image via the NYC Dept of Records & Information Services.
New York City was nearly destroyed by fire twice. The Great Fire of 1776, which started six days after the British invasion, destroyed a third of the city's structures; and the Great Fire of 1835 devastated 17 city blocks. As the city transformed to a metropolis, the threat of fire loomed ever greater. In 1866 a law was passed prohibiting wooden construction.
The charming three-story house at what would be numbered 323 West 85th Street had squeaked in under the wire. Constructed around the beginning of the Civil War, it was typical of the farmhouse-rowhouse hybrids being erected in the developing Upper West Side and Yorkville districts. Its Italianate design included molded lintels and a bracketed cornice that echoed the more sophisticated brownstone homes downtown. The full-width porch, however, evoked rural evenings and rocking chairs. The home's full-height parlor windows would have provided welcomed ventilation during summer months.
It is unclear how early the family of Theodore F. Naudin moved into the house, but they were here by the early 1880s. Theodore and his wife, the former Charlotte Amelia Wunnenberg, had two daughters, Susan E. and Irene. He was born in the neighborhood, then known as Bloomingdale, in 1834, and had served in the Civil War aboard the Union steamer Niphon.
Theodore Naudin worked as the janitor of Grammar School No. 9 nearby at the corner of West End Avenue and 82nd Street. In 1883 he was earning $751 per year, or about $22,600 by 2023 conversions. During the warm months, he played baseball and in 1889 was the head of the amateur team the Jolly Ten.
The following year John and David Dunne moved into 323 West 85th Street. The brothers were real estate developers, active in the Upper West Side district.
Then, in February 1896, the house was purchased by Frederick C. Hilliard and his wife, the former Anne Knowlton. Hilliard was a cashier with the Home Life Insurance Company and, despite the somewhat homespun appearance of his family's residence, was affluent. The Hilliard country home was in Greenwich, Connecticut.
Frederick C. Hilliard was, as well, an accomplished vocalist. He was the baritone soloist with the Metropolitan Music Society during its performance at "the new music hall" (Carnegie Hall) in 1892; and was the regular baritone soloist at the All Souls' Church.
Shortly after moving in, Anne Hilliard was looking for domestic help. Her advertisement on May 5, 1897 read: "A good cook and laundress; German, Swede or Scotch preferred; permanent place, winter and summer; two in family; wages $18." (The monthly wages would translate to about $655 today.) The situation may not have worked out. Five months later, a servant placed a position wanted ad in the New York Herald: "North German as chambermaid in small family; good sewer; good references."
The Hilliards would become involved in a tense domestic situation in 1908. Anne's sister, Adeline Knowlton, had married well. Her husband was Dr. William E. Hoag, "whose aristocratic lineage and wealth place him high in fashionable life," according to The Evening Star. The couple had a daughter, Adeline Knowlton Hoag, whom the newspaper described as "one of the fairest girls of New York's 'Four Hundred.'" And The New York Times called her "one of the most beautiful of the debutantes" of the 1907 season.
Adeline's parents (presumedly, mostly her mother) had arranged a match for her with a titled Englishman. But the young woman had already fallen in love with a 32-year-old perfume salesman, Francis Newton Carpenter. The Hoags prohibited the couple from seeing one another, and the situation seemed to have been settled.
In May 1908, the older Adeline Hoag went to Plattsburg, New York for two weeks, telling her daughter that upon her return they would go to Boston. Her train had barely pulled out of Grand Central Station when her daughter rushed to the Hilliard house and "implored Mr. Hilliard, the uncle, to give the bride away" in marriage, according to The New York Times. Frederick agreed and witnessed Adeline's wedding to Francis Carpenter. (Anne Hilliard diplomatically remained at home.)
It is unclear whether the ensuing rift between the Hoags and the Hilliards would ever be repaired. The New York Times reported on June 19, 1908 that Dr. Hoag "has been prostrated ever since he heard of his daughter's marriage," and the bride's mother was furious. She told a reporter that Frederick Hilliard "knew right along that it was this marriage which we feared most."
At the time of the incident, the Hilliards had been gone from 323 West 85th Street for a year. They had sold the 25-f00t-wide house in September 1907 to architect Donald Purple Hart.
Born in Ohio in 1868 and described by the Brooklyn Daily Eagle as "a descendant of New Englanders," Hart graduated from Marietta College in 1888 and from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1894. His wife, the former Marie Louise Buell, was also from Ohio, the daughter of Edward Wyllyss and Melissa Barker Buell. She, too, had deep American roots and was a member of the Society of Mayflower Descendants. The couple had three sons, Donald B., Edward Edgerton, and Allison B.
Marie was looking for domestic help in 1910. Her unusual advertisement sought, "Two sisters or friends; cook to help with housework; second girl, help with children; small house."
Despite having three boys in the residence, the Harts rented a room. In 1912 and 1913, Indiana portrait artist Marie Goth lived with the family. She had moved to New York after receiving a scholarship to the Art Students League. Another unmarried young woman, Elizabeth I. Jones, possibly also a student, lived here the following year.
Donald P. Hart was best known for his designing of country homes, mostly on Long Island and in Connecticut. On May 5, 1929, The Brooklyn Daily Eagle reported on an especially interesting residence he designed in Westport, Connecticut for painter Karl Anderson. Anderson owned a farm upon which were 18th century buildings, including a spacious barn. The article noted, "The early builders in New England used the best materials, and their hand-hewn beams and solid floors resisted stoutly the advancing years." Donald P. Hart embarked on what the newspaper called "an experiment."
He transformed the venerable barn into an upscale residence, one of the first (if not the first) example of repurposing a barn into a home. The Brooklyn Daily Eagle said, "So successful was the experiment that in a short time all the empty barns and granaries in the neighborhood were converted into delightful homes and a compatible group of writers, artists and sculptors were settling contentedly into a background at once beautiful and rich in tradition."
Two views of Donald Purple Hart's renovation of the Karl Anderson barn. The Brooklyn Daily Eagle, May 5, 1929
On April 25, 1930, the New York Evening Post reported on the engagement of Anne Ayres to Donald B. Hart. Four months later, on August 18, the newspaper reported that Donald Purple Hart had leased "the Colonial dwelling" on West 85th Street to George T. Oldham. The article noted, "The lessee plans to redecorate and occupy the residence."
In 1938 the picturesque survivor was sold to the Evangelismos Greek Orthodox Church, or the Church of the Annunciation, which simultaneously purchased the former William Randolph Hearst garage next door at 325 West 85th Street. The church occupied the house as its administrative offices until leasing the two properties in 1968 to the city's Addition Service Agency for use as Phoenix House.
When the Metropolitan Montessori School purchased 323 and 325 West 85th Street in 1996, it demolished what was one of the few surviving wooden structures in Manhattan, replacing it with an annex to the school designed by architect Jason Gold.
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