Monday, March 9, 2020

The Lost Abraham Quackenbush House - 231 East 86th Street

from the collection of the Museum of the City of New York

Born in New York City on March 27, 1791, Abraham Quackenbush came from a long-established family in America.   Pieter van Quackenbosch (who later dropped the "van" from his name) arrived in New Netherlands from Holland around 1660 at the age of 21.  From the beginning the family was well-to-do.  In her 1909 Quackenbush Family in Holland and America, family historian Adriana Suydam Quackenbush noted he was "possessed of more means than was usual with the Dutch immigrants.  He also brought with him a well established family name, which is another indication that he was of a higher station than the average early settler." 

The house in which Quackenbush was born was on Fair Street, later renamed Fulton Street.  According to Adriana Suydam Quackenbush, "he was fond of telling that as a boy and young man he often hunted in the neighboring meadows, which covered the area now bounded by Lispenard and Spring Streets, Broadway and the North [Hudson] River."

Quackenbush married Sarah McLaren in the Franklin Street Reformed Dutch Church on March 25, 1818.  According to the McLaren family legend, her father, Daniel McLaren, had arrived from Scotland on Evacuation Day, his ship passing those of the leaving British troops.

The couple would have eight children, two of which died in childhood.  Abraham was engaged in the dry goods business on Greenwich Street, but he retired in 1826 at the age of 35.  In 1851 he purchased a country home near Yorkville, far north of the city.  The wooden Italianate-style house sat within grounds bordered by 86th and 87th Streets, and Second and Third Avenues.  The "country seats" of other families of prominence--the Rhinelanders, Astors, Rutters, and Fanshaws, for instance, were the family's near neighbors.

The Quackenbush house was surrounded by gardens.  Its site upon a hill resulted in a very high basement level at the front of the house, while the rear was nearly even with the ground.  A graceful split staircase rose to the full-width veranda where the family no doubt spent many summer evenings.  A centered Palladio-inspired window grouping added interest to the second floor.  The attic windows were hidden between the brackets of the wooden cornice, and the whole was topped by a shuttered cupola.

Three years after the family moved in, on March 16, 1854, the house was the scene of daughter Vestiana's wedding to Dr. Nathaniel Marsten Freeman.  The ceremony was performed by her brother, Rev. Daniel McLaren Quackenbush.  The marriage did not reduce the population of the house, however, but increased it.  The newlyweds made their home here.

Rev. Daniel M. Quackenbush presided over the wedding of his brother, Abraham C. Quackenbush and Lizzie A. Louderback on December 17, 1863.   The groom moved his wife into the 86th Street house which must have been becoming a big snug.  By now Vestiana and Nathaniel had an eight-year old son, Charles, and a five-year old daughter, Elizabeth.

Nathaniel Freeman also ran his medical practice from the house.  He advertised his office hours in 1867 as between 8 and 10 a.m., and 2 to 4 p.m.

That year Rev Daniel McLaren Quackenbush (who, too, still lived in the 86th Street house) became pastor of the Prospect Hill Reformed Church in Yorkville.  At the time the once rural neighborhood was filling with residences and shops.   

The increasing property values were evidenced in 1868 when Abraham Quackenbush sold the Third Avenue and 87th Street corner of his land to Nathaniel J. Burchill.  The price for the 20-foot site plot was $42,000; or about $765,000 today.

Sarah died in the wooden house on July 21, 1869.  Abraham survived her until March 12, 1877.  The Quackenbush heirs--Vestiana and her family, Abraham, Jr. and Elizabeth, Charles and Daniel--remained in the 86th Street house.

In the meantime, by 1866 Abraham Jr. his brother Charles, were partners with William H. Townsend in Quackenbush, Townsend, & Co., a wholesale hardware firm.   Abraham branched out in 1883 by co-founding The New York Rock Salt Company.  He was chairman and president and he brought his nephew, Charles Freeman, on board as treasurer.

Two years later Abraham and his wife left the family home.  On January 7, 1885 he transferred his portion of the title to Daniel, Charles and Vestiana.  His siblings would not be far behind him.

It may have been the soaring value of the property that prompted them to sell in 1890 what had been their parent's country home.  The charming wooden structure was quickly demolished to be replaced with houses and shops.   An apartment building, erected in 1983, sits on the site today.

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