In 1852 wealthy banker James Gallatin constructed two identical, speculative houses on East 11th Street, just steps from Fifth Avenue. Gallatin had lived on the block for several years. Faced in red brick, the 21-foot-wide Italianate style homes rose four stories above a brownstone clad basement level.
The western house, 52 East 11th Street (renumbered 12 in 1868), became home to the Isaac Labagh family. Labagh had married Maria Louise Wood in 1840, and the couple had two children, Isaac Mead and Maria Louise.
Labagh was born in 1811, the son of Revolutionary War soldier Isaac Labagh. He was a partner in the wholesale grocery firm of Conover & Labagh. The family remained in the East 11th Street house through 1866, when it was sold to Charles C. Peck and his wife, the former Angelina Stagg.
Peck was a partner in the drygoods firm Seaman, Peck & Co. at 37 Pine Street. The company had a branch in New Orleans, as well.
Thirteen years after the Pecks moved into 12 East 11th Street, Angelina fell ill. She died on February 7, 1880, and her funeral was held in the parlor four days later.
Joshua Mersereau and his wife lived at 60 West 11th Street at the time. By 1886 they had moved into the former Peck house. Born on Staten Island in 1813, Mersereau came "from an old Huguenot family," according to The Evening Post. Now retired, he had been the secretary of the Old Staten Island Dyeing Company, and a County Clerk of Richmond County for at least a decade. He and his wife had a grown son.
On November 24, 1888 The Evening Post reported that Mersereau had died "suddenly" (often suggesting heart failure) the previous day at the age of 75. The article said, "He was a most straightforward, honest business man and highly spoken of by his old business associates." It added, "He was a man of large means."
Dr. Charles Remsen leased the house by 1890. The Remsen family was, according to the 1896 Portrait and Biographical Record of Suffolk County, "one of the oldest in New York." Remsen's grandfather, Benjamin Remsen, was private secretary to Thomas Jefferson. Born on February 7, 1856, Charles Remsen studied at Princeton College and the College of Physicians and Surgeons, graduating in 1880.
He and his wife, the former Lilian Livingston Jones, had married in 1886 and would have two sons, William and Charles, Jr. In 1890 they acquired their summer home in Speonk, near Southampton, Long Island. The Portrait and Biographical Record noted, "Here, with all the charm that beauty of location and scenery can add, he enjoys the delightful climate and the various sports for which the region is noted." In 1895, after the Remsens built a church for Speonk, the citizens renamed the village Remsenburg.
Mary L. Hall, who purchased the house in 1896, continued to lease it to the Remsens.
Tragedy came to the family on March 22, 1899 when eight-year-old Charles, Jr. died. His parents broke the tradition of an in-home funeral, holding it instead at Grace Church Chantry.
The Remsens left in 1902, after Mary L. Hall sold the house that October to Adrian H. Joline. The new owner rented it to attorney Archibald Gourlay Thatcher and his wife. The couple redecorated the house, and on December 11, 1902 The Evening Telegram noted, "Mr. and Mrs. Archibald G. Thatcher, whose new home, at No. 12 East Eleventh street, will not be ready for occupancy for some time, have taken an apartment temporarily in the Van Rensselaer, No. 17 East Eleventh street."
Born in 1877, Thatcher had graduated from the Harvard Law School. Like Remsen, he came from an old American family. Hanging in the 11th Street house was an 18th century Gilbert Stuart portrait of an ancestor, Reverend Samuel Cooper Thatcher.
Once into their new home, it was again the scene of social gatherings. On April 16, 1904, for instance, The Globe and Commercial Advertiser mentioned, "Mrs. Archibald Gourlay Thatcher, 12 East Eleventh street, entertained at 'bridge' on Friday afternoon."
Adrian H. Joline sold 12 East 11th Street in April 1906 to Cullen Van Rennselaer Cogwell. It once again became home to an old New York family. Cogwell had married Agnes Eugenie Nickerson on January 1, 1896.
The couple maintained two country homes, one in Southampton and the other, Riverdale, in Dedham, Massachusetts. They had two daughters, Louisa Winslow and Mary Van Rensselaer, who were 8 and 4 years old, respectively, when the family moved in.
Cogswell was a secretary and treasurer of the United States Cobalt Company and a mining engineer. The 1915 Genealogies of the State of New York mentioned, "He has traveled extensively, and is regarded as an expert in his profession."
Louisa was introduced to society in 1917. Shortly afterward, on December 30, the New York Herald announced, "Miss Louisa Winslow Cogswell is the first of the debutantes to become engaged." It may have been America's entry into World War I that hurried the announcement. The groom-to-be was Ensign Thomas Robins, Jr. of the United States Navy Reserves. The New York Herald mentioned, "At present he commands a submarine patrol boat."
Louisa's wedding took place in the Church of the Ascension ("where her great-grandmother was married," according to the New-York Tribune) on March 16, 1918. She wore the white satin wedding gown of her grandmother and "an old Van Rensselaer veil of Brussels point applique lace." The ceremony had a decided military atmosphere, with the best man and ushers all in uniform. A reception was held in the Cogswell house afterward.
The Cogswells were in Connecticut in the summer of 1919. The three servants in the East 11th Street house were asleep on the fourth floor on the night of June 14 when burglars clambered up the rear trellis and entered Agnes's bedroom. Cogswell later explained, "Once in, they proceeded to ransack the second floor, first taking the precaution to lock the doors leading from the rooms in which they were working, so as not to be disturbed."
After gathering up loose pieces of jewelry in Agnes's bedroom, they turned their attention to her 100-pound jewelry safe. Rather than risk detection by attempting to break into it, they tied a length of clothesline around it and began lowering it out the window. The Evening World reported, "But the rope broke and down crashed the safe to the flagstones of the yard, where it made a noise that roused the whole neighborhood, even the police, and the burglars had to hurry away with no more loot than they had pocketed." It was a fortunate turn of events for the Cogswells. The New York Times reported, "instead of the $20,000 they might have obtained, the burglars got away with only about $900 worth of trinkets."
The following year, on December 17, Molly's first debutante entertainment was held. It culminated in a Christmas Eve dance in the Ritz-Carlton Hotel. She would be less quick to marry than her sister. On July, 28, 1922 The Evening Telegram noted that she and her mother "will sail for Europe from Boston, Mass., tomorrow, and will travel abroad for two months." And on August 6, 1924 The Sun reported, "Miss Mary Van Rensselaer Cogswell...of 12 East Eleventh street, accompanied Mr. and Mrs. J. Rich Steers and their daughter, Miss Mary Steers, on a trip to the Canadian Rockies."
The Cogswell family had left East 11th Street by 1927, when their former home was being operated as unofficial apartments. Among the early tenants was historian, critic and author Constance Lindsay Skinner. A regular theater critic for the New York Herald Tribune, she is best remembered for the "Rivers of America" series for publishers Farrar & Rinehart.
In 1964 attorney Joseph Siegel lived here when he married motion picture actress Kim Stanley. According to Jon Krampner in his 2006 Female Brando, The Legend of Kim Stanley, they "split their marriage between her home in Congers [New York] and his ground-floor apartment at 12 East Eleventh Street in Greenwich Village."
In 1966 Siegel joined the staff of Robert Kennedy's campaign for United States Senate. It, ironically, ended the couple's marriage. Kennedy had given Siegel his sister-in-law's telephone number to contact regarding a question. Stanley found the piece of paper on the dresser. According to Krampner, "she picked up one of Joe's shoes and started beating him on the head and saying, 'You son of a bitch, you're cheating on me with Jackie Kennedy!" She stormed out of the East 11th Street apartment never to return. They divorced shortly afterward.
A renovation completed in 2016 resulted in a triplex on the lower floors and a duplex apartment above. Happily, much of the 1852 interior detailing survives.
photographs by the author
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