Friday, August 12, 2022

The Jennie Kelso Ewell House - 47 East 74th Street


Prolific real estate developer Jeremiah C. Lyons began construction on a row of eight five-story dwellings on East 74th Street between Park and Madison Avenues in 1898.  The architectural firm of Buchman & Deisler had designed them in two balanced groupings of four--A-B-B-A and C-B-B-C.  The westernmost house, an A model at 47 East 74th, was a dignified neo-Renaissance style residence faced in limestone.

A Doric portico upheld a two-story faceted bay decorated with a broken pediment at the second floor and crowned with a carved stone balcony.  The fifth floor sat between an intermediate cornice and the bracketed pressed metal terminal cornice. 

Lyons sold 47 East 74th Street in 1899 to Moses Newborg, the president of Newborg & Co., brokers.  It is unclear whether he and his family ever lived in the house, but in April the following year he resold it to Jennie Kelso Ewell.  The daughter of Andrew Varick Stout, president of the Shoe and Leather Bank, she had married his partner, John Newton Ewell, who  had died in 1885.  The couple had two children, Douglass Ewell (who died in 1897) and Caroline Elizabeth, known as Carrie.

Jennie's summer estate was in Northeast Harbor, Maine.  She shared it and the East 74th Street house with Caroline and her husband, DeWitt Parshall.  The couple had been married in a fashionable Fifth Avenue Presbyterian Church ceremony on November 20, 1895.  Born in 1864, Parshall was a landscape artist.

Pashall's Grand Canyon is typical of his works.

Among Jennie's faithful servants was her coachman, Charles Heil, hired in 1885.  When she gave up her horses for a motorcar, he learned to drive and stayed on as her chauffeur.  On the evening of November 15, 1909 he took the Pashalls to dinner, and was returning to the Lenox Garage on East 74th Street when disaster occurred.

At Lexington Avenue and 75th Street, 9-year-old Joseph O'Connor darted into the street into the path of the automobile.  Although Heil was going "at a moderate rate of speed," according to a witness, he "was on the wrong side of the street and had no lights."  The New York Times reported, "The front wheel of the machine passed over the boy's head before the chauffeur brought it to a stop.  Jumping out, Heil lifted the boy up and carried him to the sidewalk.  Then, apparently becoming panic-stricken with fright, he threw the boy down, jumped back into his machine, and put on full power."

Bystanders called for him to stop, and O'Connor's playmates ran after the vehicle to get the license number.  Police easily traced it to Jennie Ewell and to the Lenox Garage.  There they found Heil "completely unnerved and weeping bitterly."  He claimed he had hurried to the garage to get help.  He was arrested on a charge of felonious assault.

Jennie Ewell told a reporter that in the 24 years he had been in her employ, he had never had an accident.  Nevertheless, the press coverage was not kind to the 51-year-old.  The New York Times headline read, "Boy Left dying By Fleeing Autoist."

It was Carrie who appeared in the society pages most often.  On February 19, 1910, for instance, the New York Herald announced, "Mr. and Mrs. DeWitt Pashall gave a reception yesterday afternoon at their home, No. 47 East Seventy-fifth street."

Jennie Kelso Stout Ewell died in Northeast Harbor, Maine, on July 26, 1916 at the age of 73.  Her funeral was held there and her body returned to New York and buried in Greenwood Cemetery.  She left an estate of over $7.5 million by today's conversion, all of which went to Carrie.

The Pashalls remained in at 47 East 74th Street until May 1920 when Carrie sold it to railroad executive Herbert N. Curtis.  The Pashalls moved to Santa Barbara, California.  

It was not long before Curtis's name appeared in the papers for a surprising and, perhaps, shocking reason.  On March 18, 1921 the 67-year-old bachelor appeared before Surrogate Judge Cohalan in hopes of adopting Mary Lois Fox "a professional entertainer, 29 years old," according to The New York Times.  He explained, according to the newspaper, "he met Miss Fox six years ago through his sister and that she taught him modern dancing steps for two years.  He has assisted her in placing negro songs before the public, he said."  Curtis told the judge he "wants to make her his foster daughter, he says, that she may be a comfort to him in his old age."

Judge Cohalan refused saying, "If that is your reason for wanting to adopt this young woman you won't do it with the aid of this court.  It is a parody on all laws of society, and if I were to be a party to such an adoption we would have a lot of old roues coming in here wanting to adopt young girls."

Mary Fox's attorney chimed in, saying that "the elderly man's interest in her was purely platonic and that his attitude had always been that of a father."  He said that Mary "expected to be married soon" and hoped to be able to treat Curtis "as her father and to have him live with her and her husband."  Mary Fox interjected that she "met him in a church choir."

Cohalan was unmoved.  The New York Times reported that he "decided that Miss Fox should wait until after her marriage and then she could either become the foster daughter of Mr. Curtis or she could adopt him as her son."

Curtis leased the house for the winter season of 1924-25.  On October 6, 1924 The New York Telegram and Evening Mail reported, "Mr. and Mrs. Douglas Parmentier will close their country place at Greenwich, Conn. this week, and will occupy for the winter the house at No. 47 East Seventy-fourth street."

The house was sold in 1945.  It saw a series of residents over the next decades, until being converted to apartments, two per floor, in 1999.

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


  1. I would love to know more about the history of this particular building. Any further elaboration — or links to the sources that helped inform this particular post — would be much appreciated if you could share!

    1. rather than have several back-and-forth messages in the comments section, it would be better if you email me at the address on the upper left portion of this page.