2 pre-Civil War homes laying low on the East Side

In 1856, a mason named Hiram G. Disbrow decided to build himself a modest home off Second Avenue and today’s East 58th Street.

At the time, Second Avenue above 42nd Street (below illustration, from 1861) was a sparsely populated, slightly shabby area marked by detached, humble houses—similar to the two-story dwelling Disbrow was planning to construct.

Today, 163 years after it was completed, Disbrow’s house—as well as a companion house next door—are still standing.

Hemmed in by towering apartment residences and the traffic-choked approach to the 59th Street Bridge, these antebellum anachronisms serve as humble reminders of pre-Civil War Manhattan.

The houses, at 311 and 313 East 58th Street, are slightly different.

But each reflects design styles popular in the 1840s and 1850s: huge windows, French doors, pilasters, shutters, small front lawns, and a (charmingly crooked) front porch.

Think of them as examples of the “modest, semi-suburban houses which dotted the uptown side streets of mid–19th century New York,” stated the Landmarks Preservation Commission in a 1970 report.

Two hundred years earlier, in the 17th century, the land beneath these homes was basically countryside, interrupted by Eastern Post Road and the occasional tavern. One tavern-hotel nearby was the Union Flag, located where the bridge approach is today.

Later, in the 1850s, Disbrow and another man decided to make their homes here, far from the hustle and bustle of the city. (Above, a map of the area circa 1854, before the houses were built.)

Number 313 was Disbrow’s house. Now landmarked, it’s described in the LPC report as “a perfectly scaled, classically conceived small townhouse…a little gem of human proportion.”

Number 311 is also a city landmark. The LPC called it a “historically anonymous” two-story plus basement dwelling with “painted brick walls and stone trim” that’s “refreshing to behold,” via a 1999 New York Times article.

Throughout the next century and a half, the original owners departed. Industry took over the neighborhood. In the 20th century, factories were gradually replaced by wealthy enclaves like Sutton Place and postwar luxury apartment blocks.

Today, number 311 is occupied by an English antique furniture business (the business bought the house for $1.1 million in 1999).

After stints as the headquarters of the Humane Society, and then as a restaurant and celebrity nightclub called Le Club in the 1970s and 1980s, number 313 is once again a private dwelling.

[Second image: Wikipedia; third image: NYPL, undated; fourth image: NYPL map collection]

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7 Responses to “2 pre-Civil War homes laying low on the East Side”

  1. petey Says:

    oh my, I’ve passed those how many times as i always take the 58th street approach to the bridge. i never knew! great map too.

  2. VirginiaB Says:

    This is wonderful. Some of my ancestors lived in this neighborhood in the 1850s and 1860s. They went to either St Ignatius Loyola or the new German (they were Irish) parish, St Boniface, now closed. I have done a lot of research on the area, difficult as the streets were too far north to be included in Trow’s NYC Directory, a vital source. To see these photos is so exciting. Thank you so much for all you do for NYC history–much appreciated.

    • ephemeralnewyork Says:

      Thank you VirginiaB!

    • petey Says:

      St Ignatius would at that time have been St Laurence O’Toole. Thanks to the reference to St Boniface, I didn’t know of it!

      By the way, I have a cousin named Virginia B., and her ancestors were in this neighborhood, not in the 1850s and 1860s, but the 1950s and 1960s. Her ancestors are my ancestors, and were Irish. Hmmm … not a typo on the date there?

      • VirginiaB Says:

        No typo, I’m afraid. It was the 1850s-60s. There were many Irish in the German parish of St Boniface at the time. I searched ‘St Boniface’ in the NY Herald of the era and found many Irish death notices and some marriages. My gt gt grandparents were married there in 1863, a few weeks before the draft riots. I think the parish closed about 1950. The records are held at the Church of the Holy Family, ‘the United Nations parish’, at 315 East 47th St at Second Ave. Cheers to your VirginiaB–may our tribe increase!

      • petey Says:

        fascinating, (other) Virginia B! thanks also for the reference to Trow’s Directory. as you can tell, i’m a UES history addict too.

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