A Stretch Of Tradition
( Originally Published 1918 )
Stretches of the Avenue—The Stretch of Tradition—Washington Arch—Old Homes and Gardens—The Mews and MacDougal Alley—In the Fourth Decade—A Genial Ruffian of the Olden Time—Sailor's Snug Harbor—The Miss Green School—Andrew H. Green, John Fiske, John Bigelow, Elihu Root, and Others as Teachers—The Brevoort Farm—The First Hotel of the Avenue—A Romance of 1840—" Both Sides of the Avenue."
PASSING under the Washington Arch, the march up the Avenue properly begins. To commemorate the centenary of the inauguration of the nation's first President a temporary arch was erected in the spring of 1889. The original structure reached from corner to corner across Fifth Avenue, opposite the Park, and the expense was borne by Mr. William Rhinelander Stewart and other residents of Washington Square. It added so much to the beauty of the entrance to the Avenue that steps were taken to make it permanent, and the present Arch was the result of popular subscription. One hundred and twenty-eight thousand dollars was the cost of the structure, which was designed by Stanford White. Comparatively recent additions to the Arch are the two sculptured groups on northern facade, to the right and left of the span. They are the work of H. A. MacNeil.
Of all the blocks in the stretch of tradition that carries the Avenue up to Fourteenth Street, the richest in interest is, naturally, that which lies immediately north of the Square. Dividing this block in two, and running respectively east and west, are Washington Mews and MacDougall Alley. When Fifth Avenue was young and addicted to stately horse-drawn turnouts, it was in these half streets that were stabled the steeds and the carriages. Of comparatively recent date is the remodelling that has converted the old stables into quaint, if somewhat garish artist studios.
From the top of a north-bound bus as it leaves the Square may be seen the beautiful gardens that have always been a feature of these first houses. Mrs. Emily Johnston de Forest, in her life of her grandfather, John Johnston, has described these gardens as they were from 1833 to 1842. " The houses in the ` Row,' as this part of Washington Square was called, all had beautiful gardens in the rear about ninety feet deep, surrounded by white, grape-covered trellises, with rounded arches at intervals, and lovely borders full of old-fashioned flowers." Although some of the " Row " had cisterns, all the residents went for their washing water to " the pump with a long handle " that stood in the Square. Of that pump Mrs. de Forest tells the following tale. One of her grandfather's neighbours told his coachman to fetch a couple of pails of water for Mary, the laundress. The coachman said that this was not his business, and upon being asked what his business was, replied : " To harness the horses and drive them." Thereupon he was told to bring the carriage to the door. His employer then invited the laundress with her two pails to step in and bade the coachman to drive her to the pump. There was no further trouble with the coachman.
As has been told elsewhere, before the Avenue was ever dreamed of, this land belonged to the Randall estate. The founder of the family was one Captain Thomas Randall, described as a freebooter of the seas, who commanded the " Fox," and sailed for years in and out of New Orleans, where he sold the proceeds of his voyages and captures. To this genial old ruffian was born a son, Robert Richard, after which event the father settled down and became a respectable merchant in Hanover Street, New York. He was coxswain of the barge crew of thirteen ship's captains who rowed General Washington from Elizabethtown Point to New York, on the way to the first inauguration. When Robert Richard came to die, in 1801, he dictated, propped up in bed, his last will. After the bequests to relatives and servants, he whispered to his lawyer: " My father was a mariner, his fortune was made at sea. There is no snug harbour for worn-out sailors. I would like to do something for them." Incidentally, the lawyer who drew up the will was Alexander Hamilton.
So the Sailor's Snug Harbor Estate came into being, later to be transferred to its present home on Staten Island. As I survey it from the Richmond Terrace, which it faces, I like to recall its origin. That origin does not in the least seem to interfere with the comfort of the old salts in blue puffing away at their short pipes before the gate or strolling across the broad lawn. Never mind the source of Captain Tom's money. It is not for them to worry about the " Fox," or the De Laney," a brigantine with fourteen guns, which the " financier " took out in 1757, and with which he made some sensational captures, or the " Saucy Sally." Eventually the " De Lancey " was taken by the Dutch and the "Saucy Sally" by the English. But before these misfortunes befell him Captain Tom had amassed a fat property. Ostensibly he plied a coastwise trade mostly between New York and New Orleans. But the same chronicler to whom we owe the significant expression : " In those days a man was looked upon as highly unfortunate if he had not a vessel which he could put to profitable use," summed the matter up when he said : " The Captain went wherever the Spanish flag covered the largest amount of gold."
At the northeast corner of Washington Square and Fifth Avenue is the James Boorman house, now, I believe, the residence of Mr. Eugene Delano. Helen W. Henderson, in " A Loiterer in New York," alludes to certain letters about old New York written by Mr. Boorman's niece. " She writes," says Miss Henderson, " of her sister having been sent to boarding school at Miss Green's, No. 1 Fifth Avenue, and of how she used to comfort herself, in her home-sickness for the family, at Scarborough-on-the-Hudson, by looking out of the side windows of her prison at her uncle, ` walking in his flower-garden in the rear of his house on Washington Square!'" When James Boorman built his house, it was all open country behind it. Mr. Boorman built also the houses Nos. 1 and 3 Fifth Avenue and the stables that were the nucleus of the Washington Mews of the present day. In the houses was opened, in 1835, a select school for young ladies, presided over at first by Mr. Boorman's only sister, Mrs. Esther Smith.
Soon, from Worcester, Massachusetts, came a Miss Green, a girl of eighteen, to teach in the school. Another sister followed and in the course of a few years the establishment became the Misses Green School, which, for a long period, before and after the Civil War, was one of the most distinguished institutions of its kind in the city. Later it was carried on by the Misses Graham. There were educated the daughters of the commercial and social leaders of New York. Among the pupils were Fanny and Jenny Jerome, the latter afterwards to become Lady Randolph Churchill, and the mother of Winston Churchill. A brother of Lucy and Mary Green was Andrew H. Green, the " Father of Greater New York." He had for a time a share in the direction of the establishment, and in 1844, taught a class in American history. Some of the younger teachers came from the Union Theological Seminary in Washington Square. Among the men later to become distinguished, who lectured at the school, were Felix Foresti, professor at the University, and at Columbia College, Clarence Cook, Lyman Abbott, John Fiske, John Bigelow, teaching botany and charming the young ladies because he was " so handsome," and Elihu Root, then a youth fresh from college. To quote from Miss Henderson: " Miss Boorman has often told me of the amusement that the shy theological students and other young teachers afforded the girls in their classes, and how delighted these used to be to see instructors fall into a trap which was unconsciously prepared for them. The room in which the lectures were given had two doors, side by side, and exactly alike, one leading into the hall and the other into a closet. The young men having concluded their remarks, and feeling some relief at the successful termination of the ordeal, would tuck their books under their arms, bow gravely to the class, open the door, and walk briskly into the closet. Even Miss Green's discipline had its limits, and when the lecturer turned to find the proper exit he had to face a class of grinning schoolgirls not much younger than him-self, to his endless mortification. Elihu Root recently met at a dinner a lady who asked him if he remembered her as a member of his class at Miss Green's school. ` Do I remember you? ' the former secretary of State replied. ` You are one of the girls who used to laugh at me when I had to walk into the closet.' "
It was in 1835, when the new avenue was in the first flush of its lusty infancy, that a hotel was opened at the northeast corner of Eighth Street. They call it the Lafayette today: tomorrow it may have still another name. But to one with any feeling for old New York it will always be remembered by its appellation of yesterday, which it drew from the old proprietors of the land on which it stands, that family that is descended from Hendrick Brevoort who had served Haarlem as constable and overseer, and later emigrated to New York, where he was an alderman from 1702 to 1713. The Brevoort farm adjoined the Randall farm and ran northeasterly to about Fourth Avenue and Fourteenth Street. Among the descendants of the Dutch burgher was one Henry Brevoort, to whose obstinacy of disposition is owed a curious inconsistency of the city of today. His farmhouse was on the west side of Fourth Avenue and on his land were certain favourite trees. When the Commissioners were replanning the town in 1807 there was a projected Eleventh Street. But the trees were in the way of the improvement, so old Brevoort stood in the doorway, blunderbuss in hand, and defied the invaders to such purpose that to this day Eleventh Street has never been cut through. Instead, Grace Church, its garden and rectory cover the site of the old homestead. Later the vestry of Grace Church was to play old Brevoort's game. " Boss " Tweed determined to cut through, or make the church pay handsomely for immunity. The vestry defied him. Tweed never acted.
There was another- Henry Brevoort in the family. He it was who built the house that now stands at the northwest corner of the Avenue and Ninth Street. That Henry was the grandfather of James Renwick, Jr., the architect who built Grace Church and St. Patrick's Cathedral. His house was one of the great houses of the early days. Now known as the De Rham house—Brevoort sold it in 1857 to Henry De Rham for fifty-seven thousand dollars,—it still strikes the passer-by on account of its individuality of appearance. But long before the De Rhams entered in possession it had its romance. There, the evening of February 24, 1840, was held the first masked ball ever given in New York. It was, to quote Mr. George S. Hellman, " the most splendid social affair of the first half of the nineteenth century." But it was also the last masked ball held in the town for many years.
The name of the British Consul to New York at the time was Anthony Barclay, and he had a daughter. Her name was Matilda; she is de-scribed as having been a belle of great charm and beauty, and as having had a number of suitors. Of course, after the fashion of all love stories, the suitor favoured by her was the one of whom her parents most disapproved. He was a young South Carolinian named Burgwyne. Opposition served only to fan the flame, and the lovers met by stealth, and the gay Southerner wooed the fair Briton in the good old school poetical manner. In soft communion of fancy they wandered together to far lands ; to:
" that delightful Province of the Sun, The first of Persian lands he shines upon, Where all the loveliest children of his beam, Flow'rets and fruits, blush over every stream, And, fairest of all streams, the Murga roves Among Merou's bright palaces and groves."
It was " Tom " Moore's " Lalla Rookh " that was dearest to their hearts. Then came the great masked ball, to which practically all " society " was invited.
Matilda and Burgwyne agreed to go in the guise of their romantic favourites; she as Lalla Rookh, and he as Feramorz, the young Prince. She wore " floating gauzes, bracelets, a small coronet of jewels, and a rose-coloured bridal veil." His dress was " simple, yet not without marks of costliness, with a high Tartarian cap, and strings of pearls hanging from his flowered girdle of Kaskan." Till four o'clock in the morning they danced. Then, still wearing the costumes of the romantic poem, they slipped away from the ball and were married before breakfast. It seems quite harmless, and natural, and as it should have been, when we regard it after all the years. But it caused a great uproar and scandal at the time, and brought masked balls into such odium that there was, a bit later, a fine of one thousand dollars imposed on anyone who should give one,—one-half to be deducted in case you told on yourself.
There is a little magazine published in New York designed to entertain and instruct those who view from the top of a bus of one of the various lines that are the outgrowth of the old Fifth Avenue stage line. The magazine is called " From a Fifth Avenue Bus," and a feature from month to month is the department known as " Both Sides of Fifth Avenue." In the stretch between the Square and Eleventh Street, it points out as residences of particular interest those of Paul Dana, No. 1, George T. Bestle, No. 3, F. Spencer Witherbee, No. 4, and Lispenard Stewart, No. 6; all below Eighth Street. Then, between Eighth' and Ninth, Pierre Mali, No. 8, John C. Eames, No. 12, Miss Abigail Burt, No. 14, Dr. J. Milton Mabbott, No. 17, Dr. Edward L. Partridge, No. 19, and Dr. Robert J. Kahn (former Mark Twain home), No. 21. Between Ninth and Tenth, Charles De Rham, No. 24, Mrs. George Ethridge, No. 27, Mrs. Peter F. Collier, No. 29, and Edwin W. Coggeshall, No. 30. On the next block, Frank B. Wiborg, No. 40, Gen. Rush Hawkins, No. 42, Miss Elsie Borg, No. 43, Howard Carter Dickinson, No. 45, Mrs. J. P. Cassidy, No. 49, and William W. Thompkins, No. 68. Besides the private residences are mentioned the Hotel Brevoort (the traditional name is used), the Berkeley at No. 20, and the Church of the Ascension, at Tenth Street, one of the very first of the Fifth Avenue churches, and the scene, on June 26, 1844, of the marriage of President John Tyler and Miss Julia Gardiner, the first marriage of a President of the United States during his term of office. The church a block farther north, on the same side of the Avenue is the First Presbyterian, dating from 1845, when the congregation moved uptown from the earlier edifice on Wall Street, just east of New Street.