The other day, I was scouting on Third Avenue when I noticed something on East 29th Street…
…Was that a 19th-century farmhouse floating midway down the block??
Perched one flight up and perpendicular to the street, there are only a handful of wooden houses left in Manhattan, and this has to be the most unusual one I’ve ever seen:
Located at 203 East 29th Street, the “Rose Hill Historic House” dates back as far as…OK, this one’s a little tricky.
In 2006, Christopher Gray with the NY Times did a tremendous amount of research trying to dig up the age of the house. In a nutshell, one John Watts bought a land parcel in 1747 spanning ten blocks, from East 21st Street to 31st Street, and called his new farm Rose Hill.
The land was ultimately divided up into lots and sold. Below is a farm map from 1815 – I believe Cath Tower marks the lot that 203 East 29th Street was built on (note the many streets that would soon disappear with the encroaching grid system):
But when was the house built? Because of the lot’s unusual size (50 feet wide by 24 feet deep), the NY Times suggests it may have been laid out specifically for the relocation of a house from elsewhere on the Rose Hill estate (perhaps to remove it from the path of the new streets being constructed). If true, this would mean it dates to the late 1700’s.
An 1830 tax assessment records a “building” on the property and a later assessment in 1840 notes a “house,” but neither provide a description. An 1860 inventory describes a house with three stories, but 203 has four – so was the house later raised up? Or was the shortened fourth story left off for tax reasons? The house is finally verified with four stories in an 1880 tax inventory.
Below is a picture of the house taken in 1915. By then, it was a junk shop, with apartments above. Note the many fire escapes:
The same angle today:
This picture was taken about 30 years later on July 23, 1934. The Junk Store is still in business…
In 1979, the then-boarded up house was purchased by a couple who restored the exterior while sadly gutting the interior. Today, the upper floors are rented out as a 3-bedroom apartment – StreetEasy has a July listing for $6,000, with a look inside:
The door to the courtyard:
I saw this man taking a break from his crutches on the first floor stoop:
In the 1915 photograph, a man stands on the same stoop, perhaps hoping for customers:
I love the contrast between a 19th century clapboard house and the typical brick New York apartment building:
Amazingly, as far as I can tell, the house still has not been designated a landmark.
Wooden homes are scarce in Manhattan due to a mid-19th century law banning their construction, enacted in an attempt to reduce fires. I thought I’d seen them all, but it’s nice to know there’s still a chance of stumbling on one more – floating or otherwise.
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