The story of the twin houses of Commerce Street

In the West Village, at that wonderful cow-path bend where Commerce Street winds around to merge into Barrow Street, sit two stately antebellum homes.

Numbers 39 and 41 Commerce Street, built in 1831 when the village of Greenwich was transitioning from a suburb to part of the larger city, are twin separate stand-alone houses, joined together by a small shared garden behind a concrete wall.

These two beauties remind me of sisters—and a legend about two sisters may be in their history.

The story has it that the houses were built by a sea captain who had two feuding daughters.

The daughters wouldn’t speak to each other, so he built identical houses for them with the shared garden, hoping they would get along again.

Who doesn’t want to believe a story like that? Unfortunately, no evidence supports it.

A New Jersey milkman named Jacob Huyler is credited with building the twin houses, which originally stood only two stories high.

“Huyler never lived in New York, but he did not sell the buildings—he held them for rental,” wrote Christopher Gray in the New York Times in 1996. One of those renters was listed at the time as a captain.

By the end of the 19th century, the mansard roofs and a third floor were added, and both homes were carved up into rooming houses for artists and working-class residents.

[Above right, in 1913; bottom two photos by Berenice Abbott; 1937.]

Today in a pricier Greenwich Village, the houses are single-family residences again. They retain their 19th century loveliness, and strollers often stop and stare.

These twin beauties are emblems of a much different New York, when a legend about a sea captain using real estate to help bring two sisters together doesn’t seem like too much of a stretch to believe.

[Third photo: MCNY x2010.11.1797; fourth photo: MCNY 89.2.3.214; fifth photo: MCNY 43.131.1.327]

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8 Responses to “The story of the twin houses of Commerce Street”

  1. The story of the twin houses of Commerce Street ⋆ New York city blog Says:

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  2. Kate Says:

    What lovely houses. The story about how they came to be built for Sisters is so great I really wish it were true!

  3. The story of the twin houses of Commerce Street | Holiday in New York City Says:

    […] Source: FS – Real Estate The story of the twin houses of Commerce Street […]

  4. greg chown Says:

    There’s a pair of houses here in Toronto with a strangely similar story/legend behind them as well. Feuding sisters.
    https://losttoronto2.wordpress.com/2012/11/20/a-tale-of-two-sistersparkdale/

    • Zoé Says:

      Very interesting Greg. Apparently what can be surmised is that fathers w/ the ability to do so built houses for their daughters then; rather than simply hoping that they ‘married well’.

  5. Zoé Says:

    These are so very beautiful. I don’t recall ever having seen them before. They remind me of houses in the Madeline books! I’ll have to look at the illustrations again to see if there is a similarity. I think it’s the roofs.

    That is a bittersweet story about the sisters Ephemeral. Perhaps there is a grain of truth to it. Perhaps two sisters rented the buildings. Or perhaps the dairyman built it to let out & two sisters – his daughters – oversaw the buildings as landladies & that got mixed up w/ the sea captain. Etc…

  6. Untapped Staff Reads: Stream New Year's Eve Celebrations From Home, Where Was the Original WPIX Yule Log Filmed? | Untapped Cities Says:

    […] The story of the twin houses of Commerce Street [Ephemeral New York]: In the West Village, at that wonderful cow-path bend where Commerce Street winds around to merge into Barrow Street, sit two stately antebellum homes. […]

  7. David H Lippman Says:

    Great story….I thought the feuding sisters legend was about the “Twin Peaks” pair on Bedford Street right by Chumley’s.

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