Saturday, October 28, 2023

The Rev. Washington Roosevelt House - 354 West 30th Street


In 1851 Reverend Washington Roosevelt and his family lived at 234 West 30th Street (later renumbered 354).   He and his wife, the former Jane Maria Young, had a daughter, Mary Eliza.  The son of Elbert and Jane Curtenius Roosevelt, Washington was born in Pelham, New York in November 1802.  He graduated from Middlebury College in Vermont in 1831 and married Jane the following year.  On May 6, 1849, he was installed as pastor of the North Presbyterian Church on 32nd Street near Ninth Avenue.

Their Anglo-Italianate style home was one of a row of recently completed houses.  Two bays wide, its entrance with the rusticated brownstone ground floor sat atop a short stoop.  The two upper floors were clad in brick and trimmed in brownstone, and a handsome cast metal cornice capped the design.

Tragically, Mary Eliza died on August 13, 1851, just three days before her ninth birthday.  Four years later Rev. Roosevelt resigned his position at the North Church.
At the time of Roosevelt’s resignation, Dr. John Gallison Sewall lived nearby at 224 West 30th Street.  Born in 1822, he graduated from Harvard University in 1843, and from Harvard Medical School in 1847.  In 1855, he and his wife moved into the former Roosevelt house.  Two years earlier, at the age of 30, Sewall had married Joanna Winslow Gannett.  Their first son, Frank, had died in infancy in 1854, but three other children would be born in the house: William Gibbons in 1856, John in 1858, and Katharine White in 1863.
As was common, in 1857 the Sewall’s took in a boarder.  His surname was amazingly similar to theirs.  Walter D. Sewell, who was a clerk on South Street, would remain with the family until 1861.
On the night of October 26, 1858, the Sewall household was awakened by frantic knocking at the door.  What the New York Herald deemed, “One of the most horrible and bloody tragedies ever enacted” had taken place across the street at 217 West 30th Street.  Living there were “a wealthy retired lumber merchant,” Francis Gouldy, his pregnant wife, Jane, their six children, and two servants.  The children ranged in age from Catherine, who was still a baby, to 19-year-old Francis A. Gouldy.
Francis, who was called Frank, caused upheaval within the family.  According to the New York Herald, he was “a young man of unsteady habits, and often caused his father much annoyance in consequence of his wild and extravagant course of living.  He was in the habit of staying out late at nights, contrary to the express desire of his parents, and when hard pushed for money would not scruple to use dishonest means to obtain the same.”  It all came to a head that night when Francis discovered his son had stolen a bank book from his desk and withdrawn $10 from his bank account (about $350 today).  He sat in the parlor awaiting his son’s return.
Frank arrived back home at about 10:00.  The New York Evening Post reported that Jane Gouldy heard “some unpleasant words pass between the two, and finally heard a heavy fall on the floor.”  She feared that Frank may have struck his father.  Much worse, he had attacked him with a hatchet.  He then entered his mother’s room and hit her on the head with the weapon.  The Evening Post reported, “She screamed and sprang up, and he repeated the blow twice, when she fell heavily to the floor.”  Frank passed by the baby’s crib, and moved into his two brothers’ room where he used the hatchet on them, and then headed up to the third floor.  

By now the entire household was awake.  The two servant girls were standing in the hallway.  “He immediately attacked them with the same fatal hatchet, prostrating each with a frightful blow upon the head.”  His sister Mary, who was 16 years old, peered into the dark hallway and, thinking Frank was an intruder, locked herself in her bedroom, saving herself.  Frank calmly went into his room, put on his slippers and morning gown, and laid on the bed.
Mary, whose bedroom faced the rear yard, opened her window and screamed, “Murder!”  Frank, hearing the sounds of Officers Morehouse and Hull breaking into the front door, placed a “three-shooter, which was heavily loaded” to his head and fired.  He was killed instantly.  Dr. Sewall arrived at a grisly scene.  Francis Gouldy was dead on the scene.  The others were taken to a hospital where one-by-one almost all died over the next week.
In 1866, John G. Sewall’s posted office hours were 8 to 10 a.m. and “after 6 p.m.”  The other hours he spent visiting patients at their homes.  His practice was augmented in 1867 when he became one of three medical examiners of the Union Mutual Life Insurance Company.
Dr. John Gallison Sewall died on January 18, 1874 at the age of 52.  His funeral was held in the parlor two days later.  Joanna remained here for a few years,  She took in a boarder in 1874, Mary Isabel Norcott, who taught in the Girls’ Department of Grammar School No. 46, far to the north on St. Nicholas Avenue at 156th Street.

Joanna's next door neighbor at 346 West 30th Street at the time was Dr. Michael Donnelly.  He was apparently renting that house, and in 1878 moved into the former Sewall residence where he remained at least through 1883.

By the late 1890's, 354 West 30th Street was home to the Kennedy family.  Roderick Kennedy listed his profession simply as "supervisor."  The family was still here in April 1901 when William Kennedy, presumably a son, reported a "trifling" fire in the house.

Living here in 1905 was the family of William Hubler, the captain of the steam lighter (a barge-like vessel used to transport goods to and from large cargo ships) the Clarence.  On January 25, Hubler and his crew of six left port during a storm.  According to The New York Press, "The Clarence started for Brooklyn from Bayonne when the blizzard was at its worst."  The vessel never made it to Brooklyn.  Three days later, "With only the jagged end of a broken mast showing above the water, the missing steam lighter Clarence was found wrecked in the bay, off the Brooklyn shore opposite Erie Basin," reported by the newspaper.  It noted that Hubler "left a widow and two children."

The rustication of the first floor survived as late as 1941.  image via the NYC Dept of Records & Information Services.

The house was operated as a rooming house throughout most of the 20th century.  A renovation completed in 1966 resulted in a duplex apartment in the cellar and first floor, and one apartment each on the upper stories.  It was most likely at this time that the first floor window was widened and the rustication smoothed over.

photographs by the author
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