Wednesday, January 10, 2024

The 1882 John G. Wilson House - 6 Henderson Place

Approximately five miles north of the city, the Yorkville community was surrounded by sprawling, bucolic country estates of wealthy New Yorkers like John Jacob Astor and Archibald Gracie in the 18th century.  Following the end of the Civil War, the city expanded ever northward, eventually engulfing the once-rural town.

By 1880, John C. Henderson had established a significant fortune in his hat, fur, and "strawgoods" business.  He turned to real estate development and in 1881 acquired the blockfront along East End Avenue, wrapping the corners of East 86th and East 87th Streets.  Henderson commissioned the architectural firm of Lamb & Rich to design 32 brick-faced houses that would be marketed "for persons of moderate means."  The plans, filed in October 1881, placed the cost of each at $6,500, or about $192,000 in 2024.

Lamb & Rich turned to the fanciful Queen Anne style for the project.  The houses began with a charming mews called Henderson Place that opened onto East 86th Street, then continued around the block, ending with four homes on East 87th.  Completed in 1882, the individual designs of the group melded into a charming streetscape of arches, towers and gables.  

(Henderson was so pleased with the outcome that a year later he began construction of another Queen Anne group on Staten Island, also designed by Lamb & Rich and also intended for less affluent occupants.  The Record & Guide noted, "It will be a satisfaction to people in humble circumstances, therefore, who wish to make Staten Island their home, to know that Mr. Henderson contemplates the construction of other buildings that may be offered on very much easier terms.")

Sitting at the southeast corner of the mews and East 86th Street was 6 Henderson Place.  Its doorway sat atop a sideways stoop that matched the rough-cut granite basement level.  The 86th Street end was dominated by a two-story metal and wooden bay, its upper section slightly larger than the lower.  Molded brownstone bandcourses defined each floor, and diminutive square panes--a common feature of the Queen Anne style--embellished the windows.  The third floor took the form of a slate-shingled mansard with a pedimented dormer directly above the entrance and a picturesque tower on the corner that terminated in a cone-shaped roof.

The entrance opens onto the mews, known as Henderson Place.

No. 6 Henderson Place was first leased to the family of playwright John G. Wilson.  Soon after moving in, he collaborated with actor Frank Mayo on a stage version of Elisabeth Werner's 1877 novel Vinetta, called Nordeck.  The play opened at the Union Square Theatre on May 23, 1885 with Mayo playing the role of Waldemar.  The New York Dispatch said, "It has strength; its argument is straight-forward and possesses a meaning; it is bold in color, positive in intent, and it has a vigorous vitality."

Wilson's wife had an artistic bent, as well.  On June 7, 1885 the New York Dispatch reported, "The statuette of Mr. Frank Mayo, as Waldemar in 'Nordeck;' which may be seen in windows on Broadway, is the work of Mrs. John G. Wilson, wife of the author of 'Nordeck.'"  The critic was diplomatic in his description.  "Mrs. Wilson is not an art professional, the statuette being a labor of love; a tribute of esteem to the actor."

The Wilsons had two boys, Henry Mclandburg and Mclandburg, and a daughter Elaine, would soon follow.  (Mclandburg Wilson went on to become an aspiring poet.)  Having small children was possibly distracting to her artistic work.  Three months later, on September 22, 1885, an advertisement in the New York Herald read, "Wanted--Nurse girl for two children; bring references.  Apply at 6 Henderson place, corner East 86th st."  

Wilson's next play was also written with Mayo.  The Royal Divorce, completed in June 1886, introduced "Napoleon Bounaparte [sic] and the beautiful Josephine," according to the New York Dispatch.  Seemingly indefatigable, the pair completed The Royal Guard in 1887 with the role of D'Artagnan written for Mayo.

On September 20, 1890, the Buffalo Evening News reported, "John G. Wilson, the author of 'Nordeck,' 'The Royal Guard' and a dozen other successful dramas, has written a comic opera satirizing Wall street and American plutocracy.  The title of the piece is said to be 'Gay Gold.'"

The entire city prepared for the week-long "Columbian celebrations" beginning on October 8, 1892 to celebrate the 400th anniversary of Christopher Columbus's voyage to America.  They included three days of parades, banquets, speeches and other events.  Buildings throughout the city were "illuminated," or decorated with bunting and other festive adornments.  Mrs. Wilson joined the excitement.

In reporting on the decorations, on October 7 The Evening Post said:

Mrs. John G. Wilson has arranged a special original illumination of her residence at No. 6 Henderson Place, corner East Eighty-sixth Street, near East River Park, on the nights of October 10, 11, 12, 13.  A window will be devoted to the following subjects: Columbus, "Hope and courage rigged his spars," Land Ho! the New World; the Indians, Washington, Lincoln, Grant, War, Peace, Literature, Painting, Music, Invention, the Stage, the Press, etc.

The Wilsons remained at 6 Henderson Place until around 1903, when it became home to the Peter and Margaret Worth family.  Living with the elderly couple were their two adult sons, Harry P. and William.  (Harry occupied his spare time in breeding pedigree French bulldogs.)

Peter Worth died on February 5, 1908 at the age of 84.  His funeral was held in the house two days later.

After having leased the house for 27 years, on May 23, 1909 the New-York Tribune reported that the Henderson estate had sold 6 Henderson Place to the C. N. Sherman Investing Company.  The firm continued to lease the house to various white-collar tenants.

In 1910 Daniel Donegan lived here.  That year he was appointed a deputy New York tax commissioner for Manhattan within the Department of Taxes and Assessments.  

In 1912, John P. Morrisey, was here.  An assistant engineer with Pattison Brothers, he and his family would remain through 1915.  Another civil servant moved in followed the Morriseys.  Charles G. Glennen worked for the city in the Bureau of Highways.

The post-World War I years saw Dr. Henry Dawson Furniss and his wife, the former Ruth Kellogg Pine, living at 6 Henderson Place.  A gynecologist and 1899 graduate of the University of Virginia, his office was located at 54 East 62nd Street.  The couple maintained a summer home in Pelham, New York.

Born in Selma, Alabama in 1878, Furniss had practiced in New York City since 1903.  From 1917 to 1927 he was Professor of Gynecology at the New York Post-Graduate Medical School.  He and Ruth were married in 1912 and had five children, three of whom had survived infancy--Henry Dawson Jr., James Pine, and Warren Todd.  

Ruth Pine Furniss was an author and published several short stories and novels.  In 1937 her short story "Obsession" was adapted by poet Weldon Kees into a one-act play.  She was plagued with a mental affliction which, most likely, would be diagnosed as bipolar disorder today.  It resulted in Henry's sometimes committing her to institutions like the Pilgrim Psychiatric Center and the Central Islip Psychiatric Center for treatments.  

Her 1928 novel Gay, and her 1929 Snow: A Love Story addressed Ruth's struggles with mental illness and her various medical treatments.  Horrible to consider today, those treatments included shock-therapy, a topectomy, and finally a lobotomy, according to the Ruth Pine Furniss Papers in the collection of Yale University.

On January 25, 1942, Dr. Henry Dawson Furniss died of a heart attack in the Henderson Place house.  At the time, only Warren, who was a senior at Yale University, still lived with his parents.  Henry Jr. lived in Massachusetts and James was serving in the army.

Furniss's estate, appraised by the state at around $2.6 million in today's money, was settled the following year.  The Newburgh, New York Daily News reported, "The estate is left to the widow, Mrs. Ruth Pine Furness of 6 Henderson Place, New York.  She will receive the income for life, the principal then going to their three sons." 

Ruth turned her focus on the ongoing war, and became what would be known as a Gray Lady with the Red Cross.  The volunteers (so named because of their gray uniforms) worked mostly in hospitals, providing friendly, non-medical services to the ill or injured.  She died on December 15, 1957 in the Lynwood Nursing Home on West 102nd Street at the age of 64.

image via

At the time, Samuel Morse Lane and his family lived at 6 in Henderson Place.  An attorney, Lane was a partner in Casey, Lane & Mittendorf.  Pamela Lane made her debut into society in 1958.   The family remained at least into the early 1960s.

Relatively recently, the exterior of 6 Henderson Place was given a thoughtful restoration by the office of restoration architect Joseph Pell Lombardi.  Its prominent corner location makes it a charming and integral part of the picturesque enclave.

photographs by the author
no permission to reuse the content of this blog has been granted to

No comments:

Post a Comment