Saturday, August 22, 2020

The 1850 John Layman House -- 1 Patchin Place

photo by Lida Drummond

When Samuel Milligan purchased a section of the former Sir Peter Warren farm in 1799, Greenwich Village was a rural hamlet.  But beginning in 1828 the population rapidly increased, caused greatly by the influx of New Yorkers fleeing the yellow fever epidemic.  Around 1848 Milligan began construction of ten working class houses on a short cul-de-sac branching off of Amos Street (later West 10th).  Not coincidentally, his surveyor, Aaron Darwin Patchin, was also his son-in-law--the husband of Isabella Milligan.  The dead-end parcel was given the name Patchin Place.

The brick-faced homes were three bays wide and rose three stories.  Simple stone lintels crowned the openings and, other than a straightforward transom above the narrow doorways, there was no attempt made at ornamentation.

As an interesting side note, the marriage of Aaron and Isabella Patchin would end pitifully.  Aaron died on December 5, 1861 deemed by the courts "a lunatic," and Isabella would appear in court for several years afterward defending claims against the debts he incurred, just one of which amounted to $10,887.02--three quarters of a million dollars in today's money.

No. 1 Patchin Place started out as a private house, home to the Layman family.  John Layman was a mason and Thomas E. Layman made his living as a sash maker.

But within two years the little house was crammed with roomers.  Among the residents in 1852 were the families of policeman Ralph Blakelock; Daniel Carpenter, a bookkeeper; shipjoiner William Cartan; carpenter John Slater; and Thomas Steel, an engineer.

Ralph Blakelock and his family remained at least through 1854.  His son, Ralph Albert Blakelock, who was just seven years old that year, would become a noted landscape artist.  (Interestingly, while city directories listed the senior Blakelock as "police," his son's biographers would later routinely call him a physician.)

Ralph Albert Blakelock spent his early years in No. 1 Patchin Place.  original source unknown
One of the families that shared the house with the Blakelocks in 1854 were the Smiths.  The family drew press attention that year following a potentially horrific accident.  

At around 6:30 on the evening of November 23 the family was sitting around the dining room table.  The New York Evening Post said "the family of Mr. Smith, at No. 1 Patchin place, was taking tea."  That may have been a polite embellishment and the family was more likely sitting down to dinner.

The room was lit by a lamp fueled with camphene, a popular but highly volatile mixture of turpentine and alcohol which produced a bright light.  Mrs. Smith held their 4-year old child on her lap.   The Morning Courier and New-York Enquirer reported that the child "pulled the table-cloth, causing the lamp to upset, and scattering the burning fluid in all directions."  The Evening Post wrote "Mrs. Smith's clothing immediately took fire, and before the flames could be extinguished she was burned in a shocking manner."

A simple two-paned overlight graces the narrow doorway of No. 1.  photo via
The rapid turnover in residents was rather remarkable.  The directories show a nearly complete change in the tenant list each year.  In 1856, for instance, its residents were carpenter Emanuel Holman; Isaac Evans, a butcher whose stand was conveniently located at No. 1 Jefferson Market; and Mitchell Day, a sash maker.  Day volunteered his free time as a firefighter with the Guardian Engine Company, No. 29 at nearby at No. 14 Amos Street.

A notable exception to men who worked as laborers was Robert W. Butler, who lived in the house in 1879.  An actor and theater manager, he was most likely the first resident involved in the arts.

Typical of the tenants was Georgia Smith who was looking for a job in 1889.  Her advertisement on April 17 read "Dishwasher--Young American girl wants position as dishwasher or general worker in restaurant."  

Children of residents pose around the turn of the last century.  photo by Jessie Tarbox Beals from the collection of the Museum of the City of New York
Also living in the house that year was James Grant Anderson, a printer.  On the evening of May 18 he and a friend, James N. Reynolds were walking along Bleecker Street, between West 10th and Christopher Streets.  Walking just ahead of them were two other men, William Warren and William Collier.

Suddenly, according to Reynolds, "some dirt was thrown at them.  It scattered over their clothes, and also fell on Warren and Collier."   Warren turned and accused Anderson of having thrown the ashes.  He denied it and, after heated words, a fight broke out.  The young printer was pummeled.  When Warren and Collier walked off Anderson was unresponsive on the pavement.  Reynolds carried him to a drugstore on the corner and an ambulance was called.  By the time it arrived, the man was dead.  Warren was arrested and charged with murder.

By the turn of the century Greenwich Village had become Manhattan's Bohemia--home to artists, musicians, writers and poets.  The gradual change was reflected in the tenant list of No. 1 Patchin Place.  Among the residents in 1909 were two unmarried women, Elizabeth Irwin and Mary Hopkins.  They dedicated much of their time to work with the New York City Children's Hospital and School on Randall's Island.  

Elizabeth B. Westwood lived in the house at around the same time.  A 1903 graduate of Smith College, she was a short story writer and her financial and social status contrasted starkly with her 19th century predecessors at the address.  A member of the Women's University Club, the Gamut Club, and the Lyceum Club of London, she had a summer home in New Fairfield, Connecticut.  The feisty author was as well a member of the Woman Suffrage Party.  She was still living in the Patchin Place house when she died at the age of 35 on July 26, 1915.

When photographed in 1915, Patchin Place was open to the public until 1929.  from the collection of the Museum of the City of New York
The most celebrated tenants of No. 1 quite possibly were also its briefest.  Journalist Louise Bryant was best known for her sympathetic reporting of the Bolsheviks during the 1917 Russian Revolution.  Her journalist husband, John Silas Reed was even more renowned for his open support for the revolutionary government.  An avowed Socialist, his actions resulted in his being charged with sedition and treason.

Louise Bryant would looked much as she did in this portrait, painted by John Henry Trullinger in 1913, when she lived in No. 1 Patchin Place.  from the Oregon Encyclopedia
Louise Bryant leased rooms here in July 1918.  The arcane alley was most likely chosen as a good hiding place for the fugitive.  While they lived in the apartment, Reed's article "The Case for the Bolsheviki" was published in The Independent and his "Kerensky is Coming!" appeared in The Liberator.  The couple did not stay long.  In the autumn of that same year they moved to No. 147 West 4th Street.

John Silas Reed was hiding out from authorities during his stay here.  original source unknown
Scientist Sarah Ellen Davis was living in No. 1 in 1920.  Highly-educated, she graduated from Bryn Mawr College in 1903 and from its graduate school in 1906.  She then studied at the University of Leipsic and the University of Zurich.  Living here the following year was journalist John Williams Crawford,  the assistant editor of the Daily Garment News.

It was perhaps the increasingly affluent status of the tenants of Patchin Place that resulted in its being gated-off in 1929.  What had once been a rather common off-shoot of West 10th Street now bore the appearance of an exclusive enclave.

In 1965 No. 1 Patchin Place received a renovation that resulted in an apartment on the first floor and a duplex above it.  The first-floor apartment was used as the headquarters of the newly-formed commercial radio production company, No Soap Radio, Ltd., in 1971.  A journalist who visited the office in November 1971 said it "is equipped with a shaggy rug, chrome and velvet rocking chairs, a fireplace, and a poster portrait of (we think) Clara Bow."  

The ground floor space was officially converted to an office in 1975.  In 1993 Dr. Shelly Menolascino, a psychiatrist and acupuncturist, opened her office here.  Writing in The New York Times in 2003 David Koeppel noted "Most patients seem to appreciate the privacy of the mews; no doormen, receptionists, or uncomfortable elevator rides with strangers."

photo by Beyond My Ken
After 170 years Patchin Place is almost unchanged.  And from the street No. 1 looks much as it did when the hard-working Layman family moved in in 1850.

many thanks to Lida Drummond for prompting this post


  1. The article, at the end, states incorrectly that Dr. Shelly Menolascino had an office on the first floor of 1 Patchin in 1992. In 1992 I (Chris Samuels, Ph.D.) leased the entire building, using it for my offices and my family home until 2020. Covid made it infeasible, unfortunately. Recently, a RE mogul bought the entire street (10 buildings) and appears to have kicked everyone out. I stopped by there this evening to visit it for old time’s sake and it appeared deserted. Sad. I know where I went, but where did all the old-time tenants go? Greed in fact isn’t good.

    1. Thank you for the clarification.

    2. A fascinating, thorough piece of research. I wish I had the article to hand while I was writing my book 'Patchin Place: The Powyses and Literary New York'! It is available from Amazon as an eBook or paperback. John Cowper Powys, the English novelist, and his partner Phyllis Playter occupied rooms in Number 4, from 1924 to 1931, coinciding with and fellow occupant of E.E. Cummings. Marion Morehouse, Cumming's partner, moved into Number 8 in 1935 and joined him in Number 4 the following year. Powys's brother, Llewelyn, also a writer, lived for a while in Number 5. Both brothers provide vivid accounts of their time there, as does another contemporary resident, Boyne Grainer, in 'We Lived in Patchin Place'.
      I am really sorry to hear that the buildings are now empty.