Saturday, April 27, 2019

The 1863 Charles M. Jessup House--124 East 36th Street

The elaborate, lacy iron newels were a later update, possibly part of an 1884 renovation.

Around 1863 developers George J. Hamilton and Thomas Kilpatrick completed a row of three brownstone-fronted, high stoop homes at Nos. 124 through 128 East 36th Street, between Lexington and Fourth (later Park) Avenues.  It is almost certain that Kilpatrick designed the Second Empire style residences.  Born in Ireland, he was not only a builder, but often acted as his own architect.

Only 16 feet wide, the three-story homes were nonetheless well appointed.  The rusticated parlor levels featured an arched window and doorway.  The double-doored entrance was graced by an elaborately-carved foliate keystone.  The planar-faced second and third floors were understated, although a handsome carved frieze ran below the wooden cornice.  The mansard roof was shingled in slate tiles.

No. 124 was sold to flour merchant Abner B. Lawton and his wife, the former Helen Mindwell Griswold.  The young couple had been married six years earlier and the purchase seems, given their ages, to have been an ambitious endeavor.  Abner was 29-years-old and his wife was 25.

Title to the property was put in Helen's name.   It appears that the purchase was for investment purposes only, and the Lawton name never appears at this address.

Instead the residence was operated as a boarding house.  The 1863 City Directory lists five occupants:  Margaret H. Reid, a dressmaker; John Schilling, "segars;" seaman Richard Taylor; butcher Edward Dennis; and James W. Drummond, Jr., a "carver."

An elderly boarder two years later was the widowed Ann Suthan.  For some reason the 86-year-old walked to the East River on August 25.  The following day The New York Times reported that she "accidentally fell into the dock at the foot of East Thirty-sixth-street and was drowned."

Abner B. Lawton died on April 8, 1867.  Helen later remarried, but retained ownership of the 36th Street house.  Its days as a boarding house ceased when she leased it to Henry Clay Southwick.  

Born on October 12, 1829, he was married to the former Elsa D. Eames.  The couple had four children, Henry Jr., John, Frederick (who had died in 1863 at the age of 1), and Maud.  Southwick had come to New York at the age of 16 in 1845 and joined the book and shoe firm of Benedict, Hall & Co.  By the outbreak of the Civil War he was a member of the firm.  The war resulted in Government contracts for military boots and, subsequently, substantial growth for the firm.

In 1873 Southwick left Benedict, Hall & Co. to join the massive wholesale dry goods firm of H. B. Claflin & Co.  The move was not entirely surprising.  Horace B. Claflin was his uncle--the brother of Southwick's mother, Direxa Claflin Southwick.

The Southwicks left East 36th Street in the spring of 1874, moving to Cincinnati.  (Henry would survive only four more years, dying in 1878 at the age of just 49.)  Rather than transport their household goods to the Midwest, an auction was held on April 8.  The listing reflected the style of the interiors.  Among the items auctioned were "parlor, dining room and chamber furniture, tufted parlor suite in reps, centre table, lounges" and such.  The "curtains and cornices" listed gave an hint of the Victorian decor, with voluminous draperies surmounted by gilded or painted wooden cornices.

Helen's next tenant was Walter F. Parker and his family.  Living with them was 17-year old Emma Smith, the daughter of  Walter's sister and her husband, Walter Smith, who lived on Long Island.  Emma's living here may have had to do with her schooling.  Tragically, the teen died in the house on February 19, 1875 "of rheumatism of the heart," according to the New York Herald.

Later that year the Parkers rented what may have been Emma's rooms.   An advertisement in The New York Herald on September 5 offered "Two Rooms, front and back, communicating [i.e., connected], furnished or unfurnished, to gentleman and wife or two gentlemen; location unsurpassed; family small."  

John Jacob Astor Bristed next leased No. 124.  The eldest of two sons of Charles Astor Bristed and Grace Ashbury Bristed, he was a writerr, following in the footsteps of his author father.  (Charles Astor Bristed was a nephew of John Jacob Astor and had inherited the millionaire's former country estate, Hell Gate, on the Upper East Side where Charles had grown up.  Charles Bristed demolished the Astor mansion just after the Civil War and was responsible for laying out 88th and 89th Streets on the former estate.)

A bachelor, John Jacob Astor Bristed, was described by the New York Herald as being "eminent for high literary attainments" in 1880.  But his career came to an abrupt and unexpected end that year.

The Saturday afternoon of June 26 was exceedingly hot.  Bristed, who was a member of the Church of the Annunciation on Fifth Avenue at 14th Street, attended services that day.    The New York Herald reported "While walking on Fifth avenue yesterday on his way home from church he was sunstruck and only lived a few hours...He was only thirty-two years of age."  The newspaper said "Mr. Bristed had an amiable disposition, and was studious and industrious, like his father."

Bristed's estate was valued at $550,000--nearly $14 million today.  His will was straight-forward, but as was often the case in large estates, claimants to the fortune soon appeared.  One was a woman who contested the will under the name of Hattie Bristed.  The New York Times said she "claims to be the widow of the testator."  And Bristed's brother Charles, still a minor, demanded through a guardian a larger percentage of the estate.

The hearing included witnesses like Bristed's second cousin, John Jacob Astor, who was called to describe the lines of relationship within the family.  While most witnesses praised Bristed as a cultured, educated and refined gentleman, Dr. William James Morton said he "was very much addicted to certain excesses...and the indulgence of his appetite for them was as necessary to him as eating and drinking."  He was not specific as to what those additions were, but left it to the imaginations of the court.

Helen M. Lawton died about the same time as her tenant.  In 1881 her estate hired architect H. W. Wilson to enlarge the house by added in one-story brick extension to the rear.  Three years later the arched parlor opening was replaced by an attractive wooden oriel.  It was likely at this time that the stoop newels were updated.

The 1890's saw the family of Charles Mortimer Jesup, a vice-president of The Metropolitan Trust Co. of the City of New York, in the house.  Jesup had married Sarah Catherine Owen (known familiarly as "Kittie") on March 7, 1878.   Nine months later on December 3 their only child, Richard Mortimer Jesup was born.  Now a teen, he lived with his parents in the 36th Street house.

After Theodore Roosevelt left Manhattan to serve as Governor of New York in 1899, Jesup lamented the decline in police vigilance.  He fired off a letter to the editor of The New York Times on July 15 that year which said in part:

When the present Executive of this State was identified with the police force of New York, every one commented, and with pride, upon the behavior of the men.  Would that he were identified with it now!  Many times within the past few weeks the writer has noticed in the vicinity of his residence, on Murray Hill, policemen standing on the street corners chatting with friends or with the Roundsmen of the next beat, or standing by stoops talking with servants left in charge of the houses.  More often the policemen have been seen talking with women, which is contrary to all rules of the department, and should not for one moment be tolerated."

Prior to the turn of the century women had few choices in occupations.  They filled jobs as teachers, nurses, and shop workers.  But changes in attitude and new inventions like the typewriter brought new jobs.  The hundreds of single females who now came to New York needed respectable places to live.  

In 1901 Jesup was involved in the organization of the newly-formed Woman's Hotel Company as its treasurer.  The founders laid plans for a hotel on the site of the Home for the Friendless between on East 30th Street.   The hotel would offer room and board to single women for between $7 and $15 per week.

Charles Jesup was also highly involved with the New York Juvenile Asylum, service as its chairman at one point.  He initiated an annual award, the Jesup Medal, which was given to three residents for "meritorious conduct."  He was additionally a member of the New York Zoological Society and the American Museum of Natural History.

By now Jesup was involved in manufacturing, as well.  A member of the Chamber of Commerce, he was honored by being chosen to speak on New York State Day at the Charleston Exposition in April 1902.  

In 1905 Jesup purchased the house which he had rented for so long.  On December 28 The Sun mentioned briefly only that the Lawton estate had sold the property.  Somewhat surprisingly, only three months later it was on the market again.

The Jesup family was preparing to leave Manhattan that spring.  The New York Herald explained on March 22, 1906 "Charles M. Jesup is about to remove his manufacturing plant to Mount Vernon and will make his home there when the plant is completed."  It added "His residence in East Thirty-sixth street, a four-story, old fashioned New York house of brown stone front, is in the market."

The servants, of course, knew the house was for sale, but were directed not to allow anyone inside without a card from the selling agent.  Around March 12 two men rang the bell.  The maid who answered the door checked with "Aunt Sylvia," the sturdy Black maid whom The New York Herald described as the "self-appointed guardian and protector of all the race of Jesups from long before they came north and brought her with them."  The men had no card and were denied admittance.

Determined, they went next door to No. 126 and posed as city surveyors.  A servant here allowed them into the rear yard.  Climbing over the fence, "one of them, a red haired man, about six feet in height and heavily built, undertook to pass through the Jessup house to the street."  He soon discovered that Aunt Sylvia was the wrong person to cross.

The New York Herald reported "Aunt Sylvia barred the way.  The red haired man tried to brush her aside."

She reportedly announced "You ain't goin' through here, Mister Man with the red hair."  The article described, "grappling him like a trained wrestler [she] pitched him out in the yard and slammed the door after him."

Undeterred by the setback, ten days later they returned in the still of the night.  

When Charles and Kittie went to bed on Tuesday, March 20, Richard was out.  The New York Herald noted "there was a fortune in silverware, much of it antique, and which has been in the Jesup family for generations, on the first floor and a great deal of valuable jewelry was in the drawers of the furniture in her room."  The valuables were the target of the red-haired man and his accomplice.

Charles and Kittie slept in adjoining  bedrooms.  That night Kittie could not sleep because a mouse had gotten into the bureau in her bedroom.  The New York Herald explained "At one o'clock she heard her son enter the house and called him.  Young Jesup pulled out all the bureau drawers and shook the bureau until it seemed that the the mouse must have fled.  Then he went to bed in an upper floor."

As it turned out the bothersome mouse saved the family silver and jewelry.  Richard had no sooner gone to bed than it resumed its gnawing and scampering.  Kittie gathered up her pillows and coverlets and went to a guest room in the rear of the house.  She had just begun to drift off when she saw a light in the bedroom she had just left.  And then she heard movements.

She ran to the telephone and told the operator to connect her to police headquarters.  She was overheard by the burglars who ran down the stairs.  Kittie had trouble rousing her husband and it was later discovered that he had been chloroformed by the burglars.  Were it not been for the pesky mouse keeping her awake, she too would have been drugged.

When police arrived the front door of the house was open, apparently entered by use of a "false key."  The Sun said "The burglar opened the sideboard and piled up a large quantity of silverware on the dining room table."  In their haste to escape the crooks left the silver behind.  The New York Herald concluded "But for the loyal vigilance of an old negro mammy and the noxious activity of a mouse, burglars might have reaped a rich harvest."

In August the house was sold and the Jesups moved north.  It was purchased by Dr. William Emery Studdiford, described in The History of Medicine as "a successful physician of New York City, and a well-known gynaecologist."  Now operating a private practice, Studdiford had been the attending physician to the Almshouse Hospital, attending physician at the Maternity Hospital on Blackwell's Island, attending gynecologist to Bellevue Hospital and attending physician to the New York Nursery and Child's Hospital.

Studdiford had married Maria Emlen Hale on September 17, 1896.  Their two children were William, Jr. and Andrew Douglas.  Before the family moved in "extensive improvements," as described by the Record & Guide, were done by architect Charles Volz.  They included updated plumbing and Studdiford's office.

By 1924 Studdiford was the director of Sloane Hospital for Women, and Professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology in the College of Physicians and Surgeons, while still maintaining his private office in the 36th Street house.  He and Maria went to Europe that summer and shortly after returning home he suffered a heart attack.  The New York Times noted "his condition was not regarded as serious, and he continued his practice."

But then, on November 12, 1925, he collapsed while performing an operation at Sloane Hospital and he was rushed home.   He died in the house five days later at the age of 58.   The Times reported on November 18 "His physicians expected him to recover and his death came as a shock."  

Colleagues told a reporter "he was recognized not only in this country but abroad as a great surgeon.  He was endowed with superior native intelligence, of wide experience, acute in observation, and logical."  In reporting on his funeral in the Church of the Transfiguration on November 19, the Columbia Spectator called him "one of the most noted surgeons in America."

Maria remained in the house until her death on May 10, 1946.  Her estate, including the house, was appraised at $363,705, or about $4.67 million today.  It was divided equally between Andrew and William (who was now, like his father, a doctor).  It was the end of the line for the narrow house as a private home, and was converted to apartments not long afterward.

In 1980 an addition was erected on the roof, set back so as to be nearly unnoticeable from the street.  Rather surprisingly, other than that little has changed to the skinny brownstone rowhouse which has been the scene of so much Murray Hill history.

photographs by the author

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