Friday, November 5, 2021

The Joseph Tuckerman House - 2 East 12th Street

Only traces of the elegance of the former mansion survive today.

Joseph Tuckerman, Jr. was described by The Biographical Dictionary of America as "a millionaire of Newport, Massachusetts."  He descended from an old New England family.  The first John Tuckerman arrived in Boston from England in 1650.  Joseph's father, who died in 1840, was an eminent clergyman and author.  

In addition to the Newport estate, Tuckerman owned 2 East 12th Street in Manhattan.  Situated steps from Fifth Avenue and two blocks south of the mansion-lined Union Square, the 25-foot wide residence sat within an exclusive residential neighborhood.   Three stories tall above an English basement, its Italianate design included fully arched openings and a three-sided parlor floor bay.  Most likely the attic level took the form of a mansard with dormers.  Behind it, a private stable faced East 11th Street.

Tuckerman was married to the former Lucy Keating Tuckerman, sister of diplomat and author Charles Keating Tuckerman, and of writer and critic Henry Theodore Tuckerman.  The couple had one son, Ernest Paul Rene.  As was the case with all high society families, the society columns followed their movements.  On August 18, 1866, for instance, The New York Times announced that the Tuckerman family had sailed for Liverpool on the steamship Persia the previous day.

In the early 1860's, as Ernest reached adulthood, he and his father were both members of the exclusive Union League Club.  He studied art and in was listed in directories as "artist."  His passion extended to collecting, as well.  In 1862, for instance, he purchased Gilbert Stuart's portrait of Sarah Wentworth Apthorp Morton from Stuart's widow, Jane.

Ernest Tuckerman painted The Tomb of Sidi Abderrahman Alger in 1878.  image via

Ernest moved to France in 1868 where, according to The Biographical Dictionary of America, he became "a well-known artist in Paris."  That same year his parents moved permanently to Newport.

Tuckerman sold 2 East 12th Street to attorney Henry Austin Tailer and his wife, the former Sophia Clapham Pennington.  The couple had five children, Edward Loring, Sophia Pennington, Emily Erving, Henry Pennington, and James B.  

Born in 1833, Tailer graduated from Columbia College in 1852, then continued his education at the Universities of Bonn and Heidelberg.   By the time he purchased the Tuckerman house he was a partner in the law firm of Eaton, Davis & Tailer and a director in several banks and corporations.  The New York Times said he was "a staunch friend of the public schools, for the welfare of which he devoted much thought and labor."  He was a trustee of the public schools for years.

Early in 1878 Henry Tailor fell ill and he died on March 15, 1878.   Sophia and the children remained in the East 12th Street residence.

In 1889 Sophia turned her attentions to daughter Sophia's coming out.  On the evening of December 22 she gave "a small dance," according to The Evening Telegram, in the house.  

Two years later Sophia's social plate was more than full.  On November 1, 1891 The Sentinel wrote, "There are to be no fewer than three weddings in the same family in the short space of three the wedding of Mr. Henry P. Tailer, son of Mrs. Henry A. Tailer, and Miss Clara Wright, of Hempstead, is to take place early in June."

The weddings were actually a bit more spaced out than three months.   On April 22, 1892 The Press reported, "Miss Emily Langdon Erving, daughter of Mrs. Henry A. Tailer, and Dr. Valentine Mott were married yesterday afternoon at St. George's Church."  (Emily's groom should not be confused with the more famous Dr. Valentine Mott, who died in 1865.)

Although Emily left East 12th Street following her marriage, the population of the Tailer residence was not diminished.  Henry and and his bride moved into the house with Sophia and his sister and brother.

For the summer season of 1892 Sophia leased a home in Roslyn, Long Island.  The Evening World said "she, with her daughter, Miss Sophia, is residing in the Parke Godwin mansion."  Around 2 a.m. on August 18 Sophia was awakened by a noise in her bedroom.  In the dark she could make out the form of a man standing by her dressing table.

"Mrs. Tailer screamed and the intruder escaped as he had entered, by way of a window opening out on the veranda," reported The Evening World.  "The burglar had stripped the jewel cushion, but a valuable solitaire ring had rolled off the table and been overlooked."  Despite not losing her ring, Sophia lost $2,000 in jewelry--around $57,800 in today's money.

Roslyn, Long Island would also be where Henry Pennington Tailer and Clara erected their country estate, Caprice.  He had graduated from private schools and entered the banking firm of Vermilyea & Company.  The couple had two children, William Hallet, born in 1895, and May Wright, born on January 31, 1899.

On January 17, 1896 The New York Times reported, "One of the largest weddings of the mid-Winter season took place in Grace Protestant Episcopal Church yesterday afternoon...when Miss Sophia Pennington Tailer, a daughter of Mrs. Henry A. Tailor of 2 East Twelfth Street, was married to S. Breck Parkman Trowbridge."  The article noted, "There was a small reception at the home of the bride's mother after the church ceremony."

Samuel Breck Parkman Trowbridge traced his impressive English lineage to the 16th century Peter de Trowbridge.  Born in New York City, the architect had studied at Trinity College, Columbia University’s School of Architecture, the School of Classical Studies in Athens, and the Ecole des Beaux Arts in Paris, graduating from that school in 1890.  

At the time of the wedding, all of the Tailer brothers still shared the East 12th Street house with their mother.  Although her children all had country homes, beginning around 1902 Sophia preferred to spend her summers at Richfield Springs, New York, in a fashionable resort hotel.

It seems that the family worried about their aging mother's independent spirit.  In September 1909, as the summer season drew to a close, The Richfield Springs Mercury reported, "J. B. Tailer, of New York, arrived at the Berkeley-Waiontha [Hotel] Thursday morning.  Mr. Tailer came to accompany his mother, Mrs. Henry A. Tailer, on her return to New York last evening.  Mrs. Tailer has been at the Berkeley-Waiontha throughout the greater part of the season."

The following year, on October 18, 1910, Sophia died at the age of 73.  Her funeral was held in the 12th Street home.  

On January 22, 1918, Henry Pennington Tailer died at his Roslyn summer home.  Somewhat ironically, the townhouse had been sold just a week earlier to John Fogliasso.  In reporting the sale the Real Estate Record & Guide noted that the house had been in the family "for several generations."  The article added, "The new owner will convert the property into studio apartments."

Fogliasso hired architect Frank E. Vitolo to renovate the former mansion.  The stoop was removed and the entrance moved to the basement level, the cornice eliminated, and the attic raised to a full story.

The apartments were upscale, as evidenced by two new tenants in the summer of 1921, Baron Grivot de Grandcourt and his wife.  While serving in the British army during World War I, the baron had contacted "trench fever," a louse-born disease rampant amount troops.  He was taken to a private hospital in London run by an American socialite.  Volunteering there was Patricia O'Connor, who had given up her stage career to become a nurse at the outbreak of the war.

Baron de Grandcourt later told a reporter, "While convalescing I met Miss O'Connor...On being transferred to another hospital in the country I asked that she might attend me and the request was granted."  The titled soldier and his nurse were married in December 1917.

Now the allure of the footlights drew Patricia O'Connor back to New York.  The New York Herald quoted the baron on August 24, 1921: "My wife, being anxious to resume her career on the stage, accepted an engagement in 'Aphrodite.'  While she is here I will remain in New York and continue my literary work."

Decades later another well-known English native lived at 2 East 12th Street.  After recovering from tuberculosis, Gladys M. Park had gone into nursing.  In 1926 she became associated with the New York Tuberculosis and Health Association, eventually rising to the position of director.   She retired in 1965 and died at the age of 80 on October 23, 1972 while living here.

The 1918 renovations made 2 East 12th Street, once the home of two of the wealthiest and most prominent families in New York City, easily overlooked and as easily dismissed.

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

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