In 1830, Don Alonzo Cushman, a friend of Clement Clarke Moore, began purchasing lots in Chelsea, the once sprawling country estate of Moore's family. He, along with another friend, James Wells, would be greatly responsible for the development of the new neighborhood. Cushman would erect rows of speculative, high end houses in Chelsea.
On October 26, 1843, Mary Matilda Falconer Cushman, Don Alonzo's daughter, married Philip F. Pistor in St. Peter's Church on West 20th Street. Born in France as Philippe Frederic Pistor, the groom had anglicized his name upon arriving in America. The newlyweds moved into the newly-build house at 251 West 19th Street, almost assuredly a gift from the bride's father.
The three-story residence was faced in red brick. Its double-doored entrance atop the high stoop sat within an elliptically arched stone frame. The parlor windows were, almost assuredly, originally full height (as seen in the once-identical house next door at 351). An Italianate cornice with foliate brackets and a paneled fascia crowned the structure.
Pistor was in the drygoods business at 52 Broad Street. Both his affluence and his startling attention detail were reflected in an advertisement he placed in newspapers in early 1854:
$5 Reward--Lost, on Thursday, January 19, in the afternoon in going from Baltic street Brooklyn, through Henry and Atlantic streets, crossing the South ferry, and taking one of the Fourteenth street stages to corner of Nineteenth street and Ninth avenue, a small diamond breastpin in shape of a star. The finder will receive the above reward on leaving it at 52 Broad street, upstairs, or at 251 West Nineteenth street, New York.
The reward would be equal to about $165 in 2022.
The couple would have ten children. The first, Frederick, was born in 1843 but died soon afterward. Their seventh child, Matilda was born in 1854. She, like Frederick and her sister Mary, born in 1851, died in infancy. It was shortly after Matilda's death that the family moved to a fine home on West 22nd Street.
It appears the house was rented to a series of tenants over the next two decades Carlisle Norwood and his family were here for a few years starting in 1855. They were followed by John Whitfield, an importer, here until 1861. That year Martha Hawley, a widow, moved in with her two adult daughters, Mary and Harriet S. Harriett taught in Primary School No. 19 on West 18th Street, and Mary gave voice lessons at home. She placed an advertisement in The New York Times on October 11, 1861 that read:
Miss Mary E. Hawley respectfully informs her pupils and friends that she has removed to No. 251 West 19-st., where she will resume instruction in singing.
The Hawleys remained until about 1864, when again, a string of tenants leased the house. By 1876 the Dreyfus family occupied were here. It had been renumbered 351 West 19th Street in 1867, and, oddly enough, renumbered again in 1876 when the all the numbers along the block were moved up one address, making it 353 West 19th Street.
Emile and Julius G. Dreyfus were "chemists," or pharmacists, with a drugstore at 15 Cedar Street. Isidor and Julius R. Dreyfus were partners with Max Nathan in Nathan & Dreyfus, a locomotive oil manufacturing firm. Like the previous renters, the Dreyfuses' residency would be short-lived.
In 1884 the house, described as a "desirable three story high stoop brick house of 12 rooms," was again advertised for rent. But, instead, it was sold to Josephina A. De Baun, the widow of Hausman De Baun.
It was about this time that the house received a stylish updating. The entrance and window lintels received hardy cornices that sat upon sturdy brackets, and an ambitious cornice replaced the original, its brackets large-scale versions of those below--flanking robust rosettes.
Sadly, Joseph A. De Baun would not enjoy her new home for long. She contracted pneumonia in the fall of 1887, and died on October 7. Her funeral was held in the parlor three days later.
The De Baun estate rented 353 West 19th Street until 1891, when the heirs sold it to Mary G. and Robert H. Smith for $35,000--just over $1 million in 2022.
Over the next decades the successive owners continued to rent the house to respectable tenants. Living here during the World War I years, for instance, was Walter Eugene Tober and his wife, the former Olga Hammershlag. Born into a well-known banking family in Switzerland in 1847, he came to America as a young man. He settled in the South, representing the banking firm of Duncan Sherman & Co. There, The Sun later said, "he was looked upon as one of the foremost cotton experts in the country." In New York City, he was associated with the John Wanamaker store.
In the decades before air conditioning, New Yorkers suffered in the intense heat. And Edwardian deportment did not allow for the removal of hats and coats in public. On August 3, 1917, The Sun reported, "Prostrated by the heat, Walter Eugene Tobler, 70, died suddenly yesterday at his home, 353 West Nineteenth street."
A renovation completed in 1970 resulted in a duplex apartment in the basement and parlor levels, and one apartment each in the upper floors.
photographs by the author
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