Wednesday, May 12, 2021

The Amos F. Hatfield House - 120 East 19th Street


Despite its 25-foot width, the house has an abnormally narrow entrance.

Amos F. Hatfield and his family were living at No. 92 Lexington Avenue in 1851, several blocks north of the recently-completed Gramercy Square.  Hatfield was president of the Pacific Insurance Co. and a director in the Pacific Bank.  Within two years the family would be living in the new brownstone residence at No. 78 East 19th Street (renumbered 120 in 1865).

The 25-foot wide Italianate style home reflected the affluence of the new neighborhood.  The windows sat within molded architrave surrounds.  A cast iron balcony most likely fronted the long parlor openings.  Interestingly, the entrance was rather understated.  Rather than the more expected foliate brackets upholding an arched pediment, the doorway received the exact decorative treatment as the windows.  Also surprising in a house intended for a wealthy owner, the entrance was narrow, with room enough for just one door (and barely wide enough to get large furniture inside).

Hatfield filled the house with the best quality furnishings and decorative items.  An inventory listed custom made furniture by Alexander Roux and Léon Marcotte, two of the foremost cabinetmakers in America, as well as "magnificent bronzes, clocks and other costly furniture."

Shortly after the family moved in a burglar attempted to break into the house.  The scare prompted Hatfield to arm his servants.  Then, on the night of August 24, 1854, a thief (most likely assuming the family was at their country home) tried again.  The Evening Post said "an audacious attempt was made to force open the hall door of the residence of A. F. Hatfield, means of a 'jimmy,' or some similar implement of burglars."  The article served to warn other would-be crooks.  "Had the gentlemen succeeded in gaining an entrance, a warm and rather unexpected reception was awaiting them, which would have astonished their proverbial cool."

The Hatfields left East 19th Street in 1857.  Dry goods merchant Samuel T. Addison lived in the house for one year after which time it was purchased by James Madison Plumb and his wife, the former Jeannette Frances Yale.  The Plumbs had one son, James Neale Plumb, who was a partner in his father's extensive importing firm, J. M. & J. N. Plumb & Co.  

In 1861 James married Sarah Ives, the daughter of the president of the Manufacturers and Merchants' Bank, Abram Ives.  The marriage nearly did not happen.  Sarah's affairs were handled by Alexander Masterson who tried valiantly to derail the romance.  He denounced Plumb to Sarah and her father "as a professional gambler," according to The New York Times.  Later Plumb complained "From that time on, Masterson intrigued against him, endeavoring to undermine his wife's confidence in him."

James brought his bride to the East 19th Street house.  Sarah's personal fortune would soon outweigh her husband's after she inherited part of her father's estate of about $18 million in today's money.  Their son, J. Ives Plumb was born in the house in 1863.  His sister Marie would be born in 1865,  and Sarah Lenita in 1870.  

In the meantime, Alexander Masterson was relentless and, according to The New York Times later, he paid "a governess in Plumb's employ to poison the minds of the latter's children against him."

J. M. & J. N. Plumb suffered serious financial troubles in 1868.  The following year the extended Plumb family left the East 19th Street residence.  

The Plumb-Masterson drama was not over by any means.  Sarah died in 1877.  J. Ives was married in 1885 and on April 20, 1888 Maria and Sarah Lenita left their father's house never to return.  Both commenced litigation against him to remove him from any control over their financial affairs.  It was eventually too much for Plumb to contend with and on May 3, 1899 he arranged a meeting with Masterson during which he emptied a revolver into the man he felt had "conspired to ruin him."  Plumb's lawyer said "his mind had become unbalanced by brooking on his wrongs."

In the meantime, beginning in 1870, the former Plumb house was being operated as an upscale boarding house run by Allen M. Hopkins.  The refined tenor he intended to set was reflected in his professional listing in city directories.  While he placed "boardinghouse" next to his name in 1876, by 1879 he was calling himself a "steward."

His tenants were professional, including clerk Lloyd F. Montgomery and his wife, Nina T. who were here from at least 1872 through 1874.  They were the victims of a slick thief, Jacob Stuyvesant, alias De Pyster, alias Comstock, alias Shanksmare, in the fall of 1872.  The Evening Telegram explained on November 1 that he "was in the habit of engaging rooms at what is generally known as a fashionable boarding house.  While the boarders were at their meals, he would make a tour of inspection through the house, and quietly pick up all the valuables he could find in the several rooms."  His mannerly demeanor and fine clothes kept him above suspicion.

On one evening in October Stuyvesant disappeared from No. 120 East 19th Street, taking with him jewelry belonging to Nina Montgomery worth $5,000 in today's money.  (He was arrested later that month after having robbed several other boarding houses.)

Around 1897 No. 120 became a private home again when it was purchased by Bernard C. Amend and his wife, Bertha.   Amend was born in Germany in 1821 where he studied chemistry under Baron Justus von Liebig.  He came to the United States in 1846 and a year later was employed in the drug store of Dr. William H. Milnor.

After Milnor's retirement Amend and a partner, Charles Eimer purchased the business, renaming it Eimer & Amend.  Bernard Amend transformed the small drugstore into a much larger concern, the New York Herald later explaining, "the business developed from a retail store into a small jobbing concern, the firm being among the first importers of crude drugs and specialties from Germany, high grade chemicals and Norwegian cod liver oil."  By the time Amend purchased the 19th Street house, his company was known nationally for importing glassware and supplies for laboratories.

Bernard and Bertha had a daughter and four sons.  In 1897 Eimer & Amend was reorganized with Bernard as senior partner and his sons, Otto P., Robert F., Charles, and Adolph L. as directors.  Charles Eimer was no longer involved in the firm.

Bernard G. Amend New York Herald, April 7, 1911 (copyright expired)

Bertha died in the house on February 2, 1903 at the age of 80.  At the time only Robert was still living in the house with his parents.  

In 1904 Adolph's wife died and he and their daughter moved into the home of his widowed mother-in-law, Pauline Drastler, at No. 59 West 87th Street.  Then, in February 1910, he remarried and brought his new wife and daughter to No. 120 East 19th Street.  Things were working out well for Adolph and his family, but uptown Pauline Drastler was emotionally devastated.  The New York Times said Adolph's marriage "seems to have grieved Mrs. Drastler."

On July 31 Adolph received a letter from Pauline "telling him of her intention to commit suicide," as reported by The New York Times.  By the time it arrived the 62-year old had already died by inhaling gas.  A reporter arrived at the 19th Street house that evening and spoke to the new Mrs. Amend.  The New York Times said simply, "Adolph Amend, the son-in-law of the dead woman, could not be seen."

In February 1911 Bernard Amend hired architect James Spence to install an elevator in the house.  The expensive project, costing more than $83,000 in today's money, was no doubt a result of Amend's advancing age.  He would not have the opportunity to use it very much, however.  He died in the house on April 6 of "infirmities to age," according to the American Druggist and Pharmaceutical Record, at the age of 90.

The Amend house soon became a high-end rooming house.  Among the earliest and most colorful residents was Ida Minerva Tarbell, who moved in around 1913.  By then Tarbell already had a brilliant career.  Educated in the Sorbonne, she was hired by McClure's Magazine in 1894.  Her series for that magazine, "The History of the Standard Oil Company," was perhaps her first investigative reporting and it contributed to the breakup of that monolithic firm, found to be in violation of the Sherman Antitrust Act.

With World War I raging, No. 120 East 19th Street became the Red Cross House for Nurses in September 1918.  The News Letter published by the American Red Cross explained it was "where recreational facilities will be provided for the Army, Navy and Red Cross nurses passing through New York...It will be arranged as a clubhouse, and will be fitted up with lecture rooms, writing rooms, reading rooms and sleeping quarters."

Through it all, Ida M. Tarbell retained her rooms.  During the war she served on President Woodrow Wilson's Women's Committee on the Council of National Defense. 

Ida M. Tarbell from the collection of the Library of Congress

The Red Cross left No. 120 following the end of the war, but Tarbell stayed on for decades.  She became part owner and publisher of The American Magazine and was a prolific author.  Among her works were eight books on Abraham Lincoln.  In 1921 she was appointed a member of President Warren G. Harding's Unemployment Conference.

Ida Tarbell was working on her autobiography, All In The Day's Work, in 1937.  That year, on November 4, a reporter from The New York Times visited her here.  He opened his article (which appeared the next day on her 80th birthday), saying "Ida M. Tarbell, biographer of Abraham Lincoln and historian of the Standard Oil Company, sat yesterday in the old-fashioned apartment at 120 East nineteenth Street."

She told him that she was enthusiastic about Franklin Roosevelt's New Deal, but was worried that he "has probably gone too fast and undertaken too comprehensive a program, for she pointed out that the government can move no more quickly than it can educate the people towards its aims."

Tarbell moved permanently to her summer home in Bridgeport, Connecticut in 1940.  She died in the Bridgeport Hospital on January 6, 1944 at the age of 86.

At some point the stoop was removed from No. 120 East 19th Street.  Rather amazingly, at a time when Victorian detailing was routinely shaved off, none of the crisp window enframements were destroyed.

A renovation completed in 2000 resulted in the stoop being restored.  There were now a duplex apartment in the basement and parlor levels, two apartments each on the second and third floors, and another duplex on the fourth and new penthouse level (unseen from the street).

photographs by the author

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