Monday, March 30, 2020

The Lost Lewis M. Rutherfurd House - 175 Second Avenue

The stylish mansard roof was added in 1884.  photo from Old Buildings of New York City, 1907 (copyright expired)

Peter Stuyvesant, the Director General of the West India Company in New Netherlands, purchased land for his farm, or bouwerij, far to the north of the settlement on March 12, 1651.   The deal included, actually, two properties—Bowery (as the Dutch word became anglicized) #1 on which Stuyvesant constructed his home, and a portion of Bowery #2.   In the first decades of the 19th century the Stuyvesant family had retained a large portion of the original farm and several Stuyvesant homes dotted the area.

In 1845 Peter Gerard Stuyvesant, a grandson, erected an imposing mansion on the northwest corner of Second Avenue and East 11th Street, directly opposite the burying ground of St. Mark's Church.  Two stories of red brick rested upon a rusticated limestone base and lacy Italianate cast iron balconies clung to the openings of the second story.  The entrance was centered on the Second Avenue side behind a commodious grassy lawn.

Stuyvesant apparently entertained grandly.  The January 7, 1846 entry in Mayor Philip Hone's diary read:

I dined yesterday with Peter G. Stuyvesant in his splendid new house in the Second Avenue, near St. Mark's Church.  Our party consisted, beside the host and hostess, of David B. Ogden, John A. Stevens, Herman Thorn, Hamilton Fish, Henry Barclay, John T. Brigham, George Laurie, John C. Hamilton, Mr. Kean, and myself.

Peter G. Stuyvesant from Portraits of the Presidents of The [Saint Nicholas] Society of the City of New York, 1914 (copyright expired)

The hostess mentioned by Hone was Stuyvesant's second wife, Helena Rutherfurd.  The couple had no children, but had reared their grandniece, Margaret Stuyvesant Chanler,  who was married to the respected lawyer and astronomer Lewis Morris Rutherfurd.  Their toddler son, Stuyvesant Rutherfurd, was a favorite of his great uncle.

As The New York Times later wrote, "Peter Gerard Stuyvesant did not live long to enjoy his palatial residence."  He died at the age of 69 on August 16, 1847.

The terms of his will forced Margaret and Lewis Rutherfurd to make a difficult decision.  Apparently concerned about the continuance of the family name, Stuyvesant had left one-third of his substantial estate to their four-year old son on the condition that his name be changed from Stuyvesant Rutherfurd to Rutherfurd Stuyvesant.  

And so it was.  The boy and his family would move into the Second Avenue mansion.

Lewis Morris Rutherfurd was born on November 25, 1816.  He was a direct descendant on his mother's side to Lewis Morris, one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence.  He practiced law with John Jay and, following Jay's death, with Hamilton Fish.  But his interest in science drew him away from law and he spent several years in Europe studying optics under Professor Amici.  

photo via Popular Science magazine, January 1893 (copyright expired)
Decades later, in 1893, Popular Science magazine wrote "After his return home he built upon the lawn of his home at Eleventh Street and Second Avenue, New York, an observatory which has been called the finest and best-equipped private astronomical observatory in the country."  Later he invented another telescope especially converted for photography.  His pioneering astronomical photographs were ground breaking.

This photograph by Rutherfurd appeared in the 1873 book by Hermann Wilhelm Vogel, Die chemischen Wirkungen des Lichts und die Photographie: in ihrer Anwendung in Kunst, Wissenschaft und Industrie (copyright expired)

Rutherfurd Stuyvesant was 18-years old when the Civil War broke out.  Many of the sons of the wealthiest families stayed home, away from the dangers of battle.  It was a situation that would result in a three-day rampage of carnage within the city in 1863.  It is unclear whether Rutherfurd purposely avoided military service or, if he were truly unable to serve as he said.  In either case, just three weeks after the firing on Fort Sumter, he made public apologies and gave financial support.   His letter to Marshal Lefferts dated May 3, 1861 was published in The New York Times:

Sir:  Being deprived, by ill health, of the great pleasure of sharing in the dangers and fatigues so well endured, and in the credits, so well merited, of the Seventh [Regiment], I desire to testify my admiration for them as soldiers, and any affection for them as comrades, as well as my devotion to the sacred cause for which they are armed.  With this intent, I have procured and forwarded to your address a pair of mountain howitzers, with their equipments and ammunition, which I desire to present to the Regiment, with my best wishes.
                                           I am, very respectfully yours,
                                                        Rutherfurd Stuyvesant

Two years later, on October 13, 1863, Rutherford Stuyvesant married Mary Pierrepont.  She was the daughter of the prestigious and wealthy Henry Evelyn and Anna Jay Pierrepont of Brooklyn. 

Following the war the Rutherfurd family resumed their lives as members of fashionable society.  On December 10, 1868, for instance, the Evening Telegram reported "Lewis M. Rutherford [sic] and family, No. 175 Second avenue, will spend the winter in Savannah."  The newspaper updated its readers a month later, getting the name of the esteemed scientist even more wrong.  "The family of Louis Rutherford, Esq. of 175 Second avenue, are travelling for pleasure through the Southern cities.  They will probably return home in the spring."

On New Year's Eve 1879 Mary Stuyvesant went into labor.  Tragically, neither she nor the infant survived childbirth.  

Five years later Rutherfurd Stuyvesant hired the architectural firm of Renwick, Aspinwall & Russell to alter his childhood home to an apartment house.  The massive alterations included a nearly seamless 22-foot addition on 11th Street, a handsome full-height mansard with "fire-proof slate roof," as detailed in the plans, and the relocation of the entrance to 11th Street.

The original entrance had been located below the pedimented window to the right.  photo by George F. Arata from the collection of the Museum of the City of New York
Although now an apartment house, the former mansion was still upscale.  The New York Times reported "There are eight apartments in the house, each having eight rooms, and their size, with fourteen-foot ceilings and old-fashioned carved work around the ceilings, in addition to the ample halls, is not equaled in any of the expensive modern apartments."

It appears that Rutherfurd's parents lived on here until Lewis Morris Rutherfurd's death on May 30, 1892 at the family country estate, Tranquility, in New Jersey.  Other family members took lavish apartments, as well.  Rutherfurd's brother, Lewis Morris Rutherfurd, Jr., and his wife the former Anne Harriman, were living here in 1898.  (Following Rutherfurd's death in 1901 Anne married William Kissam Vanderbilt in London on April 29, 1903.)

George E. Waring, Jr. and his wife had an apartment here by 1897.  A sanitary engineer and civic reformer, he had designed the drainage system for Central Park--considered the largest project of its kind at the time.  When more than 5,000 citizens of Memphis, Tennessee died from yellow fever in 1878, Waring had been sent there to design the sewer system which ended the epidemic.  

Following the Spanish-American War in 1898, President William McKinley appointed Waring to study the sanitary conditions in Cuba.  This time the engineer became a victim.  He returned to New York carrying yellow fever.

George E. Waring, Jr.  from Life of Col. George E. Waring, Jr. (copyright expired)
Waring showed symptoms during the last week of October 1898.  Only a few days later, according to The New York Journal on Sunday, October 20, "It was not until Friday afternoon that Colonel Waring himself knew the nature of his malady."  By that evening the end was near.  Mrs. Waring and her son sat in an adjoining room throughout the night.  Then, according to Albert Shaw's 1899 Life of Col. George E. Waring, Jr., "His death took place at 7:35 o'clock at his home, the Rutherford apartment house, at 175 Second Avenue."

The Health Department descended on the building.  On November 1, 1898 The Sun reported "Col. Waring's widow, her son, John P. Yates, and the nurse who attended Col. Waring up to the time of his death, returned yesterday afternoon to the apartment house at 175 Second avenue...The work of disinfecting the house was completed yesterday morning by a corps of men from the Health Department."

The Renwick, Aspinwall & Russell addition, in the foreground, was nearly seamless.  photograph from the collection of the New York Public Library
Another Rutherfurd relative living in the building at the time was Helena Rutherfurd Ely and her family.  Helena Rutherfurd had married attorney Alfred Ely II in June 1880.  The couple maintained a 350-acre country estate, Meadowburn Farm, in New Jersey.

Their sprawling apartment was the scene of three receptions in December 1900 to introduce their daughter, also named Helena Rutherford Ely, to society.   Five years later, on December 3, 1905, The Sun reported "Miss Helena Rutherford Ely and Richard Worsam Meade will have a big wedding at Trinity next Saturday afternoon."  A reception followed in the Second Avenue apartment.

Congressman William Sulzer would garner more attention than any other resident.  He was living here on the top floor in 1912 when he was elected Governor of New York.  Shortly after the election The New York Times reminded its readers, "Congressman William Sulzer's home, at 175 Second Avenue, is one of the famous old residences in the city...The Sulzer home is famous in the history of New York as having been for years the residence of Lewis Morris Rutherfurd, the eminent scientist and astronomer."

Rutherfurd Stuyvesant had died three years earlier.  "Winthrop Rutherford [sic] a son, now takes general charge of the property," said the article.  But the writer had a gloomy prediction for the future of the old mansion.  "It is not likely that this interesting Stuyvesant and Rutherfurd landmark will remain much longer.  The fashionable Second Avenue of half a century ago has gone, and the changing conditions of the neighborhood are already having an effect upon the old place."

In 1935 signage on the corner of the building tells of its impending demolition.  photo from the collection of the New York Public Library
On March 2, 1917 the heirs sold No. 175 to St. Mark's Hospital for $82,500--more than 1.6 million in today's dollars.  The hospital remained in the converted dwelling until 1935 when it was razed to make way for a six-story apartment house that survives.


  1. Your research and detail is mind-blowing. I feel like I've had an entire semester of NYC history after reading your posts. Thanks so much!

    1. Well, thanks. I'm gratified to know that people like you enjoy the posts and get something out of them.

  2. I've been following this blog for years Tom! Thank you so much for your work. We love you dearly!