Thursday, February 8, 2024

The 1847 David Bignall House - 97 Barrow Street


In 1847, Jeremiah Lambert erected two identical, three-story houses at 95 and 97 Barrow Street between Hudson and Greenwich Streets.  Their Greek Revival design featured handsome stoop and areaway ironwork, plain brownstone lintels, and understated cornices with plain fascia boards.  Lambert leased 97 Barrow Street for decades, his first tenant seemingly being the David Bignall family, here by 1851.

Bignall was a broker with offices at 188 Greenwich Street.  He was also highly involved in politics.  On the evening of October 15, 1851, he hosted a meeting of the Whig Seventh Assembly District here, during which a Convention of Delegates was elected to select a candidate for the State Assembly.

Living with the family by 1853 was Samuel A. McGregor, a clerk, who may have been related to the Bignalls.  When his 31-year-old brother-in-law Alexander Henry died on August 2 that year, his funeral was held in the Barrow Street house.

Within two years, the Vanriper family occupied 97 Barrow Street.  Peter H. Vanriper was a partner in Rexford & Vanriper, a commission merchant firm at 29 Moore Street.  He and his wife, the former Sarah Dunham Stanford, had four children, Benjamin Franklin, Sadie Fowler, Cornelius H. S., and Peter Edward.

The parlor was the scene of Benjamin's funeral on July 27, 1855.  The boy was about 13 years old.

Three years later, the Vanripers sub-let the house.  Their advertisement on August 17, 1858, read, "To Let--A three story brick house with all the modern improvements.  Rent $450 per year.  Apply on premises or No. 29 Moore street."

It appears the family never returned.  They had moved to New Jersey by 1860 when Thomas H. Borden, a clerk, and his family occupied the house.  He and his wife, the former Imogen West, were newly-arrived in New York City.  They were married in Sacramento County, California in 1854.  On September 3, 1856, their son Spencer West was born.  Tragically, the parlor would be the scene of another child's funeral shortly after they moved in.  Spencer died at the age of 3 on February 4, 1860.

By 1864 Samuel Vanburen (sometimes spelled Van Buren), a provisions dealer, leased 97 Barrow Street.  His wife, the former Julia Ann Requa, came from an old New York family.  The French surname was originally Equerie.  Her earliest American ancestor was Claude Equerie, who arrived alone at the age of 12 in 1682.  Both his parents had died on the voyage.  Members of the Requa family distinguished themselves during the Revolutionary War.  The Vanburens had two children, Julia Frances, born in 1831, and Dow, born in 1846.

The middle-class status of the family was evidenced in Samuel's income taxes in 1865.  His reported income was $1,824 and he owed $41.20 in taxes.  (His modest earnings in 1864 would translate to about $33,800 in 2023.)

Another funeral would be held at 97 Barrow Street on December 7, 1873.  Dow Vanburen had died "suddenly," as reported by the New York Herald, two days earlier at the age of 27.

Although the Vanburens had leased 97 Barrow Street for a decade, when Jeremiah Lambert's heirs sold the house on April 27, 1874, the family moved to 43 Charles Street rather than buy it.  Mitchell Halliday paid the Lambert estate $10,900 for the house, or about $289,000 today.

Halliday ran a large-scale roofing business.  Not long after buying 97 Barrow Street, his firm received the contract to roof the renovated Thompkins Market.  Getting paid for the extensive work, however, was a challenge.  Halliday sued Mayor William H. Wickham personally for his $4,865.16 fee and won his case on February 9, 1876.

Mitchell Halliday provided the roofing for the renovated Thompkins Market on Third Avenue.  from the collection of the Cooper Union.

It was around this time that Halliday updated his home with fashionable neo-Grec elements.  Elaborate cast metal cornices were installed above the openings, and the windows were given bracketed sills.  The entrance cornice was crowned with a dramatic pediment that mimicked the Eastlake style dressers or sideboard that might have been found inside.  The ambitious bracketed cornice and fascia required the height of the building to be slightly raised.

Like all middle- and upper-middle class families, the Hallidays had a servant.  On May 29, 1889, an advertisement in The New York World read, "Housework--Wanted, a neat girl for general housework in small American family, 97 Barrow st."

On April 23, 1892, Architecture and Building reported on the progress of the Grant Monument Association.  At a meeting at the Building Trades Club, committees were formed to organize the various aspects of the construction.  Mitchell Halliday was elected to head the Slate and Metal Roofers committee.

At the time of the appointment, the Halliday family's residency at 97 Barrow Street was drawing to a close.  On January 7, 1893, Halliday sold the house to D. Edwin O'Neill for $10,000 (about $336,000 today).

The house saw a variety of occupants over the succeeding years.  Thomas H. McGowan, a clerk, lived here in 1895; and milk dealer Charles S. Bates occupied the house two years later.

It appears that 97 Barrow Street was operated as rented rooms through much of the 20th century.  Then in December 2001 it was purchased for $2.55 million by actress Edie Falco, who returned it to a single family house.  

Edie Falco  photograph by David Shankbone

The 38-year-old Falco had landed her best-known role as Carmela Soprano in the television series The Sopranos two years earlier.  She had already appeared on Broadway, in motion pictures and on television.  In 2003 she was awarded a Golden Globe, an Emmy, and a SAG Award.

image via

Falco listed 97 Barrow Street for sale on May 14, 2004 for $3.75 million.  It was recently resold for $5.5 million.  Through it all, Mitchell Halliday's striking remodeling of the exterior has been preserved.

photographs by the author
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