Wednesday, July 6, 2022

The 1851 Theodore Crane House - 242 East 15th Street


In 1836 Peter Gerard Stuyvesant and his wife, Helen, sold four acres of the former Stuyvesant farm, the Great Bouwerie, to the City of New York for $5.00 as a public park.  It was not until 1847 that the city began began developing Stuyvesant Park, eventually erecting a substantial iron fence and installing two decorative fountains.  Fine homes quickly began rising its edge.  

Among them was the home of Thomas Crane, begun in 1850, near the corner of Second Avenue.  He and lime merchant David B. Keeler, whose residence was begun simultaneously, obviously used the same architect, as their Italianate homes, completed in 1851, were identical.  The Crane mansion, at 185 East 15th Street (renumbered 242 in 1865), rose four stories above a brownstone-faced English Basement.  The high stoop led to the arched, double-doored entrance below an impressive classical pediment upheld by scrolled brackets.  The floor-to-ceiling parlor windows were almost assuredly originally  fronted by a cast iron balcony.  The windows of the upper floors were fully framed in limestone.

Theodore Crane was a partner in the tea importing firm of Bucklin & Crane, at 80 Front Street.  His affluence landed him in the 1855 The Wealth and Biography of the Wealthy Citizens of The City of New York, which listed his worth at $100,000 (just over $3 million today).  He and his wife, the former Margaret Behr Havins, had two daughters, Jane Elizabeth and Margaret (known as Maggie) Havins.

The Cranes remained in the house only until 1859.  The residency of the next three owners would be relatively short-lived.  Samuel L. Post, Jr. and his family were here from 1859 to 1864, followed by Charles T. Gostenhofer, whose family stayed through 1870.  Both men were well-to-do merchants. 

In 1871 William A. Miles moved his family into the mansion.  The principal in the William A. Miles & Co. at 59 Christie Street, he was a brewer.  Miles was married to the former Mary Stewart Wotherspoon.  Her older sister, Rowena, had married the artist Charles Felix Blauvelt and it appears the couple shared the house.  Rowena died "after a long illness," according to the New York Herald, on June 14, 1873 at the age of 42.  Her funeral was held in the drawing room two days later.

The residence was very briefly operated as an upscale boarding house by Mrs. A. C. Brainard, starting in 1881.  She had previously operated a boarding house at 114 Madison Avenue, and moved here on April 30.  The New York Times reported, "Among her servants at the former place was James E. Goldman, a negro waiter.  Goldman was dismissed from her employment on the day of the removal."  When Mrs. Brainard began unpacking her things, she realized that along with Goldman a "jewel casket, containing $1,800 worth of property, had been stolen from her."  The value of the jewelry would equal $47,000 today.  The New York Times said, "Mrs. Brainard's suspicions naturally rested on him as the thief."

Detectives tracked Goldman to a lodging house, but were unable to nab him.  Then, Mrs. Brainard ran into him on the street.  Thinking quickly, she "told him that if he would call at her house she would make an effort to procure a new situation for him."  Goldman showed up at 242 East 15th Street the following day, only to encounter detectives.  After initially claiming his innocence, he "made a clean breast of it, giving as an excuse that, knowing he was about to lose his situation, he could not resist the temptation."  The stolen jewelry box and its contents were found in his rooms.  "The thief occupied a cell in Police Head-quarters last night," said The New York Times.

The house was returned to a single-family home in 1885, when William Henry Schieffelin purchased it.  He was the head of the drug firm W. H. Schieffelin & Co. at 170 William Street, founded by Jacob Schieffelin in the 18th century.

Born on August 10, 1836, both he and his wife came from old, prestigious families.  Following his service with the Seventh Regiment during the Civil War, he married Mary Jay in October 1863.  She was the daughter of John Jay, attorney and diplomat to Austria-Hungary, and the great granddaughter of Chief Justice John Jay.  The couple had two children, Eleanor Jay and William Jr.

from the History of St. George's church in the City of New York, 1911 (copyright expired)

Both William and Mary were highly involved in charitable and social causes, and their home was often the scene of meetings.  On March 12, 1893, for instance, The New York Times reported, "A meeting of the University Settlement Society was held yesterday at the house of Mrs. William H. Schieffelin."  A series of speakers related their experiences during the previous winter.  The article noted that Dr. Stanton Colt "declared that no human being could understand anything about the heart-breaking conditions of life which existed without actually daily contact with the very poor."

The Schiefflin wedding party at Mary's parents' summer home, Bedford House, in 1863.  Her parents had only recently heavily Victorianized the 18th century residence  from the collection of the Friends of John Jay Homestead.

Following John Jay's death in 1894, his wife Eleanor Kingsland Field Jay, moved into the East 15th Street house with her daughter and son-in-law.  While the Schieffelins maintained a summer home on Fishers Island, New York, she continued to summer at Bedford House, the 18th century estate established by the original John Jay.

On June 21, 1895, William Henry Schieffelin died in the East 15th Street house at the age of 60.  His funeral was held in St. George's Episcopal Church three days later.  The New York Times reported, "The casket was covered with the American flag, and upon it rested a large cross of white roses.  It was borne by the Sexton's assistants from the home of Mr. Schieffelin through Stuyvesant Park to the church."  The article noted, "the cross on the casket was the only floral piece in the church, but the house was nearly filled with flowers."  Schiefflin was buried in Bedford, New York in the Jay family plot.

The aging Eleanor Jay was familiar to New Yorkers as she took her daily drive.  The Sun described:

Of recent years Mrs. Jay, in spite of her age, was one of the most familiar figures on Fifth avenue.  Her carriage was an old fashioned vehicle made in England, its body shaped like a boat.  Mrs. Jay dressed in the fashion of the Victorian days, wearing either a broad brimmed hat or a poke bonnet.  Her coachman and footman also wore old fashioned livery.  No matter how inclement the weather, she drove daily from her home in Stuyvesant Square through Sixteenth street to Union Square and then up Fifth avenue and around Central Park.

The New York Times added, "During her drives either her daughter, Mrs. Schieffelin, or her granddaughter, Miss Schieffelin, is her companion."

Eleanor's insistence at taking her drive even in bad weather proved tragic during a violent wind storm on November 21, 1900.  As her carriage passed Sherry's restaurant on Fifth Avenue, a skylight was ripped from the roof "and tossed into Fifth avenue," as reported by The Morning Telegraph.  The article continued, "Mrs. Jay was being driven past when the immense mass of glass and copper came tumbling down.  It struck the carriage, crushing the body of the footman."

Charles Meyer died later at Flower Hospital.  The Morning Telegraph noted, "The coachman, who was unhurt, aided Mrs. Jay into Sherry's, where she fell fainting on the floor.  The place was filled with women at 5 o'clock tea, and there was almost a panic among them until it was discovered the danger was over."  In reporting the tragedy, the New-York Tribune noted that Eleanor "is almost the last survivor of the small circle of 'grandes dames,' headed by Mrs. Hamilton Fish, sr., who formerly wielded sovereign sway over New-York society."

At the time of the incident, Eleanor Jay had stopped traveling to Bedford House for the summer, preferring to remain in the East 15th Street house year-round.  Like all New Yorkers, however, she was perturbed by street noise when she attempted to rest.  The issue became intolerable following a big prize fight in August 1900, when newsboys on East 14th Street hollered "Extra!" late into the night.  She wrote an impassioned letter to Mayor Rudolph Guggenheimer, which was followed up by another, thinly veiled as a thank-you on September 2.  Interestingly, Eleanor spoke of herself in the third person:

Mrs. John Jay desires to thank Mr. Guggenheimer for his prompt attention to her request.  Not a newsboy screamed after ten o'clock last evening and the relief is immense.  If Mr. Guggenheimer would now attack the early morning nuisance of seeming iron and steel wagons that pass at six o'clock, and have them transferred to Avenue A where everybody is awake at that hour it would be an inestimable boon.  Presumably they are meat wagons.  Being aroused by the noises added to that of the trolley cars is not cheerful at the age of eighty-one.  Mrs. Jay would not remain in the city during the summer if she were able to leave it.  She is very sorry to trouble Mr. Guggenheimer, but practical politics is something so new everybody must feel impelled to ask for his aid.

The engagement of Eleanor Schieffelin to Theodore M. Taft was announced in January 1903.  The New York Times noted, "She lives with her mother and grandmother in a quaint mansion on the south side of Stuyvesant Square," adding, "Miss Schieffelin is interested in many charities and in church work."  Following the wedding, the newlyweds moved into the East 15th Street house.

New York suffered a heat wave during the summer of 1909.  On July 18, the New York Herald reported, "Mrs. John Jay, widow of John Jay, who was United States Ambassador to Vienna, and mother of Colonel William Jay, has been confined to her room in the residence of her daughter, Mrs. William H. Schieffelin...for about ten days."  The article noted, "Though past ninety, Mrs. Jay is usually very robust, and has not been seriously ill for about twelve years.  The hot weather of two weeks ago, however, somewhat weakened her."  The family had left Eleanor alone with the servants, the New York Herald explaining, "To insure quiet the Schieffelin family has gone into the country with Mr. and Mrs. Theodore Taft, son-in-law and daughter of Mrs. Jay, who also live in the house with Mrs. Jay."

Eleanor Field Jay died three months later, on October 18, 1909.  Her funeral was held in the Protestant Episcopal Church of St. Matthew at Bedford, "which was built largely through the efforts of Chief Justice Jay," reported The Sun.

Mary Jay Schieffelin died in 1916.  The East 15th Street house was inherited in equal parts by her two children.  Eleanor and Theodore Taft remained in the house.  Taft had been a partner with P. Tecumseh Sherman in the law firm of Taft & Sherman since 1903, the year he and Eleanor were married.

After having been in the Schieffelin family for four decades, in March 1925 Eleanor and William sold 242 East 15th Street to Dr. Charles B. Broder.  Within the year he had converted the basement and parlor floor to a doctor's office and apartment, and non-housekeeping apartments on the upper floors (the term meant that there were no kitchens and cooking was not allowed.)  

In 1934 the house was joined internally with the former David B. Keeler residence next door.  It was most likely at this time that the stoops were removed and the entrances lowered to the former English basement level.  A subsequent remodeling completed in 1971 resulted in three apartments per floor through the third, and four apartments on the top floor.

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

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