Thursday, September 7, 2023

The John Stone House - 409 West 24th Street


In 1849 development of Chelsea, the former estate of the Moore family, was well underway.  That year the magnificent row of Greek Revival townhouses called London Terrace was completed.  Designed by Alexander Jackson Davis, they filled the northern blockfront of 23rd Street between Ninth and Tenth Avenues.  Simultaneously, builder Philo V. Beebe began construction of a series of twelve paired brick homes on the corresponding block of 24th Street.  Just east of them, a substantial house at 265 West 24th Street (renumbered 409 in 1867) was completed around 1850.

Four bays wide and three stories tall above an English basement, the commodious residence was home to the John Stone family by 1851.  Stone listed his profession as "marble polisher."  He and his wife had at least three sons, Daniel, Thomas and William, each of whom would follow their father's profession.

While two boarders were listed in the house in 1851 (Sarah Carroll, who was a nurse, and James Meakim, a laborer), within four years the Stones were essentially operating a boarding house.  That year eleven boarders, mostly Irish, lived in the house: four laborers, one boilermaker, a mason, a shoemaker, a retired saloon keeper, and two seamstresses.

The Stone family remained for decades, several of their boarders staying on for years.  Among them was Jane Hamilton, the widow of Thomas Washington Hamilton, listed here from 1864 through 1869.  Mary Carley, the widow of William Carley, and her seven-year-old son, Edward first appear here in 1870.  Also living in the house was Mary's cousin, Mary Mullooh, who was born in County Roscommon, Ireland, in 1841.

Mary Carley suffered unspeakable tragedy in the summer of 1873.  Mary Mullooh became sick and died "after a short illness," according to the New York Herald, on August 22 at the age of 32.  It appears that whatever sickness she contracted was contagious, because the next day Mary's son, ten-year-old Edward Carley died.  They were given a double funeral in the house on August 24.

The last of the Stone family to occupy the house was Thomas, here through 1873.  By the 1890s it was being operated as a rooming house.  Amazingly, John Redman and his brother Michael, both cartmen, or delivery drivers, had first rented rooms from the Stones in 1879.  More than two decades later, on July 13, 1901, Michael died, still living in "humble quarters," as described by the New York Herald, in the West 24th Street house.  Authorities were stunned to discover he left an estate of $50,000 in cash and securities--more than $1.75 million in 2023.

Michael Redman may have been acquainted with Kate Fisher Miller and her husband, who rented rooms in the early 1890s.  Kate, described as a "beauty," was a former vaudeville actress.  A Brooklyn real estate broker named Thomas A. Scott became familiar with the couple, but he later explained, "I called there once in a while and then, realizing I was falling in love with Miller's wife, I stayed away."

In 1897 Scott happened to meet Kate on the street and was disturbed to find her looking "shabby and half starved."  He explained, "Miller had left her, she said.  I took her to her rooms, bought fuel and provisions for her and in the end went there to live."  As far as any of the other boarders knew, the couple had married.  At the time, Scott was 54 and Kate was just 23 years old.

By the turn of the century, Kate showed signs of mental illness.  Scott would later disclose, "We went out together in the evening.  I did not like to have her go out alone because she had queer thoughts."  In fact, one night shortly after he moved in, she went out alone and did not return for a day.  "She came in ragged and bruised, and almost wild.  She has never told me what happened to her, but she would never go out again and she could not bear daylight," said Scott.

The peculiar behavior of the two prompted rumors among the rooming house tenants.  One, a Mrs. Meyers, apparently did not want to become involved while she lived here, but after moving out in September 1914, sent a letter to Police Commissioner Woods which said in part:

Will some one, for God's sake come and let a woman see daylight for once in a good many years?  It is awful for a man to do such a thing.  She is kept in a dark room all the time.  When he goes out for the day he puts a padlock on the door.  He lives on the ground floor, 409 West Twenty-fourth Street.  It is time for some one to take her in hand.  The name is Miller.  When you do come you will see something awful.  He must drug her.

Authorities did respond.  They broke in the door and found Kate totally nude on the bed.  She was taken to Bellevue Hospital, where she pleaded to be returned home, and that evening Thomas Scott was arrested "on the charge that he kept an insane person in custody without proper authority," as reported by The Evening World.

Scott, who was now 71 years old, explained that it was Kate who had sequestered herself.  "She turned her mother and sisters away from the door.  She had a horror of being taken away from me to an asylum.  She insisted on my locking a padlock on the outside of the door when I left her.  Since she took to bed I have done the cooking and have fed her morning and night."

Scott's hearing was held on October 9.  The elderly man admitted that he had kept the woman he loved (and whom he recognized as having mental problems) away from authorities.  In the meantime, Kate's worst fears had come true when she was committed to the insane asylum on Ward's Island.  The former janitress of 409 West 24th Street, Mrs. Prescott, and Kate's mother, Phoebe Fisher, testified on Scott's behalf.  The judge was sympathetic.  On October 16, 1914, The Sun reported that although Scott had "pleaded guilty to harboring an insane woman...without authority for fifteen years," he was given a suspended sentence.  Kate's sentence, unfortunately, was set and she most likely died in the asylum.

A one-year renovation begun in 1927, somewhat surprisingly, returned 409 West 24th Street to a single-family residence.  The stoop was removed and a centered entrance opened at sidewalk level.  The cornice was replaced by a faux roof of red clay tiles. 

Photographer P. L. Sperr took this photograph on September 27, 1927 as the renovation was nearing completion (before the entrance hood was installed).  from the collection of the New York Public Library.

The building as it appeared in 1941.  image via the NYC Dept of Records & Information Services.

In 1962 the building was converted to apartments.  The multi-family status necessitated a fire escape, and a new doorway was installed, along with a restaurant space in the ground floor.  

The configuration lasted until 1982 when the upper story apartments, four per floor, were updated and the restaurant converted to an apartment.

photographs by the author
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