Saturday, June 13, 2020

The Hiram Studley House - 116 East 30th Street

Around 1855 a charming row of 17-foot wide houses rose along the south side of East 30th Street between Fourth (later Park) and Lexington Avenues.  Each was different, but the group flowed together as a picturesque unit with stoops that alternated from right to left, and angled bays at different levels.

No. 116 was home to Hiram Studley and his family.  Born in Acworth, New Hampshire on May 3, 1824, Studley had married Mary Abagail Chesley on January 5, 1854.  

The 27-year old groom, who had been working for Adams Express Company, struck out on his own that year when he and his brother established Studley's Express.  Express companies like Adams and Wells Fargo transferred freight, but Studley saw an untapped opportunity.  Passengers arriving by train in the city were taken to their hotels or homes by hansom.  They would then await the arrival of their baggage on an express wagon.  Studley envisioned combining the two steps.

Decades later, in its August 1875 issue, Harper's New Monthly Magazine mentioned, "Hiram Studley, a brother of Warren, was the first man to carry a passenger across the city in a transfer coach--another improvement and extension of the express system--and for several days he was in danger of assassination by the irate 'cabbies,' who foresaw the injury it would do their business."

On August 23, 1866 the funeral of Hiram's brother-in-law, George H. Barrett, was held in the 30th Street house.   Mary Abagail most likely did not make an appearance.  She had given birth to little Harriett Barrett Studley seven days earlier and was suffering from "childbirth fever."  A second funeral within a month was held in the house after Mary Abagail died on September 10.

Although Victorian decorum demanded that Hiram go into mourning for a full year, it may have been the pressures of a newborn baby for the suddenly single father, still in his 20's, that prompted him to break the rules.  He was married to Elvira Storey shockingly quickly, on March 19, 1867.

The couple would have four more children, George Barrett, born in April 1858; Ella D., Carrie L., and a son who died in childbirth in 1885.

Living in the house in 1870 were two Irish servants, 39-year old Rose Murphy and 40-year old Bridy Murphy, possibly her sister.  And despite what must have been tight conditions in the narrow house, the Studleys were renting rooms that year to Charles Hamon, a railroad conductor, and his wife Hannah.

Hiram retired in 1873.  He placed an advertisement in The New York Herald on June 11 offering "A legitimate, profitable and pleasant business for sale, thoroughly established; capital required about $6,000; profits about $7,000 per annum."  His projected yearly profits would be in the neighborhood of $155,000 today.

Studley would not enjoy his retirement for long.  He died at the age of 50 on June 13, 1874.  His funeral was held in the parlor three days later.  In reporting his death, the New-York Tribune mentioned "He was very determined in disposition, and although at one time an inveterate smoker, he suddenly gave up the habit and never resumed."

Apparently leasing a room in the Studley house at the time was Benjamin R. Buckwaiter who got himself into serious trouble a month after the funeral.  On the warm evening of July 7 Hugh Kelly of No. 119 East 29th Street was sitting in his back yard, directly behind the Studley's.  Simultaneously, Buckwaiter, who had enough of a pesky stray cat, took his firearm into the yard and began firing.  He missed the cat, but managed to shoot Kelly in the thigh.

The New York Herald reported "An effort was made to trace the course of the ball and ascertain its location, but the physician (Dr. Burke) was not successful; and it is feared in consequence that the wound may prove fatal."  Buckwaiter was arrested and vehemently protested.  "Mr. Buckwaiter claims that somebody else as well as he tried to shoot the tom-cat, and pertinently asks why it is that he has not also been arrested."

In 1880 No. 116 was home to the respected physician W. B. De Garmo.  Among his medical accomplishments was the invention of the hernial syringe.  That year in February he contributed an article to the Medical Record on "The Heatonian Operation for the Cure of Hernia."

De Garmo sold the property to Andrew J. Robinson in 1884.  Most likely because of its narrow proportions, the house escaped being converted to apartments.  But by the 1940's it was being used for business purposes as well.  

Author and writing instructor Whit Burnett and his second wife, the former Hallie Southgate, jointly owned the property.  Perhaps Burnett's most successful student was J. D. Salinger.  From the 30th Street house Burnett operated The Story Press, which published the magazine Story.  The publication was an important vehicle for budding writers.

On November 6, 1948 The New York Times reported that the De Florez Engineering Company had purchased the house, saying the firm "will alter and occupy it for business."  Its principal was Dr. Luis de Florez who, in 1951 was a member of the Naval Research Advisory Committee assembled by the Department of Defense Appropriations.

While some of the houses along the venerable row have been altered, many like No. 116 (right) are greatly intact.
A subsequent renovation, completed in 1965, resulted in offices in the basement and first floor, and a duplex residence above.

photographs by the author

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