Wednesday, July 5, 2023

The 1881 Frank C. Markham House - 155 East 71st Street


James R. Breen and Alfred G. Nason started their partnership as "carpenters."  By the early 1870s they had become full-fledged contractors.  Both men became wealthy and influential (Nason was a friend of Presidents Ulysses Grant and Theodore Roosevelt).  Among the structures built by Breen & Nason would be Grant's Tomb.

There were rare instances when the partners acted as their own developers and architects.  They started one such project on April 1, 1881 when they purchased the old 40-foot-wide wooden house at 155-157 East 71st Street from Thomas D. Stetson for $15,500 (around $425,000 in 2023).  The price reflected the increasing development in the Lenox Hill district.

Before the end of the year Breen & Nason had completed two upscale, mirror-image houses.  An advertisement on Christmas Day 1881 read:

An elegant new four-story and basement house, No. 155 East 71st-st., just completed by Breen & Nason, No,. 341 East 59th-st.; cabinet finish, mirrors &c.; house open daily.

The 20-foot-wide residence was designed in the neo-Grec style.  At four stories tall, the high-stooped house and its fraternal twin towered over their neighbors.  Breen & Nason's use of spandrel panels below and above each window emphasized the geometry of the neo-Grec style.

Frank Chauncey Markham purchased 155 East 71st Street in April 1882, paying the equivalent of $807,000 today.  A stockbroker, he and his wife, the former Louisa Hill, had two daughters, Mary Louise and Helen Taylor.

The family moved into the new house just in time for Mary Louise's introduction to society.  As was often the case, a wedding quickly followed.  On June 15, 1884 the Buffalo Courier reported on her marriage to Charles Townsend in St. James Church.  A reception followed in the Markham house.  "The bridal party received before a large mirror, which was festooned with bands of  roses of all colors," said the article.  "The floral decoration in all the reception rooms and halls were noticeably effective.  The newel-post in the main hallway supported a huge vase of regal flowers."  The article said that after the last of the guests left, the bride and groom "disappeared for parts unmentioned."

The Markhams left the East 71st Street house not long afterward.  It became home to Herrman and Eveline Schiffer.   Eveline was the daughter of Minna and Samuel Schiffer, and whether she and Herrman were related before marriage is unclear.

On June 1, 1888, Herrman and Alfred Schiffer became partners with Isaias Meyer in the silk manufacturing firm Pelgram & Meyer.  They filled the position of Meyer's deceased partner, Charles R. Pelgram.

Eveline Schiffer fell ill early in 1889 and died in the house on March 19.  Her funeral was held in the drawing room on March 22.

No. 155 East 71st Street next became home to Dr. Andrew J. McCosh, who purchased it on June 22, 1903.  Born in Belfast, Ireland in 1858, he was the son of Dr. James McCosh,  who had become president of Princeton University in the family's new homeland.  Not surprisingly, McCosh attended Princeton, before earning his medical degree from the Columbia's College of Physicians and Surgeons in 1880.

By the time Dr. McCosh purchased 155 East 71st Street, he was considered to be one of the leading surgeons of the country, and was a professor of clinical surgery at Columbia University.  He was the author of several medical books, including Remarks on Spinal Surgery, Four Cases of Brain Surgery, and Surgical Intervention in Benign Gastric Lesions."

Andrew McCosh's residency would be short.  He sold the house in February 1905 to Francis G. Lloyd, the president of Brooks Brothers.  It does not appear that the Lloyds ever lived in the residence, but rented it.  Lloyd hired the architectural firm of Trowbridge & Livingston to make interior updates and install new windows in 1907.

Lloyd's tenants by 1910 were the family of merchant Gustavus Owen Winston.  The wealthy young man was just 27-years-old at the time.  His and his wife, the former Margaret Dey, had three sons, four-year-old John Lloyd; Owen Lloyd, who was 3; and little Francis Lloyd, just one year old.  Also living with the family was Gustavus's brother, 19-year-old Eric S. Winston.  Their father Gustavus S. Winston, had died in 1899 and their mother was now remarried.

The Winston family had five live-in servants: three Irish maids who ranged in age from 16 to 25, a French-born servant who was most likely Margaret's lady's maid or possibly the children's nursemaid, and 17-year-old William Zangl, who was born in Austria.

Eric S. Winston was attending Harvard at the time.  He graduated in 1912 and two years later his engagement to Maud Arden Kennedy was announced.

The well-dressed and well-to-do Eric and Maud Winston at the New York Horse Show not long after their marriage.  from the collection of the Library of Congress.

The Winstons left 155 East 71st Street in 1914.  Francis G. Lloyd leased the house next to Clendening J. Ryan, son of millionaire Thomas Fortune Ryan, and then to Thomas Frothingham.

In 1919 he sold the house to stockbroker Richard Lewis Morris and his wife, the former Caroline Whitney Fellowes.  Morris was the son of Stuyvesant Fish Morris and Ellen James Van Buren and was descended from Lewis Morris, a signer of the Declaration of Independence.  He and Caroline had two children, Cornelia Fellowes, born in 1909, and Richard Jr., born in 1917.  Their summer home, The Three Chimneys, was in Southampton.

In 1925 the Morrises hired architect Auguste Noel to modernize their brownstone house.  He removed the stoop and moved the entrance to the former English basement level, just below grade.  He enlarged the openings at what was now the third floor, connecting them with a single lintel.

image via the NYC Dept of Records & Information Services.

Cornelia was introduced to society at a dinner dance at the Park Lane on December 1, 1928.  Saying she was "well known to the younger set of the Hamptons," the Standard Union noted that Cornelia "spent last year in France at L'Ermitage, Versailles."

Unlike many debutantes, Cornelia seems to have been in no hurry to marry.  It was not until April 28, 1933, that the New York Evening Post reported, "Descendants of families prominent in the early history of the United States are being married this afternoon when Miss Cornelia Fellowes Morris becomes the bride of Mr. Malcolm Graham Field."  Coincidentally, the wedding took place in St. James Church, where Mary Louise Markham had been married half a century earlier.  A reception following in the East 71st Street house.

As was the case with all wealthy families, the society pages followed the Morrises' movements.  On May 4, 1934, for instance, The New York Sun reported that Richard and Caroline "will be among the New Yorkers attending the Kentucky Derby on Saturday.  They are motoring to Louisville, stopping en route at Washington, Arlington, Charlottesville and White Sulphur Springs."

Richard Lewis Morris died at the age of 79 on July 4, 1954.  He and Caroline had been gone from 155 East 71st Street for several years at the time.  In 1953 the house was converted to a triplex apartment in the lower part, with one apartment each on the upper two stories.  

The configuration lasted until 1967 when the basement level was converted to an office, with a duplex on the first and second floors, and one apartment each on the third and fourth.  The top two floors were combined to a duplex apartment in 1988.

photographs by the author
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