Wednesday, November 4, 2020

The 1834 Amelia Judah House - 65 East 2nd Street


photo via

Around 1834 Amelia Judah erected a 25-foot wide, brick-faced home at 65 Second Street (the designation "East" would not be used for decades to come) between First and Second Avenues.  Originally designed in the recent Greek Revival style, it featured an English basement below a two-step stoop and a full third floor in favor of the dormered, peaked roof of the Federal style.

Newspapers reported the death of an 88-year old spinster named Amelia Judah on April 22, 1849.  Presumably it was this Amelia Judah.

By 1853 No. 65 was home to the Rosenfeld family.  Emanuel, Jacob and Wolf Rosenfeld were partners in the E. & J. Rosenfeld cigar business.  Wolf was apparently a son and nephew.  While Emanuel and Jacob listed their professions as "segars," Wolf was listed as a "segarmaker."

It may be that the California Gold Rush lured the Rosenfelds West.  With hundreds of thousands of men streaming into the territory, a cigar business had every prospect to thrive.  In 1857 E. & J. Rosenfeld was operating from San Francisco.

That year James S. Hull purchased No. 65.  For years he had been a sexton of the Brick Presbyterian Church and the keeper and undertaker in charge of its cemetery.  His move to Second Street had everything to do with the church's relocation to Fifth Avenue and 37th Street and its moving of the graveyard.

A notice in the New-York Daily Tribune on May 15, 1856 had informed families:

Notice--The Brick Presbyterian Church, corner of Beekman and Nassau sts, having been sold, the Trustees have procured a beautiful Location in the Evergreen Cemetery, to which place all the remains of the dead found in their graveyard will be removed, unless otherwise indicated by surviving friends.  Mr. James S. Hull, Sexton of the Church, will attend daily at the Church from 9 to 10 o'clock a.m. to receive intimations from the friends of the departed, and give any information desired.

While Hull retained his position as sexton of the Brick Presbyterian Church, he now took the job as keeper and undertaker of the New York City Marble Cemetery directly across the street from his new home.  He was also involved in the running of the Hope Chapel on Broadway.  An advertisement in The Evening Post on May 20, 1857 offered "To Let--For Lectures or Public Meetings, The Lecture Room known as Hope Chapel."  The ad advised "Apply to James S. Hull, on the premises, from 1 to 2 o'clock daily, or at 65 Second street.'

By 1859 Hull shared the house with his sister, Phebe, and her husband John R. Spies.  Spies was a merchant at the time, dealing in "lighters" at No. 129 Wall Street.  

Another sexton, Nathaniel H. Hodgson, and his wife moved in in 1867.  Whether he had been previously affiliated with Hull in his undertaking duties is unclear, however in 1870 he added "undertaker" to his professional listing and that year the firm of Hull & Hodgson, "undertakers" was using 65 Second Street as its address.  

The house may have been a bit crowded that year, for also living here with Hull, the Spies and the Hodgsons, were two widows (both named Jane Johnson), possibly sisters-in-law.  Jane Johnson was the widow of Henry R. and Jane E. Johnson was the widow of William B. Johnson.  (It was apparently a temporary arrangement and the women are listed here only in 1870-'71.)

James S. Hull's several professions garnered him a comfortable income.  In addition to his townhouse, he owned a substantial summer estate with two residences.  John R. Spies appears to have been managing the property for him when he offered to lease it for the summer of 1877.  His advertisement read:

To Let--At Cornwall On The Hudson, on the bank of the river, and at the base of Storm King Mountain, the furnished 8-roomed cottage lately occupied by Andrew Fletcher, Esq.  Or the furnished double 16-roomed house in same location; all modern improvements, extensive lawns, garden, fruit trees, &c.; boating and bathing accommodations, ice-house' everything in first-class order, and will be let to a responsible party on reasonable terms.  Apply to Mr. John R. Spies, No. 65 2d-st., New-York, or on the premises to James S. Hull.

On April 24, 1877, two weeks after that ad appeared, Hull sold the Second Street house to Nathaniel Hodgson for $15,000 (about $378,000 today).  It may have been at this time that the house was remodeled from Greek Revival to the more up-to-date Italianate style with a new cornice and entrance.

Other than the name on the title, nothing changed within the house.  Hull, the Spies, and Hodgsons continued to lived together.  Hull remained keeper of the cemetery across the street and Hull & Hogdson, undertakers, still operated from the residence.

James S. Hull died in 1883 having never married.  His country estate was sold at auction the following year.  On May 27, 1884 The Evening Post reported "The homestead and a cottage adjoining, together with about nine acres of land, were purchased for $7,200 by ex-Assemblyman George M. Dean, of New York city."  That amount would equal about $195,000 today.

On March 5, 1889 Nathaniel Hodgson and his wife sold No. 65 to Charles Franck for $14,750.  He made a quick profit, selling it within a week to Claus F. Molzen and his wife, Helene, for $15,000.  By now the neighborhood had filled with immigrants and the Molzens used the property as a rooming house.  It was most likely the Molzens who added the "billowing wrought-iron fire escapes," as described by the 2010 AIA Guide to New York City.

Other than replacement entrance doors, the house was little changed from its 19th century appeared around 1941.  via the NYC Dept of Records & Information Services

When they sold it to John Porr three years later it was described as a "tenement."  The changing conditions in the area were reflected in the selling price.  Porr paid nearly $3,000 less for it than the Molzens had.

Red paint covered the red brick and the brownstone was painted white in the last quarter of the 20th century.  The colored glass panes above the parlor windows were removed in a recent renovation.  photo by Beyond My Ken

The residence continued as a rooming house and then small apartments throughout the 20th century.  When it sold in 1943 it was described simply as a "three story apartment house."  At some point the masonry was painted.

In 2016 No. 65 East Second Street was sold and a renovation begun which resulted in three apartments.  The paint was carefully removed from the facade.  Less than sympathetic replacements windows and window air conditions are regrettable, but overall the cleaned-up front is a welcome improvement.

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