Tuesday, November 9, 2021

The 1889 Wm. Henry Putnam House - 39 West 95th Street


Architect Walden Pell Anderson normally acted as his own real estate developer, designing and erecting rows of homes, often on the Upper West Side.  In at least one instance, however, he worked with a partner.  On December 22, 1888 the Real Estate Record & Guide noted that he was "preparing plans for four first-class three-story...private dwellings."  The journal said the fronts of the 16-foot-wide homes "will be of Lake Superior red sandstone and Ohio greystone, carved, with Philadelphia brick."  It noted, "They will be built by Henry J. Anderson."  The developer was, perhaps, a relative.

The houses were completed by the fall of 1889, each costing the equivalent of $305,000 today.  Anderson designed them in a quirky mix of Renaissance Revival and Queen Anne styles.  Like its neighbors, 39 West 95th Street featured elliptically arched openings.  The band of rough-cut stone below the second floor contrasted sharply with the formal, neo-classical swags of the cornice and with the tiled mansard attic.

39 West 95th Street is at the left end of the row.

The house was sold in October 1889 to stock broker William Henry Putnam and his wife, the former Elizabeth Ann Green.  Moving in with them was Katherine Sheridan Putnam, the young widow of their son, Dudley Herbert, and their seven-year-old granddaughter, Elizabeth.  

The Putnams and their neighbors had small domestic staffs.  Having a grade-school-aged child required a nurse and on April 20, 1893 the Putnams placed an advertisement in the New York Herald:  "A neat young girl as nurse and chambermaid; one who is willing to go to the seashore for the summer."  That servant would be accompanying the family to their summer residence in Woodland Beach, Staten Island.  

In the winter of 1895, Katherine caught a bad cold, which progressed to pneumonia.  She died at the age of 38 on January 28.  Her funeral was held in the parlor on the West 95th Street house the following evening.  Now orphaned, 14-year-old Elizabeth lived on in the house with her grandparents.

William H. Putnam's name was in the newspapers for a rather undignified reason as the summer season drew to a close in 1900.  The Woodland Beach community abutted Midland Beach.  The New-York Tribune explained that the Midland Beach wharf "is the dividing line between the two properties."

On September 3 the managers of Midland Beach began construction of a lattice fence that cut off access between the two communities.  The newspaper noted that Putnam "represents the owners of the property at Woodland Beach."  He stressed that "the Midland Beach people have no right to build a fence there."

Putnam and other Woodland Beach residents had the six workers arrested for working on Sunday.  "Then about fifteen of the Woodland Beach people, led by W. C. Wilson, C. A. Hoffmeister and W. H. Putnam, and armed with axes and heavy poles, made a sudden descent upon the fence and cut and battered it down."

A counterattack was launched by the Midland Beach forces.  "The warring parties were immediately surrounded by an immense throng of people, who cheered on the belligerents," said the article.  The conflict was not without bloodshed.  "The axes in the hands of the Woodland Beach forces were caught by the Midland Beach men, and in the struggle for their possession the hands of several were slightly cut, and blood was sprinkled about the battleground and upon the clothing of the contestants."

The battle lasted most of the day, with the fence being hastily put up two more times and just as quickly torn down.  The well-to-do brokers and businessmen were finally stopped by police, "who warned the belligerents that any breach of the peace would be followed by immediate arrest."

William died that year at the age of 81.  Two years later, on December 1, 1902, Elizabeth was married to Charles Addison O'Rourke.  

In March 1909 Elizabeth A. Putnam, now 81 years old, sold her home of two decades to real estate operator Emily L. Landon, who quickly resold it to Canadian-born mechanical engineer Richard Henry Thomas and his wife, the former Martha Richter.  The couple had a two-year-old son, Richard, Jr.

Thomas would not enjoy his new home for long.  He died from pneumonia on January 24, 1911 at the age of 43.  In reporting his death, the New-York Tribune called him "a prominent Mason," adding, "In 1902 he was district deputy grand master, and for the last two years had been a trustee of the Masonic Hall and Asylum fund."

Well-to-do Americans routinely traveled to Europe and Martha was no exception.  She and Richard Jr. left New York on June 9, 1914 for Germany, "to spend three months with relatives," according to the Poughkeepsie Eagle-News.  Like hundreds of other travelers, Martha did not anticipate war breaking out.  

A headline in the New York Herald on August 8 read, "Anxiety Grows for Refugees held Within the War Lines."  The article began, "Efforts of relatives and friends on this side to learn the whereabouts of persons abroad increase as time goes on."  In listing dozens of trapped persons, the article noted, "Friends in the Scotch Presbyterian Church are anxious for news of Mrs. Martha H. Thomas, of No. 39 West Ninety-fifth street, and her son, Richard H. Thomas Jr., who are supposed to be in Germany."

Perhaps the most worried was Rev. Dr. David G. Wylie, who had been pastor of the Scotch Presbyterian Church for 24 years.  The Poughkeepsie Eagle-News reported that Martha and her son were "in the Hartz Mountains when the war started and was aided in getting back to this country through Dr. Wylie's appeal to the President and to the newspapers on behalf of stranded Americas.  After several calls on Ambassador [James] Gerard, Mrs. Wylie was able to leave the Continent by way of Rotterdam."

The scare may have accelerated the couple's wedding plans.  They were married in the Hotel Savoy on October 1, 1914.  The Poughkeepsie Eagle-News reported the wedding was "the result, it is said, of a romance, brought about by Mrs. Thomas' little boy.  Young Richard attended the Scotch Church school and Dr. Wylie had occasion to call on Mrs. Thomas in the course of his pastoral duties."

Following their "10,000 mile" wedding trip (all of it domestic, of course), the newlyweds moved into 830 West End Avenue.  The West 95th Street house next became home to George L. Amouroux and his wife, the former Lillian E. Lent.

Amouroux was an architect, engineer and photographer.  What initially seems to be an incongruous combination was, in fact, quite helpful to developers and civic engineers.  When a building or other structure would fail, Amouroux was called in to make drawings and take photographs, which aided in the investigation of the cause of the accident.

In his leisure time George enjoyed rifle shooting.  He was a member of the 7th Regiment Rifle Club and participated in sharp-shooting tournaments.  George died on December 27, 1937.  It is unclear how long Lillian remained on West 95th Street.  She died at the age of 95 in 1960 in Beacon, New York.

That same year 39 West 95th Street was converted to apartments, one per floor.  A subsequent remodeling completed in 1998 returned it to a single family home above a basement apartment.

photographs by the author
LaptrinhX.com has no authorization to reuse the content of this blog

No comments:

Post a Comment