Wednesday, September 30, 2020

The 1910 John M. Bowers House - 45 East 65th Street

On July 16 1909 Benson B. Sloan sold the old brownstone house at No. 45 East 65th Street "and part" of the four-story house next door at No. 63 to John Meyer Bowers.   The portion of the abutting property would make possible a more commodious, 28-foot wide new dwelling.  The architectural firm of Hoppin & Koen was hired to design a six-story brick and limestone residence at a cost of $50,000, or about $1.45 million today.

Born in Cooperstown, New York in 1850, Bowers was a noted lawyer.  The house in which he was born, Lakelands, was built in 1804 and sat on property granted to Henry Bowers by the British Crown.   John Bowers's wife, the former Susan Dandridge, had a Colonial pedigree as well.  She was descended from Alexander Spotswood, a Colonial Governor of Virginia, and Martha Dandridge, who married George Washington.  The couple had five grown children.

Sadly, Susan Bowers would never see her new home.  On September 14, 1909, one month before the plans were filed, she died at Lakelands.

The 65th Street house was completed the following year.  Hoppin & Koen had produced a dignified neo-Georgian residence.  A rusticated limestone base upheld four stories of red brick.  A full-width stone balustrade gave the impression of a balcony at the second floor.  Two intermediate cornices, one quite prominent with stone brackets, framed the fourth floor.  Another balustrade introduced the mansard level with its three copper-clad dormers.

By social protocol Bowers's period of mourning extended to fall 1910.  Only months afterward, on July 28, 1911 The Evening World reported "To friends in New York and other cities the news will come as a surprise that John M. Bowers of the legal firm of Bowers & to marry again.  In Christ Episcopal Church, in Cooperstown, N. Y., to-morrow morning he will make Miss Kate Starkweather his bride."

The newspaper said that the bride "belongs to one of the oldest and most prominent families in that part of the State" and pointed out "She is about half the age of Mr. Bowers and is very pretty and popular in society."

The newlyweds were entertaining in the 65th Street house that winter season.  On February 19, 1912 they hosted a dinner followed by dancing with John's son William as guest of honor.

Already well known in upstate society, Katharine Bowers became prominent in Cooperstown.  On July 6, 1913, for instance, the New-York Tribune reported "Mrs. John M. Bowers has been giving a round robin tennis tournament at Lakelands every morning and afternoon this week."

Lakelands, the 1804 Cooperstown country home.  from the collection of the Library of Congress

Although Bowers was already well known within the legal community, he garnered national attention in 1915 when he defended former President Theodore Roosevelt in a libel suit brought by politician William Barnes.   Roosevelt had publicly accused Barnes of being "a corrupt, obnoxious political boss."  Barnes sued for $50,000 in damages--more than $1.3 million today.

The highly publicized, five week trial began on August 19, 1915.  Bowers did not deny that his client had made the remarks, or say that they were expected campaign rhetoric.  Instead he explained in clear detail that the accusations were factual.  Bowers was triumphant and the former President was acquitted.  The New-York Tribune said Bowers's defense "is described by all who heard it as a 'masterly oration.'"

With World War I raging overseas, in 1917 Congress enacted a "draft law."  John M. Bowers was appointed to do the legal work in forming the Selective Service.  It was a daunting project with limited time to complete.  On March 9, 1918 The Sun reported "Another distinguished civilian has given his life for his country just as truly as though he had been killed in action as a uniformed soldier fighting the German foe.  John M. Bowers, one of the leaders of the New York bar, is dead as a result of overwork in connection with the selective draft."  

Bowers was 68 years old.  He left an estate estimated at around $17 million in today's dollars.  Before the year was up Katharine had sold the 65th Street house to lawyer Thomas Ewing.  On December 7, 1918 the Real Estate Record & Builders' Guide reported that he "contemplates the erection of a private residence" on the site.

Attorney Thomas Ewing original source unknown

As it turned out, any plans to demolish the eight-year old residence were discarded.   The names of Ewing and his wife, the former Anna Phillips Cochran, would appear in social columns not only for their entertainments, but for the marriages of their maturing children.  The first to leave home was William Francis Cochran Ewing.  The 24-year old was married to Emily Fordyce Dodge in Mount Kisco, New York in June 1923.  The groom's brother, Thomas, Jr., was his best man and his sister, Ellen, was a bridesmaid.

The year 1925 was a busy one for the Ewing household.  On January 6 the New York Telegram and Evening Mail announced that Thomas and Anna had hosted a dinner at Pierre's "for their son, Mr. Sherman Ewing, and his fiancĂ©e, Miss Mary Peavy Heffelfinger."  

That winter was Ellen's debutante season; but before those events came parties that followed the announcement of Gifford Cochran Ewing's engagement to Frances Leverich Riker in November.

Ellen finally got her time in the spotlight.  On December 5 her mother gave a debutante reception in the 65th Street house, and the following week, on December 12, she was given a dinner and a dance at the Colony Club.  The Yonkers Statesman reported "At the dinner were about seventy-five friends and relatives."

Anna Ewing had little time to rest.  The following year on December 28 son Thomas was married to Lucia Hosmer Chase in Waterbury, Connecticut.  Guests came from as far away as Chicago, Cincinnati and Washington, D. C.  Eleanor Taft, daughter-in-law of former President William Howard Taft, was the maid of honor.

In November 1929 the Council on Foreign Relations purchased No. 45 East 65th Street.  The New York Times remarked "This modern six-story house will provide a permanent home for the council.  One of its features will be a reference library on international affairs, and it will provide facilities for the carrying on of the council's research program as well as for its conferences and round-table meetings."

With the world having experienced a catastrophic world war, the focus of the Council on Foreign Relations was "the scientific study of foreign relations."  It backed the publication of the Quarterly Review of Foreign Affairs, the Annual Survey of American Foreign Relations, and the Political Handbook of the World.  Its co-presidents were Elihu Root and John W. Davis.

On November 28, 1930, following interior alterations by the architectural firm of Delano & Aldrich, the organization moved in.  In his remarks Elihu Root said in part, "The establishment of this building and the centering of the work of the Council on Foreign Relations here indicates the appreciation of a truth very widely neglected and that the work of improving the foreign relations of the civilized man is necessarily very slow and laborious and difficult."

The title to the property was transferred in 1945 to the Woodrow Wilson Foundation.  Founded in 1921 for the "perpetuation of Wilson's ideals," it provided grants to groups and individuals.  The organization remained in the former mansion until 1963 when it moved to Princeton University.  In October that year The New York Times announced that the Foundation had sold the property to realty investor Fred H. Hill.

No. 45 East 65th Street now became home to the Institute for Rational Living.  Renovations were made which resulted in "psycho-therapy-educational classrooms" and a "school for emotional education" in the basement through third floor.  The floors four through six became residential space for two families.

The former Bowers mansion was sold again in February 2013 for around $20 million.  A renovation completed in 2018 returned it to a single-family home.

photographs by the author


  1. Anna Cochran Ewing was a daughter of Eva Smith Cochran, the philanthropist daughter of Alexander Smith of Yonkers, one of, if not the largest carpet manufacturers in the world. Although not as flashy or socially visible as many of her peers, Mrs. Cochran was thought to be one of the richest women in America

    1. PS,the Ewing family summered at Sorrento, Maine

    2. Thanks, as always, for the additional information!