Archive for November, 2016


Margaret Wise Brown and her Kerry blue terrier Crispin’s Crispian in the 1940s.

In this final chapter of Crispin’s Crispian, I’ll tell the fascinating story of what happened to the old New York City farmhouse on York Avenue in Lenox Hill where his famous pet mom, Margaret Wise Brown, wrote her final children’s book, Mister Dog: The Dog Who Belonged to Himself.

In Part II of this Old New York dog tale, we left off in the 1940s, when Margaret Glass and her husband Owen Healy occupied their two-story brick building at 1335 York Avenue and ran a neighborhood dining room on the property. During the late 1940s and early 1950s, children’s picture book author Margaret Wise Brown rented the small, 18th-century cottage hidden on the back lot behind the Healy’s brick apartment house for use as her studio.

Born in Brooklyn’s Greenpoint neighborhood in 1910 (Margaret and her family lived in an existing two-family house at 118 Milton Street), Margaret spent much of her career in New York City. She first lived in her own flat at 21 West 10th Street, and then, during her long affair with Blanche Oelrichs (stage name, Michael Strange, a wealthy socialite and ex-wife of John Barrymore and Harrison Tweed), she shared an apartment with her partner at 10 Gracie Court near the East River.


Margaret always loved animals. During her childhood, she and her sister, Roberta, had about 30 rabbits, one dog of their own, and about 6 “borrowed dogs.” 

Sometime during the 1940s, Margaret and Michael lived in adjacent apartments at 186 East End Avenue. It was during this time that Michael gave Crispin’s Crispian to Margaret. Every day, Margaret would take the Kerry blue terrier to her studio, where he reportedly had full run of the place.

The two-story cottage, called Cobble Court because of the cobblestone court that separated it from the brick apartment building, was reportedly unheated, so Margaret covered the walls of the living space with animal fur (don’t ask me how she did this). She spent her days writing in the cottage, and sometimes at night she would host dinner parties there.


The crooked little house in this 1967 newspaper illustration from Mister Dog looks familiar…

It was here that Margaret wrote Mister Dog: The Dog Who Belonged to Himself,  a charming picture story about a conservative dog who lives in a two-story doghouse and wants to find a little child to be his friend. The book was inspired by Crispin’s Crispian, the setting was no doubt based on the Cobble Court cottage, and there’s a good chance that the child is based on Albert Clarke, a little boy who lived in a tenement that Margaret passed by every day to get to her back-lot cottage.

Margaret’s Final Days

In 1952, 42-year-old Margaret met 26-year-old James Stillman “Pebble” Rockefeller, a bearded sailor who descended from Andrew Carnegie. Although the two were engaged, they never got the chance to marry. That year, she was diagnosed with an ovarian cyst while in France. Although she lived through the surgery, she died two weeks later on November 13 of an embolism.


Margaret Wise Brown and Crispin’s Crispian at the Cobble Court cottage in the late 1940s.

Although she had supposedly asked to leave Crispin’s Crispian in the care of an old friend, I came across a news article that stated her sister, Roberta Rauch of Jamaica, Vermont, was bequeathed $20,000 to take care of the famous terrier. Albert Clarke, the little boy from the tenement, was reportedly willed the royalties from most of Margaret’s books published up to the time of her death.

Cobble Court’s Not-so-Final Days

From about 1950 to 1966, the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of New York tried to persuade Margaret Glass Healy and her brothers to sell the property, including the two houses and the land. They finally reached a deal, and the property was sold for about $75,000.

At this time, the little farmhouse was being rented by Swedish-born Mr. and Mrs. Sven Bernhard. They had made extensive renovations to the home since moving there in 1960, and did not want to move when the archdiocese ordered them out to make room for a large nursing home (the Mary Manning Walsh Home for Aged at 1339 York Avenue).

So they made a deal: the couple would leave, but only if they could take the house with them. With the help of architect William C. Shopsin, they purchased a vacant 3600-square foot lot for $30,000 on Charles Street and made arrangements for the house be moved to Greenwich Village.


On March 5th, 1967, the farmhouse (including the cobblestones from the courtyard) was loaded onto a flatbed and brought to the vacant double lot off at Charles and Greenwich Street (most city lots are 25 feet wide, but since the house is 26 feet wide, the couple had to purchase two lots to accommodate it). As the truck pulled away, Mrs. Bernhard exclaimed, “It’s saved! It’s saved!”


The 18th-century cottage, hidden for 100 years behind 1335 York Avenue and 435 East 71st Street, was revealed during demolition work in February 1966.


On March 5, 1967, the house was loaded on a flatbed truck and transported to Greenwich Village. This view is of the back of the house, which apparently had not been painted white. It cost the Bernhard’s $6,500 to move the 26-foot-wide house. 


Here’s the four-room, 900-square-foot house being pulled down 14th Street on what appears to be a rainy day.

The Bernhards continued living in the home on Charles Street for twenty years. They sold the house for about $725,000 in 1986 and moved to Mystic, Connecticut.

In 1988, the house was purchased by its current owners, Eliot Brodsky and Suri Bieler. The couple worked hard to restore it, adding a 540-square-foot addition when their son was born that earned them an award from the Greenwich Village Historical Society for its canted angles that match the original house.

“It’s as if a farmhouse, in the manner of a spaceship, fell from the sky and landed smack in the middle of a dense urban setting.”–Off the Grid, 2011


Today, the six-room, wood-frame house, with its well-manicured yard and driveway, looks very much out of place at 121 Charles Street. Photo by P. Gavan


Now, should you ever find yourself walking past this house on Charles Street, you have a great story to tell. Photo by P. Gavan








Margaret Wise Brown and Crispin’s Crispian

“Crispin’s Crispian lived in a two-story doghouse in a garden…”

The charming story of Crispin’s Crispian — and the old New York farmhouse where his famous pet mom wrote her final children’s book — takes place on what was once known as the Louvre Farm. The 90-acre farm extended from the Old Boston Post Road (near today’s Third Avenue) to the East River between present-day East 66th Street and East 75th Street. Today we call the neighborhood Lenox Hill.

In Part I of Crispin’s Crispian, we left off in 1894. In Part II, we go back just a bit to the 1860s, which is when William and Margaret Glass purchased a few vacant lots on what was labeled Subdivision 4 of the old Louvre Farm. The lots were located on the west side of Avenue A (today’s York Avenue), between East 71st and East 72nd Street.


Margaret Wise Brown and Crispin’s Crispian at her writing studio in the little frame house.

It was here in the late 1940s and early 1950s that children’s picture book author Margaret Wise Brown rented what was reported to be a tiny, 18th-century frame house, where she wrote Mister Dog: The Dog Who Belonged to Himself.

Margaret’s pet Kerry blue terrier, Crispin’s Crispian, was the inspiration for this book. The house was no doubt the inspiration for the setting of the story and the illustrations.

The Mysterious Frame House on East 71st Street

Sometime in the 1860s, Irish immigrants William and Margaret Glass moved from Greenwich Village to a little frame farmhouse — more like a cottage — on the northwest corner of East 71st Street and Avenue A. The Glasses reportedly lived in this cottage and operated a small dairy on the site (according to the 1870 census, the Glasses had two sons, John and Charles, and William’s occupation was “milk business.”)

Around 1868-1869, the Glasses constructed a two-story brick dwelling in front of the cottage, thus hiding the tiny house away from street view. They continued to live in the cottage, which was accessible via a narrow path on 71st Street, until William passed away in the early 1880s.


This 1879 illustration of Second Avenue at 72nd Street — the “hill” of Lenox Hill — gives you a good idea of what the Upper East Side of New York City looked like about 140 years ago.

Here’s the mystery: Just when was the frame cottage built? In his book “New York–Oddly Enough,” published in 1938, Charles G. Shaw describes the “hidden house” as an 18th-century clapboard farmhouse with small, paned windows and an open, outside staircase connecting two floors.

News reports from the 1960s also suggest that the house was at least 200 years old, which means it was built in the 1760s, when wealthy privateer David Provost owned the Louvre Farm. But for some reason, the tiny house does not appear on any maps until 1891.

Perhaps the cottage was a small outbuilding on the Provost farm and simply not labeled on any map? Or could it have been moved from another location before the Glass family arrived in the 1860s?


In this 1855 map of Subdivision No. 4 of the Louvre Farm, no construction appears to have taken place yet, and no building lots have been created along Avenue A between 71st and 72nd Street. There’s no sign of a tiny frame house or any other structure.


In 1868, when this map was drawn, the building lots have been created and there appear to be quite a few buildings on Subdivision No. 4, including what is probably the Glass family’s new two-story brick house. Still, I don’t see a tiny frame house. 


The little frame house finally shows up in 1891 (see the little yellow square just above the “V” in “Avenue.”)  The two-story brick building constructed around 1868 is in front, and there was a small cobble court between the two buildings. A narrow path on 71st St. provided access. 

Following William’s passing, Margaret Glass moved into the two-story brick building with her two sons.  She apparently rented part of this building along with the tiny cottage: The 1890 census records three families at the address, including Margaret and her sons.

Cobble Court: 1930s-1940s

In 1928, when Avenue A north of 59th Street was renamed York Avenue, the Glass family’s brick building was designated 1335 York Avenue. I assume the cottage in back shared the same address.

During the Great Depression, the Glass family rented a portion of 1335 York Avenue for use as a tea room called Cobble Court (named for the cobblestone court that separated the brick building from the cottage). The tea room was run by Alta E. Dines and other members of the Cobble Court committee — mostly trained nurses and doctors’ wives who volunteered their time to help nurses who were out of work and in need of assistance.

In addition to the tea room, where, according to the New York Sun, “the chicken salad was marvelous,” Cobble Court had a gift shop and library (possibly in the cottage) as well as a mending service and a theater ticket service for the out-of-work nurses.


In this 1935 photo, 1335 York Avenue is the little two-story brick building to the left of the  Redemptionist Fathers of New York Church. The cottage was behind this building, hidden between the five- and six-story tenements. Museum of the City of New York 

In the 1940s, the Glass’s granddaughter — also named Margaret Glass — occupied the second floor of 1335 York Avenue with her husband, Owen Healy, and their two daughters, Margaret (Margaret “Peggy” Peters) and Charlotte (Charlotte Whalen).  On the first floor, the family operated a restaurant called Healy’s Dining Room.

It was during this time that Margaret Wise Brown rented the back cottage as a writing studio.

In Part III, I’ll tell you about Margaret’s final years in the cottage, and show you some pictures of what this little house looks like today (no, it’s not on East 71st Street anymore, but it’s still standing, and it’s still somebody’s cherished home.)


Another view of 1335 York Avenue (behind the bus) in 1935. Museum of the City of New York 


Crispin’s Crispian was the pet Kerry blue terrier of children’s book author Margaret Wise Brown, and the inspiration for her last book, Mister Dog, which she wrote in her tiny studio in the Lenox Hill section of New York City sometime around 1945. 

In February 1966, the demolition of several old apartment buildings and a church on York Avenue between East 71st Street and East 72nd Street revealed a very tiny frame house — believed to be an 18th-century farmhouse — that had been hidden from public view for about 75 years.

It was in this little house that Margaret Wise Brown, author of such children’s classics as Goodnight Moon and The Runaway Bunny, wrote what turned out to be her very last book.

Inspired by her pet terrier, Crispin’s Crispian, Mister Dog: The Dog Who Belonged to Himself is about a conservative dog who goes looking for a friend. The book was illustrated by Garth Williams (of the Little House books and Charlotte’s Web fame), who no doubt used the little house on York Avenue as the model for Margaret’s fictional dog (as you’ll see later in this old New York story).


From Margaret Wise Brown’s Mister Dog: The Dog Who Belonged to Himself

Much has been written about the Brooklyn-born Margaret Wise Brown and her career, so I’m going to jump right to the history of this little house, where she spent just a brief time during her incredible career as one of America’s most favorite authors of children’s picture books.

Part I: The Old Louvre Farm

“It was the last fastness of the forest primeval that once covered the rocky shores of the East River, and its wildness was almost savage.”–Early account of the area known as Lenox Hill


In Part I, we go way back in time to when the area we know today as Lenox Hill on the Upper East Side of Manhattan was a dense and spooky forest situated on the bluffs overlooking the East River and located far, far away from the city proper.


It was here in a clearing that one could find a farm of about 90 acres that extended from the Old Boston Post Road (near today’s Third Avenue) to the East River between present-day 66th Street and 75th Street.


Our story of Crispin’s Crispian and the little frame house that he shared with Margaret Wise Brown takes place on the west side of Avenue A (today’s York Avenue) between 71st Street and 72nd Street, also known as Lot 4 of the Louvre Farm subdivision of 1855.


On this 1868 map of the old Louvre Farm, most of the lots are still vacant. There are a few buildings near the East River, including a large barn, ice house, several dwellings, and the old David Provost mansion at the foot of present-day 69th Street. There are also 2 swimming “pools” along the river.  Click here to explore this map from the Museum of the City of New York digital collections.


We start on October 9, 1677, when Sir Edmund Andros, the governor of the Province of New York, granted about 60 acres to John Bassett and 30 acres to Cornelius Mattyson. Over the next 100 years, the 60-acre plot was conveyed from Bassett to William Green, to William Hallett, and to George Hallett. The 30-acre plot was conveyed to Johannes Peterson and then to George Hallet.

In 1727, Hallett conveyed the entire 90-acre farm to Abraham Lameter, who in turn sold the land to David Provost on September 11, 1742.

Provost, a New York City merchant and privateer, was extremely wealthy and thus known as Ready-Money Provost (there were rumors that he hid his money in a cave on the farm near the East River). He built a large country mansion near the river, smack in the middle of what would become East 69th Street. He called his estate the Louvre Farm.


Following his death at the age of 90 in 1781, David Provost was buried in a tomb built into a high hill at the East River and today’s East 71st Street. His first wife, Johanna Rynders, was buried here many years earlier (1749) following her death at the age of 43. 

On December 6, 1777, David Provost gifted the 90-acre farm to his former housekeeper and second wife, Sarah Bolton Loftus. Ten years later, in 1787, Sarah conveyed the property to James Provost, David’s grandson. James in turn conveyed equal parcels of the property to his seven siblings (keeping one parcel for himself).

Jones’ Woods

Sometime around 1800, a successful innkeeper and merchant by the name of John Jones purchased the land from the Provost siblings in order to have a country seat near New York. (The Provost house became his country seat.) After his death in 1806, the farm was divided once again into lots among his children: Sarah Schermerhorn (wife of Peter Schermerhorn), James I. Jones, John Jones, Isaac Colford Jones, Frances M. Pendelton, and William H. Jones.

In time, the old Louvre Farm became known as Jones’ Woods.


The Provost tomb was still standing in 1875 when this illustration was made, although by that time it was called the Smuggler’s Tomb. It had also been broken into and vandalized over the years — an 1857 news article reported that several human bones were scattered about. Needless to say, it was the source of many ghost stories in the 1800s. New York Public Library digital collections

In 1853, following a long debate, an act was passed in favor of creating Central Park by a vote of 12 to 10. The act authorized the purchase of the land (eminent domain) lying between 3rd Avenue and the East River from 66th Street to 75th Street.

Much opposition arose, especially because the land was inaccessible and bounded on one side by the swift current of a deep stream (some nearby property owners were in favor of the park, as they believed it would raise their property values).  In the end, the Jones’ heirs refused to sell the land.


The first uptown site that was considered for a “great park” was Jones’ Wood.  The deal fell through in 1854 and the rest, as they say, is history. 

The act was repealed on March 6, 1854. A year later, the Jones’ siblings leased a small portion of their land (400 lots between 66th and 69th streets) for use as a public picnic ground. The northern portion, from 69th to 75th Street, was advertised for residential development.

Jones’ Wood, as the picnic grounds were called, has been called “America’s first amusement park.” It featured attractions such as billiards, bowling, a shooting gallery, donkey rides, dancing, concerts, hobby horses, and much more. (During the Civil War, the land was used extensively by the military.) There was a large coliseum near Avenue A between 68th and 70th streets, a shooting range on 70th Street, and a platform for outdoor dancing also near 70th Street.

The old Provost mansion became the Jones’ Wood Hotel under the proprietorship of Valentine Mager (pronounced Major), who leased the land from 1858 to 1860.
joneswoodhotelOver 15,000 Irish Americans gathered in Jones’ Wood in 1856 to greet countryman James Stephen. The old Provost mansion at the foot of East 69th Street — later the Jones’ Wood Hotel — is in the distance. NYPL digital collections

caledonian_joneswood_hatchingcatThe New York Caledonian Club, a Scottish social club organized in 1856, held their second annual games at Jones’ Wood on September 23, 1858. (The first event took place at Elysian Fields in Hoboken, NJ). The club referred to the site as “a convenient and pleasantly situated park.” 

In 1857, the only public road that traversed through Jones’ Wood was Second Avenue. However, Avenue A was under contract at this time, and cherry trees were beginning to be felled for development (an old newspaper account noted that the sunshine could be seen for the first time). Several streets were opened, including 65th, 66th, 71st, and 74th streets.

joneswood1861lagententA number of tents were pitched in the woods near the river for use during the season, as this illustration from about 1861 depicts. NYPL digital collections

During the 1860s and 1870s, Jones’ Wood was the resort of working-class New Yorkers, who traveled by excursion steamers and the horsecars on Second and Third Avenue to enjoy beer, athletics, and other rowdy entertainments that were banned in Central Park.


This 1885 map shows John F. Schultheis’ Coliseum (built in 1874) and a new picnic ground called Washington Park. Development had begun along Avenue A, particularly between 70th and 72nd Street, but there’s no sign of the little house where Crispin’s Crispian lived yet…

In 1872, John F. Schultheis became the proprietor of Jones’ Wood Park. He erected his “Coliseum” about 1874 (it had seating for 14,000 spectators), and to the north, he established a second picnic ground called “Washington Park.” By this time, the old Provost mansion, aka the Jones’ Wood Hotel, although still occupied by Schultheis, was a dilapidated ruin.

On May 16, 1894, at about 4:30 a.m., a fire broke out in the kitchen of the Coliseum, near the northeast corner of the building, which was very close to the old Provost mansion and Schultheis’ horse stables. Although the fire was contained to the east side of Avenue A, it destroyed almost everything on about 11 acres of land. When the fire was out, the only things left standing were the kitchen chimney and a merry-go-round.


A scene from Jones’ Wood in 1872. Note the merry-go-round in the background (left), which was all that was left standing following the fire in 1894.

In Part II, we’ll return to 1868, which is when William Glass purchased a couple of lots for his dairy operation on Lot 4 of the old Louvre Farm.