Friday, January 19, 2024

The John Darling Terry House - 144 East End Avenue


144 East End Avenue (left) was a mirror image of 146.  

Having garnered a significant fortune in the hat, fur, straw goods and other businesses, John C. Henderson turned his attention to the conditions of others less affluent.  He would erect groups of charming homes specifically intended "for persons of moderate means," beginning in 1880 when he acquired approximately one-half acre of land between 86th Street and 87th Street along East End Avenue.  Henderson commissioned the architectural firm of Lamb and Rich to design his houses--32 in all--that would comprise a charming mini-village.  Completed in 1882, the architects produced a streetscape of Queen Anne houses of red brick and terra cotta that romantically mixed bits of Elizabethan, Flemish and classic styles.  

Among the most picturesque were the mirror image homes at 144 and 146 East End Avenue.  A split brownstone stoop rose to a shared landing, divided by an iron railing.  The side-by-side doorways were nestled within a yawning arch.  Two stories of red brick sat upon the rough-cut brownstone basement, while the third floor took the form of a slate-shingled mansard.

The paired parlor windows sat within a segmental arch.  Directly above was another set of paired openings, and a single stairhall window above the entranceway.  Three tall openings pierced the mansard.  The upper portions of the windows were outlined with small, square panes--a hallmark of the Queen Anne style.  (An alteration prior to 1941 changed the configuration of the second floor windows of 144 East End Avenue, resulting in three tall windows where the paired set had been.)

No. 144 became home to the John Darling Terry family.  Terry was an officer in the Custom House, assigned to the Impost Office of the Auditor's Office.  Born on September 3, 1845 in Montville, Maine, he married Emma Celia Brown on July 10, 1866.  When the couple moved into the East End Avenue house, they had seven children, John William, George Stanton, Emma Eliza, Charles Graham, Alexander Hadden, Jeanette Romer, and Celia Darling--the youngest of which, Celia, was a new-born.  Three more children would be born--Ethel in 1884, Eugenia in 1890, and Frederick Gregory in 1892.

Although their house was intended for a middle-class family, by the turn of the century the Terrys were enjoying an upscale lifestyle.  On July 17, 1901, for instance, the New York Evening Telegram reported, "Mrs. John D. Terry and her daughters, Miss Jeanette Terry, Miss Celia Terry, and Miss Ethel Terry, of No. 144 East End avenue, are spending the summer at the River View House, Sullivan county, New York."  And four days later, the New-York Tribune reported on the activities at Southampton, noting that tennis had overtaken golf as a favorite pastime among the men.  Among the list of those "most devoted to the sport," the article mentioned John D. Terry.  (Why he was vacationing apart from his wife and daughters is unclear.)  

Emma was replacing staff following the summer season of 1905.  On October 3 she advertised for a "General house-worker: small, private house; two adults, three school children; personal references necessary."  (The mention of three school children is interesting, since, while Eugenia and Frederick were 15 and 13 respectively, Ethel was 21 years old.)  Seven days later Emma advertised, "Wanted--A Protestant to cook and wash in small private house for small family."

By 1913, only Eugenia and Frederick were still at home.  That summer their mother took them to Falmouth, Massachusetts where, on July 6, The New York Sun said they had checked into the Griswold Hotel.

The family of Walter Graeme Eliot purchased 144 East End Avenue in June 1915.  He and his wife, the former Maud Stoutenburgh, had two sons, Amory Vivion and Van Cortlandt Stoutenburg; and a daughter Marion Elinor.

Walter Eliot could not have had a more diverse resume.  He graduated from the Columbia School of Mines in 1878, and within four years received three more degrees from Columbia--his C. E., Ph. B., and Ph. D.  He received his Doctor of Laws degree from St. Francis Xavier in 1892.  The New York Times would later say,

He was successively an inspector of tenements, a judge in competitions for model tenement houses and model public schools, a sanitary engineer with the Health Department, an assistant chemist and inspector of foods for the Health Department, an organizer of milk-distribution in the city, a technician in the Department of Taxes and Assessments, an assistant engineer in the Topographical Bureau of the Borough of Queens and engineer in charge of the bureau in 1910.  The next year Mayor Gaynor appointed him the first Park Commissioner of Queens.

Eliot had stepped down from his Park Commissioner position two years before he purchased 144 East End Avenue.  He was, as well, a major in the Coast Guard Artillery Corps of the State Militia, had been a part owner of The University Magazine, and was the author of Noted Physicians of New York City, College Presidents of the United States, and A History of the Stoutenburgh Family.

The last book detailed the history of Maud's ancestors.  While Eliot came from a colonial family himself, Maud was descended from Pieter Van Stoutenburg, the first treasurer of the colony of New Amsterdam.  He was born in Holland in 1613 and died in New Amsterdam on March 9, 1698.  Her ancestor Jacobus Stoutenburgh founded Stoutenburg, New York in 1741 (later renamed Hyde Park).  The Brooklyn Daily Eagle deemed Maud "an authority on the history of early New York families." 

Marion debuted during the winter social season of 1916-17.  Among the last (and most creative) entertainments came on March 21, 1917.  The New York Times reported, "Ex-Park Commissioner Walter G. Eliot and Mrs. Eliot gave a roller skating party last evening on the seawall in East River Park...and afterward supper was served at their residence, 144 East End Avenue.  The guests included several of this year's debutantes and some older girls."  There were also some eligible, well-heeled bachelors on the guest list.

Just six months later, on September 4, the Eliots announced Marion's engagement to Carleton James.  The troubled times were reflected in the New-York Tribune's mentioning, "Mr. James is a member of Company K, 7th Regiment, and spent last summer on the Mexican boarder with this regiment."

Five months before the announcement, America had entered World War I.  Amory left home to serve in the army.  The family received terrifying news in December 1918 when the War Department announced that he had been "wounded severely" in battle.  

Like most socialites, Maud did her part through benefit work.  On May 26, 1918, The Sun reported that she was on a committee arranging "a garden party for the benefit of the soldiers of the 307th Regiment and their families" in Gramercy Park.  The article noted that the private park "has not opened at any time in its history for such a purpose." 

Walter was more hands-on.  By the end of the conflict he had been promoted to the rank of colonel in the Coast Guard Artillery Corps.

At war's end, things returned to normal at 144 East End Avenue.  Marion and Carleton James moved in, and Amory was still officially listed at the address when he was commissioned a first lieutenant in September 1920.  Amory would be a life-long military man, eventually achieving the rank of colonel and seeing action in the Second World War.

In the meantime, Van Cortlandt's engagement to Effie Pearson Williams was announced on April 30, 1919.  He carried on the family's tradition of deep American roots in his choice of brides.  The Washington Post remarked, "The bride is a descendant on her mother's side of Capt. Sir John Pearson, of revolutionary fame...Mr. Eliot is a son of Col. Walter Graeme Eliot, and is a member of the family whose ancestors were among the early settlers of Manhattan Island."

Maud was a founder and the president of the Yorkville District Dispensary, established in July 1918 to provide free dental treatment to children between the ages of three and fifteen years old.  Through it she rubbed shoulders with some of society's most elite, including Mrs. Vincent Astor and Ogden Mills, (who, despite Maud's presidency, the New York Herald said were "at the head" of the institution).

She was still president on December 25, 1921 when the New York Herald reported, "Mr. and Mrs. Vincent Astor again will turn over their picture gallery at 840 Fifth avenue...for the benefit of the Yorkville District Dispensary."  On the list of patrons were elite names like Webb, Olcott, Cutting, and Dodge.

In 1931 Eliot traveled to Fort Sam Houston, Texas to visit Amory.  The 73-year-old died there on May 3.  In reporting his death, The New York Times reflected on his astounding career, saying he "was a former president of the Technical League of Engineers, a founder of the Society of Municipal Engineers of New York, a former president of the Yorkville Chamber of Commerce and a former vice president of the Society of American Officers."

Walter Graeme Eliot's will may have revealed tensions within the family.  At the time of his death, Maud was living with Marion and Carleton at 520 East 87th Street, around the corner from 144 East End Avenue.  Walter left half of his estate to institutions, including Columbia and Harvard Universities.  Amory received a $10,000 trust (about $192,000 in 2024), Van Cortlandt received $1,000, and Marion was bequeathed "personal effects, including a cane said to have belonged to Napoleon."  Maud was left out of the will altogether.  

The Daily Eagle reported, "Eliot said in his will that he made no provision for his wife because he had already turned $60,000 over to her.  He also said he had deposited money in banks in the name of his daughter."

Not unexpectedly, Maud and Marion went to court to overturn the will.  On June 9, 1931, The Brooklyn Daily Eagle said the women "contend that the reference to money turned over to them before Eliot's death was 'wholly untrue.'"  More shockingly, they asserted that Marion's name had been "stricken out" of the original document and Amory's name inserted.

The East End Avenue house was purchased by Esther J. Willcox, who also owned 142 and 146.  She operated them as rental properties, leasing the former Eliot house furnished in November 1937 to Kenneth Jewett.

It was no doubt Willcox who painted 144 and 146 white.  The second floor windows of 144 had already been reconfigured in 1941.  image via the NYC Dept of Records & Information Services.

By 1960, 144 East End Avenue was home (and presumably studio) to artist Stephen Olin Dows and his wife, the former Chilean Ambassador to the Netherlands, Carmen Vial Freire Señoret.  

Born in 1904 at Irvington-on-Hudson, New York, Dows studied at Harvard's Department of Fine Arts, and Yale's Student's League.  He had helped establish the Government's Public Works of Art Project in 1933, becoming director of the Treasury of Relief Art Projects.  His book, Mural Designs, was commissioned by the Section of Fine Arts.  Following America's entry into World War II, Dows enlisted in the U.S. Army in June 1942.  He went abroad as a war artist, the head of a group of three covering the European Theater of Operations.

Dows 1934 Loading typified Depression Era, WPA motifs.

The couple maintained two other homes--Glenburn in Rhinebeck, New York, and another residence in Georgetown, Washington, D.C.  They would remain in the East End Avenue house until around 1965, when Ernest George Benkert occupied it.

By 1969 Dr. Robert Emery Gould owned the house.  A member of the American Psychiatric Association, he was head of the New York Office of the National Coalition on TV Violence, which he operated from the address at least through 1997.

Still a single-family home, the interiors were relatively recently renovated, leaving no trace of Lamb and Rich's 1882 design. 

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


  1. I am a great grandson of John Darling and wrote a book about him.

  2. Thank you for the wonderful story about our family home. I am Donald Terry MacLeod Jr., great great grandson of John Darling Terry and Emma Celia Brown Terry. I am the great grandson of their eldest child John William Terry and the grandson of his daughter Helena Terry. A very interesting article about the family home. I see that my cousin Robert Terry has also commented as well.