The Murray Hill double house with a link to President Lincoln

During his life, Abraham Lincoln made just a handful of visits to New York City. Little is known about his first two trips to Gotham in 1848 and 1857, according to Lewis E. Lehrman, writing in Mr. Lincoln and New York, but they were likely just pitstops as he made his way north.

It was his third time in Manhattan, a three-day trip in late February 1860, that gave the Kentucky-born lawyer more exposure to the city. On this visit, Lincoln delivered his electrifying Cooper Union speech on slavery, which propelled him to national prominence and helped him win the presidential election later that year.

Speaking at Cooper Union wasn’t the only activity on Lincoln’s agenda. He stayed at the luxurious Astor House hotel on Vesey Street, had his photo taken at Mathew Brady’s Broadway studio, attended services at Henry Ward Beecher’s Plymouth Church in Brooklyn, and made an appearance at the Five Points House of Industry, addressing the city’s poorest children in this notorious slum.

Considering that Lincoln’s life was cut short by an assassin’s bullet in 1865, he clearly could never have set foot inside 122-124 East 38th Street, a Georgian-style double house completed in 1904. But the slain president does have a direct link to the house: It was the home of at least one (and possibly two) of the granddaughters he never knew.

The granddaughters, Mary (known as Mamie) and Jessie, were the daughters of Lincoln’s only surviving child, Robert Todd Lincoln—who bought number 122 for his two daughters, states Exploring Manhattan’s Murray Hill, by Alfred and Joyce Pommer.

Mary “Mamie” Isham and her son, Lincoln

However, the Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC) makes no mention of Jessie living there. According to their report on the Murray Hill Historic District, Mamie bought number 122 in 1906 with her husband, Charles Isham. For many years, Mamie, Charles, and their son, Lincoln, resided in the elegant house in the fashionable Murray Hill neighborhood.

It was Isham who commissioned the attic story, “which contained servants quarters,” per the LPC report.

Lincoln for President poster, 1860

The house apparently held various “relics,” as the New York Sun put it in a 1920 article, that related to the Lincoln presidency. “Both Mr. and Mrs. Isham are deeply interested in the Lincoln traditions and have many interesting and valuable relics of the life of the Emancipator,” stated the article, which focused on Lincoln’s surviving family members.

After Charles Isham’s death in 1919, Mamie remained in the house until 1935, when she moved to Washington D.C., per the LPC report. Mary Lincoln Isham died three years later.

The lovely house on one of Murray Hill’s most beautiful blocks is another Lincoln link in a city with streets, schools, statues, a square, playground, and tunnel all honoring the martyred president.

[Third photo: Lincoln Collection; fourth image: National Park Service]

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5 Responses to “The Murray Hill double house with a link to President Lincoln”

  1. Mykola Mick Dementiuk Says:

    When I was a kid, I attended grade school on 6th St & Hall Place, which is now Shevchenko Place, a block away from Cooper Union, which was noted as Lincoln’s pit-stop on his way to becoming president. Of course, the nuns made us visit Cooper Union many times, ingesting our minds with the Lincoln myth and aura. I’m glad that the old Cooper Union is still standing, unlike the East Village around it, slowly erased and “redeveloped”.

  2. VirginiaLB Says:

    Thank you for this–very interesting, as always. In a way, Lincoln did come to New York one more time. His funeral procession went thru Manhattan on its way from Washington to Illinois. It drew many thousands and was deeply impressive to all who witnessed it. The old newspaper accounts make interesting reading.

    • ephemeralnewyork Says:

      You know, I had included the funeral procession and the public viewing of his casket in City Hall in this post, but then deleted it because I felt it was running too long. But of course you’re right. I always found it eerie that the funeral procession up Broadway came close to or passed by many of the places Lincoln had visited on his trips to New York City: Mathew Brady’s studio, Five Points, Cooper Union, etc.

  3. velovixen Says:

    Lincoln deserved to live in such a beautiful place.

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