The Dowager’s Diary – Week One Hundred and Thirty-Eight

October 18-25, 1917

“Emlen Roosevelt here about possible sale of house.” That was Kate Roosevelt’s diary entry for October 19, 1917 and it made perfect sense to me.  Just the other day she had commented, “Lady Boardingham here to see house at 302 Lexington Avenue for a girl’s club. They did not take it as the first proposal was to rent for a year with a guarantee of sale afterwards. She wanted to rent with a promise of sale.”

Emlen Roosevelt

Emlen Roosevelt was Kate’s late-husband, Hilborne Roosevelt’s cousin and handled all of the family’s financial affairs. During his cousin, Theodore Roosevelt’s term as President of the United States, Emlem served as his financial secretary. He was president of Roosevelt and Sons, the banking firm founded by his father, James Alfred Roosevelt and a director of the Chemical Bank of New York. It seemed that whenever Kate had a question about her financial future, the sale of stock or real estate she called on cousin Emlen’s wise advice.


Morgan Home 219 Madison Avenue

The house that Kate commented on was where her late-mother, Georgina Morton Shippen, had lived and where the spinster Shippen sisters, Ettie, Lop, Sophie and Caroline, often camped-out when they weren’t making themselves at home at their sister Kate’s. Kate Roosevelt lived right across the street, at 301 Lexington Avenue. According to a street map of this area known as Murray Hill in New York City, these two residences are no longer there, but they certainly were located in a swanky section of the city surrounded by the homes of millionaires and socialites. Just around the corner at Madison and 36th Street stood the J.P. Morgan mansion where Kate’s good friend, Florence Rhett, had been employed as companion to the banker’s three daughters, Louisa, Juliet, and Anne.

Morgan Home on Madison Avenue

In 1917 it was still a private home where J.P. Morgan’s widow, Frances Tracy Morgan, resided right next door to her late-husband’s famous library. J.P. Morgan died in 1913, but before his death he realized his life’s dream. He began collecting paintings, sculpture, tapestries, books, illuminated manuscripts, ancient artifacts and autographs when he was still a young and very wealthy young man and kept them in a locked treasure room in the basement of his home at 219 Madison Avenue until 1902 when he directed the architectural firm of McKim, Mead and White to build him a library, “a magnificent structure, a gem,” to house his ever-expanding collection.

Morgan Library

The designers did not disappoint. Adjacent to his private residence, the Italian Renaissance-style palazzo that contained masterpieces was a masterpiece on its own. The large and grand library had thirty-feet high walls, lined floor to ceiling with bookcases fashioned of bronze and inlaid Circassian walnut. Two staircases concealed behind bookcases at the corner of the room allow access to the balconies that run along rim of the room. A pair of casement windows incorporating fragments of stained glass provide the room with celestial illumination.The mantelpiece is carved in Istrian marble and above it hangs a rare tapestry made in Brussels in 1545.

Belle de Costa Green

The library gave Morgan the space to encourage his collections to grow and the splendor to showcase them. In 1905, with the able assistance of Belle de Costa Greene, a young Princeton University librarian, he was able to make some astounding additions. Barely twenty years-old when J.P. Morgan hired her, Ms. Greene, while accompanying him on buying trips to Europe, helped him build one of America’s greatest libraries. On an excursion to London in 1908, she swept-up a collection of priceless prints in private negotiations with the owner, Lord Amherst, the night before they were to be privately auctioned off.

Frances Tracy Morgan

J.P. Morgan’s widow, Frances Morgan, lived in the brownstone mansion on the corner of Madison and 36th Street until her death in 1924 (It was razed in 1928 to make room for the library annex). The home was originally part of a complex of three residences built in 1852 for the Phelps-Dodge-Stokes Families, copper-mining millionaires. In 1881, J.P. Morgan purchased the southern-most brownstone at 219 Madison Avenue. In 1903 he purchased the central brownstone and razed it to make a garden.

The Morgan House

Rolling right down the block, in 1904, the millionaire purchased the northern-most brownstone at 231 Madison on the corner of 37th Street for his son, Jack Morgan. Containing forty-five rooms and twelve bathrooms, Jack Morgan lived there until he died in 1943.  That same year, his estate sold the mansion to the Lutheran Church for use as its American headquarters where they retained the integrity of the building both inside and out. In 1988 the Morgan Library purchased what was called “The Morgan House.” It is a rare example of a free-standing brownstone and has been designated a New York City Landmark.

Kate Roosevelt did not list the asking price for her mother’s home at 302 Lexington Avenue in her diary entry, but considering the neighborhood, I could only guess that it was worth a pretty penny.

Sharon Hazard’s Dowager’s Diary appears on Thursday.

Photo One:
The Morgan Library
Library of Congress

Photo Two:
Emlen Roosevelt
wiki

Photo Three:
Morgan Home 219 Madison Avenue
Library of Congress

Photo Four:
Morgan Home on Madison Avenue
Library of Congress

Photo Five:
Morgan Library
Library of Congress

Photo Six:
Belle de Costa Green
Paul Cesar Helleu Paster, ca. 1913
wiki

Photo Seven:
Frances Tracy Morgan
Morgan Library and Museum
public domain

Photo Eight:
The Morgan House, home of Jack Morgan, 231 Madison Avenue
Morgan Library and Museum