Friday, April 19, 2024

The John F. Vanrpier House - 35 Charlton Street


Following his duel with Alexander Hamilton, Aaron Burr was forced to leave New York City and his estate just south of Greenwich Village, Richmond Hill.  In 1817,  John Jacob Astor I, who was 34 years old at the time, purchased the mansion from Burr and took over the land lease of the grounds from Trinity Church.  (The long-term lease would make Astor 103 years old when it expired.)

The mansion was moved, the hill on which it stood was leveled, and streets were laid out--one of them named for Dr. John Charlton, the president of the New York Medical Society.  Within a few years, Astor began erecting rows of smart brick homes.

It appears Astor had an antagonist.  On October 13, 1828, the New York Spectator reported, "Yesterday morning about 6 o'clock, a fire was discovered in a new house No. 35 Charlton street, which was destroyed, and the adjoining house No. 33 was materially damaged.  As the buildings were in an unfinished state, it was no doubt the work of an incendiary."  The Daily Advertiser reminded readers, "A few months ago, several houses were destroyed by fire at the same place, which was the work of an incendiary."

The arsonist merely slowed Astor's progress.  In 1829, the row--including 35 Charlton Street--was completed.  Like its neighbors, it was 25-feet-wide and two-and-a-half stories tall above an English basement.  Faced in red Flemish bond brick, its dormered attic sat beneath a peaked roof.  

No. 35 Charlton Street became home to William H. Bell, a seemingly entrepreneurial man.  He made additional income in 1830 by lending his name to a product.  An advertisement in the New York Spectator that August included his testimonial, "Having used the Saponaceous Compound for the last eighteen months, I have the satisfaction of saying that I entirely concur in the above certificate."

Two years later he advertised in the New York Daily Advertiser for a business partner and investor:

 A PARTNER IS WANTED—Who can command the above sum [$15,000], or near that amount, in a manufacturing establishment now in successful operation, producing now 100 per cent, on the cost of the article manufactured.  The advertiser feels warranted in saying that with the additional sum above stated with what is already invested, an independent fortune can be realized in a very few years, and proofs will be given of the most satisfactory character to persons calling on him at 35 Charlton street, in the evening after 8 o'clock.  No persons need call unless they can command at least $10,000.

The investment in the arcane business Bell was asking for would translate to a half a million in 2024 dollars.

On February 10, 1834, the "brick house and 31 years lease of lot No. 35 Charlton st." was sold at auction.  It was purchased by John J. Earle, a Customs House officer.  He and his wife had a young adult son, John S.

The family took in two boarders, Samuel U. D. Arrowsmith and his young wife Catharine in 1838 or early 1839.  Tragically, Catharine G. Arrowsmith died at the age of 18 on August 11, 1839.  Her funeral was held in the parlor the following afternoon.

John J. Earle was summoned for jury duty in January 1842.  And this was no routine case.  John Caldwell Colt, the brother of gun maker Samuel Colt, was charged with the hatchet murder of printer Samuel Adams.  He had then packed the body in salt and shipped it to a non-existent address in New Orleans.  Earle managed to evade service, telling the judge he had already "formed an opinion."

John J. Earle retired in 1845.  Two years later John S. Earle was appointed an Inspector of the Common Schools.  

John F. Vanriper (sometimes spelled Van Riper) purchased the house and took over the land lease in 1851.  He was a drygoods merchant and owned his building at 594 Greenwich Street.  He and his wife had an eight-year-old daughter, Clara, and a son, Dennis.

Like the Earles, the Vanripers took in a boarder.  Living with the family in 1853 was 21-year-old Abram Moor Bogert.  Unfortunately, the parlor was the scene of his funeral on August 14 that year.

In 1861, the Vanripers' boarder was drawing teacher Francis Melville, who worked at Public School No. 42 on Allen Street.  That year there would be another funeral in the house.  Clara  Vanriper died at the age of 18 on December 16, 1861.

Each of the Charlton Street houses had a small stable or house in the rear yard.  In July 1866, John F. Vanriper hired contractors Sinclair & Williams to alter his wooden stable building.  Unfortunately, three years later, on January 8, 1869, the New York Herald reported at that 4:00 the previous afternoon, fire had broken out in the stable.  "It spread with remarkable rapidity, communicating to the adjoining stables--five in number--and before a sufficiency of water could be thrown upon the burning pile these buildings, with their contents, were almost totally destroyed."  Happily, all the horses were saved.

Around the same time that Vanriper rebuilt his stable, he raised the attic of the house to a full third floor with a modern Italianate cornice.  The change from Flemish bond to running bond brick as well as the color still testify to the alteration.

Around 1872, the Vanripers moved to West 21st Street and leased 35 Charlton Street to Theodore E. Allen, a tobacco merchant.   The Allens were new parents, and on January 22, 1872 they placed an advertisement in the New York Herald seeking, "A young girl to take care of a baby."  Later that year, in August, they advertised, "Wanted--A Protestant girl to do general housework."

In February 1881, the Vanripers sold 35 Charlton Street to Charles F. and Hannah W. Thompson for $9,500 (about $281,000 today).  Thompson, who owned a house painting business and paint store, was born in Newburgh, New York and came to Manhattan at the age of 11, apprenticing in the paint shop of Bootman & Smith.  The firm later became Hathaway & Thompson, and in 1875 Charles Thompson bought out his partner.

He and Hannah had previously leased a house a block away at 29 Vandam Street.  Moving into 35 Charlton Street with them was David M. Edsall, a clerk and notary public, who had boarded in the Vandam Street house.  Thompson and Edsall would be fast friends for years.

On the afternoon of October 17, 1897, the two men were far uptown in a buggy on Seventh Avenue and 135th Street when tragedy struck.  Edsall was driving the vehicle when he heard the panicked whistle of Mounted Policeman McGee.  A horse pulling a light rig had been spooked and was galloping up the avenue.  The New York Times said, "Between this vehicle and the curb was a bicycle ridden by a woman.  The shrieks of the pedestrians warned the men in the buggy to halt."

Edsall attempted to drive onto 135th Street, but it was too late.  The runaway horse slammed into the rear of the buggy.  The newspaper said Thompson "was hurled headlong over the dashboard" and Edsall was "thrown to the sidewalk."  The female bicyclist "was caught in the debris of the two wrecked wagons and also thrown violently to the sidewalk."

David Edsall suffered three broken ribs.  The New-York Tribune reported, "Mr. Thompson was apparently dead when picked up."  But at a hospital later, the 73-year-old "gave signs of life."  His condition was dire.  The New York Times reported, "Thompson was suffering from concussion of the brain and several terrible lacerations of the face.  He was semi-conscious for some time."

Charles F. Thompson would never fully recover.  On January 22, 1900, the New-York Tribune wrote, "For over two years he had been partially rational, recognizing the members of his family and continually begging them to take him home."  Doctors diagnosed him with meningitis.  

Thompson's 76th birthday was on January 9, 1900.  The following day he lapsed into unconsciousness.  In the decades before intravenous feeding, he went without nourishment for ten days, finally dying on January 20.  In reporting his death, the New-York Tribune mentioned that he "had lived continuously in the Eighth Ward, probably longer than most persons now living."  His funeral was held in the parlor on January 23.

David M. Edsall remained in the Charlton Street house with Hannah.  She sold it to Dr. Thomas John Hillis and his wife Bertha in April 1904.  The couple may have known Hannah from years before, since they had been boarding at 51 Charlton Street.  Interestingly, they inherited David Edsall as a boarder.  He would remain in the house at least through 1918.

Born in 1852, Hillis graduated from the College of Physicians and Surgeons in 1882.  He was a prolific author of medical articles on issues ranging from the manifestations of syphilis to the "general use of alcohol as a beverage and its value as food."

Dr. Thomas John Hillis died on February 21, 1926.  The house was converted to unofficial apartments within a year.  Among the tenants in 1928 was McLane Tilton, III, who had graduated from the University of Virginia the previous year.  He was now a partner in a law firm with T. Walter D. Duke.

Harry A. Wilson and his brother Dr. Charles H. Wilson lived at 35 Charlton Street when World War II broke out.  In 1941, Dr. Wilson joined the U. S. Army.  On July 1, 1943, the Mount Vernon, New York Daily Argus reported, "Major Charles Henry being held a prisoner of war by the Japanese, the War Department announced yesterday."  He had been captured at Corregidor.  

35 Charlton Street in 1941, the year Dr. Wilson went to war.  image via the NYC Dept of Records & Information Services.

A year later, the Japanese loaded Wilson and other captives onto a prison ship for transfer.  It was in Takao Harbor near the Philippines on December 15, 1944 when American planes sank the ship, killing Wilson.

Harry A. Wilson remained in the Charlton Street house at least through 1947 when his brother's estate was settled.

A renovation completed in 1957 resulted in apartments of various sizes, including a duplex.  An advertisement for one of them in The Villager on July 2, 1959, offered a "1-room apartment with kitchenette and bath."  A subsequent remodeling in 1989 resulted in a triplex and a duplex apartment (they share the second floor).  In 2012, the house was purchased by comedian, filmmaker and actor Louis C.K. for $6.5 million.

Born Louis Székely, he earned six Emmy Awards and three Grammy Awards for Best Comedy Album.  He also won three Peabody awards, three Writers Guild of America awards, and a Screen Actor Guild award for Outstanding Performance by a Cast in a Motion Picture.  He sold 35 Charlton Street in April 2023.

photographs by the author
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