Monday, August 5, 2019

The Lost William F. Havemeyer House - 335 West 14th Street

Two tall, white-painted gas lamps flank the stoop--a long-held New York tradition that marked the residence as the home of a Mayor or former Mayor.  photographer unknown, from the collection of the Museum of the City of New York

From its earliest days, the tradition of New York City's fashionable residential neighborhoods has been one of northward movement.  As the tide of commerce moved ever northward, wealthy home owners abandoned their fine homes that would soon be swallowed up by a spreading business district.  In the early 1840's West 14th Street, until recently still rural, began developing into a fashionable residential.  

Around 1842 a fine, double-wide brick home was erected on the north side of West 14th Street, between Eighth and Ninth Avenues.   Exhibiting elements of both the Greek Revival and Italianate styles, the earred enframement of the entrance was common in the Greek Revival style, although its origins were actually Egyptian.  Classical, triangular pediments sat about the first floor openings.  Here each of the windows opened onto Italianate-style cast iron balconies.  The compressed openings of the fourth floor were patently Greek Revival, fitting into the squat attic level where the servants lived.

The architect added two distinctive features.  Rather than terminating the Italianate-style stoop railings in sturdy newels, as common, he gracefully curved them to morph seamlessly into the areaway fencing.  And above the bracketed cornice a stone parapet was added; a highly unusual feature for a domestic structure.

The wide proportions of the house allowed for a reception room at the right of the entrance hall, and the staircase directly behind.  The dining room can be seen at the end of the hall, and the parlors opened on the left.   photographer unknown, from the collection of the Museum of the City of New York
The Prime family was listed as living at No. 113 in 1842.  Rufus Prime and his wife the former Augusta Temple, had seven children, including Temple Prime, who was 10-years old that year.   As he grew to adulthood, Temple remained in the family home, focusing his attentions on science.

He was still living here in February 1865 when he was appointed to the committee to form a Museum of Natural History.  In a joint announcement published in The Jewish Messenger that month, the group stressed "The establishment here of a Museum of Natural History would attract to New York many persons of cultivation who are driven to other cities, where a wise liberality has made ample provision for scientific pursuits."

Prime was, at the time, the treasurer of the Lyceum of Natural History, the forerunner of the Natural History Museum.  He would become an accomplished amateur conchologist (expert in mollusk shells), discovering several new species.

Prime published his home address for those wishing to subscript to the Lyceum's publications. The American Journal of Conchology, February 1865 (copyright expired) 
Around 1868, when West 14th Street was renumbered and the house received its new address of No. 335, Prime had moved on.  The William Frederick Havemeyer family now lived here.

Havemeyer was born in 1804.  His father, also William, had established one of the first sugar refineries in New York.    After graduating from Columbia College in 1823, he joined his father's firm.  Five years later he and his cousin, Frederick Christian Havemeyer formed the W. F. & F. C. Havemeyer sugar refinery business.  He sold his share to his brother, Albert in 1842, retiring at 38-years old a wealthy man.

Two views of the parlors.  No pocket doors separate the rooms just pairs of Corinthian columns.  Note the intricately-stenciled ceiling.   photographer unknown, from the collection of the Museum of the City of New York
Retirement from business did not translate into inactivity.  Havemeyer went into politics and in 1845 defeated incumbent mayor James Harper.  He was elected mayor again in 1848 and a third time in 1873.

William F. Havemeyer's library walls were hung with framed certificates and honors.   photographer unknown, from the collection of the Museum of the City of New York
In the days of the Dutch Burgomasters, two lantern bearers would escort the Burgomaster home at night.  The lit lanterns were then left outside the residence as a sign that Burgomaster was at home and boisterous citizens should not disturb him.  The custom evolved into two gas lampposts adorning all New York mayors’ residences for life; and so two white-painted gas lamps were installed on either side of the stoop of No. 335.

Havemeyer and his wife, the former Sarah Agnes Craig, had ten children.  The wedding of Laura A. Havemeyer to Major Isaac Walker Maclay of the U. S. Army was held in the 14th Street house on November 30, 1869.  Interestingly, four years earlier, on April 15, 1865, Maclay had helped carry President Abraham Lincoln from his box in Ford's Theatre to a rear room, then ran out to find Dr. Dodd, the Lincoln family physician.

Son Jonathan C. Havemeyer was still living with his parents in the early 1870's.  Like Temple Prime, he was interested in science and since 1859 had been a member of the American Geographical Society of New York.  On November 29, 1872 the Evening Telegram reported "Mr. J. C. Havemeyer, the well known refiner...residing at 335 West Fourteenth street, sailed for England on the 16th inst., accompanied by Mr. C. W. Havemeyer."  The final destination of Jonathan's and his brother Christopher's voyage was, in fact Athens.  On December 21, 1872 Jonathan married Alice A. Francis in there (Alice's father, John M. Francis, was the United States Minister to Greece at the time).

Two views of the Havemeyer dining room.  Oriental rugs lay atop the wall-to-wall carpeting.  A handsome Empire sofa (top) coexists with a Renaissance Revival sideboard.  photographer unknown, from the collection of the Museum of the City of New York
On the morning of December 1, 1874 Mayor Havemeyer attended a ceremony in Flushing, Queens.  After a long walk to the train station, he and the other passengers were informed that there would be no train stopping there.  One man offered him a ride in his carriage to the next train depot, but Havemeyer refused, saying the air was bracing.

By the time the mayor reached the Main Street depot, about two miles away, he was exhausted, according to another passenger.  C. P. Whitlock said later "When he got into the cars and was seated, he took off his hat and wiped the perspiration from his forehead and said to a friend, 'I don't think I would make much of a pedestrian.'"  Whitlock added "All the way to the city His Honor seemed to be suffering more or less, throwing off wind from his stomach continually."

William Havemeyer made it to City Hall, then suffered a fatal heart attack.  Within twenty-four hours, according to the Evening Telegram, "the City Hall is black."  The main balcony was draped in heavy black and white bunting, the columns were completely shrouded in striped black and white cloth, and the pillars of the main hallway "were also hung with black and white crepe."  Throughout the day city officials called on Sarah at the 14th Street mansion.  

Following the funeral Sarah turned her attentions to aiding war veterans.  By 1876 she was treasurer of the Ladies' Union Relief Association "a society of devoted and patriotic ladies...who make it their business to relieve with judicious aid the needs of several hundred soldiers' families," according to The New York Times on November 28 that year.  She would retain the unpaid position at least throughout the 1870's.

Two of the several bedrooms in the house.   photographer unknown, from the collection of the Museum of the City of New York
While Sarah focused on charitable works, other family members were more interested in their personal wealth.  Despite the Havemeyer millions, squabbling among the siblings began in 1874, following the death of their uncle, Albert Havemeyer.

Albert died without a will.  Among his assets were $600,000 in Long Island Railroad shares--more in the neighborhood of $13.6 million today.  All parties involved agreed to turn over the stocks to John C. Havemeyer to be liquided and dispersed among the heirs.  In March 1877 William A. Havemeyer sued his brother for $76,000, claiming he never received his fair portion.  The litigation lasted more than a year, earning it the name in the press "The Havemeyer Suit."  In December 1878 William won the case and was awarded $30,505.10.

This large bedroom, stuffed with furniture, was the epitome of late 19th century taste.  The sewing stand and sewing basket (top) suggest this was Sarah's room.   photographer unknown, from the collection of the Museum of the City of New York
Still living with Sarah in the 14th Street house was her unmarried son, Hector, who was by now the president of the Havemeyer Sugar Refining Company.  The Sun remarked that was "a fine musician and a performer on the violin.  He often played privately for his friends at his residence, 335 West Fourteenth street."

The large Havemeyer refinery building was located in Greenpoint, Brooklyn.  Labor problems in 1887 resulted in a massive arson fire in Palmer's cooperage, or barrel-making, factory, nearby.  Hector responded by establishing round-the-clock shifts so the his building would be less likely to be torched.  He told reporters later he and his managers thought "if it became known that so many men were in the building it would deter anyone from attempting to destroy it."  Havemeyer underestimated the often brutally violent union men.

There were 125 men working in the building on the night of June 11, 1887.  Earlier that day a fired employee named Johnson was seen "lounging about the neighborhood of the a partly intoxicated condition."  At some point that night someone entered the building and deactivated the fire alarms, then set the first floor on fire.  All the employees were in upper floors.  The fire grew to an inferno and, amazingly, almost everyone made it out safely.  But two, Ferdinand Wein and Lewis Wilkins, were missing.

The following morning Havemeyer estimated the damaged at more than $1 million.  "But I do not care so much about this as I do about the two men that are missing.  I think there is no doubt that they are lost."  Later that morning the bodies of the men were recovered.

The door frames of this sitting room (which had no lack of patterns), feature the Greek Revival ears of the exterior entrance.   photographer unknown, from the collection of the Museum of the City of New York
In August 1889 Hector was diagnosed with Brights' Disease, better known today as acute nephritis, and advised by his physicians to go abroad for his health.  The Sun said "He had never been seriously ill before, and was loath to believe that he was seriously ill then."  The 45-year-old went to Carlsbad, where he "took a treatment at the baths," then traveled to Nice and Cannes.  But the treatments did not work.  Still weak, Havemeyer returned to Paris to board a steamer home.

His French physician forbade his traveling, and was so concerned that he cabled Hector's brother, William, who sailed on December 8 for France.  He did not make it there in time to see his brother alive.  Hector died on December 14.

The millionaire's body was brought back to New York and his funeral held in the 14th Street house on New Year's morning, 1890.  The Statesman commented that "Among the many beautiful floral designs was a broken column, of roses, orchids and other choice flowers, and sent by the employes of the Havemeyer Sugar Refining Company."

His will prompted the extended family, one again, to quarrel.  His multi-million dollar estate was, admittedly, disproportionately divided.  On March 18, 1890 The Buffalo Courier reported "By the will he left about $1,500,000 to his brother, William F. Havemeyer, who already had probably $10,000,000.  Two other brothers got something, but the children of a fourth brother, Henry Havemeyer, deceased, are not remembered at all."  The day after the will was probated the "ten forgotten children" contested it.  The Buffalo Courier predicted "a stubborn fight" over the millions "with fine pickings for the lawyers."  The contestants claimed that Havemeyer was "not in fit mental condition to make a well, else he would never have left them out of it."  The newspaper added its editorial comment, "Possibly."

Sarah received $100,000 from her son's will, and an additional $200,000 for her to distribute among "several charitable corporations and associations in the city...she may select."  

Sarah died in the 14th Street house in December 1894.  Her estate was divided among Jonathan, James and William, and her two daughters.  She had quite noticeably snubbed Charles, bequeathing his portion instead to his two children, Julia and Loomis Havemeyer.  And not unexpectedly, another court battle over Havemeyer money ensued.  On February 24, 1895 Charles filed a notice of contest.  His complaint said that "his mother's last will was not such, that it was not her free and voluntary act, and that when it was executed, if at all, Mrs. Havemeyer was not of sound mind," as reported by The Evening Post.

Four months later, on June 20, the Havemeyer heirs held an auction of the furnishings of their family home.  Included was a Worcester & Stoddard pianoforte, "fine antique mahogany sofas tables, chairs," and Sarah's china, glass and silver.

In March 1898 William Havemeyer sold the house and the plot next door that had been the Havemeyer garden to real estate operators Benson & Gildersleeve.  The developers wasted little time in demolishing the venerable mansion and erecting "The Homestead" apartments, which survive.

photo via


  1. Love seeing the interiors but all the furniture, wall hangings, rugs in so many different styles and patterns seems claustrophobic. The thought of dusting those rooms gives me nightmares. But then they had an army of maids, housekeepers and I only have one lazy maid - me!

  2. Howdy,
    William A. Havemeyer is my Great Great Grandfather. You put together a very good post/article here. I have been doing research into the Havemeyer family for over 30 years now. Two items, one being where you got your information about William A. Havemeyer winning his suit, and two the agreement between the parties and John C. Havemeyer.
    Thanks, Merry Christmas

    1. please email me directly at the address in the upper left of this page.

    2. Hi John, I am related to William F. Havemeyer. I'd like to connect. my email:

  3. I’ve been looking for a picture of Albert Havemeyer he’s my 3rd great grandfather. Are you aware of any pictures of him?
    Thanks, Keith

    1. Sorry. I have never come across a photo of Albert.