The mystery of Chelsea’s Van Dolsom Row

The Clement Clark Moore house, an Underground Railroad stop . . . Chelsea’s leafy streets are packed with New York history.

Another example: the three handsome brownstones with lovely wide windows at numbers 322, 324, and 326 West 20th Street, about halfway between Eighth and Ninth Avenues.

A plaque affixed to one notes that they make up Van Dolsom Row and date to 1858.

Very cool . . . but who was Van Dolsom?

There’s no mention of anyone with this name in several different archives. Yet someone prominent enough to warrant a plaque or his descendants ought to be noted somewhere.

Perhaps Van Dolsom is simply a misspelling of Van Dolson—the surname of a Dutch settler who came to New York before 1648.

Forgotten New York also turns up the possibility of a spelling error.

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4 Responses to “The mystery of Chelsea’s Van Dolsom Row”

  1. T.J. Connick Says:

    The Forgotten New York entry wonders if the houses were renumbered; they were.

    An 1854 atlas showed two large adjoining lots with 75-foot fronts. At #320 (old number 206) was a 25-foot house on the east side of the lot. At #334 (old number 216) was a house of the same width on the west side of its lot. Between the two lay 100 feet of unbuilt space.

    Within a few years the unbuilt space had been cut into 6 lots, each with a uniform frontage of 16-feet, 8-inches. Six house numbers had to be squeezed between 206 and 216. Today’s 322-326 were marked 208, 208 (sic), and 210 on a later atlas (1857-1862). On the same atlas, today’s 328-332 were marked 212, 212 1/2, and 214.

    With a move to narrower building lots the old numbering scheme had to be ditched. The earliest atlas that I could find with the new numbers is dated 1891, but the new numbers may have come far earlier.

    NY Public Library’s digital gallery images of old atlases served as the source.

    Van Dolsen appears — as the Forgotten New York correspondent indicates — on directories of the era. They resided on the same block, but not in our plaque-bearing trio, and showed as builders. In time the Van Dolsens moved to other locations and kept separate addresses for their business. The firm Van Dolsen & Arnott figured in much building news in the decades to follow; almost certainly the same family.

    The block in question lies west of 8th Ave.

  2. wildnewyork Says:

    Thanks TJ, as usual you supply lots of fascinating details. I fixed the address as well.

    I am assuming the family name went from Van Dolson to Van Dolsen at some point, but maybe Jan Gevitson Van Dolson was of no relation. There’s also a Van Dolsen who settled in North Jersey.

  3. T.J. Connick Says:

    Surnames are fluid. The many “Van something” surnames denote “from this place”. If the place name doesn’t “ship” well in the new world, a modification is inevitable.

    A very lazy and quick search of Netherlands place names didn’t turn up a place called Dolsom or Dolson or Dolsen, but it turned up Doezem. Plenty of van Doezems in Netherlands today.

    This is the kind of thing that would need a good identity of one of the personalities found in the New York directories, an examination of building permits issued to the party that built the trio of brownstones, etc.

    I think we’ve done enough. With a bit of luck, some relation doing a bit of genealogical work will trip across your website and fill in all the blanks for you. Wouldn’t that be nice?

    It is always a fresh surprise how many Dutch names we had in New York City. The area in your link, covered under the original Tappan Patent, was thick with Dutch names for hundreds of years.

  4. Joanne Dolson Wolff Says:

    The Dolson family came from Dalfsen, near Zwolle in the Netherlands. The name has had various spellings, Dolson, Dolsen, Van Dolson Dalson, etc.

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