Wednesday, March 8, 2023

The David and Jane Earl House - 240 West 11th Street


In 1852 well-known builder Linus Scudder commenced construction of two, 20-foot-wide Italianate houses at 38 and 40 Hammond Street (changed to 238 and 240 West 11th Street in 1864).  Completed the following year, each was three stories tall above a brownstone-fronted English basement.  Faced in red brick and trimmed in brownstone, they were capped by wooden bracketed cornices.

It appears that Scudder initially leased 40 Hammond Street.  Henry Butler, a stockbroker, lived here for one year upon its completion, followed by William Archer, the sexton of the Washington Square Dutch Reformed Church.  Then, in March 1856, the house was advertised for sale:

House and Lot for sale, No. 40 Hammond street.--The handsome three story brick dwelling house, with all the modern improvements, and excellent counter cellar; house, 20 by 56, lot 95 feet.  Location good.  Terms easy.

It was purchased by David Magie Earl.  The well-to-do Earl operated a fish market on Greenwich Street.  He and his wife, the former Jean Kellock, were married in 1845.  They had six children, Mary Annie, George Kellock, Jeannie Kellock, Isabel B., John Ogden, and David.  Another child, Adalaide Hamilton, was born in 1860.

The family had a proud American pedigree.  Among their ancestors who fought in the Revolution were Ezekiel Magie, a minuteman; Seth Woodruff, a captain in the Essex County militia, and Stephen Haines.  The 1897 Lineage Book by the Daughters of the American Revolution said Haines, "was a patriot so obnoxious to the British that he was taken prisoner and confined in the old 'Sugar House' 1777, and not released until after the battle of Monmouth."

Tragically, on the morning of February 3, 1863, little Adalaide died.  The three-year-old's coffin sat in the parlor until her funeral there the next afternoon.  Jean Earl may not have been aware that she was pregnant at the time.  Another daughter, Sophie Haines Earl, was born eight months later, in October.

In 1869 David Jr. was enrolled in the Introductory Class of the  City University of New York.  Jeannie and Isabel had been introduced to society by then.  That enabled them to assist their mother in an annual tradition--New Year's Day receiving.  In an article titled "Chit Chat for the Ladies," on January 6, 1870, the Evening Telegram reported on the many receptions and visitations.  It noted, "Mrs. Earle [sic], 240 West Eleventh street, assisted by her two daughters, Belle and Jenny, were kept busy the whole day."

The family attended a memorial service for Horace Greeley at the Church of the Divine Paternity, known familiarly as "Dr. Chapin's church," on December 4, 1872.  When Jean Earl arrived home, she realized she her gold locket was missing.  Her extremely detailed notice appeared in the New York Herald the next day:

Lost--On Wednesday, Dec. 4, at Dr. Chapin's church, during the Greeley obsequies, or in going from the church down Fifth avenue, through Forty-third street to Sixth avenue, an oval Gold Locket, turquoises and pearls on one side, monogram J.K.E. on the other.  Whoever will return the same to 240 West Eleventh street will receive a liberal reward.

Jean oversaw a domestic staff that included servants who were seen by visitors and those who were not.  In August 1875, she was looking to replace one of the latter.  Her advertisement read, "Wanted--A girl to cook, wash, and iron, and do the work of the lower part of the house."

David Earl's respectability within the community was evidenced on October 6 that year when he was appointed Trustee of Common Schools for the Ninth Ward.  

David Magie Earl died in 1891, and Jean Earl died three years later.   The Earl house became home to Coroner William H. Dobbs, a life-time resident of Greenwich Village, and his wife, the former Esther Carlough.  Like the Earls, Dobbs had a long American history, his family having settled in today's Westchester County in the early 17th century.  His ancestor Jeremiah Dobbs was a fisherman who augmented his income by taking passengers across the Hudson River, earning the village that cropped up there the name Dobbs Ferry.

William H. Dobbs was born on Perry Street in 1832.  Educated in the public schools, he started his career as a carpenter.  Then, according to The Tammany Times, "In early life he became identified with the Tammany organization and has held various positions in it."  Aligning oneself with the powerful political group had its advantages, and in 1863 he was appointed coroner.

William H. Dobbs, The Tammany Times, February 14, 1903 (copyright expired)

The summer the family moved into 240 West 11th Street, Dobbs's medical problems became apparent.  On July 8, 1894, the New York Herald reported, "It was announced at the Coroners' office yesterday morning that Coroner Dobbs was critically ill at his home, No. 240 West Eleventh street.  He was stricken suddenly the night of July 3, and gradually grew worse.  He has kidney trouble, with complications."  Dobbs recovered from that episode.

On the evening of January 31, 1896, Dobbs heard someone moving around in the parlor floor hallway, but assumed it was his wife.  It was not.  As he entered the hall, intruders fled out the front door and down the stoop.  They made away with three canes and four umbrellas.  Dobbs told reporters that the intrinsic value of the items was "not bothering" but "he feels grieved because one of the canes stolen was presented to him thirty-five years ago by his wife."  The New York Herald reported that the thieves had bolted so quickly that "they went away without taking a valuable overcoat belonging to the Coroner's son, which was hanging in the hallway."

William Dobbs's existing medical problems were exacerbated in the winter of 1903 when he contracted the grippe, known today as influenza.  He was sick for several weeks before dying on February 11 at the age of 71.  His funeral was held in the parlor two days later, The Tammany Times reporting that it was "very largely attended."  

Dobbs's son, Henry DeWitt Dobbs, sold 240 West 11th Street in 1919 to Charles S. Knight, who resold it two years later to William H. and Inez Haynes Irwin.  The New York Times reported on March 13, 1921 that the Irwins "will remodel and occupy" the house.  The couple's country home was in Scituate, Massachusetts.  Their remodeling of 240 West 11th Street included the addition of a triangular pediment over the entrance.

image via the NYC Dept of Records & Information Services.

Born in 1873, William Irwin was an author, writer and journalist.  He had made his name in newspapers when he covered the 1906 San Francisco earthquake and fire, and later as a foreign correspondent during World War I.  By the time he and Inez moved into the West 11th Street house, he had published several books, including the anti-war treatise, Christ or Mars?

Will Irwin, the San Francisco Call, December 9, 1910 (copyright expired)

Inez Haynes Irwin was also a writer, who often published under the name Inez Haynes Gilmore.  She had written Angel Island in 1914, and The Californiacs in 1916, and would go on to publish more than 40 more.  She had not only been highly involved in the suffragist movement, but traveled to Europe with her husband and also served as a war correspondent, focusing on its effects on women.  It was she who estimated that between 500,000 and 750,000 women were fatalities of World War I.

Now on West 11th Street, Inez was a political activist and feminist leader.  A member of the National Advisory Council of the National Women's Party, she was closely watched by the Government, which recorded the activities of leftist groups and individuals.

Inez Haynes Irwin, from the collection of the Library of Congress.

In 1939 Inez was chairman of the board of  the World Center for Women's Archives, founded in 1935 by historian Mary R. Beard.  In November that year she lamented to journalist Emma Bugbee the practice of housewives to clean out attics and closets of old letters and documents.  Bugbee wrote, "'No one will ever know what priceless data about early American life have been ruthlessly destroyed by housecleaning women,' Mrs. Irwin said yesterday in an interview at her home 240 West Eleventh st., where beside the old portraits and early American colored glass goblets stands a stern steel cabinet for the preservation of her own documentary treasures."

William Henry Irwin died on February 24, 1948.  Less than three months later, on May 19, The New York Times reported, "Mrs. Will Irwin has sold the house at 240 West Eleventh Street to Mrs. Jeanne A. Reynal for occupancy."  Inez moved permanently to the Scituate, Massachusetts property.
It was possibly Reynal who modernized the exterior of the vintage home removing the lintels and applying a coat of stucco.  Then, in 2001 architects David Hottenroth, Hottenroth & Joseph, completed a "substantial renovation" of the house, returning it to its 1853 appearance, including period-appropriate paneled doors.

photograph by the author
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