Saturday, May 6, 2023

The 1855 John W. Quincy House - 11 West 9th Street


Banker James Franklin Doughty Lanier would erect a "terrace" of elegant homes along the south side of West 10th Street in 1856.  But before starting that project, in 1855 he leased the three plots on the opposite side side of the street to Henry Pierson, a wealthy iron merchant.  Pierson constructed three handsome Anglo-Italianate homes on the site.  The identical, four-story houses sat upon rusticated brownstone bases.  Their arched doorways, above a short stoop, were perfectly balanced by windows of the same proportions.  Full-width cast iron balconies fronted the second floor French windows and a single bracketed cornice unified the trio of homes.

The John Cameron Stone house at 15 (left) retains its second floor balcony.

The easternmost house, 59 Ninth Street (later renumbered 11 West 9th Street), became home to the family of John W. Quincy, a metals merchant.

New-York Daily Tribune, December 17, 1856.

In 1863 the Quincys moved directly across the street, and 11 West 9th Street became home to Thomas Gemmell and his family.  He was at the time a vice-president of the Baltimore-based Hampshire & Baltimore Coal. Co.  Their residency would be relatively short.  Upon Gemmell's promotion to president of the firm in 1867, he relocated to Baltimore.

The next family in 11 West 9th Street were the Van Burens.  John D. Van Buren had graduated from Columbia College in 1829.  During the Civil War he had been appointed Paymaster-General for the staff of Governor John D. Hoffman.  After the conflict, he served as the governor's private secretary.  Hoffman's term ended in 1868 and the Van Burens relocated to New York City and West 9th Street.  He now served as the state's Quarantine Commissioner.

John D. Van Buren, Jr. had served as a engineer at the Navy-yard throughout the war.  The New-York Tribune would later recall, "Through his father's influence he was appointed to a position in the Dock Department under General McClellan, and assisted him in perfecting his elaborate plan of dock improvements."

John Sr.'s political ties continued to be an asset to his son.  Samuel J. Tilden was elected governor in 1874.  The New-York Tribune called Van Buren Sr. "one of Governor Tilden's most intimate friends."  Tilden placed John Van Buren Jr. on "the commission for the investigation of the canal frauds."

In the meantime, John Jr.'s brother, Frank R. Van Buren, had graduated from Columbia College in 1863 and now practiced law at 52 Wall Street.  His father's political prominence was reflected in his being confirmed by the State Senate to a commission in November 1872 to revise the state's constitution.

Following the Van Buren family's departure in 1875, the house was operated as a high-end boarding house for a decade.  Among the short-term boarders in the spring of 1882 was Martin P. Dixon.  The Evening Telegram described him as "a North Carolina farmer, who came to this city to sell a patent car coupler."  Dixon was successful in selling his patented device, and on April 28 he was paid $$1,800 in cash--or about $50,000 in today's money.

But the Southern farmer was not wary of big city hustlers and, according to The Evening Telegram on April 29, shortly after receiving his bounty, he met John Schraeder and his wife, Rachel on Broadway.  "They invited him to the saloon at No. 116 Fourth avenue, where all partook of beer."  As they were leaving, Dixon realized that all but $600 of his money was gone.  He had Rachel Schraeder arrested.  "At the Jefferson Market Police Court this morning, the woman Schraeder stoutly denied that she took the money," said the article.  It is unclear whether Dixon received either justice or his money.  He was ordered to bring witnesses to court the next morning.  That would most likely prove to be a daunting task.

The house was once again a private home when the Dr. Charles Remsen family moved in in 1886.  The family was, according to the 1896 Portrait and Biographical Record of Suffolk County, "one of the oldest in New York."  Remsen's grandfather, Benjamin Remsen, was private secretary to Thomas Jefferson.  Born on February 7, 1856, Charles Remsen studied at Princeton College and the College of Physicians and Surgeons, graduating in 1880.

He and his wife, the former Lilian Livingston Jones, had married in 1886 and would have two sons, William and Charles, Jr.  In 1890 they acquired their summer home in Speonk, near Southampton, Long Island.  The Portrait and Biographical Record noted, "Here, with all the charm that beauty of location and scenery can add, he enjoys the delightful climate and the various sports for which the region is noted."  In 1895, after the Remsens built a church for Speonk, its citizens renamed the village Remsenburg.

Lilian Remsen entertained often.  On December 10, 1887, for instance, The Evening World announced, "Mr. Charles Remsen, of 11 West Ninth street, will give a dinner to fourteen guests on Thursday.  Pinard will serve."

The Remsens moved across Fifth Avenue to 12 East 9th Street in 1890.  Philip Bradford Niles and his bride, Sarah Brookman, moved in after their wedding trip.  Their wedding in Grace Church on November 21, 1894 had been described by the Brooklyn Citizen as being one of the most "notable weddings in fashionable society as have taken a long while."  Indeed, the ushers and best man came from the best families in New York society: Suffern Tailer, Robert Livingston Beekman, Richard A. Peabody, Arthur Melvin Hatch and Arthur Lucian Niles.

Both Philip, who was a stockbroker, and his wife came from old New York families.  Sarah, like Lilian Remsen, made 11 West 9th Street the center of social activities.  On February 8, 1895, for instance, The Evening Telegraph reported, "The reception of Mr. and Mrs. Bradford Niles, of No. 11 East Ninth street, is the chief formal 'at home' on for this afternoon."

The couple summered in Tuxedo, and it was there in 1896 that Philip suffered a severe accident that resulted in "constitutional injuries" according to Brooklyn Life, from which he would never recover.

Nonetheless, he continued on with his business and social life.  On August 1, 1897 the New-York Tribune reported that Philip and Sara Niles were "among the well-known fashionable people who arrived from Europe last week."

But Philip's condition worsened.  The Brooklyn Daily Eagle remarked, "his gradual decline since [the accident] has been apparent to all his friends and business associates, although he consulted the best doctors of this country, who could not affect a cure, nor afford him any relief."  Finally, on April 12, 1898 he died in the West 9th Street house at the age of 32.  His funeral was held in the house three days later.  On April 16 Brooklyn Life remarked, "His youth and strikingly fine physique combined to make his early death seem especially sad."

Sarah went on with her summer plans, although almost assuredly stepping away from society.  A month after the funeral, on May 16, The Standard Union reported, "Mrs. Philip Bradford Niles...expects to spend the summer at the De Rham cottage, Tuxedo.  The cottage was taken by Mr. Niles shortly before his death."

The house was sold in 1902, and soon afterward became home to Edward Roscoe Mathews.  He and Louisa Shaw Albee had married on September 14, 1899 and had a daughter, Esther Cary, born in 1902.  They would have a second child, a baby boy, who tragically died at birth in 1909.

On March 28, 1906 The Evening World reported that a cunning burglar "has thrown the sleepy old aristocratic quarter which flanks Washington Square upon the north into a state of panic."  Within the past five nights, he had "visited six wealthy homes, drugged the inmates, cut the telephone wires, cleaned up all visible valuables and got safely away."  Among the houses burglarized was the Mathews residence.  In the early morning hours of March 26 he had made off with $1,000 worth of Louisa's jewelry--more than$31,000 in today's money.

As Esther Cary Mathews reached her teen years, her preparation for being introduced to society was paramount.  Among the highly important social skills for any son or daughter of prominent families was dancing.  And so, several socialites took charge of dancing classes for aristocratic teens.  On January 12, 1914 The Sun reported, "At the Vanderbilt [Hotel] the tango teas are under the direction of Mrs. Edward Roscoe Mathews, of 11 West Ninth street, and the chief instructor is Prof. Ain."

The following year, on January 11, The New York Press announced, "In the Vanderbilt this evening there will be a regular meeting of the dancing class organized by Mrs. E. Roscoe Mathews of No. 11 West Ninth street."

The Mathews family remained in the house until 1915.  During the World War I years it was home to the Winfield S. Putnam family.  Putnam had been an instructor in chemistry at Cooper Union for several years.  When the war broke out Winfield M. Putnam was a student at Worchester Polytechnic Institute.  He left school to enlist in the army in August 1917.

The younger Putnam attended officers' training camp, and then artillery school at Fort Sill, Oklahoma.  He sailed for France in May 1918 with the 16th Field Artillery.  There the 24-year-old was appointed a battalion gas officer and instructor in gas defense tactics.  The Putnams received word later that summer that Winfield had been "severely wounded" on August 15.  Sadly, on September 29, 1918 The Sun reported, "In a cablegram to his father he says his wounds necessitated the amputation of one foot, but that he was resting comfortably and expected soon to be invalided home."

When Harry Katz purchased the house in December 1926 it was described by The New York Sun as a "four story and basement remodeled residence." It now held nine apartments.  Among the tenants the following year was Nell Martin, author of The Constant Simp "and other humous works," according to The New York Sun.  Her 1928 novel Lord Byron of Broadway would be made into a motion picture of the same name by MGM in 1930.

But before all that, Martin suffered an accident.  On October 24, 1927, The New York Sun reported, "Miss Martin recently drove all the way from Hollywood, Cal., in ten days without a mishap other than three tire punctures."  Back in New York, her automotive luck ran out.  The New York Sun said, "On Friday, she halted for traffic at Eleventh street, when a taxicab struck her machine, ripped loose the driver's seat and threw her violently backward."

Despite the accident, Martin continued home and that evening kept a dinner engagement.  "At midnight, however, she collapsed," said the article.  As it turned out, she had suffered a concussion in the accident and three days later was still confined to her bed in the West 9th Street house.

In 1960 novelist Stuart Woods moved into an apartment, sharing it with illustrator and cartoonist Roland Michaud.  In his 2022 autobiography, Stuart Woods, An Extravagant Life, Woods described the apartment as "a place a friend of mine said had 'a certain seedy elegance.'"

A renovation completed in 2020 returned 11 West 9th Street to a single family home.  Although, sadly, the Victorian details of the upper floors were shaved flat (most likely during the 1920's remodeling), the Quincy house manages to hint of a time when its parlors glittered with high society affairs.

photograph by the author
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