In 1644 Willem Kieft, the Director of New Netherland, granted freed slave Simon Congo 20 morgens (about 45 acres) of land far north of the settlement of New Amsterdam. Two centuries later Congo's farm would see development as the expanding city began to engulf the area. Around the newly designed Union Square upscale homes rose beginning around 1845.
John Cowman had acquired much of the former Congo property in 1825. He died in 1832, leaving a stipulation in his will that his heirs must wait 10 years before inheriting the land. In 1842 Cowman's son, Augustus T., and son-in-law, Edward Sebring Mesier, divided up the building plots along West 16th Street between Fifth and Sixth Avenues. Mesier took Nos. 1 through 21 West 16th Street and in 1845 began selling them while maintaining careful control over what would be erected.
Restrictions were written into the deeds stipulating that no "stable, meat shop, slaughter house...or any base commercial establishment" could be built. Instead, only "first-class" residences which sat back from the street six feet or more were allowed.
The restrictions resulted in a matching row of upscale Greek Revival homes. Although individually owned, they were almost undoubtedly designed by the same architect. Like its neighbors, No. 21 was faced in red brick and trimmed in brownstone. A wide stoop rose above the brownstone English basement to a double-doored entrance within an earred surround with entablature and cornice. Two pairs of French doors opened onto an elegant cast iron balcony.
|Although termed Greek, the earred entrance surround was inspired by ancient Egyptian designs.|
Born in New York City in 1808, Baudouine had opened his first cabinetmaking shop on Pearl Street around 1830. As highly-ornate Victorian styles came into fashion, his exquisitely carved Rococo Revival furniture earned him a reputation as one of New York's premier cabinetmakers. Two years before Baudouine moved into the 16th Street house, Cyrus West Field had hired him to fully furnish his new Gramercy Park mansion. It was the first time in New York that an entire private residence was decorated by a single furniture maker.
|No. 21 West 16th Street would have held suites of furniture like this sofa, made in the Baudouine workshop. The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art|
For Sale--House and Lot. No. 21 West Sixteenth street, between 5th and 6th avenues--a first class house with all the modern improvements. A most desirable location. Lot 25 feet by half the block--is now richly furnished, and will be sold with or without the furniture.
Charles and Ann did not sell and remained for four more years. In 1852 Ann was looking for household help. She was somewhat liberal concerning where the women came from, but was strict about her religion.
Wanted--Two Protestant women, American, Welsh, Scotch, or English; one to cook, wash and iron, the other as chambermaid and seamstress.
The Baudouines left West 16th Street in the spring of 1854. The house became home to the Samuel F. Barry family, which were soon looking for a cook, "one who understands her business, and will wash and iron." The ad was definite: "None other need apply."
A well-to-do merchant, Samuel Frederick Barry was a partner in Waldo, Barry & Co. He had married Martha Lewis Peabody on May 28, 1830. The couple had six children, William Frederick, Jr., Mary Emily (who died in childhood), Edward Herbert, Horace Mansfield, Anna Rebecca (who died in 1851), Robert Peabody, Samuel Frederick, and Harriette Louise.
In 1859 Elizabeth Thompson was among the Barry's domestic staff. She and her husband, James, lived on 26th Street where she suffered unthinkable abuse. The New York Herald said they "lived on unhappy terms" and that James "has repeatedly beat her so that she could hardly walk."
On Tuesday morning, August 24 Elizabeth was able to make it to the 16th Street house; but she was by no means in any shape to work. The night before "a difficulty arose" between the couple and James "again repeated his assaults upon his wife, inflicting several serious wounds about her body," according to the newspaper. Elizabeth was placed in a bed where, after "lingering along," she died at around 11:00 that night. James was arrested an hour later at their apartment.
On October 18, 1861 the city turned out for the massive procession accompanying the remains of Irish rebel Terrence Bellew MacManus. The exiled activist had died in San Francisco and his body had been brought to New York to be sent home to Ireland. Thousands turned out to view the military escort, the "fine band," as described by The New York Times, and the hearse which was flanked by representatives of Irish societies from Boston, Albany, Philadelphia and even California.
Horace Barry left his office at No. 5 William Street to view the procession. The press of well-dressed onlookers created a perfect opportunity for pick-pockets. Three days later Horace placed a somewhat sarcastic advertisement in The New York Herald:
$25 Reward will be paid for the return of a Gold Watch, artistically taken, in the most perfect prestidigitatorial style, from a gentleman, supposed while standing on the corner of Broadway and Chambers street, Oct. 18, looking at the McManus funeral. No questions will be asked, and no trouble need be anticipated.
The reward Horace offered would be equal to about $750 today.
Six months earlier the first shot in the Civil War had been fired. Robert Barry went off to war and distinguished himself within the Union Army. He returned to New York after the conflict with the rank of major.
On March 31, 1868 Samuel F. Barry died in the 16th Street house at the age of 61. His funeral was held in the parlor on April 2 and he was buried in Trinity Cemetery. His would not be the last of the funerals Martha would to attend, by far.
Three years later, on October 5, William Frederick died; and on November 19, 1877 Edward Herbert died. His funeral was held in the house a full week later, on November 29.
In 1888 Harriette was 24-years old and still unmarried. She and her mother participated jointly in social events. On December 9 that year, for instance, The World announced "Mrs. Samuel F. Barry and Miss Barry, 21 West Sixteenth street, will receive Dec. 13, 20 and 27." (Announcing when one was "at home" was crucial among feminine society, preventing the awkward situation of arriving for a visit and finding the lady of the house not at home.)
On occasion Harriette entertained on her own. Such was the case on February 3, 1892 when she hosted "an informal young people's tea." Her mother was not involved. The New York Herald reported that "she was assisted in receiving by her cousin, Miss Margaret H. Barry."
On November 9, 1894 The New York Herald reported that Harriette's engagement to "Mr. Morgan, of the American Embassy in Paris" had been announced. One can only imagine the flurry of outraged messages that the newspaper quickly received from No. 21 West 16th and from Paris.
Four days later a correction appeared. "Miss Harriette Louise Barry, of No. 21 West Sixteenth street, is engaged to Mr. R. Dorsey Loraine Mohun, and not to a Mr. Morgan, as was announced." The article noted "Mr. Mohun has recently returned from Central Africa, where he was in command of an expedition of the United States government."
The couple was married in 1895, just months before Martha Barry's death in 1896. After having been in the family for four decades, the house was sold at auction in April 1897 for $35,100--or about $1.12 million today.
It became home to the widowed Florence Johnson. Her father, Asa D. Dickson had been Consul at Nottingham, England under President Grover Cleveland, while her brother had been Cleveland's Postmaster General.
Florence was highly involved with the Mount St. Vincent Alumnae Association. In 1903 she hosted the group for a "musical and literary entertainment" to benefit the children of the Providence Fund. The charity had been formed to cover the hospital costs for those who could not afford to pay. On December 20 The New York Herald said "Financially and socially the affair proved a success."
The house was sold in March 1910 for $100,000 (about $2.78 million today). The New-York Daily Tribune reported "The buyer will probably improve the plot by erection of a loft building." Thankfully that did not happen, although the house would never be a private residence again.
Humorist illustrator G. Viafora and his wife, operatic soprano Gina Ciaparelli established their studios here in 1911. Both were well-known in artistic circles. The couple had been married in Rome on April 29, 1899.
On March 12, 1911 the New-York Daily Tribune reported "From Mr. G. Viafora, of No. 21 West 16th street, we have received the circular of an international exhibition of 'humorism' which is to be held this summer at the Rivoli Castle, near Turin." The exhibition included caricatures, humorous advertisements, and similar light-hearted artwork.
|An advertising postcard by Viafora (copyright expired)|
Painter Gene Smith had his studio in the building as well by 1916. He specialized in painting horses. In October 1916 a reporter from The New York Herald visited his studio, commenting on the many horse-themed paintings which "are fetching $25 to-day." (The journalist was apparently impressed at the price tag, equal to around $600 today.)
|Gene Smith painted this watercolor, The Finish, in 1891.|
Another renovation begun in 1939 resulted in a shop in the basement level, one apartment on the first floor and two each on the upper floors. The store was home to Magellan's Imports in the mid- to late-1950's.
Nearly 175 years after the Baudoine family moved in, their handsome home is little changed on the exterior. And surprisingly, much of the interior detailing like marble mantles, crown molding and woodwork survives.
|photo via StreetEasy.com|