The last daughter to live in a 14th Street mansion

There’s a modest white fountain topped with an angel (bottom image) on Second Avenue near 10th Street, where two sides of the iron fence surrounding St. Mark’s Church come together.

Below the angel is a faint, undated inscription: “To the Memory of Elizabeth Spingler Van Beuren.”

Who was Elizabeth? She was born in 1831 in New York and died in 1908.

Never married, she was one of the last descendents of the wealthy Spingler-Van Beuren clan, who maintained a fabled farm-like homestead at 21-28 West 14th Street west of Fifth Avenue.

Her family’s story echoes the story of Manhattan.

An island dotted with farms and estates in the late 18th century became a metropolis by the early 20th century.

This sleek, modern city had no room for the “curious relic” that was Elizabeth’s lifelong home—on a large plot of land shaded by gardens and poplar trees, where a cow grazed and chickens wiled away the days.

Elizabeth’s great-grandfather, Henry Spingler (above), was the one who launched the family farm.

A successful shopkeeper, Spingler bought 22 acres of farmland in 1788 centered around today’s 14th Street and Fifth and Sixth Avenues, according to a 1902 New York Times article.

At end of the 18th century, this really was farmland. The city street grid had yet to be created. Union Square, at the “union” of Broadway and the Bowery, wouldn’t officially be established until 1839.

Henry lived in what’s described by a newspaper article as a “quaintly built Dutch structure” until his death in 1811. (The top image and drawing above show what that Dutch farmhouse supposedly looked like.)

In 1830, a granddaughter of Henry’s who married into the prominent Van Beuren family constructed a handsome double-size brownstone mansion on a large piece of family farmland on West 14th Street. (Above image, about 1910.)

The granddaughter was Elizabeth’s mother. Elizabeth and her siblings grew up in the mansion when 14th Street was the center of a fashionable, refined neighborhood.

Not much is known about how Elizabeth spent her days. Like other elite young women in the mid-1800s, she probably had tutors or attended a day school. Her family worshipped at St. Mark’s Church; the Spinglers had a burial vault there.

During the Civil War, she may have also helped raise money for hospital care for wounded soldiers or served in another volunteer capacity, as many socially prominent women of all ages did.

By the end of the war, 14th Street changed. The street became a commercial strip and Union Square itself a theater district. Rich New Yorkers escaped the crowds and noise by moving uptown to posh Madison Square and beyond.

The elite departed—but the Van Beurens remained. Elizabeth’s sister, Emily Van Beuren Reynolds, lived in another brownstone mansion across the garden from hers at 29 West 14th Street.

Together the mansions were known as the Van Beuren Homestead, which stretched to 15th Street, where a stable was maintained.

As the Gilded Age accelerated and 14th Street was colonized by the new department stores like Macy’s (becoming part of the Ladies Mile Shopping District), the Van Beuren Homestead took on almost a mythic quality.

“After 14th Street had grown up about the old home and its gardens, when Macy’s red star was in its ascendency at Sixth Avenue and 14th Street, there were always groups of people standing staring at [the] farm, with a cow and a vegetable garden, flower beds and hens, in the midst of the blooming city,” recalled one man in a 1922 New York Herald article.

“In the heart of New York’s retail shopping district, the old Van Beuren mansion has presented the spectacle of a huge family mansion standing alone in its own grounds, with large gardens, stables, chicken coops, dove cotes, arbors, and grass plots,” the New York Sun wrote in 1902.

“There was nothing modern about the place. It had all the marks of a true homestead inhabited by an old and long-wealthy family who could afford to throw away the enormous profit they could make by turning this valuable land over to business purposes….Artists, poets, and lovers of the picturesque have long feared the destruction of this quaint structure.”

When Elizabeth Van Beuren’s demise was announced in newspapers in 1908, the days were numbered for 21 West 14th Street.

Her sister’s death also put another nail in the coffin for the Homestead. which spent its final years unoccupied.

In 1927, the two mansions met the wrecking ball. (Above, in 1925)

Today, 21 and 28 West 14th Street is occupied by a one-story retail building. What would Elizabeth and the rest of her family, interred in their vault at St. Mark’s, think of the building that replaced their homestead?

[Top image: Fifth Avenue Old and New; second image:; third image: 1913 painting by Charles Mielatz; fourth image: MCNY, 1906, X2010.11.5832; fifth image: New-York Historical Society; sixth image: New-York Historical Society; seventh image: New York Sun; eighth image: MCNY, 1925, X2010.11.58021925; ninth image: ENY]

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21 Responses to “The last daughter to live in a 14th Street mansion”

  1. Penelope Bianchi Says:

    What a lovely place it was. Gorgeous tree stretching across. Think of it! Chickens, a cow, and lovely trees.
    I love that poets and others loved this place. Ah! The golden days! Thank you for this lovely post!

  2. Mykole Mick Dementiuk Says:

    Haven’t been to NY in almost 20+ years but it seems that 21 W and 28 W would be on opposite sides of the street, how can it be occupied by a one story building?

    • Greg Says:

      I’m not seeing any one story buildings anywhere near 28 West 14th Street when I look on Google Street View. Something is off here.

  3. ephemeralnewyork Says:

    Good point…perhaps they kept an old numbering system?

    • Greg Says:

      So the old Dutch farmhouse stood until 1927 and was a local attraction but there are no surviving pictures of it? Or am I just not seeing it in the photos?

    • mikvan52 Mike van Beuren Says:

      The truth of the matter escaped most, if not all, newspaper accounts.
      The old Dutch-style farm house predates 1762. The Brevoort family were the owners who sold it to the Smith family. Smith descendants either died or left NYC as they were loyal to the Crown during the Revolution. A good bit after the war, Henry Spingler acquired what was then 22 acres from the executors of the Smith estate. BUT: Henry Spingler decided to build a new residence on the property instead of living in the Dutch farm house. He owned, but did not reside in that farm house. A painting of his new house can be seen at Scroll down to the bottom. The yellow house at right is Spingler’s house on the Bowery at (then) Union Place. The white fence on the far right marks the east boundary of the 22 acres. If we were to mark that fence line today, it would run diagonally through a lower portion of Union Square. Keep in mind, this land was hilly in those days. more so than many renderings suggest. There was even the East branch of the Manetta Brook that ran through Henry’s property. As most of us know, it’s all been leveled and filled for over 150 years now.

      If we look at (say) the year 1800 : There were outbuildings, a barn and even a pond… It was truly a farm. Henry Spingler was a butcher and a market gardener who had stalls in the Fly Market near todays South St. Seaport and at other ones as well.

      As for the old Dutch House? Spingler’s widow, Mary née Bonsall, moved into it at the very end of her life. But the house was moved out of the way of the construction of 14th street.

      They didn’t move it far enough and the side porch had to be removed later on. The black and white litho. of it in this article (by Mielatz) looks on to the property further west of the brownstone van Beuren mansion that was built for the Spingler heirs.

      When I first researched all this, inaccurate and/or incomplete or confused historical accounts clouded the “true” story 😉 I supply here. It’s taken me 10 years to sort things out.

      For further information, check specifically: and descendants… I have many maps and documents attached the profiles of the Spingler/van Beurens

      Also: The Old Dutch farm house was demolished long before 1927. It was the later mansion that stood at 21 W. 14th that lasted into the 20th century.

  4. Mykole Mick Dementiuk Says:

    I assumed that too, just wasn’t sure. Thanks 🙂

  5. Cheryl Solko Says:

    Is this family related to Martin Van Buren? 18th century spelling being less universal, they do have the NY connection in common.

    • ephemeralnewyork Says:

      Interesting question! Apparently there was another van buren family (yes, the name is spelled all different ways in old newspapers and books I found) that also made their home in 18th century New York City, so Elizabeth is not related to Martin Van Buren. The surname simply implies their ancestors came to the USA from the village of Buren, in Holland:

    • mikvan52 Mike van Beuren Says:

      Hi Cheyl:
      ephemeralnewyork is correct.. The two families were from town in Gelderland. They may have intermarried a long, long time ago… say before 1500… Nothing on this side of the Atlantic after 1700.. BTW: I maintain that site…

  6. Farnanant Says:

    How can 21-28 W 14th St be *east* of Fifth Avenue?

  7. David Smith Says:

    My 3rd Great Grandfather Peter Moseman owned two properties not far from there at 13th St and 7th Ave until he died in1851. Wish he’d directed his executor to keep them in the family rather than sell them.

  8. [Blog Glück] Juli 2019 – Seitenglueck Says:

    […] Kara von Ephemeral New York gab es einen Beitrag zur letzten Tochter, die in der Mansion in der 14th Street gewohnt hat. Ich liebe ihre Fundstücke und Recherche einfach! Der Blog ist vielleicht auch […]

  9. Kat Says:

    Omg I remember that fountain!!!!!
    Thank you so much, for this article. I grew up on 4th St between 1st and 2nd Ave.
    Wonderful memories, 😀

  10. Deconstructing a 1905 view of East 14th Street | Ephemeral New York Says:

    […] Fifth toward Sixth Avenue, trees can be seen on the north side of the street. That would be the Van Beuren Homestead, two circa-1830 brownstones surrounded by gardens and a patch of what was once farmland. (Imagine, […]

  11. mikvan52 Mike van Beuren Says:

    Greetings from a direct descendant! Thanks for posting and elaborating on what I maintain at geni dot com. There are so many family stories, some very unusual, even to a family member like me. For those who are interested, take a look at and branch out from there. For our family it began with a family of butchers at Chatham Square and the Fly Market in the 1760s (Henry Spingler and his Dad..)

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