Friday, July 19, 2019

The 1902 John Sanford Barnes House - 10 East 79th Street

John Sanford Barnes was born at the United States Military Academy at West Point on May 12, 1836, the son of Lieutenant James Barnes who was an instructor there.  Barnes would later good-naturedly say that he came from "good old stock."  His ancestors had left England to escape religious persecution in the 17th century.

Unlike his Army father, he joined the Navy in June 1851 at just 14 years old and was appointed to the newly-organized Naval Academy at Annapolis by the Secretary of the Navy, William A. Graham.  His seven-year career in the navy included an extraordinary feat.  

He was assigned to the Saratoga, but transferred to the schooner Hoyt in St. Thomas on May 6 1856.  Yellow fever was raging through what Barnes later described as "this dirty town."  Nearly the entire crew of the Hoyt, including the captain and mate, had died of the disease and the United States Consul gave Barnes the duty of sailing it to Philadelphia with its cargo of flour.  With a crew of five sick men--he himself becoming so ill that he could not stand--Barnes managed to sail the vessel to the Capes of Delaware where he was taken to a hospital.  

Although he resigned on October 1, 1858, his rank was restored with the outbreak of the Civil War.  While on a short furlough on September 12, 1863 he married Susan Brainbridge Hayes, daughter of Captain Thomas Hayes of the U.S. Navy and granddaughter on her mother's side of Commodore William Bainbridge.  He retired with the rank of captain in February 1869.

Barnes studied law, and then practice in Albany and New York; became a partner with John S. Kennedy in the banking firm of J. S. Kennedy & Co., and was president of railroads in the West and Southwest.  He was the first president of the Navy History Society and an organizer of the New York Zoological Society.

On September 6, 1901 architect Grosvenor Atterbury filed plans for a new home for the Barnes family.  They called for a six-story, "stone front dwelling" on the 30-foot wide plot.  The cost was projected at $50,000--about $914,000 today.  The site was on the famous "Cook Block," where, by deed restrictions, only the most splendid homes could be built.  

Construction got underway in January 1902 and was completed within the year.  

A glass and iron marquee originally sheltered the entrance.  photo by Wurts Bros. from the collection of the Museum of the City of New York

Atterbury had achieved a dignified and restrained combination of Beaus Arts and neo-Italian Renaissance styles.  The high iron fencing that protected the areaway continued up the stoop, too tall and elaborate to be termed railings.

The continuing of the fencing up the stoop is nearly unique.

The openings within the two-story bowed bay were framed in near Gibbs surrounds.  The bay provided an iron-railed balcony at the fourth floor.  The double-height mansard was clad in clay tiles which continued onto the roofs of the topmost dormers.

John and Susan had five children, James, Jonathan Stanford, Edith, Charlotte and Cornelia.  Their summer estate was in Lenox, Massachusetts.  The 79th Street mansion was filled with treasures--artworks, military artifacts and documents, and antiques.  In 1912 a friend, calling Barnes a "true art-lover and collector," said "he delighted in good pictures and rare old china, and his country house at Lenox, Massachusetts, and his city home on Seventy-ninth street, New York, contain many beautiful things, not prized because of their intrinsic value, but because they had been slowly acquired and chosen by himself."  

This astounding room in the Barnes house looks as if it could have been plucked from a 15th century manor house.  photo by Byron Company from the collection of the Museum of the City of New York

The Barnes collection of historic military items was increased following the death of Susan's brother, Richard Somers Hayes.  The Watertown [New York] Daily Times reported on March 18, 1905 "Capt. Hayes has left among other things to his sister, Mrs. John S. Barnes of 10 East Seventy-ninth street, a pair of pistola presented to Commodore [John] Barry by [John] Paul Jones himself, and these pistols, added in the collection of Jones relics already in the possession of the Barnes family, makes a Jones collection which is said to be the finest in existence."

The pistols joined a museum-worthy collection that included the logbook of the Bon Homme Richard, many letters written by John Paul Jones, and his commission, signed by John Hancock.  The Watertown Daily Times wrote "Other relics of interest were swords, pistols, sea paintings, logbooks and documents handed down by the two commodores and succeeding naval members of the family.  In fact, the whole of Mr. Barnses' 'den' was furnished with historic articles."

John Sanford Barnes - John Sanford Barnes, A Memorial, 1912 (copyright expired)
By now Barnes had essentially retired, spending his time writing.  He published The Log Books of the 'Serapis,' 'Alliance,' and 'Ariel,' a compilation of Jones's logbooks; and in 1910 wrote his autobiography, entitled The Egotistigraphy, intended for his family's eyes only.  He was active in outdoor recreation, as well.  Into his 60's he continued to enjoy golf and bicycling.

John and Susan were active philanthropists.  He sat on the board of directors of the New York House of Refuge, and the Home for Juvenile Delinquents on Randall's Island. 

Daughter Cornelia's engagement to Francis Rogers was announced in the spring of 1911.  On April 16 The Sun announced that after visiting in Boston she "returned to town on Friday.  Miss Barnes and her fiancé...have decided on a May wedding."  The ceremony was possibly hurried along because her father, now 75-years old, was gravely sick.

Exactly three weeks later, on May 7, the newspaper advised "John S. Barnes, who has been so ill, is getting better fast and the wedding of his daughter, Miss Cornelia Barnes, and Francis Rogers, will take place in May, as was planned."  Barnes was not improving to the point that he could travel and on the morning of May 17 The New York Press reported "The marriage of Cornelia Barnes and Francis Rogers will take place this afternoon in the home of her parents, Mr. and Mrs. John S. Barnes, No. 10 East Seventy-ninth street.  Owing to the illness of the bride's father, none but relatives will be present at the ceremony.  There will be no reception."

Six months later, on November 22, John Sanford Barnes died in the 79th Street mansion.  The family held his funeral at the Church of the Incarnation rather than in the house.  The New-York Tribune mentioned "Mr. Barnes belonged to many organizations, including the Union League, Metropolitan, Union, University, Knickerbocker, Down Town, Riding, Whist and Westminister Kennel clubs."  

A memorial booklet added "As he was sincere in his love, his likings and his expressions of thought he seemed to bring out sincerity in others in their daily contact with him.  His servants, like his sons and daughters, felt this influence; their devotion was not lip-service--it was from the heart."

Susan, who was 72 at the time, remained in No. 10 with Charlotte, who was still unmarried.  She received the equivalent of $52 million from her husband's estate.  The women continued to summer in Lenox, their names appearing less often in the social columns.   On July 16, 1913 The Sun mentioned "Mrs. John Sanford Barnes and Miss Charless R. Barnes, who are passing the summer in Lenox, will go to Coldbrook, Vt., on July 22 to be the guests of Mr. and Mrs. S. Warren Sturgis."

On the morning of May 16, 1915 Susan Bainbridge Barnes died in the 79th Street house.  As had been the case with her husband, her funeral was held at the Church of the Incarnation.

Among the items listed in her massive estate were a diamond necklace appraised at more than $180,000 in today's dollars, and valuable paintings like Jules Jacques Veyrasat's "Horseshoeing," and Paul Léon Jazet's "Cavalry on the Road."  The estate was divided into equal shares among the five children.

Charlotte continued to live in the house.  It was leased for the winter season of 1916-17 to James Byrne.  The rent was not inexpensive; about $354,000 by today's standards.  It would not be a joyous Christmas here for the Byrne family.  They had earlier adopted a little Pekingese dog, Teddy, which had been rescued from war-torn Europe.  But now he was missing.

On December 26 The Evening Telegram reported that "his little owner, Miss Sheila Bryne," was disconsolate.  Teddy "is lost, and therefore a gloomy Christmas was passed by her.  Teddy 'sneaked' out the front door of the Bryne home, at No. 10 East Seventy-ninth street, when an armful of Christmas presents arrived."

Happiness eventually returned and on Valentine's Day 1917 the Brynes hosted a dance in the house for debutantes Teresa Fabbri, debutante daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Ernesto G. Fabbri; and Flora Whitney, daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Harry Payne Whitney.

On August 15, 1917 that year Charlotte was married to attorney Shelton Edward Martin.  The Barnes family, nonetheless, temporarily retained possession of the 79th Street house.  The following winter season it was leased to millionaire I. Townsend Burden and his wife, the former Florence Sheedy.

It would be the last of the winter leases.  In August 1918 the Barnes estate sold it to Sumner Ballard for the odd amount of $183,750--around $3 million today.  In reporting the sale the Real Estate Record & Builders' Guide noted "The Barnes house stands on the famous Cook block, bounded by Fifth and Madison avenues, 78th and 79th streets, where the homes of some of the city's most prominent citizens have had their residences."

Ballard was president of the International Insurance Company.  He had been living in an upscale apartment over Sherry's on Fifth Avenue at 45th Street; but had to find new accommodations when the Guaranty Trust Company laid plans to demolish the building for its new headquarters.  The Sun commented, "Mr. Ballard was one of the many notable New York business men and financiers who were made homeless by the taking over of Sherry's."

The bachelor spread his influence among a variety of insurance firms other than the International Insurance Company.  He was the United States manager of the Metropolitan Insurance Company of Cuba, of the National Insurance Company of Copenhagen, the New India Assurance Company, Ltd., of the Osaka Marine and Fire Insurance Company, and the Skandinavia Insurance Company.  Ballard's wealth and distinguished pedigree were evidenced in his memberships to the Society of Mayflower Descendants, the St. Nicholas Society, the Metropolitan Club, Downtown Association, Sewanhaka Yacht Club, the Turf and Field Club, the Society of Colonial Wars, Sons of the Revolution and the Pilgrims.  

The absence of a Mrs. Ballard did not put a crimp in entertainments at No. 10.  The society wedding of Ballard's niece, Frances H. Ballard, to John H. Vincent, took place in the house on May 1, 1925.  Sumner gave the bride away before an assemblage that included Mrs. Thomas A. Edison, the Duke and Duchess of Richelieu, Mrs. William Kingland Macy, Jr., the Frederick F. Alexandres, among other notable society figures.

Three weeks later The New York Times commented, "One of the few formal dinners of this month will be given by Sumner Ballard tomorrow night at his home, in East Seventy-ninth Street, for the Duke and Duchess de Richelieu."

As a matter of fact, Ballard kept society columnists on their toes with his frequent, lavish entertainments.  On January 8, 1927 he gave a dinner and musicale for 79 guests; another in December that year for the about the same number--always including top tier names like de Rham, Twombly, Kountze, Frelinghuysen, Phelps, Rhinelander, Brokaw and de Koven.

An interesting twist was the dinner and musicale he hosted on December 10, 1929.  The Times noted "The music that followed the dinner was given in the roof garden."  It was, in reality, the top floor, and was used several times.  On February 14, 1931 Sumner gave a dinner for Lady Cowdray and her granddaughters.  "After dinner," reported The New York Times, "a cabaret performance was presented in the music room and roof garden on the top floor of the house, and there was general dancing, for which additional guests came on."

The house was again the scene of a wedding when another niece, Rosamond Egleston Ballard was married to W. J. Symington Phillips on March 29, 1931.  

In the fall of 1941 the 75-year-old was taken to the Harkness Pavilion where he died on October 23.  Survived by only two sisters, his 79th Street home was sold to the New York Archdiocese of the Greek Orthodox Church of North and South America, which moved in in 1942.

The Philippines suffered multiple blows that year.  The islands were occupied by the Japanese, whose soldiers slaughtered the caraboas, or water buffaloes, for food--making it impossible for farmers to grow enough rice to feed the population.  To exacerbate the emergency, deluges ruined much of the crops that year.  

The Archdiocese responded and on April 25, 1943 The New York Sun, in reporting on a city-wide clothing drive for the victims, reported "Tomorrow will be 'Greek Day' in the drive, and Archbishop Athenagoras, head of the Greek Orthodox Church of North and South America, will open his residence at 10 East 79th street, to serve as a clothing collection depot for the day."

The 1970's were a time of protest for any number of political and social issues and No. 79 was not immune.  On July 13, 1970 The New York Times reported that about 100 members of the Pan-Hellenic Fellowship, "dedicated to the preservation and protection of the Greek language," had staged a demonstration across the street from the house.  The protest, according to the group's president, was against "alleged efforts of Archbishop Iakovos to drop Greek from the liturgy and set up an independent American church."

Demonstrators were back in May 1971 as the Greek Independence Day Parade neared.  Archbishop Iakovos had not backed down from his intention to introduce more English into the Greek services.  He held that "English is essential to arrest the drift away from the church by second-generation and third-generation Americans of Greek descent."  

The older Greeks were concerned about a breakdown in traditions.  And the issue became heated.  On May 8 The New York Times reported "Bomb threats were received at one church and there were bitter disagreements in others and even a scuffle.  During one service a churchgoer shouted that the Archbishop should be lynched.  Demonstrations against the change have been held across the street from the archdiocesan headquarters at 10 East 79th Street."

A much friendlier group filled the street on April 14, 1977.  Pope Shenouda III, the head of the Greek Orthodox Church, was the guest of honor at a reception and prayer service hosted by Archbishop Iakovos.   An equally prestigious reception was held by the Archbishop on February 13, 1964 for Queen Frederica and Princess Irena of Greece.

Potted evergreens flank the entrance, exactly as they did in the vintage photograph when the Barnes were in residence.
The mansion, little changed, remains in the possession of the church.

photographs by the author


  1. Thanks for another great post from the Cook Block! Love the double-height mansard and the dramatic fencing. I did some reading and Barnes' naval history collection is preserved at the New-York Historical Society - very glad to see that. Grateful to the Greek Orthodox Church for keeping the property in such beautiful, original condition. And thank you for your work keeping these lovely mansions and inhabitants alive in the 21st century.

  2. I had so much fun reading this article in the dining room of our home, Coldbrook in West Dover Vermont which is mentioned in this article and which my great grandmother Edith Barnes Sturgis inherited from her father John Sanford Barnes. We are currently celebrating the 150th year of family ownership of Coldbrook, which JS Barnes purchased as a fishing retreat in 1871. Neither the 79th street manse nor the Lenox estate survived the generations but incredibly our Vermont farmhouse did!! My children are the 6th generation to spend their childhoods here. One other fun fact is that years ago I was approached professionally to give a talk to a group called The New York Farmers. This is a group of gentleman farmers who advised the early USDA around the turn of the century but survives to this day in a very low profile secret way. I asked for some history as I was to speak about urban forestry at a private club they meet in (silver plates and all members, etc)and they produced a small volume detailing all the who's who. Turns out JSB my great great grandfather was their president for a decade!!! He didn't even mention this in his Egotistigraphy so it was either unimportant or too secret!!! But I got to eat off his silver plate and all the men at the dinner were tickled pink to be hearing about urban forestry from the great great granddaughter of a former president of their group. What a coincidence!!!
    -Fiona Watt