Friday, July 21, 2023

The Remodeled Rev. Howard Crosby House - 116 East 19th Street


Around 1851 Lothrop L. Sturges moved his family into the recently completed house at 75 East 19th Street (renumbered 116 in 1865).  Like the other high-end homes along the block, it was four stories tall above an English basement.  A high, stone stoop led to the parlor floor.

Sturges was a partner in the shipping firm Sturges, Clearman & Co., and 
chairman of the Delaware, Lackawanna and Western Railroad Company.  He and his wife, the former Jane Freeman, had six children, Charles Dimon, Catharine C., Theodore, Wallace N., Mary Jane, and Edwin Cady.

Charles Sturges was born on January 14, 1827.  Immediately after graduating from Yale College in 1848 he joined his father's firm.  His younger brothers would go on to other pursuits.  Edwin, for instance, was in the oil business by 1868.

The family's parlor was the scene of a somber event on October 5, 1860.  Around the time the Sturges family moved into the East 19th Street house, Mary Jane had married Jeremiah Manchester Wardwell.  The couple had six children.  Tragically, Mary Jane died on October 3 at the age of 39.  Her funeral was held here.

It would not be the last.  Two years later, on November 28, 1862, the funeral of Wallace N. Sturges took place here.  He was just 28 years old.  His older brother, Charles, died at the age of 41 on August 27, 1868; and Jane Freeman Sturges died on August 21, 1870.  She was 67.  

The last of the Sturges funerals to take place in the parlor was that of 80-year-old Lothrop.  Having buried nearly all of his family members, he died in the house on December 16, 1873.

The estate sold 116 East 19th Street to the Reverend Dr. Howard Crosby the following year.  He was pastor of the Fourth Avenue Presbyterian Church, which was just two blocks away.  He and his wife Margaret Evertson Givan were married on March 17, 1847 and had nine children, the youngest of whom, Grace Ashton, was just three years old when the family moved in.

Crosby's ancestors included colonist Rip Van Dam; 17th century mayor of New York City Matthias Nicoll; and General William Floyd, a signer of the U.S. Declaration of Independence.  The erudite pastor was a chancellor of New York University (then known as the University of the City of New York), and president of the American Philological Association.  He would eventually write at least 16 books.

Like Lothrop L. Sturges, Howard Crosby had a significant personal fortune.  His had been inherited from his parents.  In 1899, The New York Genealogical and Biographical Record noted, "Mrs. [Harriet Ashton Clarkston] Crosby died on December 13, 1859, and her husband [William Bedlow Crosby] followed on March 18, 1865, leaving an estate valued at $1,000,000."  (That amount would translate to more than 18 times as much in 2023.)

Reverend Dr. Howard Crosby, from the archives of New York University.

The charitable nature of religious leaders made them targets of scam artists.  Reverend Crosby was not easily duped, however.  On November 24, 1877, The New York Times reported, "A respectable but rather shabbily-dressed man called at Rev. Dr. Howard Crosby's residence at No. 116 East Nineteenth-street, about a week ago, and rang the bell.  Being shown into the library, he told Dr. Crosby a pitiful story of deprivation and want."

He said he was a Christian man who merely wanted work, "no matter what kind or how hard," but, recounted the article, "at the same time, he could not, of course, refuse a small donation of ready cash to relieve his necessities."  He provided three letters from religious leaders that attested to his upstanding nature and urged the reader to provide employment if possible.  One of them was from Rev. Eldridge Mix, pastor of the Presbyterian Church in Orange, New Jersey, a minister familiar to Crosby.

Crosby told the man he could not help him at the moment, but made an appointment for him to return a few days later.  He then wrote to Rev. Mix.  The reply "showed conclusively that the applicant was not only an unworthy man, but that he had recently carried on a swindle by forged letters, through which the clergymen of Northern New-Jersey were frequent and heavy losers," said The New York Times.

When Robert Bentley, alias John Brown, alias Jack Davis, returned at 6:00 on November 23, he told Rev. Crosby he "was more anxious than ever to get work of any kind to do."  The New York Times reported, "His fears for his immediate condition were soon relieved by the detectives, who arrested him and locked him up in the Eighteenth Precinct Station."

In 1877 Crosby founded the Society for the Prevention of Crime, "for putting down of illicit traffic in strong drink, the suppression of concert halls and low-grade theatres, the purification of criminal courts, and the betterment of legislation affecting city interests," according to The Sun.  For years its meetings were held in the 19th Street house. 

Interestingly, although he fought for improved saloon laws, Crosby was adamantly opposed to the total abstinence promoted by the Temperance Movement.  He asserted that "for years the prohibitionists have obstructed the path of reform," insisting that making alcohol illegal would simply increase crime and, ironically, drinking.

He was less lenient to the evil of Sunday newspapers.  Not only did their printing and sale require some to work on the sabbath, he said in a letter to his congregants in November 1885 that the newspapers "furnish secular reading to divert the mind from the holy themes especially appropriate to the Sabbath."  He complained "Our young people, who would not otherwise think of spending the day in such reading, are readily led to consider it a safe and proper thing, when they see the paper brought into the family, and even purchased from the stand by members of the church."

The Crosbys' youngest son, Nicholas Evertson, graduated from Columbia College in 1882.  Like his father, he was a classical scholar, and in 1891 was appointed a professor of Greek and Latin at Princeton.  (He changed course to professor of Archaeology at the school in 1893.)  He wrote a tongue-in-cheek letter to the editor of The New York Evening Post in June 1886, that said in part, "Sir: Will it not surprise you and your readers to learn, as it did me to discover, that ancient Rome in the days of Terence had its 'dudes,' and called them even by the same name?"  Crosby referred to the ancient Roman comedian Terence's play Eunuchus in which he used the word dudum.  Crosby translated the line to read, "He seemed a dude, because he was decked out in parti-colored clothes."  He ended his letter saying, "Perhaps Juvenal himself was a dude; Rome was full of them then."

The Crosbys' daughter Agnes married Reverend Arthur Huntington Allen in 1889.  The couple moved to Rensselaer, New York.  Two years later the Crosbys received word that Agnes was seriously ill and Howard Crosby rushed there in the frigid winter weather.  Agnes died on March 18, 1891, at the 32.   

Crosby was unable to attend the funeral.  He had "caught a heavy cold," according to The Sun, and was transported back to New York City.  On March 26, Figaro reported, "The Reverend Doctor Crosby is dangerously ill at his home, No. 116 East Nineteenth Street, New York.  He fell a victim to the grip last Friday, and pneumonia is feared."  The article added that Agnes's death a week earlier "was a great shock to him."  It noted, "Professor Nicholas Crosby and Miss Grace Crosby are in constant attendance at their father's bedside."

At around 4:00 on March 29, Crosby asked for paper and a pen.  He wrote farewell letters to his family, especially to his son Ernest, who was a Judge of the International Court at Cairo, Egypt, and his daughter Edith who was visiting him there.  At 5:30 he died.  Crosby was 65 years old.

The Crosby family rented 116 East 19th Street for decades afterward.  An advertisement in April 1900 described it as a "twenty-five foot four-story high-stoop residence, eighteen rooms, 3-story extension; rent moderate."  

The Crosbys' tenant that year was poet, scientist and essayist Edmund Clarence Stedman and his wife, the former Laura Hyde Woolworth.  Stedman wrote to Shakespearean scholar Horace Howard Furness on Christmas Day 1900 from Bermuda, where he had gone after an illness.  In it he noted, "I shall be in New York again, D. V., by mid-January, at 116 East Nineteenth Street."  ("D. V.," was the abbreviation for deo volente, or God willing.)

Before long Colonel Peter French and his sister-in-law Julia Prentis French resided in the house.  French was an examiner in the Appraisers' Stores Branch of the Customs Service.  Julia was the widow of Stephen Bull French, who had shot himself in 1896.  The former President of the Police Board and "one of the best known of the old-time politicians of the city," according to The Sun, his suicide was attributed by the newspaper to his recent financial losses on Wall Street.  Peter French died in the East 19th Street house on October 19, 1912, and Julia died the following year on November 17.  

In January 1920, Fannie K. Schiefenlin Crosby sold 116 East 19th Street.  In reporting on the sale, the New-York Tribune reminded readers it was "the former residence of the late Rev. Dr. Howard Crosby," and noted, "The building will be extensively altered."  And indeed it was.

A renovation completed in 1921 resulted in offices in the basement through second floors and apartments on the third through fifth.  The stoop was removed, the facade pulled forward to the property line, and a new Arts and Crafts inspired brick front installed.  Two entrances--one to the offices and another to the residential floors--flanked a grouping of windows on the ground floor.  The second floor was more glass than masonry, its multi-paned casement windows flooding the interior with natural light.  A skylight within the slate shingled roof that caught the natural northern light made the top floor apartment perfect for an artist's studio.  Out of respect for the building's history and its esteemed former owner, a bronze plaque was affixed to the facade that reads: "The Home of Howard Crosby D. D.  1875 1891."

The house would have originally have been similar to the one next door at left.  image via the NYC Dept. of Records & Information Services.

Even before construction was completed, Reginald Pelham Bolton moved his businesses into the building, which was now known as the Bolton Building.  In its October 1910 issue, Steam magazine announced that Bolton had hired James A. McHollan "in the consulting engineering practice" of the R. P. Bolton Company.  "The company specializes in power plants, electrification of steam plants, etc.," noted the article.

Born in London, Bolton was a member of the American Society of Civil Engineers, the American Institution of Consulting Engineers, and the American Society of Consulting Engineers. He was president of the R. P. Bolton Company and the Bolton Electric Meter Corporation.  His passion for history equaled his expertise in engineering.  He was an honorary life member of the New York Historical Society and president of the American Science and Historic Preservation Society.  In 1925 he published Washington Heights, Manhattan--Its Eventful Past; a Contribution to the History of America.

A Consolidated Gas Company of New York advertisement in Gas Age Record on January 2, 1926 touted "Remarkable results from gas heating," and said, "You will find them at No. 116 East Nineteenth Street.  A remodeled dwelling, now a thriving business building and studio apartments."

In 1930 Congress was considering the purchase of the rare 15th century book collection of Otto Vollbehr that included a perfect Gutenberg Bible printed around 1456.  A communication from Reginald Pelham Bolton was read before the Congressional committee on May 16.  He said:

I desire to convey to you my appreciation of your interest in this matter and the hope that you will be successful in inducing Congress to secure these invaluable volumes for the Nation, which I have had the privilege of examining.

A renovation completed in 1946 resulted in the offices of the publisher Beechhurst Press in the basement and first floor, and apartments throughout the upper floors.  By 1953 the ground floor space was home to Spanish Books, Inc., a bookstore.

photograph by Beyond My Ken

Then, in 1965, the first floor became the private East Manhattan School.  It remained through 1971, opening its doors occasionally to the public, such as in March 1970 when it staged a "poetry reading, also Goya art slides, [with] comments by Bill Brady Italian Poetry Group," as announced in The Villager on March 19.  In 1977 a renovation resulted in apartments throughout the building.

non-credited photographs by the author has no authorization to reuse the content of this blog

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