Monday, January 2, 2017

The Lost Samuel Ward Mansion - Broadway at Bond Street

To the rear of the mansion was a columned art gallery--the first in America--with neither doors nor windows.  watercolor by Abraham Hosier, from the collection of the Museum of the City of New York
Samuel Ward II was the head of the banking firm Prime, Ward and King.  As such, according to historian Sturges S. Dunham in 1918, he "was the most influential financier in America, enjoying a position of power and influence equal to that of the late J. Pierpont Morgan seventy years later."

Ward was married to the former Julia Rush Cutler.  The couple had six children, one of which died in infancy.  The family lived in a fine home at No. 5 Bowling Green.  Following Julia's untimely death at the age of 27 in 1824, Ward found it impossible to remain in the downtown house.  Two years later he moved his family to No. 16 Bond Street, far north at the time and only just emerging as a fashionable neighborhood.

While Ward rented No. 16, he commissioned the well-known firm of Town & Davis to design a permanent home at the northeast corner of Bond Street and Broadway.  Ithiel Town and Alexander Jackson Davis had formed what is considered to be the first professional architectural firm in New York in 1829.  They would be responsible for many classical-inspired structures.

Construction on the Ward mansion began in 1831 and continued for three years.  Henry Collins Brown described it as "a plain but dignified structure of brick with white marble trimmings, not unlike the houses now standing on the north side of Washington Square."  On the roof was a high cupola from which the entire neighborhood could be viewed.

Samuel Ward effectively withdrew from society following Julia's death.  A patron of the arts, he had a white marble picture gallery added to the rear of the mansion, along Broadway.   It was reportedly the first private art gallery in the nation.  Designed specifically for his private, personal use, it had no windows and no outside door.

The mansion, gardens and stables engulfed three building plots on Broadway, from No. 670 through 674.  But the house was never referred to by a street number, technically No. 2 Bond Street, but as "The Corner House."  Inside, the mantelpieces on the parlor level were carved by Thomas Crawford, best known for his sculptures in the U.S. Capitol.

The first floor contained the library and three other large rooms, each referred to not by its function--as the dining room, for instance--but by the color of the silk curtains.  According to historian Eric Homberger in his 2002 Mrs. Astor's New York, "Dinner was taken in the Red Room, looking out upon the rear garden.  The Blue Room was an everyday drawing room for visits.  The Yellow Room was reserved strictly for public occasions, however infrequently these occurred."  Family bedrooms were on the second floor, while servants lived in the attic level.

Samuel Ward grew increasingly religious and austere following his wife's death.  He abstained from alcohol, gave up cigars, and carefully guarded his children against the evils outside the mansion's walls.  His daughter Julia (who would become best known for writing "The Battle Hymn of the Republic") later revealed in her 1905 book Reminiscences, "I seemed to myself like a young damsel of olden time, shut up within an enchanted castle.  And I must say that my dear father, with all his noble generosity and overweening affection, sometimes appeared to me as my jailer."

The children were educated within the house.  Decades later The New York Times noted that Julia received "the best education from private masters in French, German, Italian and Latin, and in music, also both vocal and instrumental."

As the children reached adulthood and moved out, they did not go far.  Bond Street became  lined with Ward mansions.  Samuel Ward remained in The Corner House, where he died in 1839--"his death being hastened by the overwork and strain incident to the financial depression of the time," according to Sturges S. Dunham, writing for Valentine's Manual of the City of New York in 1918.

Dunham mentioned the art gallery, saying the later passersby called it the "windowless house" which "in the sixties excited so much curiosity among persons who were ignorant of its history." 

Following the death of his wife, the former Adele Livingston, in 1841, Joseph Sampson moved into the former Ward mansion with his daughter, Adele, and his mother-in-law, Julia Broome Livingston.  The fabulously wealthy Sampson was  a partner in the auction firm of Boggs, Thompson & Co. a director in the New York Gas Company, and a founder of the Chemical Bank.

Not long after the family moved in, Julia Livingston died in 1844.  Two years later, on January 2, 1846, Sampson married Emily S. Apthorp, of the old New York family whose 18th century mansion on its 114-acre estate north of the city was a familiar landmark.

Unlike Samuel Ward, who shuttered himself away from society, the Sampsons threw open the mansion's doors.  In his 1864 book Old Merchants of New York Walter Barrett recalled that "the famous house built by Samuel Ward in the days of his banking glory...was the rendezvous of the wealthy set in the fifties."

On October 8, 1862 Adele Sampson was married to Frederick W. Stevens in a fashionable ceremony in St. Bartholomew's Church.  The New York Times said the marriage "stirred" Manhattan society.  Although Stevens came from an old New York and Long Island family; it bluntly reported he was “not well off in this world’s goods.”  The newlyweds remained in Bond Street mansion.

The extent of Sampson's wealth was evidenced in his various donations during the Civil War.  In April 1861 he contributed $1,000 to the New York regiments heading south--nearly $30,000 today.  He donated $250 for "the relief of colored people" in July 1863, and $100 that year for those wounded in the Battle of Vicksburg.  Although he was retired by now, The New York Times listed his annual income in 1863 at $152,848; or about $3 million today.

Emily Apthorp Sampson became ill in the spring of 1870.  She died in the house on Saturday, May 21 and her funeral was held in the mansion the following Tuesday morning.  Two years later Joseph Sampson died.  Essentially his entire fortune went to Adele, prompting The Times to later say she “was thus made one of the richest women in America”

By now the Broadway and Bond Street neighborhood had become commercialized.   Adele sold the house in the following year, in 1873 and laid plans for a grand Fifth Avenue mansion at the corner of West 57th Street.  The Corner House was quickly demolished and replaced with the Brooks Brothers building designed by the firm of J. W. and Geo. E. Harney, which survives.

With the construction of the Brooks Brothers building in 1874, all memory of the Ward mansion was eradicated.  photograph from the collection of the Library of Congress.

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