Wednesday, June 12, 2024

The 1846 Payne House - 273 West 11th Street


Hammond Street was named for Elijah Hammond, whose 55-acre estate sat near Greenwich Village in the 18th century.  By 1840, the once sleepy hamlet had expanded into the Hammond property and prim brick-faced homes were being erected along its newly laid streets.

In 1845, Nathaniel Weed purchased the two vacant plots at 65 and 67 Hammond Street from George H. Swords.  The following year he completed construction of two three-and-a-half-story homes on the sites.  Identical to its neighbor, 65 Hammond (renamed and numbered 273 West 11th Street in 1865) was faced in red brick above a brownstone English basement.  While the entrances of most Greek Revival homes were designed with heavy pilasters and entablatures, the brownstone enframement here was unexpectedly airy.  Below the cornice were squat attic windows that replaced the dormers of the previous Federal style.

By the mid-1850s, 273 West 11th Street was home to the Payne family.  Theodore Payne was an importer, Thomas was in the express business, and Joseph was a clerk.  Young Edwin Payne would enter the straw goods business by 1860.

Despite the relatively large Payne population within the house, the family took in boarders.  In 1856 and '57 James J. Farrell, an accountant, boarded with the family.  The following year, educators Susan Wright and William W. Holder lived here.  Wright was vice principal of the Female Normal School, and Holder taught in the Boys' Department of School No. 3 on the corner of Hudson and Grove Streets.

An advertisement in the New York Herald on January 17, 1859 offered, "Board--Rooms, with full or partial [board], suitable for a small family or gentleman and wife, in a first class modern house, convenient to cars and stages."

One of the boarders who answered that ad suffered public humiliation a year later.  On February 4, 1860, the New-York Dispatch reported:

Charles M. Johnson of No. 65 Hammond street, on the night of the 30th of January, while in company with a girl named Louisa Powell, at a house of ill fame in Wooster street, was robbed of a gold watch worth $125.  The gold guard-chain having been severed by some sharp instrument.  Louisa was committed for examination.

The embarrassing incident reflected the affluence of the Paynes' boarder.  The value of his watch would translate to more than $4,700 in 2024.

Around 1863, attorney William H. Jelliffe and his wife Almira purchased the house.  While her husband carried on his legal practice, Almira ran a boarding house.  Her tenants continued to be white collar.  In 1864 they included James F. Dummer, who ran a paint business; Archer Martine, who was in the feed business; Henry M. Patterson, a flour merchant; Henry Reeve, who operated two coal yards; and Edward H. Stone, who listed himself an "officer" in a firm at 78 West Street.

Surprisingly, in March 1865 the Jelliffes had an unmarried woman, Constance B. Tallon, boarding here.  The risk that single women would bring scandal precluded most respectable boarding house proprietors from accepting them.  Tallon was a well-heeled young woman and apparently came with excellent references.  She brought with her a trunk that contained her valuables, including $12,000 in United States bonds (about a quarter of a million in today's dollars).

According to her testimony later, at 8:00 on the morning of March 25, "my attention was called to the fact, by some one, that my trunk was unlocked, and I then discovered that some of the bonds had been stolen; when I opened it and examined the contents, I found that $500 in bonds and $100 in money had been taken."  Despite a long investigation, the thief was never discovered.

Ten days before that incident, two boarders had received unsettling news.  On March 15, M. Becker and W. H. Teller were inducted into the Union Army when their names were pulled in the draft lottery.

Henry Reeve was still boarding here in 1868, along with George Cole, Henry Marsh (who made "limbs"), and Jonathan S. Bard, a pen merchant.  Cole suffered a horrific accident on August 29 that year.  The New York Times reported, "George Cole, of No. 273 West Eleventh-street, fell from the 12:30 P.M. train on the New Haven Railroad, on the corner of Fifty-ninth-street and Fourth-avenue."  Cole fell beneath the cars and was run over.  He was taken to St. Luke's Hospital.  Miraculously, his legs were not severed, although both were broken.

William Jelliffe died around 1875.  Almira continued operating the boarding house, her boarders still respectable and well-to-do.  

Henry F. Marsh was still here in 1878, by which time he had switched from producing artificial limbs to making "adjustable frames for drying lace curtains."  He ran the administrative portion of his business from his rooms here.

On November 24, 1884, The New York Times reported, "The inmates of the boarding house of Mrs. Almira B. Jelliffe, No. 273 West Eleventh-street, were roused from their comfortable beds and greatly alarmed by a fire which broke out from some unknown cause in the basement of the house at 2 o'clock yesterday morning."  Happily, although Almira and her boarders were forced into the chilly autumn air in their night clothes, firefighters quickly extinguished the rubbish fire in the basement pantry.  The article said the damage "will not exceed $50."

After having operated the boarding house for three decades, Almira B. Jelliffe died here on November 22, 1895.  

It continued on as a respectable boarding house, home to residents like Mrs. James Webb, a member of the Mary Arden Shakespeare Club.  She hosted a meeting of the group on January 29, 1904, the New York Herald saying, "Members of the club are making a critical study of 'Henry VI.'"

Boarder John H. Jackson's name had appeared in The New York Times a year earlier for a less auspicious reason.  The 18-year-old was a student at the College of the City of New York.   On the night of November 12, 1903, he attended the annual dinner of the Phi Kappa Tau fraternity as a pledge.  He and another potential member, Robert B. Mount, were taken to the areaway under the stoop of a vacant house at 23rd Street and Lexington Avenue.  The New York Times reported, "There, in the cold night air, they were compelled to disrobe and don women's attire.  Thus costumed, they were led out into Twenty-third Street, surrounded by the howling mob of students and forced to lead the procession, to the astonishment and amusement of passers-by."  

Less amused was Captain Gallagher of the East 22nd Street station house.  Jackson and Mount were arrested "on a charge of masquerading in women's clothing."  They were later dismissed "after a mild rebuke at their conduct" by Magistrate Hogan after he heard the details of the case, said the article.

In 1920, 273 West 11th Street was purchased by the Women's Home Mission Society of the Methodist Episcopal Church as the new home of the Immigrant Girls' Home.  It traced its beginnings to 1885, when Helen and James Mathews and their daughter Alma, rented a house in lower Manhattan to house naïve, single women disembarking from ships.  Their actions saved them from the unscrupulous men who preyed on new immigrants.

On February 14, 1921, the Yonkers Statesman reported, "The dedication services of the new Immigrant Girls' Home of the Woman's Home Missionary Society, will take place, Thursday, Feb. 17, at 2:30 o'clock, at the Home, 273 West 11th street, New York. The services will be in charge of the national officers of the Society, and will be followed by a social hour and refreshments."

At the time, Alma Mathews was still active in the cause.  A week after the dedication, a meeting of the Society of Michigan Daughters was held here, the discussion topic being "Emigration," according to the New York Herald.  The article said, "The discussion will be followed by a tea to Miss Mathews, missionary to Ellis Island."

Typical of the women given aid here was Russian actress Madame Pierre Achmathoff, who arrived in New York from Constantinople on the Braga on December 3, 1922.  She came to New York to work with the Moscow Art Theatre Company, and had sent her money ahead to a friend named Edelshty in Brooklyn.  When she arrived with "a number of trunks," according to The New York Times, but no money, she was detained as "likely to become a public charge."

The Methodist Immigrant Home retrieved her from detention, guaranteeing the actress (who arrived with "twenty pieces of baggage and furs," according to the New York Herald) would not become a ward of the city.

Around mid-century, the house was renamed the Alma Mathews House.  In 1953 it housed 22 residents.

In 1957 a portion of the house was converted to classrooms for the Children's Workroom.  An advertisement in The Villager in January 1976 offered "intimate kindergarten" for children three-and-a-half years old through five, and after school programs for students five through ten.  "Our specialty is individualized attention and learning," said the ad.

The Gingerbread School opened here in 1971 and would remain through 1980 when 273 West 11th Street was internally joined with 275.  In 1993 the combined houses were operated by Michael A. Burak, Inc.  Called the Alma Mathews House, it was described as a "hotel operated for clergy and religious officials visiting the U.N. and New York City."

Then, in 2013 real estate broker Dolly Lenz announced that celebrity couple Sarah Jessica Parker and Matthew Broderick had purchased the combined homes for $35 million.  The announcement suggested they would renovate them as a 50-foot-wide, 13,900-square-foot residence.  It does not appear that ever happened.

photographs by the author
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