Thursday, September 15, 2022

The 1854 Schureman Halsted House - 308 East 15th Street


photograph by the author

Builders John Keyser, George Hamilton and William Berrian joined forces on a project in 1854, erecting a row of three fine Italianate homes on East 15th Street, facing Stuyvesant Square.  Only slight variations in the architectural details distinguished one from the other.  The entrance of the center house, 153 East 15th Street (renumbered 308 in 1868), for instance, wore a cornice slab upheld by scrolled brackets, while its neighbor to the east boasted an arched pediment.

Like its fraternal twins, 153 East 15th Street rose four stories above a high basement (each floor becoming slightly shorter from the parlor to top).  The bracketed cornices of the three houses, while identical, were separate.

Schureman Halsted moved his family into the center house.  Born in Rye, New York on July 21, 1805, he was president of The Broadway Insurance Company.  He and his wife, Alettha Coutant had ten children, the youngest of which was eight years old, and the eldest 26 at the time.  At least three of the adult four sons still lived with their parents.  Ezekiel Schureman and Gilbert C. Halsted were cloth merchants at 52 Murray Street, Charles E. was a clerk, and Henry Moore Halsted preferred not to list a profession.

The Halsted family's residency would be relatively short.  By 1860 Frederick Butterfield and his wife Caroline Matilda Falconer had moved in.  The couple were married in 1858 and had a daughter, Sarah Catherine.  A second child, Frederick, would be born in 1862.

Born in England, Frederick Butterfield's family had amassed an immense fortune in the 18th century as mill owners.  He had grown up in Cliffe Castle in Keighley, Yorkshire.  In 1833 he and his brothers were taken into the family business, which became Butterfield Brothers.  Shortly afterward, he and his brother Henry Isaac moved to New York to oversee the export side of the business.  Around the time of his marriage to Caroline, Frederick had formed Fred. Butterfield & Co., with a branch office in London.

Cliffe Castle, where Frederick Butterfield grew up.  image via

Moving in with the couple were Caroline's parents, John and Katharine (known as Kate) Fayerweather Falconer.  John, who was born in 1810, was the head of a clothing firm at 347 Broadway and an alderman.  In 1862 he helped form the New-York Seamen's Friend Society and was elected a vice-president.  The New York Times explained it was formed "to promote the temporal and spiritual welfare of seamen."

It is possible that Caroline's uncle, Ransom Fayerweather, also lived in the house, at least temporarily.  The 53-year-old became ill in 1861 and his funeral was held here on June 27.

Frederick Butterfield died on June 24, 1883 at the age of 63.  In reporting on his estate, The Brooklyn Daily Eagle titled its article, "An Exception to the General Rule / A New York Merchant Who Appreciated His Mother In Law."  Butterfield had written his will only a year earlier.  In an amazing show of generosity, he left an annuity of $240 each--around $6,700 in today's money--to Caroline's and Kate's maids.  "He bequeaths to his mother in law, Catharine [sic] Falconer, $3,000 annually during her life," said the article.  Her yearly income from the trust would equal just under $84,000 today.  Caroline received the bulk of his estate.

The following year, on April 25, 1884, the estate sold 308 East 15th Street to one of Frederick's business partners, Eugene Lauer and his wife, Ottilie, for $24,000.  Lauer's interest in Fred. Butterfield & Co., it would seem, was an investment, since he was a physician.

Born in Germany, the 38-year old Lauer had been in America only 11 years.  He had served in the army during the Franco-Prussian War as an assistant surgeon.  His purchase of 308 East 15th Street was well conceived.  The neighborhood had, by now, filled with thousands of German immigrants.  Beginning in 1874 Lauer was associated with the German Dispensary on Second Avenue, as well as conducting his private practice.  The Medical Record said of his work with the immigrants, "although enjoying a large and lucrative practice he was as prompt as he was known to be with his private clientèle, and was universally held in high esteem for his skill and devotion to his patients."

It was most likely that skill and devotion that led to Lauer's death.  Only two years after he purchased the Butterfield house, on November 13, 1886 The Medical Record reported, "Dr. Eugene Lauer died of diphtheria at his home, 308 East Fifteenth Street, this city, October 31, 1886, aged forty years."

Because the title to the East 15th Street house was Eugene 's name, Ottilie was obligated to purchase it from the estate, a transaction that was finalized on July 14, 1888.  The executors charged her only $8,000 (about $235,000 today) for the property, a fraction of what her husband had paid.

Ottilie Lauer remained in the house only until April 1, 1890, when she sold it to Edward and Isabella M. Pettet for $28,000.  The couple had a son, Edwin J. DeLeu.  

Edward Pettet was connected with the shipping firm of Funch, Edye & Co.  He so admired one of the firm's vessels, the Foscolia, that an oil painting of the ship hung in the parlor of 308 East 15th Street.  And so, it was somewhat ironic that on the night of May 30, 1898 the ship's captain, John Edwards, arrived at the house to inform Pettet that the Francolia had sunk off Fire Island.

The ship had departed New York that afternoon with a crew of 20 headed for Bordeaux, France.  It was laden with grain, machinery and "general merchandise."  The country was engaged in the Spanish-American War at the time, and simultaneously the massive 7,375-ton cruiser the USS Columbia was on wartime patrol, watching for Spanish military ships.  In a dense fog, the Francolia was obeying maritime law--showing her lights and sounding the fog horn at regular intervals.  The Columbia, on the other hand, was in stealth mode, running without lights or sounding its horn.  The warship smashed into the Francolia, which sank within seven hours.

Pettet was enraged, telling a reporter from the New York Herald, "This accident would not have happened but for the ridiculous war methods that have been adopted by the naval authorities.  We have some rights, even if it is war times."

Isabella M. Pettet was a fascinating figure.  Born in Holstein, Germany on June 6, 1848, she had come to the United States in 1865.  She graduated with honors from the New York Medical College and Hospital for women in 1881.  A homoeopathic physician, she ran her private practice from the East 15th Street house and in a private dispensary on East 23rd Street, and was on the medical staff of her alma mater.  She dabbled in real estate, as well.

Isabella M. Pettet.  from A Woman of the Century: Fourteen Hundred-Seventh Biographical Sketches, 1893 (copyright expired)

Isabella no doubt raised eyebrows city-wide when she walked into the office of District Attorney Clarke on October 7, 1902, and offered to furnish $20,000 bail for a convicted swindler, John Shea.  It was a massive amount, around $650,000 in today's money.  More startling was that she did not know the prisoner.

The Daily Standard Union reported, "Mrs. Pettit [sic] said she had never seen Shea, and admitted she had been asked to give bail by "Yank" Allen, whom Mr. Clarke describes as one of Shea's gang."  And, bizarrely, she had did not know "Yank" Allen, either.  The article continued, "She never saw Allen before, but he told her Shea was being prosecuted, and she felt sorry for the young man, she said."  The gesture was, perhaps, not entirely rash.  "She told Allen, however, she would not sign the bond until her conscience was satisfied."

In 1903 Edwin J. DeLeu received his medical degree from the Homoeopathic Medical College, and he entered his mother's practice from the East 15th Street, house.

Like many homeowners, the Pettets rented a room.  An advertisement in February 1905 offered, "Beautiful sunny suite; private bath, steam heat; hot water."  Their tenants were often artistic types.  Living with the family in 1910 was artist and writer Kenneth Hayes-Miller, a graduate of the Art Students League who had studied at the New York School of Art under William Merritt Chase.

Isabella M. Pettet died a widow on September 8, 1912 at the age of 64.  She left the house in equal parts to Edwin's children, Marguerite, Elizabeth E. and Edward B. Pettet.

Renting the spare room in 1916 and 1917 was 18-year-old Harold Hart Crane.  The son of a wealthy Cleveland, Ohio manufacturer, he had dropped out of high school and come to New York.  The move was perhaps, according to Philip Horton's 1937 Hart Crane: The Life of an American Poet, to flee his parents' constant bickering.  Horton said Crane later described his accommodations here as "a cold, poorly lighted room."  Hart Crane would go on to become one of 20th century America's best known poets.

In 1920 the Pettets transferred title to their father, Edwin.  Within the year he sold the house to Caesar J. Ellis, who converted it to "bachelor apartments," meaning there were no kitchens.  Ellis resold it in 1926 to Dr. Ellis H. Schwartz, who converted the basement and parlor floor to his office and waiting room, and the upper floors to his residence.

While the lower two floors remained a doctor's office, in 1953 artists Jose de Creeft and Lorrie Goulet moved into the upper section of the house.  The couple, who had been married in November 1944, lived and worked here.  De Creeft was a founding member of the Artists Equity Association.  Known best for his modern sculptures, one of de Creeft's most beloved works is the Alice in Wonderland grouping in Central Park.

Jose de Creeft's Alice in Wonderland statue was unveiled in 1959.  photo by Andres Nieto Porras.

In 1956 the upper floors were converted to apartments.  Then, in 1971, 308 and 310 East 15th Street were combined for the Helen Altschul Pavilion of New York.  Understandably, the Victorian interiors were essentially gutted for the medical facility.

The configuration lasted until 1999 when the houses were  again separated.  Today there are still doctor's offices in the basement of the former Halsted residence, while each of the upper floors contains two apartments. has no authorization to reuse the content of this blog

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