Tag Archives: Manhattan

A Tale of Three Historic Houses and a Kidnapping

Today was to have been Grandma Vera’s day to go to New York City. However, my brother distracted me with an Internet search for historic houses, and the results are fascinating enough to share.

1909 Diner in New York City

Great-Uncle Bill Stout and wife Jean at dinner party with friends, Benedicts and Yarnells at the Browns in NYC 1909

In a discussion of this Gilded Age dinner party featuring my great uncle William Morgan Stout (1873-1944) last week,  This picture of food sent me spiraling into memory. I mentioned three addresses of homes in New York connected to his life. What did I know about “Uncle Bill?” Not much, it turns out. I could deduce from his birth year that he probably finished college and went to New York for law school about 1893.  I know he was there in 1899 when Grandmother visited. And as far as I know, he died in NYC in 1944. So I had fifty years to fill in.

The first address is scribbled in family records as  Bill Stout’s address, 537 W. 149th Street, New York City, N.Y.

William Stout’s wife, Jean, identified the picture of the Stout’s dining with friends as being in the apartment of the Brown’s, 545 W. 138 Street.

A New York City Directory for the 1907’s lists Stout, Wm Morgan at 461 W. 155th St.

My brother, one of the namesakes of the many Williams in the family, e-mailed me that he had found a picture of Uncle Bill’s historic house on line.  He did not say which of the houses.That sent me scurrying to Google to see what I could find.

545 West 138th Street (Friend’s apt.,1909)

historic houses Alexander Hamilton hsitoric house

Not Uncle Bill’s house–Alexander Hamilton home in NYC

This address appears to have been very close to the intersection with Broadway, perhaps on the corner, on the west side of Manhattan island. 138th is 28 blocks north of the northern edge of Central Park.This part of Harlem a is called Hamilton Heights because Alexander Hamilton once lived in a woodsy estate there.  In 1909 it would have been a prestigious address because of the proximity to Broadway and the historic significance. (Today there are nearly 200 properties designated historic in the historic area between 140th and 145th.)

In the 1920’s the high-rent district Sugar Hill, farther north than 138th Street was the thriving home of the Harlem Renaissance.

Street Easy, a real estate site, describes the neighborhood today

… a delightful suburbia with rows of eclectic residences. The lively college campus of CCNY, the expansion of Columbia University and the Riverbank State Park bring Hamilton Heights to life. From the rusticity of Gothic buildings, to the smart Romanesque arches, to intricate terracotta details, there is a fusion of many architectural styles here. The serenity at the sloping parks and the cacophony in the street stalls incites one to spend the evening out exploring…. Once home to Alexander Hamilton, the neighborhood gets some fame because of its historical lure too.

This  YouTube film visits today’s Hamilton Heights, while plugging their short-term apartment rentals.

But I am no closer to seeing what the building looked like where Bill and Jean Stout dined with the Brown’s in 1909.

461 W. 155th Street (circa 1907)

In 1907, Bill Stout lived in this building, which is in Washington Heights, north of Hamilton Heights, near historic Ft. Washington in the borough of Manhattan. According to a real estate blurb in the New York Times archives, the building was sold that same year. The only description from that article is “5-story brick and brownstone apartment house” on a lot 25 x 99.10–so not a very large building.

The only other reference I could find to this street today,, was in a Q and A about real estate.  Someone asks, “How is 155th between Amsterdam and Broadway? …not as nice as Hamilton Heights below it. The answer is that 143-154th and 156-163rd are worse because 155th has a cemetery (i.e. open space) and school and elderly housing.

I once visited the Cloisters–a medieval museum in that neighborhood, little dreaming I was close to my Great Uncle’s former home.

So coming up empty again.

Historic house at 537 W. 149th Street, NYC

537 W. 149th Street, NYC

Success at 537 West 149th Street (circa 1928)

However, thanks to my brother’s sleuthing, we finally have something tangible with the address the family had for Uncle Bill. [After I wrote this article, I discovered that the address was on the back of a photograph of his mother taken about 1928.]

Another Harlem neighborhood, this one is located in the famous Sugar Hill area, so apparently William Stout lived there around the time of the Harlem Renaissance, which raises more questions. Would he have become a jazz afficiando? How interesting that he apparently did not joint the white flight from the area as blacks moved in.

Do you want to move into Uncle Bill’s building? You’re in luck. Several apartments are for sale in what is now a co-op building.  Although the real estate companies  list the construction date as 1910, another source says 1895, which makes more sense to me. That other source? The F.B.I.

Yes, this search got really interesting when I found a Google Book, F.B.I. Files on the Lindbergh Baby Kidnapping, ed. by Thomas Fensch (2001) While the  kidnapping of aviation hero Charles Lindbergh’s child in 1932 is a fascinating crime case that held the country riveted, I was more interested in a sidelight of the investigation.The F.B.I. questioned just about everybody in the 537 building, listed all the tenants “past and present” and helpfully described the building for me.  Since this investigation took place in mid-1930,I have no idea if William Stout still lived there, but nevertheless…

“The Plymouth Apartments…in a fairly respectable apartment and boarding house district,” says the investigative report.

According to the FBI report, it was built in 1895 and tenanted by middle class citizens of many nationalities. They give the owner’s name, and details about the managers.

Their thorough investigation and focus on 537 W. 149th stemmed from the act that a man used the name J. J. Faulkner and gave the 149th Street address when he cashed some of the gold certificates paid in ransom money.  Although there were Faulkners in the building, the lengthy sleuthing in the end led nowhere–except to get me more information about Uncle Bill’s home.

(See more pictures of modern New York City at my Travel Photo Thursday post at A Traveler’s Library.)

Ancestor Tracking: Great-Uncle Willie, Bill or Will Stout

William Stout

Ancestor Great Uncle William Morgan Stout (1938) 65 years old, according to family notes.

William Morgan Stout 1873-1944

Since I have talked quite a bit about Vera Stout Anderson, I’ll start my ancestor tracking with her older brother, William Morgan Stout (1873-1944), known as Bill Stout or Will Stout.

My great-uncle carried the name of his father Doctor William Stout and his maternal grandfather, Jessie Morgan. One of these days I’ll tell you why it has always seemed very odd to me that Uncle Bill’s mother decided to give him the name Morgan.

 

 

The Gay Nineties in Manhattan

My favorite of all my ancestor pictures is this one from 1909 of Uncle Bill Stout and his wife Jean at a dinner party.

1909 Diner in New York City

Great-Uncle Bill Stout and wife Jean at dinner party with friends.

“”””‘”Taken Jan 21-09 about 10:30 p.m. In dining Room of the Brown’s apartment 545 W 138 St.”  These notes were made on the back by Jean, bless her heart. She introduces the people from right to left as Brown, Yarnell, Bill, Benedict, Brown, Yarnell, Jean and Benedict.

So Jean is the pretty lady with her chin in her hand, and Bill is the guy with the heavy black mustache. I have great fun trying to figure out what they had for dinner, served up in all those lovely china and crystal dishes. Isn’t that a sherry decanter I see? And they are having after dinner coffee.Looks like someone on this end of the table didn’t eat his/her vegetables. What’s the guy on the right have in his hand? Is that a remote switch for the camera, or more likely a very fat cigar?

Uncle Bill Stout was born in Killbuck, Ohio, but lived in New York. Since he is the only member of the family who wound up in the big city, it is interesting to see how and why that happened.

Bill Stout at School

Ancestor William Stout

William Stout, a college swell (circa 1892)

Here he is as a college student, at 18 years old at Mt. Union College in Alliance, Ohio. (And I’m NOT the one who drew a circle around his picture!) I’m sure that the family had high hopes for their only son, since papa was the town doctor and came from a family loaded with ambitious men. They included his uncle Frank Stout, an attorney in Omaha.

However, Bill Stout, it seems, liked to party. His father, a strict church goer and teetotaler, finally had enough and turned his back on Bill.

There is a family legend that a woman living in a nearby town, who was a bit of a Bohemian–an artist– took a fancy to the much younger man and decided to finance his law school education in New York. So off went Bill to law school.

Note:  UPDATE May 2017.  I have learned that Will apparently didn’t spend much time at Mt. Union, but instead in October 1895, he enrolled for four years of college at St. Lawrence University in the town of Canton in upstate New York.  In his freshman year (he was already twenty-two years old) he was selected as captain of the baseball team. In May 1899, he graduated with a Bachelor’s Degree in the College of Letters and Science.

Although he was listed with his parents in the 1900 Census in Killbuck, Ohio, under occupation, the entry was “at school.”  He must have enrolled in law school after graduating from St. Lawrence College because he graduated in 1900 from New York Law School. [UPDATE Aug 2018: Having found the marriage license for Will and Jennie “Jean” McClaren Rogers, widow, I know that he married right after he graduated in June 1900.]

William Stout college days

Wm Morgan Stout in back of carriage riding in Central Park perhaps

New York Law School

His obituary says he graduated in 1891, which cannot be correct. But he definitely was part of an exciting academic rebellion. Given the other things I have learned about Bill Stout, that would not surprise me in the least.

Since New York Law School was officially founded in June 1891, it is possible that Bill Stout started school at Columbia College School of Law and later joined the school formed by professors who rebelled against controls imposed by the board of Columbia.  They founded the new New York Law School which quickly became (and remains) one of the outstanding law schools in the nation. My mother always said that Bill Stout attended Columbia. Either she was confusing the New York Law School with Columbia, or he started at one school and finished at another. Updated May 2017, and May 2018.

Bill Stout Makes a Life in New York

At some point around the time he was in law school, he met and married his wife Jean. UPDATE May 2018: They married in Oswegatchie, a town in the same county as St. Lawrence college on June 29, 1900.   The marriage record says that he was 20 and married, but  he would have been about to turn 27 and I do not believe he was married. Many details on the marriage record are incorrect spelling and wrong dates. Jean’s name is given as Jean Rogers (her previous husband’s name, and her father’s name is given as Mcfaren. That is another mistake. The 1870 and 1900 census confirms her name was McClaren.  Her age is incorrect, but she seemed to have a flexible view as to how old she was.  It turns out that she was actually 30 years and 4 months old when she married Bill Stout.

In 1900, the New York Census for Oswegatchie was taken on June 14, just two weeks before the marriage to Bill, so on the Census, she is a widow, living with her parents.

Jean had been married before and had one daughter, according to my mother’s oral history, and that was true. Her daughter was born in October 1893. Uncle Bill Stout adopted the daughter, who mother remembered was named Margaret and owned an antique store as an adult. I have no idea if she took the name Stout, but it would be interesting to find out more about that relationship.

UPDATE: May 2017 Bill never returned to Ohio to live. About 1906, he was hired by the Interboro Railroad (streetcar line) and according to his obituary he worked there for 34 years, until he retired in 1940.

The Stout family reconciled very quickly. Or at least his mother visited him in New York and I have a picture of her on a double-decker bus.  Not only that, but his mother and father sent my grandmother Vera to live with Bill in New York for a short time — and that’s another story.

Bill and Jean were big travelers, my mother said, and they would go through Killbuck, Ohio and visit from time to time, but if I ever met them, I was too young to remember. Since he and Jean had no children of their own, and the adopted daughter did not stay in touch with our family, I know very little about them, but from the sparkle in his eyes in his photographs, and the stories about his independent nature, I think I would have liked him very much.

I have not made a great effort to track William Morgan Stout’s life, but I do have a note in family archives that his address was 537 W. 149th Street in New York. (I don’t know at what time period, but suspect it may be when my grandmother stayed with him in 1899-1900.[NOTE: Details, details. I have discovered the source for that address was the back of a photo of his mother taken in the late 1920’s. Looks like the photographers note to send him a copy, so he lived on 149th Street in the 1920’s.]) I did a cursory search for on-line city directories and found W. Morgan Stout, lawyer, listed at 21 Park (that would be office) and in the same entry: home 461 W. 155th Street in 1907. I did find some more information and a picture. Read about it in 3 Historic Houses and a Kidnapping. In 1931 the Manhattan City Directory shows them living at 516 West 135th Street.

Retirement

UPDATE: May 12, 2017  When Will retired in 1938, he and Jean moved from Manhattan to Farmingdale, New Jersey.  Since the Stout family’s first settlements were in New Jersey, there are still many, many Stout families there, and no doubt Will was in touch with some of his Stout relatives.  I’m happy that he had family around, but frustrated because I now have to wade through numerous William Stouts in order to find my great-uncle!

For a long time, I was frustrated that I could find no record of his death in New York or New Jersey. However, I finally discovered an obituary–in Palm Beach, Florida.  After three years in New Jersey, Will and Jean had moved to Palm Beach, a fashionable retreat for Easterners, and he died there in March 1944.  I also learned that he had been cremated, which explains the lack of tombstone.  I have yet to find a will (which I believe a lawyer would have had) or a death certificate. But I’m working on it.  The obituary says that his ashes were returned to Farmingdale. However, Jean, his wife, disappears from view, just as she is mostly invisible before their marriage. 

Can you help with my ancestor tracking? I would love to know more about Jean and her daughter.

Since I don’t have first names for any of those people in the dinner picture, I’m hoping someone will see the picture and recognize someone. There’s a good chance that at least one of those men is a lawyer.

Do you have any ancestors who might have been acquainted with lawyer William Morgan Stout or the people he dined with in New York City, 1909?

Notes on Research (Added May 2017)

Oral History from Harriette Anderson Kaser, Bill Stout’s neice, from 1990’s and early 2000’s.

Family photographs in the author’s possession.

U. S. Federal Census, 1880, Killbuck, Holmes, Ohio; 1900, Killbuck, Holmes, Ohio; 1910, Manhattan, Ward 12, New York, New York; 1920, Manhattan, Assembly Dist. 22, New York, New York; 1930, Manhattan, Kings, New York, New York; 1940, Farmingdale, Monmouth, New Jersey

New York State Census, 1905 Manhattan, New York, New York ; 1915, New York, New York, New York

Florida Death Index 1877-1998, Ancestry.com, William M. Stout, 1944, Palm Beach

Ohio Births and Christenings Index, 1774-1973, Ancestry.com,  Willie M. Stout

U.S., Social Security Applications and Claims Index, 1936-2007,
William Morgan Stout, SSN 063098893 Life Claim, 17 Aug. 1938.

U.S., World War I Draft Registration Cards, 1917-1918,  William Morgan Stout, Sep 1918, : New York; Registration County: New York; Roll: 1786805; Draft Board: 146

The Post Standard, Syracuse, New York, “Will Graduate from College of Arts and Science”, May 21, 1899. Source: fultonhistory.com, Repository: New York Public Library.

The St. Lawrence Plain Dealer, “St. Lawrence College Entrance Class”, 2 Oct. 1899, Source: fultonhistory.com. Repository: New York Public Library

Unknown Newspaper, Obituary with dateline “Killbuck, March 31”. Possession of Paul William Kaser.