The House on West Sixteenth Street – designed by Trench and Snook

When I started this blog, I did mention that it would be a random approach to research i.e. when I get time, or something in particular grabs my attention. So please bear with the random order of posts. In this one, I am digging into one of the architecturally coveted residences Colonel Thorn owned during his life.

When Thorn finally returned from Paris in the 1850’s, Trench and Snook designed and built him a new house on West Sixteenth St, between Fifth and Sixth Avenue in the Flatiron District. Sadly the house no longer exists, gone the same way as Elmwood Farm, making way for progess.

I’d like to spend this post going over the details of the house and its impact as the first “italianate” style house in Manhattan. From the descriptions I have read, it seems to have been around 70 feet tall and three stories high, and comprised of eight blocks of land.

It was described by Harper’s Magazine as one of the “largest and handsomest dwelling-houses in the city.”

I also found this detailed description in Putnum’s Monthly, but cannot work out which of the “engravings” it is meant to be. Check the link below and see what you think. “It presents a single ornamented front to the street, yet in chasteness and elegance of design it is fully equal if not superior (MDP: to Mr Haight’s nearby). It has the advantage of standing back in an enclosed forecourt, with double gates and a carriage drive sweeping under a portico, of Tuscan order; the shaded recess behind is an open vestibule, with the same order around the inside, supporting a panelled ceiling. On each side of the door is a niche with a bronzed figure of Mercury, holding a lamp; there are also two recumbant figures of dogs on the landing before the door. A pretty white marble fountain and basin stand in front of the portico, which are ommitted in our engraving.” Putnum’s Monthly.

Potentially, it is this one, as the address seems to fit. However, the engraving doesn’t show the statues at the entrance, which might confirm it.

The United States Democratic Review had this to say: “… we are glad for our domestic architecture, that Colonel Thorn has erected a noble mansion on Sixteenth Street. …with a house admirably adapted to entertaining, Col. Thorn intended doubtless to renew amongst us his Parisian maginficence, and the admirable taste and experience that all must allow him, will doubtless make him not merely the arbiter elegantiarum, but give him the social influence that he may turn to the best advantage. Our society in New York is sadly in need of a regulator, a sifter, as it were, that can effectually be bought to bear when a standard is once erected of conventional proprieties…the wholesome infuence of a single house in New York which insists on education, absence of pretension, simple manners, courteous bearing, and a decourous tone of remarks as the true mark of a polished society, we say the effect of such an influence here or anywhere cannot in degree be overrated.”

In 1874, the Thorn mansion was purchased by the governors of the New York “City” Hospital for $200,000 to be turned into part of the hospital itself, housing admin, a 15,000 volume medical library, and pathological specimens. The front facade of the hospital looked onto fifteenth street, and the Thorn mansion was at the rear, connected by passageways on West Sixteenth and closer to Fifth Ave. Here is image of the front of the Hospital, tantalisingly hiding Thorn’s house.

Colonel Thorn’s winter house, West Sixteenth Street, is now part of the New York Hospital and I can remember being there also on one occasion and recollect the grandeur of Mrs. Thorn’s appearance in a g[reen] velvet gown with diamond buttons.”

Old New York Residences.

By the demolition of the old Thorne mansion in Sixteenth slreet. to make way for a new wing to the New York Hospital, New York is to lose one of its most picturesque mansions anud a social landmark. Colonel Herman Thorne,who erected this mansion, was called the Monte Cristo of New Yorlk fifty years ago, becuase of his extravagant manner of life. When he erected the immense brown-stone structure in the early forties, it was considered by far the handsomest house in New York. Here Colonel Thome lived like a King, surrounded by his hobbies and his set of congenial friends. In 1846 his fortune was estimated at $I.5 million, which, in those days, went as far as five millions will go now. He boasted once that he spent $100,000 a year entertaining his friends.

Colonel Thome made his money in speculation, and, when he erected his mansion, he gathered his family around him. He had with him twelve children, who, with their children, made the mansion a veritable hotel. Frrequently he had twenty five members of his household at the table with him. He gloried in his big family. Each child had his or her carriage, and when Colonel Thome and his family went driving, the parade of handsomely equipped turnouts made a striking appearance. The glories of the entertainments in the Thorne mansion are now social traditions. The children are all dead,’ it is believed, and all Ihat remains of this rather mysterious chapter of the social life of New York are the fortress-like walls of the house and suggestions of a few exquisite frescoes.

Colonel and Mrs. Thorne passed much of their time during the forties in Paris, where Louis Philippe delighted to honor them with his presence at their dinners. Two of their daughters were ladies-in-waiting to Empress Eugenie during the party years of the reign of Napoleon 111, and they afterward married French noblemen. A son of the Colonel, Eugene Thorn, married the daughter of Robert Hyslop and thus became acquainted with the Mesier and Livingston fumilies. Thorne’s w-idow died in 1871. The property was acquired by the New York Hospital, and the furniture, which had figured in so many brilliant entertainments, was sold by auction. The Home Journal.

2 comments

  1. Love how you continue to find little interesting nuggets of fact that bring these ancestors back to life ..you are rescuing them from a dusty place..

    Like

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