from "The New York of Yesterday - A Descriptive Narrative of Old Bloomingdale" 1908 (copyright expired)
The Humphrey Jones estate engulfed 109 acres near the village of Bloomingdale. The mansion stood approximately at what would be Broadway and 101st Street. About six blocks north of "the homestead" was sprawling estate of the Nicholas Jones family, between 106th and 107th Streets and West End Avenue today. It was accessed by Cherry Lane, which branched off the Bloomingdale Road (later Broadway) through the two Jones' estates.
Washington Irving described the district, referring to "the pastoral scenes of Bloemen Dael, which in those early days was a sweet and rural valley, beautiful with many a bright wildflower, refreshed by many a pure streamlet and enlivened here and there by a delectable little Dutch cottage sheltered under some sloping hill and almost buried in embowering trees."
Nicholas Jones had purchased the land, with the stone mansion already standing, from Charles Ward Apthorpe on October 12, 1764. (Apthorpe's own magnificent new home near today's 90th and 91st Streets and Columbus Avenue, was completed that year.) The stately Georgian main residence was surrounded by verandas. A fanlight admitted light into the attic level. It was surrounded by gardens and outbuildings and had sweeping views of the Hudson River and New Jersey palisades.
Jones was a respected member of the New York community. He signed his name to a petition to King George III in 1771, for instance, asking to establish The New-York Hospital. The King granted the request on March 9, 1772 (using the "royal we" and florid 18th century prose), saying in part:
...now we, taking into our royal consideration the beneficial tendency of such an Institution within our said city, calculated for relieving the diseases of the indigent, and preserving the lives of many useful members of the community, are graciously pleased to grant the said humble request of our said loving subjects.
Other powerful and wealthy New Yorkers who had joined Jones in petitioning the king were Robert H. and Philip Livingston, Oliver De Lancey, Richard Morris, John and James Beekman, and Charles Ward Apthorpe among others.
But storm clouds were forming over the British colonies. Four years later insurrection had turned to war, and it landed squarely upon Nicholas Jones's property. British troops set up an encampment on the property in 1776, taking over the mansion, felling trees and ransacking the family's storehouses.
The farm became the epicenter of what would be called the Battle of Harlem Heights on September 16, 1776. Historian Hopper Striker Mott explained in the 1909 Historical Guide to the City of New York, "It was not until they reached Nicholas Jones' farmhouse about sunrise that the British pickets, light infantrymen, were encountered...During the brisk skirmish which now took place, the woods along the dividing line between the Jones and Hooglandt farms echoed the sharp firing from both sides."
Outnumbered, the revolutionary army retreated and the British and Hessian troops remained in the Jones mansion. In his 1890 book Old New York, W. W. Pasko wrote, "They rifled his wine cellar, stole his [silver] plate, drove away his cows, seized his harpsichord, took off his pier glasses, burned up his fences, cut down his trees and devastated the whole estate generally." Jane Perry Clark added in her 1931 Studies in History, Economics, and Public Law, "The once beautiful estate of Nicholas Jones of Bloomindale was robbed of seven hundred trees."
Following the war Jones repeatedly attempted to collect for the damage and losses, but, according to W. W. Pasko, "All these efforts failed, and it is probably he was never gladdened by any recompense." Interestingly, among the losses Jones claimed was a stolen slave. On September 15, 1776 he documented:
A slave named Ambris was this Day taken up & put in the Provoost, from Whence he was taken & put to Work on Board the Lady Gage, Capt. Loring, by permit of Commissary Loring, without any Benefit to his Master.
Perhaps frustrated and disgruntled, Jones offered his estate for sale on October 28, 1780. An advertisement in The Royal Gazette read:
To be sold, a Farm at Bloomingdale, about 200 acres more or less, seven miles from the city; on said farm is a large strong stone built house, pleasantly situated near the North River; conditions for the sale will be made easy to a purchaser. For particulars apply to Nicholas Jones on the premises, by whom an indisputable title will be given.
The estate was not sold, however, and it remained in the family until October 31, 1816 when Nicholas Jones's heirs, William and Ann Roberts, who lived in the former Humphrey Jones mansion to the south, transferred title to their daughter, Sarah, and her husband William Heywood. The Heywoods named the estate Woodlawn.
The widowed Sarah Heywood sold Woodlawn on April 10, 1847 to William B. Moffat for $20,000 (around $640,000 today). Moffatt was the editor of Moffat's United States Almanac, and his father, Dr. John Moffat was well-known for his Phoenix Bitters and Moffat's Vegetable Life Pills.
He converted the mansion to the Woodlawn Hotel, which was operated by proprietor William L. Wiley until Moffat's death in 1862. Hopper Striker Mott wrote in 1908, "After being vacant for some time Courtlandt P. Dixon purchased it for use as a country residence" and later "it was the first home of the New York Infant Asylum."
This photograph was taken in 1890, showing large houses appearing on the property to the left. Battle of Harlem Heights, 1897 (copyright expired)
The exact date of the demolition of the Jones mansion is unclear, but it stood as late as 1890 as the city encroached on the once bucolic neighborhood.