Monday, July 18, 2016

"The House of Romance"--The Lost Henry Ward House -- No. 23 Bond Street

The elegant marble-trimmed home was sadly neglected in 1900 -- Early New York Houses (copyright expired)

Around 1807 Bond Street was laid out, but it would not be until around 1812 that the first house appeared.  Before mid-century it would boast 60 high-end houses which rivaled and surpassed the grandest homes on Broadway, St. James Park and Lafayette Place.  Sturges S. Dunham, writing in Valentine’s Manual of Old New-York in 1907 noted “Bond Street was one of the best known streets in the city a none stood higher in favor as a place of residence.”

The elegant tone of Bond Street was sparked in 1820 by Jonas Minturn’s marble-fronted house at No. 22.  Dunham wrote “By 1835 the residential pre-eminence of Bond street was unquestioned.”  In 1827 Henry Ward and moved his family into No. 18 Bond Street; but when the handsome new house at No. 23 was completed three years later, the Wards moved in.

Bond Street was the enclave of the extended Ward family.  Henry Ward’s brother, Samuel, was the head of the banking house of Prime, Ward & King, and “the most influential financier in America,” according to Sturges S. Dunham.  Following the death of his wife, the former Julia Rush Cutler, in 1824, he moved his family into No. 16 Bond Street.  (His daughter, Julia Ward Howe, would write “The Battle Hymn of the Republic.”)

In 1829 the Wards’ father, Samuel Ward, Sr., took the new house at No. 7 Bond Street.  His daughter, Anne, kept house for her widowed father.  Two other sons, John and Richard left their father’s house around 1840 to live in No. 32 Bond Street.

Like the other Bond Street homes, Henry Ward’s made no secret of its owner’s wealth and social station.  The red brick fa├žade was trimmed in white marble—including the rusticated marble basement level.  Prim dormers above the cornice included arched openings, paneled pilasters and handsome keystones within the carved framing.  The exquisite doorway (Joy Wheeler Dow, writing in Architects’ and Builders’ Magazine in 1903, preferred to call the style “Transitional”) with its fluted Ionic columns, sidelights and lavish fanlight, sat above a marble stoop where highly-unusual wrought iron basket newels perched upon paneled marble pedestals.

Living in No. 23 with the Henry Ward was his wife, the former Eliza Hall, their only son, 10-year old Henry (Harry) Hall Ward, and Eliza’s unmarried sister Anne Hall.   Eliza and Anne came from a cultured family, the daughters of Dr. Jonathan Hall and Bathsheba Mumford.  Anne studied miniature painting with Samuel King in Newport and Henry Ward converted the attic floor, normally reserved for servant rooms, for her studio.

The house boasted an exceptional doorway and highly-unusual wrought iron basket newels -- Architects' and Builders' Magazine, May 1903 (copyright expired)
Henry Ward died in the Bond Street house just eight years after moving in, on July 26, 1838.  He bequeathed the mansion to Harry Hall Ward, who was 18 years old.   Anne Hall died in the Bond Street house in December 1863.  Her funeral, rather than being held in the drawing room or parlor here, as expected, took place in nearby Grace Church on December 15.   Harry and his mother were now alone in the house, with their servants.

Ann Hall included herself in a family portrait of Eliza Ward and little Harry Hall Ward.  via Frick Art Reference Library Photoarchive
By now Bond Street, once the most enviable address in Manhattan, was changing.  Sturges S. Dunham explained “Before 1850 Bond street showed unmistakable evidence of decline.  By 1855 it had robbed Park place of its long held distinction as the favorite street for dentists’ offices…In 1860 a few of the old residents still lingered, but the glory if not the fame of Bond street had vanished forever.” 

Among the "few old residents" to remain were Henry Hall Ward and his mother.  Perhaps it was a sensitive family issue that took attention away from the change in the neighborhood.  Harry was both handsome and wealthy.  Joy Wheeler Dow called him a “great beau” of the period.  And he had fallen in love with a beautiful, pedigreed young woman, Eliza Ann Partridge. 

Eliza had come to New York from Connecticut in 1830, at the age of 16.  By the time of his father’s death Henry was helplessly smitten and the New-York Tribune would later remark “The attachment was mutual, and they became engaged.”  There was a problem, however: Eliza was his first cousin.  Her mother was Bathsheba Hall Partridge, a sister of Henry’s mother.

Although historian William Smith Pelletreau would write in 1900 “Between this young man and his cousin Miss Eliza Ann Partridge, there existed the strongest love and affection;” there would never be a wedding.  The Partridge and Ward families forbade it because of their close relationship.

So Harry and Eliza went on with their romance as if, someday, there would be a marriage.  “They saw each other daily, walked and drove together, and lived almost as much for one another as though they had been man and wife,” wrote the New-York Tribune in 1902.

Eliza Ward’s health began to fail around 1870.  Born on November 30, 1789, she was elderly and increasingly frail.  A relative, John Ward, would later say she “was noted for a remarkable talent for painting, intellectual power, and great benevolence.”  Finally, on March 18, 1872 The New York Herald announced she had died two days earlier in the Bond Street house, “after a long illness."  Her funeral was held in the residence that had been her home for over four decades the following Tuesday.

That summer Harry and Eliza summered in Saratoga, New York.  While there, on August 27, Harry died of consumption.  The Tribune remarked “and Miss Partridge was with him at the end.”

Henry Hall Ward left nearly everything to the woman he had so long loved—including the Bond Street mansion.  The New-York Tribune reported “The house contained many valuable paintings, including a lot of Anna [sic] Hall’s work, and the cellar was stocked with wines of great age and value…He bequeathed to her outright all the paintings and much of his other personal property.”  Included in his “other personal property” were two former Ward family homes, Nos. 8 and 36 Bond Street.

The Sun later wrote “Miss Partridge was well-nigh broken hearted at the death of her lover.”  She did not move into No. 23 Bond Street, remaining instead in her house at No. 38 West 37th Street.   But like a scene from Dickens’s Great Expectations, she retained Harry’s valet and his housekeeper, “instructing them to see that each room was dusted daily, and to keep everything as much as possible in the shape in which it had been left.”  She demanded that “no stranger should ever cross the threshold.”

The Tribune later said “Miss Partridge always regarded that house as a sacred place…She visited the house almost daily for twenty years and more, and refused admission to all persons.”

In 1900 historian William Smith Pelletreau commented in his Early New York Houses, “Since then, years have passed, but the house in Bond street remains as it was.  The windows are never opened and no mortal enters the long closed doors, everything has a deserted and decaying look, and even the large door plate has grown so tarnished that it is with difficulty that one can read the name of its old time owner, Henry Ward.  Doubtless while she lives it will remain the same and only at her death will the gloomy portals be opened.”

Pelletreau’s prophesy could not have been more accurate.  There were only two changes to the house.  The New-York Tribune recalled on September 21, 1902 that as old houses on the block were being demolished for modern business buildings, “the walls of the old residence were so shaken that Miss Partridge had all the paintings removed to her own house.  The wine was taken out of the cellar, as the old negro [Henry’s former valet] had died under circumstances that seemed to warrant a suspicion that he had been sampling some of the rare vintages.”

Eliza Ann Partridge rented the other Bond Street houses for business purposes and lived comfortably in her 37th Street home.  She was considered eccentric by New York society and the public in general.   But, unfazed by stares on the street, she forged on.  The Tribune noted “She was an indefatigable pedestrian and was much in the open air.”

On Friday morning, September 19, 1902 Eliza died at the age of 89.  Two days later the New-York Tribune wrote “With the death of Miss Eliza Ann Partridge, which occurred on Friday morning, at her home, No. 38 West Thirty-seventh st., there ended a romance which dated back half a century.”  The writer said “Miss Partridge seemed to live almost entirely in the past.  She even did not seem to grow old.  Up to the day of her death she could see and hear as well as ever; her teeth and hair were in perfect preservation, and her skin was without a wrinkle.”

No. 23 Bond Street had not fared so well.  “The old Ward house in Bond-st. shows many more signs of age than did the loyal woman that kept it so jealously…The high windows are heavily shuttered, and the whole place seems dead from the outside.”

Eliza Ann Partridge’s substantial estate went mostly to her extended family, $30,000, for instance, going to her nephew John Partridge Jepson along with her “pictures, books, statuary, wine and household effects.”  She was generous to her household staff, leaving $2,000 to her chambermaid, Mary Walsh; and $1,000 each to her cook Julia Walsh and her laundress Margaret Hennessy.  Her housekeeper, Mrs. Smith received $100 and her butler, James Campion, $500.   (Campion’s inheritance would equal more than $14,000 in 2016.)

But by the terms of Henry Hall Ward’s will, the three Bond Street properties reverted to the Ward family.   “Then the long darkened rooms were thrown open,” remarked The Sun on December 17, 1904.  The day before the newspaper’s comment all three “old mansions of another age,” as described by The Evening World, had been sold.  No. 23 brought $44,000—about $1.2 million today. 

The Evening World remarked “The house of New York’s real-life ‘Miss Havisham,’ No. 23 Bond street, went to the highest bidder to-day, under the unromantic hammer of a prosaic auctioneer, who probably never heard of the faded and dried-up orange blossoms which Eliza Ann Partridge cherished for sixty years in the old mansion until she died.”

But before the house was sold, the family had gone through it, removing the antique furnishings, carpets and bric-a-brac from their museum-like setting.  Some of what they found was unexpected and valuable.   Samuel Ward, Sr. had been Governor of New York and a noted figure in the Revolutionary War.  The New York Times reported that when the Bond Street house was opened, “it was found to contain many curios and relics of all sorts including letters written by Washington.”

Also found in the house were Anne Hall’s miniatures.  The Times reported three years later “Aside from numerous finished portraits, are ivories, in varied stages of development, including several of the artist’s first sketches, disclosing the travail through which her art passed before enshrinement in the velvet or metal cases in which they have been buried all these vanished years.”  The article found the child portraits of great interest; including those of “Julia Ward Howe and her brothers, Samuel and Henry at the ages of ten, eleven, and thirteen years.”

The new owners of No. 23 Bond Street were interested neither in the romantic history of the house, nor in its exquisitely preserved interiors.  Within a year of its sale Architects’ and Builders’ Magazine commented “the house has been turned into a kind of sweat shop…The inner doorway of the vestibule has been taken away bodily, no doubt to adorn some modern Colonial house, also the tapering posts of wrought iron, and the startling newel of the staircase.  Mockery of an intense drama.”

In 1907 Valentine’s Manual of Old New-York lamented “For thirty years the old house stood empty, becoming more and more dilapidated as the seasons passed, but in the end its solitude was invaded by the click of typewriters and the whir of sewing machines.  It still stands, dingy and unkempt, tenanted now by makers and sellers of cheap millinery.”

In 1907 surviving Bond Street mansions, once home to Manhattan's wealthiest citizens, suffered indignation.  The Ward House, No. 23, is at the far right.  Valentine's Manual of Old New-York, 1907 (copyright expired)
The house survived, more or less.  Once referred to as “the house of romance,” its history had been forgotten by the time it was sold in 1921 as “a three story business building.”

After 175 years the Ward house finally fell, to be replaced by No. 25 Bond Street, an eight-story residential structure designed by BKSK Architects.

photograph by the author


  1. What a sad and fascinating story. The Ward saga would make a great film.

  2. The replacement building is hideous