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The Bradley Martins: Their Start and Career in New York Society

Bradley Martin was born in Albany, N.Y., about fifty-three years ago. His mother was Miss Townsend, of an old Albany family, which is a branch of the Long island family of Townsends. His father was a merchant of some means, and the family occupied a leading place in Albany society. Mr. Martin, as a young man, was frequently in New York, and his connections and acquaintances here enabled him to attend the leading entertainments of the day.

It was at the wedding of Miss Emily Vanderbilt, second daughter of William H. Vanderbilt, to Mr. William Sloane, about thirty years ago, that Mr. Martin first met his wife. She was then Miss Cornelia Sherman, a daughter of Isaac Sherman, a retired merchant who was known to have means, but was not thought to be even what was then considered a wealthy man. Miss Sherman was one of Miss Vanderbilt's bridesmaids, and was an extremely pretty girl , a blonde with the freshest and rosiest of complexions, which she has retained until today. Mr. Martin began his courtship at once, and the young couple were soon engaged, and were married about a year afterward. They began life very modestly, living with Mrs. Martin's parents at the latter's residence in West Twentieth Street in Winter, and spending their Summers at Saratoga or Sharon Springs, then the fashionable watering places, and occasionally taking a trip abroad.

Three children were born to them, Sherman, who died on Dec. 22, 1894, in this city, under peculiarly sad and sensational circumstances; a daughter, Cornella, now the Countess of Craven, and whose marriage to the young Earl of Craven, in Grace Church, April 18, 1893, and the fashionable interest and excitement  it created are well remembered, and Bradley Martin, Jr., who is now with his parents in this city.

Coming Into a Fortune

Before Mr. Sherman's death, Jan. 21, 1881, Mr. and Mrs. Bradley Martin were not especially prominent in New York society. Mr. Martin was a member of the Union Club, and with his wife, was seen at some of the entertainments of the recurring Winter seasons, but they entertained little and were considered as essentially domestic in their tastes.

On the morning of Jan. 22, 1881, notice of the death of Isaac Sherman, on the preceding day, appeared in the newspapers, and some old members of the Union Club wagged their heads knowingly and remarked that there might be a surprise to New York when Mr. Sherman's will was probated. The surprise soon came, and then it was learned that Mr. Sherman, who was not generally supposed to be worth over $200,000, had left $5,000,000 or $6,000,000, and save for an annual life income to his widow, left all to his only child and daughter, Mrs. Bradley Martin.

Mrs. Martin's Father

Mr. Sherman's funeral, which took place on January 25, 1881, at all Souls' Unitarian Church, at Fourth Avenue and Twentieth Street, was attended by many prominent men. The pall bearers were Ex-Gov. E.D. Morgan, John Hamilton, William Appleton, Henry Hurlburt, B.H. Bristow, Henry G. Marquand, Parke Godwin, Judge Henry E. Davies, David Wells, and B.B. Sherman. The Rev. Dr. Bellows pronounced a eulogy on Mr. Sherman, in which he stated, to the surprise of his hearers, that President Lincoln had offered to make Mr. Sherman Secretary of State at the beginning of the former's second term, but that Mr. Sherman had declined the honor.

Dr. Bellows also briefly sketched Mr. Sherman's career as follows: He was born in Rensselaer County, near Troy, N.Y., in 1818. His parents were small farmers, and he received a common school education. About 1840 he went to Buffalo, where he became engaged in the business of trading in fancy woods. After a year in Buffalo he removed to new York City, where he founded the firm of Sherman & Romaine, which related in fancy woods and leathers. After a successful existence of nearly twenty-five years, the firm dissolved in 1865, and Mr. Sherman retired with a comfortable fortune and devoted himself to the study of his favorite subjects, taxation, international law, and political economy. He had become a good French scholar, and had acquired a large and valuable library of French works. Although Mr. Sherman was a member of the Social Science Association, the New York Historical Society, and of the Union, Union League, and Free Trade Clubs of this city and of the Cobden Club of London, he was domestic in his tastes, and except for a few hours devoted to whist at the Union Club every day, he lived quietly in his comfortable home, in Twentieth Street, and was rarely seen in society.

Again in Society.

It was nearly two years after Mr. Sherman's death that Mr. and Mrs. Bradley Martin again entered society. They had meanwhile taken a long European trip, and during their absence, the house at 20 West Twentieth Street, adjoining that left by Mr. Sherman to his widow, 22 West Twentieth Street, which had been purchased by Mrs. Martin, was renovated and its interior virtually rebuilt. The two houses were also thrown into one by the removal of the partition wall, and so they remain today.

In the Winter and Spring of 1883, Mrs. Martin's name began to appear among the patronesses of fashionable entertainments, and both Mr. Martin and herself gradually began to be seen more and more in society. When Mrs. Cora Urquhart Potter about this time began to appear in those fashionable amateur theatricals which afterward led to her going on the stage, Mrs. Martin was one of her warmest friends and advisers, and always acted as a patroness of her entertainments.

A series of handsome dinners was given in the Winter season of 1884-1885 by Mr. and Mrs. Martin, at their Twentieth Street residence, and at these a lavish display of wealth and superb appointments and floral decorations occasioned wide comment. During this season, also, Mrs. Martin formed one of the reception committees with Mrs. Astor and Mrs. Baylies, at the Assemblies, then the new and fashionable balls of New York's society. This established Mrs. Martin's Position in New York Society, even among a doubting element, and it has never since been questioned.

About this time in 1884, Mr. Martin secured a lease of the famous game preserve in Scotland, known as Bal Macaan, which since that time has been virtually the home of the family, except for some few months, generally during the Winters, they spent in New York.

Their First Famous Ball.

It was in the Winter of 1885 that they gave their famous ball in their Twentieth Street residence. This superb affair, with its unique feature of a temporary supper room built over the rear yards of the houses, and with its remarkably handsome appointments and rich and artistic favors, placed Mr. and Mrs. Martin in the front rank of New York Society leaders and entertainers.

The Cotillion dinner given by Mr. and Mrs. Martin on Feb. 8, 1890, was their last notable entertainment in New York. They remained abroad during the Winters of 1891 and 1892, and only returned for two months in 1893, to prepare for and celebrate their daughter's marriage to the Earl of Craven, in April of that year. They sailed again for Scotland in May, 1893.

Once more returning, in November, 1894, their proposed entertaining that Winter was stopped by the death of their eldest son, Sherman Martin. Soon after his funeral Mr. and Mrs. Martin returned to Bal Macaan, where they passed their period of mourning. They once more came to New York in December last, and after spending the Christmas holidays with Mr. Martin's relatives in Albany, took up their residence in their Twentieth Street house and began to prepare for the coming ball on Wednesday, which has so greatly excited New York Society.

Mrs. Martin's Ambitions

Mrs. Martin is credited with two separate ambitions, which, it is aid, induced her to give the coming ball. These are, first, a desire to round off her society career in New York with the most superb entertainment the city has ever seen, and, second, a wish to have her ball surpass the famous Vanderbilt one of 1883.

Bal Macaan, the Scotch estate of Mr. Bradley Martin, is one of the largest in the picturesque parish of Urguhart, Inverness-shire. It has been famous for its beautiful scenery and good hunting and fishing for centuries. The Prince of Wales has frequently gone there for a few days' shooting. The mansion of Bal Macaan is only about a mile from the hotel at Drumnadrochit, so that strangers visiting this most attractive Highland home of the wealthy Americans and ample accommodations, both as regards means of travel and food and lodging. It is fifteen miles from the town of Invernness.

The whole Invernness region is beautiful. No part of the Highlands is richer in history or picturesque castles. Urquhart Castle has been noted for five centuries as a home or resort of the nobility. William, Earl of Sutherland, became the owner in the fourteenth century. In the sixteenth century it became an appanage of the family of Grant of Grant. The eighth Earl of Seafield bequeathed the estate to his mother, the Countess Dowager of Seafield. Of almost equal fame and importance, and perhaps fully equal in beauty, is Bal Macaan, which Mr. Martin leased a dozen or more years ago. Here Mr. and Mrs. Martin constantly entertain house parties, both English and Americans, and here Mr. Martin and his guests enjoy the best of deer hunting, grouse and pheasant shooting, and salmon fishing during the open game season.



On the night of Jan. 26, 1885, which was the coldest of an exceptionally bitter Winter, Mrs. Bradley Martin gave, at her double residence, 20 and 22 West Twentieth Street, what was considered as having been, up to that time, with the exception of the Vanderbilt "fancy dress ball of 1883, " the most unique and beautiful entertainment ever enjoyed by the members of New York society. About 400 guests were invited, and the event created comparatively as much anticipatory interest and excitement as the coming ball has aroused this season.

No better evidence of the marked changes which even the comparatively short period of twelve years can effect in the society and journalistic worlds, can be afforded than a study of the story of this ball as related in two of the morning newspapers of Jan. 27, 1885. Strange as it may seem in this era of the full publication of society doings and events, only two of the New York morning newspapers of that date even alluded to this ball, and these two gave only a brief account of it. A perusal of the list of guests is almost startling, as it shows that of the 400 people who attended Mrs. Martin's ball of twelve Winters ago, scarcely one-half are likely to attend her coming ball of Feb. 10 of this year. The divorce court, the vicissitudes of fortune, and particularly death, have removed from participation in society life what seems a remarkable number of persons in so short a time.

Harry Cannon, who was one of the leaders of the cotillion at the Martin ball of 1885, is dead. Ward McAllister, Mrs. Paran Stevens, her son, Harry Stevens; George Henry Warren, Mrs. George L. Rives the first, Miss Marie, afterward Mrs. Frank Pendleton, and others of the guests of 1885 almost as prominent, have passed away. It will also be recalled that during the ball one of the invited guests, and one of the belles of the day, Miss Ruth Baylies, who had been taken ill only a few days previous, died, and the ball was almost forgotten in the general sorrow when the news of her death became known the next day.

The Huge Temporary Supper Room

The feature of the Martin ball of 1885 was the huge temporary supper room, built of wood, which was erected over the rear yards of the Martin residence. This was 68 feet long by 25 feet wide, and after it had been erected the insurance companies compelled Mrs. Martin to pay a heavy premium for its use for one night, on account of the risk to the adjoining property. This building, or room, was arranged so that access to it was gained by a flight of broad steps leading down from the billiard room, which occupies the entire width of the Martin houses in the rear, and whose three windows were transformed into temporary doorways for the occasion. It was heated by steam and lighted by three enormous chandeliers and many side lights. The ceiling was decorated by Marcotte to resemble the starry sky. The walls were hung with turkey red, and antique armor was used to decorate them. A massive old sideboard was placed against one side of the room, and a long supper table was arranged in the centre. The effect of this room, as the guests walked out from the billiard room and stood on the top of the stairway, was striking and beautiful. Unfortunately the bitter cold of the night, on which the thermometer fell to zero, made the room of little use, as the steam pipes could not keep the temporary structure warm.

The guests when they entered were received by Mrs. Martin, who stood in the reception room at the right of the main hall, and from there they passed on through the library and dining-room into the billiard room in the rear. After viewing the supper room, they returned through a small room on the left of the main hall, where two bands were stationed, which played continuously through the evening. Beyond this small room, in the front of the house, was a room arranged as a large hallway, and decorated with deers' heads and other trophies of the chase from Bal Macaan, Mr. Martin's leased estate in Scotland.

Leaders of the Cotillions

After supper, which was served about midnight, two cotillions were danced. Lispenard Stewart led one, in the dining-room, and Harry Cannon another, in the large entrance hall. The favors were exceptionally beautiful. Those for the women were mother-of-pearl fans and silver and gold ornaments, and for the men scarf-pins with pearl heads and broad satin sashes covered with gilt and silver imitations of foreign orders. In the flower figure, clusters of pink roses tied with satin ribbons were given to the women, and boutonnieres of lilies of the valley were given tot he men. The women's bouquets had each a small stuffed sparrow suspended above it by a vibrating wire. Mrs. Martin wore a superb dress of white satin, made, as was then the fashion, with a long train, and she carried seven or eight large bouquets.

The men, matrons, and maidens, who are middle-aged or are approaching middle age, in New York society, well remember this beautiful and unique ball, now only a tradition to the younger generation.


Mrs. Martin's Brilliant Party in February, 1890, When There Was a Dinner and Dancing.

On the night of Feb 8, 1890, Mrs. Bradley Martin entertained about 300 of her friends at dinner at Delmonico's, the dinner being followed by a cotillion. The decorations of the reception, dining, and ball rooms were on a somewhat novel plan and exceedingly rich in character. Gloire de Paris roses were used chiefly in the adornment of the tables, of which there were six, each set for 46 persons. The walls of the main dining hall were hung with blue silk brocade and adorned with small gilt mirrors, from which hung baskets of lilies of the valley. A notable feature of the decoration was a Roman chandelier of orchids that swung in place of the usual circle of lights.

Mr. and Mrs. Martin received their guests in the small red room, in which many graceful palms and ferns were grouped. Coffee was served in both the red room and the blue room to both ladies and gentlemen after dinner. In the blue room, as well as in the main corridor, banks of palms and roses were placed, also a number of choice tapestries, pictures, and bits of bric-a-brac from the Martin residence.

Lander's Orchestra and the Hungarian Band played throughout the dinner and during the cotillion which George H. Bend led, dancing with Mrs. Martin. There were two figure favors, the men receiving jeweled diggers and fac similes of the Orders of the Golden Fleece, and the ladies were presented with small satin bonnets and oxidized silver chatelaines. The guests included all persons prominent in New York's exclusive society, and one of the most charming features of the occasion was the presence of an unusually large number of debutantes, for whom a special table was reserved and appropriately adorned with rosebuds.


Article Information:
Article Name: The Bradley Martins: Their Start and Career in New York Society
Website: http:www.thehistorybox.com |Researcher/Transcriber:    Miriam Medina
Source:  New York Times Feb 7, 1897. p.10 (1 page)
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