The parlor floor (now second floor) windows originally extended to the floor. A high stone stoop sat in front of the current entrance.
In 1853 Charles C. Nevers and his family lived in the new Italianate style house at No. 354 West 23rd Street. Four stories tall and 25-feet wide, it sat above a high, rusticated English basement. The squat attic floor proportions were borrowed from the Greek Revival style. A stone stoop led to the parlor floor and a bracketed cast metal cornice ran along the roof line. Most eye-catching were the pretty molded lintels over the openings.
When he purchased No. 354 Nevers listed his professional as a clerk--a rather broad term often associated with significant financial responsibility. He and his wife Mary had a baby girl, Lucy, and in July 1861 they welcomed another daughter, Fanny. Tragically, she died just one month before her fifth birthday on June 16, 1866.
It was common for even wealthy families to take in boarders and the following year Mary and Charles rented rooms to Theodore C. Bacon and his wife Susan B. Like Nevers, Bacon was a clerk. The young couple had an infant daughter, Lela Corinne. The house saw another tragedy a year later when the little girl died on April 2, 1868 just a month after her first birthday. Her funeral was held in the house two days later.
The Bacons left shortly afterward and young Charles Edward Lydecker took their place. Born in 1851, he was just finishing his education at the City University of New York when he moved in in 1869. Upon his graduation in 1871 he received a scholarship to study law at Columbia College and continued boarding with the Nevers. He graduated in 1873 and was admitted to the bar that year. Lydecker now split his time between teaching at the City University of New York and practicing law.
Like all well-to-do New Yorkers, the Nevers spent their summers away from the city. In May 1872 Mary placed an advertisement in the New York Herald that read:
Wanted--To go 12 miles from the city, a girl as chambermaid and assistant laundress; must be willing to make herself generally useful; reference required from last place.
In 1876 the Nevers took in another boarder, Ellen C. Leggett. She was a physician and had graduated from the Woman's Medical College of the News York Infirmary three years earlier. Interestingly, her husband, Dr. Charles P. Leggett, did not move into the Nevers house with her, but continued to list his address as Flushing, New York.
In 1882 Charles E. Lydecker married Ella Voorhis and left the West 23rd Street house. By now Charles C. Nevers had changed careers, listing his profession as "paper." Lucy Nevers was grown, now, and was teaching in the Primary Department of Grammar School 48 on West 28th Street where she earned $500 per year--about $13,000 today.
The Nevers remained in No. 354 through 1884 after which time the house was acquired by Jacob Sharp and his wife. The New York Times later recalled his unremarkable beginnings. "He was born of humble parents on a sort of a farm in Montgomery County, N.Y., in 1817, and for 20 years remained on it." The newspaper said that for his first 20 years he was more focused on manual labor than in acquiring an education. When his father died in 1837, the young man turned to rafting on the Hudson to make a living.
He saved his money, increasing his rafting business, and then turned to dealing in logs and timber. He sold materials to New York City for piers and bulkheads and before long, according to The New York Times, "he controlled the trade in his line." The uneducated man next turned to street railroads in 1850 and formed Sharp & Co. to construct a railroad from the Battery to Manhattanville in northern Manhattan--The Broadway Railroad.
His plans stepped on powerful toes--most notably those of Alexander T. Stewart and D. H. Haight. A series of vicious legal battles immediately ensued which continued for an unbelievable 33 years. Sharp seemed to have emerged victorious and the Broadway Railroad was finally opened in 1884. It was an immediate success.
Sharp was also instrumental in organizing the Twenty-Third Street Railroad. He and his wife maintained a summer estate described by The New York Times as an "extensive and beautiful farm near Rome [New York]."
The opponents of the Broadway Railroad were not ready to give in, however. The New York Times reported, "In the first flush of victory came the...investigation into the rumors that were rife concerning corruption deep and flagrant" around the Board of Aldermen's granting the railroad franchise.
Sharp was put on trial in 1887 (the most important trial "since 'Boss' Tweed's," according to one newspaper), found guilty, and on June 14 sentenced to four-and-a-half years in State prison. The ordeal had taken a severe toll on Sharp's health, however. His condition was so bad that on November 29 the Court of Appeals overturned his conviction in return for $40,000 bail--around $1.1 million in today's money.
Sharp and his wife went to the country house for a few weeks. On January 4, 1888 The New York Times reported, "Jacob Sharp returned from his health trip to the country yesterday. It has evidently been decidedly beneficial in his somewhat feeble health." But, in fact, the decades-long ordeal had broken the millionaire.
On the night of April 6, 1888 he died in his second floor bedroom. The New York Times reported, "His death was sudden, his enfeebled heart ceasing to act after a violent and exhausting fit of coughing." Sharp's obituary noted "The disgrace attending his indictment and arrest was keenly felt, and the added ignominy and arrest was keenly felt, and the added ignominy of a public trial was borne with difficulty."
The next morning The Evening World reported that undertaker Charles Benedict "affixed to the front door of the house, this morning, the usual crape symbol of mourning, and many a passer-by half stopped as his eyes fell on the sable draping." The family, offended by the unrelenting treatment Sharp had endured, rebuffed most sympathizers. The New York Times said on April 7, "The house 354 West Twenty-third-street...was kept tightly closed yesterday and very few callers attempted to enter the house." The funeral was held in the drawing room, but the family kept it so private that the hour of the ceremony was not released.
The Sharp family quickly sold No. 354 to Lizzie Porter who operated it as a boarding house. In the summer of 1891 she placed an advertisement offering to provide the basement level rent free in exchange for running the boarding house. On November 15 the New York Herald reported "A Mrs. Binney and Annie Binney, her daughter, answered the advertisements and took the rooms. Annie Binney was 17 years old, described by the newspaper as a "skirt dancer" who "was one of the theatrical attractions at Coney Island last summer."
Almost immediately after Mrs. Binney began running the house, small articles of value began to disappear." After three months, Lizzie Porter notified the police. Detective Carey came to the house to interrogate Mrs. Binney. "She said that at times Annie was out of her head and was not responsible for her acts."
Almost immediately after the detective left, Mrs. Binney disappeared. Detective Carey tracked down Annie who confessed and turned over 14 pawn tickets for a watch and chain, rings and clothing taken from the 23rd Street house.
Among the boarders that year were school teachers Mary E. MacFarland, who taught in Grammar School No. 35 on West 13th Street, and Margaret L. Bond, who taught in the Girls' Department of Grammar School No. 3 on Hudson Street. Mary was offended that year when she read articles in several newspapers reputedly written by the former School Commissioner, Grace H. Dodge. She fired off a rebuttal letter to the editor of The Epoch on May 12, noting this his statements "are very uncomplimentary to the public school teachers of this city." She insisted that "Miss Dodge knows nothing about the articles, and, so far from having any fault to find with the public school teachers, she thinks that they do remarkably well considering the way they are hampered in their work."
Richard West boarded here in the summer of 1905. On the hot night of July 10 he and a friend, Thomas Keefer went swimming in the Hudson River near West 57th Street. Suddenly Keefer was seized with cramps and was in serious danger of drowning. West held his head above the waterline and swam towards shore. The New York Times reported "When he reached the dock, however, he found that it was impossible to lift the unconscious man to the pier."
West screamed for help and his cries were heard by a tugboat captain coming downriver. Captain Moser rang the bell calling for the engines to stop, threw off his jacket and jumped into the water. He and West were then able to bring Keefer back to the tugboat, saving his life.
The boarders in the 23rd house continued to be respectable for decades. Chemist Dr. Gustav Crayon, for instance, was living in the house at the time of Richard West's heroics and would remain for several years.
In 1921 an advertisement in the New York Herald offered "Two large connecting rooms, with kitchenette; suitable 3 men or couple; accommodations." A newlywed couple answered a similar that spring.
Emily J. James had fallen in love with Victor A. Hurst and following their wedding on May 4 the two moved into No. 354 West 23rd Street. It was an unusual match for the period, Emily being Chinese and Hurst Caucasian. The troubles that quickly arose had nothing to do with race, however. On December 1 the Daily News reported "The Chinese girl said that she and Hurst had been living together about three weeks when Hurst came to her with a worried look and confessed to her that he had a child by another woman, from whom he had not been divorced." Emily immediately left and by the time of the Daily News article Hurst was serving time in the state penitentiary, convicted of bigamy.
Georgette de K. Fahnestock had purchased No. 354 in 1901. In 1928 the stoop was removed and the entrance moved to sidewalk level. Still operated as a rooming house, Fahnestock made improvements to the property in the mid-1930's. When she sold it in June 1938 The New York Times described is as containing "twenty-one rooms and five baths and was recently modernized."
A subsequent renovation completed in 1972 resulted in three apartments on the lower three floors and two each on the top two. The house was given a coating of stucco in 2009, but despite that and the lost stoop, it retains much of its pre-Civil War appearance.
photographs by the author
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