Monday, February 8, 2021

The Lost John M. Dodd House - 231 West 21st Street


An extension was added to the Italianate style carriage house before 1898.  from the collection of the Museum of the City of New York

Born in 1806, John Mingis Dodd was a successful mason and builder.  He married Sarah Ann Conklin in 1829 and within six years the couple had three children, Louisa, Sarah, and John Conklin.   

John and Sara suffered unspeakable tragedy when all of their children died in 1835, possibly from cholera.  John was just one year old, Sarah three years old, and Louisa six.  Three more children would be born, Elizabeth Ward, Sarah Anna M. (who went by Anna), and Helen Mar.  Then, in 1840, Sarah died, leaving John to raise his young children alone.

John married Deborah Jane Bennet in 1842.  By 1855 four more children were born: John, Jr., Mary Catharine, Louis Frederick and Caroline (known as Carrie) Ross.  

The family lived on Hester Street when Caroline was born in 1854.  Within the year they moved to a new house at No. 155 West 21st Street (renumbered 231 in 1865) in the Chelsea district.  

The Dodd house loomed over the three-story homes next door.  from the collection of the Museum of the City of New York

Dodd was almost assuredly responsible for its construction and may have acted as architect as well.  The Italianate style house broke several design rules, most noticeably in the first floor which sat above a short stone stoop.  The squat dimensions of the openings, when compared to those above, give the appearance that house was being crushed by its own weight.

An angled oriel visually overpowered the double-doored entrance directly below.  The other square-headed windows sat within arches formed by brick dentils.  Oval openings pierced the frieze of the pressed metal cornice.

Dodd owned the lot next door, as well, where he constructed the family's private carriage house.  The ample grounds around it would have provided gardens and space for play for the children.

Guests passed from the foyer into a marble floored entrance hall.  from the collection of the Museum of the City of New York

Two more children would be born in the new house.  Emily was born in 1855 and Gertrude came along in 1858.  Sadly, before Gertrude's birth there would be another death in the Dodd family.  Anna died on June 22, 1857 at the age of 20.  The funeral was quickly held the following afternoon in the double parlor.

Two views of the second floor double parlor.  Note the intricate "carpenter's lace" between the rooms.  from the collection of the Museum of the City of New York

The rooms were the scene of a much more joyful event two years later when Elizabeth was married to banker Henry C. Tanner on December 8, 1859.

John M. Dodd's prominence in the construction industry led to his appointment as Commissioner of Wharves, Piers and Slips in April 1865.  It was a highly responsible position that oversaw the construction of and maintenance of the city's piers and the control of waterfront structures (removing unauthorized construction like private docks, for instance.)

The family's affluence was reflected in John, Jr.'s loss of a cherished ring in 1866.  His advertisement in the New York Herald on February 2 read:

$20 Reward--Lost, a blood stone seal ring, marked with the initial D.  The finder will receive the above reward upon returning it to John M. Dodd, Jr., West Twenty-first street.

The reward would be equal to about $332 today.

The first floor drawing room and dining room as they appeared in 1898.  from the collection of the Museum of the City of New York

John, Jr. was married to Emily M. Jones of Newark, New Jersey the following year, on January 21.  The newlyweds moved into the West 21st Street house.  

The groom was, by now, working in his father's construction business.  Louis, who had taken a starkly different career path, was in the produce business on Washington Street.

The master bedroom (top) boasted Renaissance Revival furniture.  A shelf has been oddly attached to the door.  from the collection of the Museum of the City of New York

The house became a bit more crowded following the marriage of Carrie to John W. Castree on December 2, 1874.  Like Elizabeth's wedding, the ceremony took place in the parlors.  Carrie and John lived on with the family at No. 231.  The couple may have been introduced to one another by Louis.  Castree was also in the provision business on Washington Street.

With young married couples in the house, more children were inevitable.  Extra help would be needed not only in the 21st Street house, but in the summer house.  On April 7, 1876 an advertisement in the New York Herald sought: "A good, reliable young girl to take care of children; to go a short distance in the country; reference required."

Two of the upper floor bedrooms contained a mix of 18th and 19th century furniture.  from the collection of the Museum of the City of New York

John M. Dodd died in the house on November 5, 1888 at the age of 83.  His funeral was held in the parlor three days later.  The funeral of Deborah J. Dodd was held there on December 14, 1893.   She was 73 years old.

A plaster sculptural grouping, "Coming to the Parson," by John Rogers, sat on a table in the Dodd's library.  from the collection of the Museum of the City of New York

from the collection of the Museum of the City of New York

Five years later, the Dodd house was demolished and on the site of it and the carriage house an apartment building designed by Thom & Wilson was erected.

photo via

1 comment:

  1. John M. Dodd certainly liked the look of arches over windows and the ground floor appearing crushed by upper floors. His carriage house had the same look. In about five years Henry Robson Richardson would show everyone the correct way to create a Romanesque structure.