Posts Tagged ‘Rich New Yorkers’

A stunning family portrait of Gilded Age privilege

September 26, 2016

This is Cornelia Ward Hall, wife of businessman John H. Hall, and their four children, in a rich and magnificent 1880 portrait by Italian painter Michele Gordigiani.

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Who was Hall? A very well-off wife and mother living in New York at the height of the Gilded Age—one who apparently kept a lower profile than some of her peers.

The portrait doesn’t tell us much about Hall and her family specifically. But in the painting, they represent the era’s twin preoccupations with material wealth and family values: a mother and wife outfitted in the finest clothes and jewels surrounded by her beautiful children.

Think of her as a domestic goddess of the late 19th century, who ruled the home and nurtured her children, as the painting makes clear.

[“Mrs. Cornelia Ward Hall and Her Children” is part of the collection at the Museum of the City of New York; 61.155.1]

The elite “carriage parade” in 1860s Central Park

June 16, 2014

By the early 1860s, much of Central Park had opened, particularly the miles of drives meant for recreational carriage rides.

But with only five percent of city residents able to afford a carriage, these drives were mostly used by the very richest New Yorkers—who established an afternoon high-society ritual called the carriage parade.

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In what could be considered a foreshadowing of our current celebrity-obsessed culture, poor and middle-class residents often turned out to watch, gawk, and critique the procession day after day.

Carriagecentralpark1869“The great, fashionable carriage parade—so rightly considered one of the notable ‘sights’ of the city—took place between the hours of four and five,” wrote Lloyd R. Morris in Incredible New York.

“To view this, crowds gathered along the walk that bordered the east carriage drive from Fifty-Ninth Street and Fifth Avenue to the Mall.”

“In the continuous procession of equipages you saw everyone who counted: the aristocracy, the new smart set, the parvenus, the celebrities, the deplorably notorious.”

Carriagecentralparknypl“When taking the air in the Park, many of them preferred to be concealed in their broughams, but some had progressed to public exposure in a landau.”

“Their horses were huge, fat, and slow; their coachmen and footmen, soberly liveried, were elderly; their carriages were funereally black.”

Not everyone was impressed by the spectacle of the new rich and their older counterparts on display in $12,000 carriages. One account had it that German schoolkids through rocks at the carriages.

Carriagecentralpark1880s

Walt Whitman “found the carriage parade ‘an impressive, rich, interminable circus on a grand scale, full of action and color,'” wrote Roy Rosenzweig and Elizabeth Blackmar in The Park and the People.

NY3DBox“[But] as he peered through the windows of the richest carriages, he saw ‘faces almost corpse-like, so ashy and listless.'”

For more information on the building and beginning of Central Park, check out New York City in 3D in the Gilded Age.

[Top and second photo: MCNY Collection; third: NYPL Digital Gallery; fourth: MCNY Colletion]

The mansion that gave Carnegie Hill its name

November 26, 2011

Andrew Carnegie’s steel mills made him a huge fortune in the 19th century.

Still, he found “‘ostentatious living’ profoundly distasteful and the conduct of most New York millionaires strictly irresponsible.”

So in 1903, he decamped from his brownstone on Fifth Avenue and 51st Street, on Millionaires’ Row, and moved into a home he built 30 blocks north—practically the country at that time.

He wanted “the most modest, plainest and roomiest house in New York” with land for his wife to garden.

The Georgian mansion he commissioned was a palace compared to most New Yorkers’ homes—but it reflected his view that “the houses of some should be homes for all that is highest and best in literature and the arts…. Without wealth there can be no Maecenas.”

The four-story, 64-room mansion at Fifth and 91st Street was a technological marvel with a steel frame, elevator, central heating (sucking down two tons of coal on a winter day) and a primitive form of air conditioning.

Carnegie lived here for 16 years with his wife, daughter, and 20 servants. Every morning an organist arrived, so he could wake up to his favorite tunes.

He contemplated his philanthropy in his library overlooking Fifth Avenue, as a neighborhood built up around him.

The mansion is still there, but now houses the Cooper-Hewitt Design Museum.

The last surviving relic of an old Inwood mansion

October 6, 2010

It’s a bizarre sight: At Broadway and 215th Street, amid an unremarkable stretch of neighborhood shops, sits a marble arch straight out of Gilded Age New York City.

The arch (New-York Historical Society photo, right) is marred by graffiti and litter, closed off behind a chain-link fence. So what’s it doing there?

Known as the Seaman-Drake Arch, it’s the last remnant of the Seaman Mansion, a magnificent 19th century hilltop home built by the Seaman family, when Inwood was dotted by country estates.

The arch marked the entrance to the mansion, which was later sold to a family named Drake. As Inwood lost its rural character, the mansion was razed; on the site now is the Park Terrace apartment complexes.

Myinwood has more in-depth history and photos. And Gothamist found an incredible shot of the original mansion and gate.