New York City's Union Square Pre: 1923

By George De Forest Barton
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A recent letter to one of the papers about Union Square brought to my mind many remembrances of that locality.

The houses, and the names of all the families mentioned, most of whom were friends of my father, were familiar to me in my younger days.

The Park, itself, was pretty, as it contained a number of fine trees and much shrubbery, but it was gloomy on account of the heavy and hideously ugly iron fence, more suited for a cemetery than for a pleasure park. A high hedge grew just inside the railing completely hiding the view from outside, rendering the Park undesirable and it was not much frequented by the ladies of the neighborhood.

At sundown the gates were closed and locked.

The fence was set in great blocks of stone brought from somewhere up the Harlem Railroad and they were unloaded in the avenue alongside the tracks and there they lay for months until wanted by the masons. Playing among these huge stones was great sport for the boys from far and near.

Four somber and mournful entrances gave access to the Park. At the southerly entrance, facing Broadway, on top of the tall pillars of the gateway were two large stone cannon balls brought from Constantinople by Commodore Porter of the U.S. Navy.

It was not until the Tweed days about 1870 that the fence and inside hedge were removed, new paths laid out, 17th Street widened into a plaza and the cottage and ornamental standards erected. All of which was a vast improvement.

At present it looks like anything but a pleasure Park, and just what it will be when the subway builders are through with it is a problem yet to be solved.

At the S.W. Corner of Broadway and 14th Street was the James Roosevelt house, his brother, Cornelius Roosevelt, lived in a large brownstone house on the east side of Broadway between 12th and 13th streets.

Wallack's Theatre, coming from the west side of Broadway, just below Broome Street, was subsequently erected at the N.E. Corner of Broadway and 13th Street.

The Lorillards lived on the N.W. corner of Broadway and 10th Street and the William H. Aspinwalls on the N.E. corner of University Place and 10th.

On the S.W. corner of University Place and 9th Street was the home of the Emmet family, with its eight sons and two daughters. Several of the boys volunteered and served gallantly in the Federal forces in the War of the Rebellion, two of them giving their lives for their country.

On the west side of Broadway, just above Waverly Place, were the two severe and forbidding looking granite houses of the Spofford and Tileston families. The firm of Spofford & Tileston were prominent in the shipping business and were well known the world over. The firm owned a carriage and pair which were used in turn by the ladies of the two families, an indication of the economical frame of mind of that day. The families subsequently moved to Nos. 2 and 4 East 14th Street. The New York Club's building was on the S.E. corner of Broadway and Astor Place, directly opposite.

Next door to the Roosevelt house at Broadway and 14th Street lived Mr. ____Bronson, a prominent lawyer on the next block to the west were the residences of Cortlandt Palmer, Herman D. Aldrich and Mr. Spencer, his partner.

On the opposite side of the street lived Moses H. Grinnell, at the corner of Fifth Avenue, subsequently occupied by Delmonico; farther on was the house of Henry A. Smythe, once Collector of the Port.

The Spingler Institute was on Broadway just above 14th Street and the Church of the Pilgrims was at the corner of 15th Street, afterward the site of Tiffany & Co. Store; the building was moved stone by stone to 53d Street near Sixth Avenue and is in use today. The Presbyterian Church in 57th Street, between Broadway and Seventh Avenue, was also moved, stone by stone, from the corner of Fifth Avenue and 19th Street. Dr. John Hall was at one time the minister.

At the N.W. corner of Broadway and Sixteenth Street were the Austen houses; the corner was the home of David Austen, Sr., the next one was occupied by a son and the third by a daughter, Mrs. Fox, the mother of Austen G. Fox, the prominent lawyer of the present day. Royal Phelps lived in 16th Street just west of Broadway.

The house on the S.W. Corner of 17th Street and Broadway was occupied by Daniel Drew, a well-known Wall Street operator, and the home of Robert Goelet was at the N.W. corner.

The Parish family lived on the N.E. corner, and just beyond on 17th Street opposite the Park was the home of the Young family, which subsequently became the first house of the Union League Club; farther on was the large double-house of the Moffatts, afterward occupied as the Fenian Headquarters; then came the well-known Everett House.

At the southeast corner of Fourth Avenue, or Union Place, as sometimes called, lived Jacob Little, in his day one of the foremost men in Wall Street; on the opposite corner was the house of Jacob Cram.

In Fifteenth Street, just east of Fourth Avenue, was the spacious and comfortable house of the Century Club, which long since removed to its present location, 43d Street between Fifth and Sixth Avenues.

On the site of the present Union Square Hotel, Fourth Avenue and 15th Street, were two large private houses occupied by Mrs. Plummer, who there maintained one of the most successful and fashionable boarding houses in the city.

Farther up the Avenue, at 18th Street, was the Clarendon Hotel, noted as the headquarters of British aristocracy when visiting New York, and it was at this hotel that Grand Duke Alexis and his suite stayed, some forty years ago.

On the N.E. corner was the house of Mrs. Nancy Holbrook and its extensive grounds and beautiful flower garden in rear, extending from 18th to 19th Street.

The place next door was the home of Professor Ogden Doremus, and on the 19th Street corner were two semi-detached houses, the inside one occupied by Mr. E. L. Brown, father of Charles S. Brown, now so prominent in Real Estate circles.

Commodore Henry Eagle, U.S. Navy, occupied the corner house and afterward it was for a while the house of Mr. Hearn, one of the founders of the firm of Arnold Constable & Co., then located at Canal and Mercer Streets.

On the opposite side of the avenue were several similar detached houses, in one of which lived Mr. Timothy G. Churchill, a prominent merchant, one of whose daughters was the wife of the Late Right Rev. Henry Y Satterlee, First Bishop of Washington.

Within the last fortnight the funeral services of Mrs. Satterlee were held in Calvary Church, of which church her husband was Rector for over twenty years.

The two Fourth Avenue fronts, between 18th and 19th Streets, with the large grounds and detached houses were the most attractive blocks in the city.

These fronts, as well as Gramercy Park, were laid out by the late Samuel D. Ruggles some time in the 30's.

The writer's father, William Barton, lived at 108 East 19th Street, No. 106 was the home of A. Grace King, and beyond, to the east, the Edward A. Richards, Homer Morgans, the eminent Presbyterian divine, Rev. Dr. Howard Crosby, the Hiram Barneys and James W. Plumbs lived.

On the opposite side were the houses of Dr. James Jyslop, one of the many large-hearted physicians of that day, Morris Jessup and William Rhinelander, whose wife was the daughter of Judge Thomas J. Oakley, who lived directly in the rear on 20th Street facing Gramercy Park.

The Misses Haines' School for young ladies occupied the first two houses in 20th Street, next door to the rectory of All Souls' Church, Rev. Dr. Bellows. This church was familiarly, if not respectfully, known among the younger generation as the "Holy Zebra" or "Beef Steak Church," on account of its construction with alternate layers of white Caen stone and red brick.

At No. 11 lived Oliver DeForest Grant, who, with William Barton, formed the firm of Grant & Barton, well known for many years throughout the United States.

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Website: The History
Article Name: New York City's Union Square Pre: 1923
Researcher/Transcriber Miriam Medina


BIBLIOGRAPHY: From My Collection of Books: Valentine's Manual of Old New York; Edited by Henry Collins Brown 1923
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