|A pencil sketch was made of the mansion by Charles W. Staniford, Chief Engineer of the Dock Department -- illustration from "The New York of Yesteryear" (copyright expired).|
Known originally as the Humphrey Jones Homestead, its name understated its grandeur. Sitting on 109 acres of grounds, the house was approached by a long, elevated drive called the Cherry Lane. The drive branched off of the Bloomingdale Road (later Broadway) approximately where 101st Street is today.
Stone walls raised Cherry Lane above the ground, creating a dramatic approach to the mansion. It was lined with fruit trees which provided a beautiful setting in the Spring when they flowered, and “produced an abundant crop” later in the summer.
Humphrey’s home was just north of the Bloomingdale Village. The “mansion house,” as it was called, was built of stone, with a two-story portico supported by massive columns. The house sat on a raised platform, accessed by a broad set of stone steps. It looked out onto the river, catching the cool breezes in summer. The rear elevation which faced towards the Bloomingdale Road was a mirror-image of the front. Inside were thirty rooms.
A smaller house, known as “the cottage,” sat not far from the main house along with other outbuildings.
Humphrey Jones lived here throughout the Revolution. Fearful for his property, apparently, he wondered in a letter at one point why the army needed to push the enemy up the Bloomingdale Road. In 1786 the entire property was sold to John Jones, possibly a relative, for 2,300 pounds.
Robert T. Kemble paid $25,000 for the property in 1798 and 13 years later William Rogers bought it for $29,000.
The Rogers would have entertained their neighbors at dinners and dances. Estates relatively nearby were owned by John Jacob Astor, William Hayward, James De Peyster, Nicholas De Peyster, James Stryker, Thomas Buckley and Gordon S. Mumford. The parlors and dining rooms of the Bloomingdale area were essentially closed to outsiders and protocol was rigidly followed.
William Rogers died in 1818, leaving the mansion to his wife, Ann, in his will. By common usage it became known for years as the “Ann Rogers House.”
When Mrs. Rogers died in 1833, her executors, William Heywood and Francis B. Cutting, had the estate surveyed and divided into building plots. On November 1, 1835 it was sold at auction for a total cost of $716,000.
At the sale was “Frederick Weber, Gentleman,” who bid $27,520 for 64 lots. Weber’s sizable slice of the land included the “Mansion House,” and “other buildings on land bounded northwesterly by the Hudson River, northeasterly by 102d Street, as laid out by the Commissioners of Streets and Roads, southeasterly by the Eleventh Avenue, as so laid out, and southwesterly by 101st Street.”
Weber lived in the mansion until 1843, when he rented the entire property to Killaen H. van Rensselaer. The van Rensselaers and the Webers were close friends, and in September of that year van Rensselaer and his wife, Matilda, “stood sponsors at the baptism of two of Weber’s children,” as recorded by historian Hopper Striker Mott in 1908.
Killaen van Rensselaer converted the mansion to a “driving resort,” called the “Abbey Hotel.” The inn was highly successful, but only two years later Abram W. Jackson took over the lease at $900 a year for a term of five years. Within a year both parties cancelled the lease and Weber took over operation of the hotel.
The lush grounds were an attraction not only for weary travelers along the Bloomingdale Road. In 1844 the Second Company of the Seventh Regiment of New York went on an excursion to the hotel for target practice.
The reputation of the Abbey Hotel is obvious in a passage from The Gazette of the Union written in 1849. “They were near the road that leads to the ‘Abbey Hotel.’ (Every one knows where the ‘Abbey’ is; or , if they do not, they ought to; and, that being the case, it is not our intention to enlighten such willful ignorance.)”
Weber and his wife, the former Caroline C. Fawsitt, (“a woman very much younger than himself,” according to Mott), moved into the main house with their English housekeeper, Mrs. Hayes, and a manservant who tended to the horses and drove Weber to the city. Two of the Weber children, Frederick and Matilda, were born in the house.When Edward Jones signed the lease on the hotel, the Webers moved into the cottage on the grounds, and there two other children were born. Jones, however, did not have the friendly disposition to be an inn-keeper. Hopper Mott, with his unrivaled turn of a phrase, noted that “Jones is said to have been altogether too straight-laced a man for a successful boniface and was dispossessed.”
In relatively rapid succession, the hotel saw new proprietors: Captain Tilton, an officer on boat from Albany; the Ling and Jewell, “sporting men.”
On July 21, 1854 two pugilists, Tom Hyer and John Morrissey “became hot-blooded and considerably excited,” according to The New York Times. The boxers had a difference of opinion regarding stake money on a fight and when they came face-to-face in Mr. Platt’s Saloon, it was decided they would duel at the Abbey Hotel.
The duel was to take place at 5:30 the following morning. Word spread throughout the city and before daybreak the Bloomingdale Road was lined with “some fifteen coaches, filled with shoulder-hitters” headed for the hotel.
With seeming disappointment, The Times reported that “the contestants finally came face to face, but all that was done amounted to nothing more than a tongue-lashing on both sides…No blows whatever were exchanged, but we hear that they both used very high words, and showed revolvers. How the affair will end, time only will tell.”The end came for the Abbey Hotel in 1859. Unlike so many of the grand country estates which would be demolished for their land value, the hotel was struck by lightning and burned to the ground. On December 20 the property was sold at auction for building sites.
A year later, in an attempt, perhaps, at nostalgic reminiscing, Valentine’s Manual of 1860 published a print of the Abbey Hotel “in 1847.” The problem was that the artist got it all wrong.
|The Valentine's Manual of 1860 (reproduced here in 1864) got it all wrong -- print NYPL Collection|
Surviving members of the Weber family “are satisfied that the place never looked like the representation in the Manual,” said Hopper Striker Mott. Ironically, the few sketches and watercolors that were executed were not well-done, or were damaged or lost.
The result is that the Valentine depiction of the Abbey Hotel, while painfully erroneous, is the sole portrayal of the grand house most people will ever see--making it even more lost.