Monday, May 28, 2018

The Lost Caspar Samler Farmhouse - Broadway and 29th Street

In 1867, just prior to its demolition, development had engulfed the old homestead.  Valentine's Manual of the City of New York for 1916-7 (copyright expired)

In 1780 brothers Samuel, Matthias and Henry Nicoll sold the land around the present Madison Square Garden to Caspar Samler for $2,250.  Little by little he added to the farm until by 1799 he had acquired a triangular shaped holding of about 37 acres at a total outlay of $12,100 (just under $250,000 today).

There were three houses on the Samler farm; but it appears Caspar's large family (he had seven children and a step-daughter) lived in the two-story clapboard home that faced the Bloomingdale Road (now Broadway) at what would become 29th Street.  Caspar Samler died in 1810, just a year before the Commissioners' Plan dissected Manhattan's farms and estates into a grid of streets and avenues.   That grid was merely on paper for now; but the upward movement of the city was not far behind.

In the 1830's the cottage was home to Nicholas Samler and his wife, the former Jane Ogden Mansfield.  Jane was the daughter of Captain John Mansfield, a British naval officer.  The couple's daughter, Mary, was born in the house in 1838. 

Mary would marry Robert Vernon Davis in 1854.  They had four children, Genevieve, Vernon, George and Robert, Jr.  The three boys would have illustrious careers.  Vernon M. Davis became a New York Supreme Court Justice; Dr. George Samler Davis was president of the Normal College; and Robert Vernon Davis, Jr. was curator of the City College.

Around the time of Mary's and Robert's marriage George W. Sumner and his wife, also named Mary, lived in the homestead.  George, described as a "merchant," suffered embarrassment in February 1843 when he declared bankruptcy.  But he headed in a new direction and became an attorney before 1854.

By then development around the farmhouse was increasingly apparent.  In 1851 the cornerstone for the stately Marble Collegiate Church directly behind the house on Fifth Avenue was laid; around the same time the Samlers leased half of their Broadway blockfront.  The Central Stables was erected on that lot.

George left to fight in the Civil War by 1862, when he was "acting master" of the steam gunboat Owasca.  Left alone, Mary added to the household funds by renting rooms.  An advertisement in The New York Herald on April 13, 1862 read "Mrs. Mary B. Sumner...can now offer the choice of several Suits and single Rooms to persons desiring to make arrangements for Board for the ensuing year or transiently."

Because the house sat on what was now determined to be three building lots, the property took the triple address of 1188, 1190 and 1192 Broadway.

On March 23, 1863 Congress passed the Enrollment Act, setting the stage for the unfair and highly unpopular draft.  Apparently to augment to her income, Mary leased a room to the Government as Provost-Marshal Manierre's office.  It was here, on July 8, 1863 that the first draft lottery was held.

Mary's decision turned out to be a bad one.  On July 13 three days of bloody rioting broke out, known as the Draft Riots.  Buildings were burned, innocent civilians murdered, and houses and shops looted.  Police Superintendent Kennedy realized that July 13 was a scheduled draft day.  The New York Times reported "His first thought...was for the safety of Provost-Marshall Manierre's office, No. 1,190 Broadway."  He sent a detachment of officers to the Samler house.

But the mobs were greater than the police force.  While the house itself miraculously survived, it was ransacked.  On August 30, 1863 The New York Herald reported "Mrs. Mary B. Sumner has filed a bill with the Comptroller's clerk, claiming damages to the extend of $56,563.90 for the loss of personal property during the late riots.  The claimant kept a boarding house at Nos. 1,188, 1,190 and 1,192 Broadway, and during the disturbances caused by enforcement of the draft in the Eighth district, lost her whole stock of furniture, clothing, bedding, &c."  Mary's substantial claim would amount to more than $1 million today.

George W. Sumner would not return home from the war.  And tragically The New York Times reported on Thursday, March 17, 1865 that on the previous morning Mary Porter Sumner, "only daughter of the late George W. and Mary B. Sumner," had died.

The Central Stables had become the Excelsior Stables by the time this photo was taken.  The street is brick-paved and the Broadway street car tracks run up the middle. original source unknown

Mary left the house before long, apparently leasing it to James Anderson.  Who he was or what he did for a living is a mystery; but his time here gave the wooden house its nickname "Anderson Cottage."    He was seemingly still renting the property when it drew the attention of Danish-born merchant Peter Gilsey in 1868.   Gilsey leased the corner from the Samler estate and demolished the venerable relic of rural Midtown for his magnificent Gilsey House hotel, which survives.

from the collection of the New-York Historical Society

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