Thursday, February 23, 2023

The Cornelia Jones Miller House - 58 West 9th Street


In 1853 builder Reuben R. Wood erected three exceptionally handsome homes at 10 through 14 Ninth Street (renumbered 54 to 58 West 9th Street in 1867).  Their three-step porches were protected by brownstone wingwalls, surmounted by beefy iron Italianate railings and newels.  The double-doored entrances and parlor windows sat within fully arched openings.  At the second floor, a common balcony stretched the width of the three homes, its railing matching that of the porches and areaways.  The upper floor windows sat below segmental arches and wore molded lintels.  Separate bracketed Italianate cornices crowned the homes.

Wood initially leased the westernmost house to Thomas Smith, a drygoods merchant, and his family.  They lived in 14 Ninth Street in 1853 and 1854.  The house was advertised for rent again the following year, after which James R. Swords, who ran a book business on Broadway, moved in.  The pattern repeated with families rarely staying for more than two years.

Among them was Emilie Crooks.  She was the widow of Ramsay Crooks, a Scottish-born fur trader.  A partner in the Pacific Fur Company, he had spent years in the wilderness, dealing with Native Americans, and had married Abanokue, the daughter of an Ojibwa Chieftan.  Following her death, he married Emilie Pratte.  Emilie leased the house in 1863, four years after her colorful husband had died.  Living with her were two of her nine children, Ramsay, a merchant at 57 Front Street, and Sylvester, a broker.

The Crooks family remained until about 1866, and the house again saw a succession of occupants.   Its first real long-term owner came in 1878 when it was purchased by Dr. Edmund Carleton, Jr.

A homeopathic doctor, Carleton was on the faculty of the New York Medical College and Hospital for Women.  That not all of the medical community supported homeopathic practices was clearly and publicly evidenced in 1884.  On January 17, Carleton visited a patient who lived in a boarding house on West 12th Street.  While he was there, the landlady, Mrs. Babbitt, asked him to examine her throat.  The New-York Daily Tribune reported, "He told her that she had a mild attack of diphtheria; he wrote a prescription and advised her to disinfect her rooms."  Following city policy, he sent a report to the Board of Heath, which in turn directed the 12th Street Grammar School not to admit pupils from Mrs. Babbitt's boarding house.

The following day Mrs. Babbitt's family physician arrived and "pooh-poohed the idea that she was suffering from a contagious disease."  The New-York Daily Tribune said, "learning that a homeopathic physician had sent a report to the Board of Health, he undertook to procure a correction.  He also expressed his opinion that the other physician did not understand his business."

Carleton struck back, telling a New-York Daily Tribune reporter, "If Dr. Spreng says Mrs. Babbitt did not have diphtheria, he is a fool."  He explained the symptoms, and said had she continued the medicine he had prescribed, her condition would have been much improved.  "Perhaps he does not know that a child, Mary Cook, was removed from the house last week suffering from diphtheria."

At the time of that incident, Dr. Carleton was dealing with another problem.  In November 1882, he had paid several visits to a patient, Helen Lillian Russell Solomon, better known by her stage name, Lillian Russell.  His bill totaled $39 (just over $1,000 in 2023).  Carleton wrote notes, and paid personal visits to the actress's home in attempts to collect his fees.  Finally, on June 5, 1888, The Evening World wrote, "It took five years and seven months to tire out the doctor's patience; but he went to Court determined to recover the money with costs."  The article said that initially, "the fair warbler...intended to give the doctor a legal fight."  But faced with a public trial, she agreed finally to pay the bill.

Dr. Edmund Carleton, Jr. remained at 58 West 9th Street through 1890, when he sold it to Cornelia Jones Miller.   She was the widow of John Bleecker Miller who had died in Toulon, France on April 22, 1861.  He had served under President James Buchanan as consul-general to Germany.  Cornelia's impressive pedigree equaled that of her husband's.  She was the daughter of Judge Samuel William Jones and Maria Bowers Duane.  Initially living with Cornelia were her unmarried daughter, Maria Duane Bleecker Miller, and her married daughter Cornelia and her husband, Admiral French Ensor Chadwick. 

In October 1891, when famine in Russia killed upwards of 400,000 and sparked a revolt against the Tsar, Admiral Chadwick sent a letter from the West 9th Street house to the editor of The Sun.  He reminded readers of the strong sense of gratitude Americans should have to Russia.  During America's own rebellion three decades earlier, the Russian Admiral was directed "in the event of the recognition of the Confederacy by France or England, to place his fleet at the disposition of the American Government."

Admiral French Ensor Chadwick.  from the archives of the West Virginia & Regional History Center

Chadwick, who was also a military historian and author, was well-known to have similar strong opinions.  He would later complain that American women were not keeping up with immigrant women in procreating and "soon the older American stock will be replaced completely."  He balked at the replacing of male teachers in public schools with women, charging that boys were being made effeminate.

Around 1892 the Chadwicks relocated to Washington D.C.   They would be back to attend Maria's wedding to Wilmot Townsend Cox in the house on December 26, 1896.  The New York Times remarked, "The ceremony was performed in the parlor, which was decorated with evergreens, palms, and potted plants," adding, "An informal reception followed the ceremony, which was attended by the numerous family connections and intimate friends."  The "numerous family connections" included some of the oldest names of New York society, including Beekman, Irving, Jones, Rutgers, and Townsend.

The bridegroom's first American ancestor, James Cock, had arrived in Setauket, Long Island prior to 1659.  Other of his ancestors included Henry Wisner, a signer of the Declaration of Independence; John Townsend, an early settler of Long Island; and Robert Coles who accompanied Roger Williams to Rhode Island.  Wilmot Townsend Cox had graduated from Harvard in 1879 and from the Columbia College Law School in 1881.  At the time of the wedding he was a member of the law firm Scudder, Tappan, Seaman & Cox.

Maria Duane Bleecker Miller Cox.  This may have been Maria's wedding dress, described by The New York Times, as "white moir√©...tastefully trimmed with rare old family lace."  original source unknown.

Maria had long been interested her family's genealogy and was one of the five incorporators of the Colonial Dames of New York.  The first meeting of the Colonial Dames had been held in the West 9th Street house.  Among her ancestors were Jan Jansen Bleecker, Mayor of Albany in 1700; Major Thomas Jones, who arrived in America in 1692; James Duane, a member of the Continental Congress; and Robert Livingston, the first Lord of Livingston Manor.

The Coxes remained with Cornelia Miller in the West 9th Street house, and mother and daughter entertained together.  On February 6, 1898, for instance, The New York Times announced, "Mrs. John Bleecker Miller and her daughter, Mrs. Wilmot Townsend Cox, of 58 West Ninth Street, will receive during February.  Mrs. Miller's daughter, Mrs. F. E. Chadwick, is with her for the Winter."

On December 7, 1901, Cornelia died at the age of 75.   Maria inherited the West 9th Street house.   She and Wilmot remained there until her death on December 16, 1915.  She left the house to her husband.  To ensure her work went on after her death, she left $3,000 each to Cornelia and French Ensor Chadwick, who now lived in Newport, and a trust of $1,000.  The New York Herald explained that the money was "to be used for the publication of manuscripts relating to the Dutch occupation and the English government of New York." 

In 1916 Wilmot Cox left 58 West 9th Street, never to return.  At some point he transferred title to Cornelia Chadwick.  It was leased in rapid fire succession to Charles J. Berdell, Jr. in 1916, G. P. Dubois in 1917, and George D. Yeomans in 1918.  After years of leasing the house, in 1920 Cornelia Chadwick sold it to Juliana R. Force.

photo via the New York Times

Force converted the venerable home into unofficial apartments.  Living on an upper floor in 1924 was Dorothy Harrington and her two-year-old son, Donald.  Dorothy's husband, Portus Harrington, was a Cleveland stock broker.  Why she and the boy were living separately in New York is unclear.  

On the afternoon of February 17 that year, Dorothy put Donald into his crib and (unthinkable today) left to visit her uncle, Justice Davis on East 94th Street.  Before she reached his home, at around 3:00 fire broke out on the second floor of the 9th Street house.   It started in the apartment of Dr. Ettore Perrone, whose eight year old daughter Rose was in bed with tonsilitis.   "The child saw the flames and screamed in fear," reported the New York Evening Post.  Her father, who was downstairs in his office, rushed up and carried her to the street.  The article said, "He was there in plenty of time to have returned for Donald, had he known the child was there alone.  But he believed the boy was with his mother."  Later, in the thick smoke firemen stumbled upon the crib in the Harrington suite.  The toddler was already dead.

A renovation completed in 1997 returned 58 West 9th Street to a single-family home.  It is the only one of the trio to retain all of the 1853 architectural elements.

photographs by the author
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