decoration through stained glass has been carried to nearly the same extent as in these.”

The houses were completed early in 1882 and No. 6 East 67th Street was quickly sold to Amos Morrill for $90,000.  The price tag would be around $1.15 million in 2016 terms.  A fabulously wealthy furniture manufacturer and major stockholder in the Heywood Bros. & Wakefield Co., he and his wife, Mary, had six children: Walter, Amos, Henry (known as Harry), Elsie, Louise and Dorothy.

The same year that the Morrill family moved into No. 6 East 67th Street, Chicago industrialist Cyrus McCormick commissioned McKim, Mead & White to design his shingle-style summer estate in fashionable Richard Springs, New York.  The sprawling estate contained several stables and the grounds were landscaped by Frederick Law Olmsted.  It would play a part in the Morrill story later.

Like Caroline Astor and Mamie Fish, it had always been Mary who was the driving social force in the Morrill family—Amos’s name rarely, if ever, appearing in print.  She was opinionated, socially aggressive, and, while polite and correct in society, was not to be crossed behind closed doors.

By 1896 Amos Morrill had died.  Mary took over Clayton Lodge as the summer home of the Morrill family.  Society pages followed her every movement.   On July 19, 1896 the New-York Tribune noted “Saturday morning Purdon Robinson will give the first of a series of musical mornings at Clayton Lodge, the summer home of Mrs. Amos Morrill,” and two days later The New York Times mentioned “Mrs. Amos Morrill and family are located for the season in…Clayton Lodge.  As usual, Mrs. Morrill has plenty of horses and carriages for all styles of driving.”

The New-York Tribune commented on upgrades Mary had made to the property.  On June 28, 1896 it reported “Many improvements have been made this year in the already beautiful grounds, notably the placing of electric arc lamps along the paths and drives, and it is safe to predict that the Lodge will be a favorite rendezvous of society.”

The first of the Morrill girls to be introduced to society was Elsie.  Her entertainments began on December 27, 1904 when Mary hosted a dance at fashionable Dodworth’s.  The Sun noted that “the cotillion was led by Thomas Archelis.  The favors were silver trinkets.”  The “trinkets” were silver pencils.  The New York Times embellished on the report saying “The guests, who numbered about a hundred, were young girls not yet presented and college boys home for the holidays.”

In 1904 a handsome chaise awaits in front of the Morrill house (directly behind the lamppost).  Already the old brownstones were being replaced with modern residences.  Architectural Record 1904 (copyright expired)
Elsie Lenox Morrill’s debutante entertainments ended with a reception in the 67th Street house on Saturday, December 2, 1905.

The women who married Morrill men were faced with the daunting task of pleasing their mother-in-law.  Walter was married to Antoinette Converse, daughter of wealthy banker Edward C. Converse.   While Elsie Lenox Morrill’s coming-out entertainments were going on, things were strained between the Converse and Morrill families.

James E. Ware's up-to-the-minute Queen Anne design did not extend to the capitals of the entrance pilasters; holdouts of a more traditional style.
In September 1905 an intruder broke into the Greenwich, Connecticut summer home of Walter and Antoinette.  The nighttime invasion resulted in Antoinette’s jaw being shattered by a bullet and four teeth being knocked out.  Walter Morrill was nowhere to be found.

On September 14 Antoinette’s mother curtly explained “My daughter’s husband is not able to travel.  He has not been at the house.”

That same afternoon Mary Morrill arrived at the house, accompanied by Harry and his wife.  The New York Times pointed out “That the families are not estranged because of the differences between the husband and wife was shown by the visit of Mr. Morrill’s mother and brother this afternoon.”

Yet Bertha R. Morrill, Harry’s wife, might have had something to say had she had the chance.  She was the daughter of Louis Sherry, the owner of the famous society restaurant and caterer Sherry’s.  The couple had married in 1900 and moved into the 67th Street house with Mary.  At the time of the shooting, they had two daughters, Elsie, aged 5, and 3-year old Dorothy.  What no one knew was that, according to her, Bertha was the victim of appalling abuse by her husband and mother-in-law.

Bertha filed for separation in July that year.  She told the court that the Mary and Henry had initially turned against her “because she would not ask her father to give her a liberal allowance, so as to make her less of a burden to her husband.”  She said that Louis Sherry had refused, “because he thought her husband should support her.”

Her affidavit alleged that she was forced to remain in her room and was not even allowed to join the family at the dinner table.  She said that she was nearly starved.  The Sun, on July 20, 1912, reported “She has been reduced to less than 100 pounds in weight by the brutality of her husband, she charges.  He weighs 190 pounds and has a strong assertive disposition and an imperious manner just like this mother.”

Bertha said that earlier that year Henry had told her she was not wanted in the house and if she would get out, he could get a divorce on the grounds of desertion.  Later, when he opened the bedroom door and found her there he blurted “What? Are you here yet?”

And in April, according to her testimony, he told her “I wish you would get out of here; I don’t care anything for you.  The children can stay with me.”

Bertha fled with the two girls to the Kent House in Greenwich.  Henry tracked her down and mailed a copy of the Penal Laws of New York relating to kidnapping.  “She became so frightened that she brought them back to New York and left them at his house,” related The Sun.

Mary Morrill immediately took her granddaughters to Manchester-by-the-Sea in Massachusetts far away from their mother.  “Mrs. Morrill has not been able to see them since.”

Henry Heywood Morrill answered her charges saying that “his wife has lost her affection for him.”  Bertha replied “she has lost her affection for her husband because he was out late from two to four nights a week and came home intoxicated,” said The Sun.

Despite the socially-embarrassing press, things continued on in the Morrill household.  In February 1915 Mary announced the engagement of Elsie to J. Willard Tuckerman, Jr. of Brookline, Massachusetts.  The fashionable wedding in St. James Episcopal Church on April 10 that year was covered by all the society pages.  Elsie Morrill, Henry and Bertha’s daughter, was now 15 years old and she was one of her aunt’s attendants.  Her sister Dorothy, 12, was the flower girl.  There was, of course, no mention of Bertha.

That summer Mary Morrill leased the country estate, Rugby, of Frederic R. Coudert at Oyster Bay, Long Island.

On October 28, 1916 Amos was married to Dorothy Elliott of Brooklyn.  Amos, like his brother had done, brought his new bride to the 67th Street house to live.

On Sunday, December 30, 1918 Mary A. Morrill died suddenly at the age of 64.  Her funeral was held in St. James Church where Elsie had been married three years earlier.  Remaining at No. 6 East 67th Street were Amos and Dorothy; and Walter and his two daughters, the still-unmarried Louise, and their staff of servants.

Bertha Morrill was, as expected, not include in the debutante entertainments for her daughter, Elsie.  Instead, it was her aunt Louise who introduced the young woman to society at a reception at the St. Regis Hotel on December 27, 1919.  The New-York Tribune noted “It will be followed by a dinner at Miss Morrill’s house, 6 East Sixty-seventh Street.”

Despite family tensions, Elsie R. Morrill looks contented in 1920 while "spending a few weeks at Hot Springs."  New-York Tribune, March 31, 1920 (copyright expired)

Two years later the engagement of Dorothy was announced.  By now the block had seen tremendous change.  Most of the old brownstone-fronted houses had either been demolished and replaced; or had been drastically remodeled into modern Edwardian homes.  But the Morrill house survived unchanged; a quaint brown anachronism on a street lined with white limestone or marble homes.

In December 1924 the Morrills sold the house to settle Mary’s estate.  A special nighttime auction was held at the Plaza Hotel.  Home to the Morrill family for more than four decades, it was sold for $17,000 (about $235,000 today).  The New York Times remarked that the new owner “will remodel” for his occupancy.

That new owner was artist Richard Leftwich Dodge.  The house, according to The Times, was purchased by his father Cleveland H. Dodge as a present.  Richard was married to Lillian S. Dodge, president of the Harriet Hubbbard Ayer cosmetic company.

In 1930 developer Michael E. Paterno demolished the mansions on Fifth Avenue at the southeast corner of 67th Street.  He placed the entrance on the side street rather than the avenue.  After a lengthy court case, he won the right to the address No. 2 East 67th Street—which meant that the house at No. 2 became No. 4; and the change of addressed dominoed down the block.  The Dodges now changed their stationery to read No. 8 East 67th Street.

Robert Leftwich Dodge died in the family’s summer estate in Mill Neck, Long Island, on July 16, 1940 at the age of 68.  In reporting his death, The New York Times noted “Mr. Dodge was a graduate of the Beaux Arts in Paris and spent most of his life abroad.  His stained-glass paintings are to be found in the Library of Congress and many other public buildings, and at Vassar College.”

Lillian sold the 67th Street house and in 1945 it was converted to apartments—one per floor.  It was most likely at this time that much of James E. Ware’s Queen Anne decoration was scaled down.  The spandrel panels were shaved flat, the pediment and wings of the grouped top floor windows were removed, and the many stained glass transoms praised by The Record & Guide 63 years earlier were taken out.
The Morrill house is the last splash of brown on an otherwise very white block.
In 1999 the Morrill house was returned to a single-family home, with an apartment in the basement level.  Having survived the early 20th century remodeling trend and the 1920s apartment building phase, it is a delightful relic.  

photographs by the author

1 comment:

  1. Those top floor replacement windows are a horror. They make the whole to floor look like one of those ugly penthouses added later to many old homes.