Thursday, December 15, 2022

The John L. and Sadie E. Stockton House - 48 Edgecombe Avenue


In January 1897, the architectural firm of Neville and Bagge filed plans for an ambitious row of rowhouses that would fill the eastern blockfront of Edgecombe Avenue, from 137th to 138th Street for developers Egan & Hallery.  Completed early in 1898, the corner houses were the most desirable, being slightly wider and enjoying the extra exposure to natural light and ventilation.

The residence on the southern corner, 48 Edgecombe Avenue, had cost $15,000 to construct--about half a million in 2022 dollars.  Three stories tall above a high English basement, it was faced in red brick and trimmed in stone and terra cotta.  While overall Renaissance Revival in style, Neville & Bagge gave its windows splayed lintels, reminiscent of neo-Georgian.  The Aesthetic style capitals of the engaged, fluted entrance columns cleverly morphed into a decorative terra cotta bandcourse that wrapped the parlor floor facade.

Rather than sell 48 Edgecombe Avenue, John J. Egan (a partner in Egan & Hallery), moved his family in.  He and his wife, Eleanor, had a son, Frederick.  Business troubles would make the family's residency relatively short.  Egan lost the house in foreclosure in 1904.

In 1908 Charles Schenck and his wife purchased the house.  The couple, who had married on February 12, 1907, had just returned from what The American Florist deemed, "quite an extended wedding tour of the south."   Schenck was a partner in Traendly & Schenck, a society florist.  (In 1933 the firm would discover the rose named the Mrs. Franklin D. Roosevelt.)  The couple moved into their new home in time for the arrival of a baby daughter.

Around 1910, the Schencks began sharing their large home with the Wolff family.  It would seem that the Wolff family occupied more of the house than the Schencks.  Adeline Wolff's husband, Charles, had died on March 25, 1907.  Moving in with her were her son, Eugene, and daughter Marcelle (known as May).  The population increased further when Adeline married Isaac Pachner.  Now the Schencks had two more boarders, Isaac's daughter Annie and son-in-law, Julius Tucker.  (Pachner had four other children by his earlier marriage.)

Isaac Pachner was a partner in the cap manufacturing firm of Lichtenstein-Pachner Co.  He held at least three patents on headgear, one of which had a built-in visor that could be lowered while driving.  

Charles Schenck hired the architectural firm of Cohen & Felson to make interior renovations in 1914.  The reconfiguration of some walls was made at the time.  

In 1918 the Schencks moved to New Rochelle, New York, and in December sold 48 Edgecombe Avenue to S. Norma Winch.  She and her husband, Charles A. Winch, were real estate operators.

Following World War I, the demographics of the Harlem neighborhood changed as the Black community migrated northward.  The Winches were still listed here in 1920, but the following year their former home had become the home of Rev. Alexander C. Garner, who had just been appointed the first rector of the nearby Grace Congregational Church on West 139th Street.  

Born in Maryville, Tennessee in 1867, Garner had served in World War I as chaplain of the 369th Infantry, a Black and Hispanic regiment.  He and his wife had three daughters and a son, Maynard, who was attending Howard University (his father's alma mater) when they moved in.  In 1922, Garner was appointed to the Committee of Inter-Racial Co-Operation of the National Council of the Congregational Churches.

Garner's work  extended beyond the spiritual.  He established the first day nursery in Harlem, enabling mothers to work.  His support of the performing arts among Harlemites earned Grace Church under his rectorship the nickname, "Church of the Actors."  His activism for the improvement of Black circumstances was evidenced in a letter to the editor of The New York Age in September 1925.  Mayor John Hylan had chosen a Black campaign manager, but his background was shady at best, at least from Garner's perspective.  He wrote in part:

Men of the type selected by the Mayor to represent my race have no influence with the people of the community.  After serving two terms as Mayor, the Negroes of Harlem and elsewhere are surprised to find that the Chief Executive of the city would assume that the colored citizens would follow the leadership of a man whose record cannot stand public investigation.  Under no circumstances would he name a white man with a similar record.

In 1926, 48 Edgecombe Avenue became the parsonage of St. Mark's Methodist Church, directly across the street, and home to the Rev. Lorenzo F. King.  Interestingly, John L. Stockton and his wife, Sadie, moved in at the same time.  Although Stockton was a clerk-in-charge at the General Post Office, he was best known within the community for his post as the general church school superintendent of St. James Presbyterian Church on West 141st Street.  Unusual for Black women of the period, Sadie E. Stockton was a college graduate, having attended Knoxville College.  They had a son, Chauncey.

Stockton and his wife were active in the religious and social welfare circles of the district.  In 1930 Sadie was involved with the Hope Day Nursery and both she and John traveled for their causes.  On June 11, 1932, for instance, The New York Age reported, "John L. Stockton attended the Presbyterian General Assembly at Denver, Col., as a delegate from the St. James Presbyterian Church."  Stockton made a couple personal side trips.  The article noted that he "writes that he will visit Colorado Springs, Grand Canyon, cities in California and Seattle, Wash., before returning home about June 22."

By the time of the 1940 census, only the Stocktons lived in the house.  The couple's son, Chauncey was now 25 years old.  It is unclear when they left the Edgecombe Avenue house, but were living in the Bronx when John died on September 8, 1953.

After nearly a century of being home to two families, at some point in the second half of the 20th century, 48 Edgecombe Avenue was officially converted to a two-family residence.   The exterior survives beautifully intact, including the striking 1898 ironwork along the areaway.

photographs by the author
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