John Tuohy's MY WRITERS SITE: The mysterious murder of Mary Pinchot Meyer: The mysterious murder of Mary Pinchot Meyer By John William Tuohy She was as beautiful as she was gifted and talented. An...
The Phelps/Stoles/Dodge Fortune
John William Tuohy
Anson Green Phelps
Anson Green Phelps was born in Simsbury, Connecticut on March, 24 1781, descended from the early Colonial Governors Thomas Dudley, John Haynes and George Wyllys and from Woodbridge, Lamb, Wolcott, Drake, and Griswold families.
Phelps's, mother died when he was 12 years old, (His father died when he was an infant) and he was more or less raised by an older brother Thomas Woodbridge Phelps. Eventually the three Phelps brothers, William, Thomas and Anson, and their cousin Job Phelps, left Simsbury.
William, Thomas and Job Phelps settled out west while Anson G. Phelps settled in Hartford. There he opened a highly successful manufacturing operation producing saddles and shipping them to the American South and to Europe. He was phenomenally successful and eventually built an enormous brick building on North Main Street, known as Phelps Block.
In 1812 Anson Phelps moved to New York City and began doing business with Elisha Peck under the firm name of Phelps, Peck & Co. in the United States. The company, which was mostly owned and operated by Peck, dealt in metal imports from England including tin, tin plate, iron, and brass; and exported cotton from the South to the textile mills in England.
Peck was based in Liverpool, England, (Eventually Phelps sons-in-laws and partners William E. Dodge and Daniel James ran operations Liverpool, England. His third son-in-law, James Boulter Stokes, became a partner some years later.)
In 1834 Phelps formed Phelps, Dodge & Co. The company would supply it English customers with cotton, while shipping tin, tin plate, iron, and copper, to the US from English wholesales and resell material to the government and trade markets.
Phelps steered his firm through a seven-year economic panic that began during 1837 and when it ended, followed by 14 years of national prosperity, he was ready. In 1845, Phelps and partners started the Ansonia Brass and Battery Company, producing and selling kettles, lamps, rivets, buttons, and other metal items to the consumer. New markets sprang up as the railroads opened the western United States. By 1849 the company was capitalized at almost $1 million, and its profits were almost 30 percent.
When Phelps-Dodge was formed, Phelps' business interests included banking, property, mining, ironworks, shipping, railroads and timber. After the split with Peck, some of these interests were divided between the two men. Others remained in joint partnership, including the New York property portfolio and shipping. Peck, who took over the rolling mill at Haverstraw, would continue to purchase raw materials from Phelps.
In 1844 Anson Green Phelps purchased a large parcel of land in what was then the Birmingham section of Derby and later became Ansonia. He built a dam across the Naugatuck, a canal and had water reservoirs created and started his copper rolling mill which he called the Ansonia Brass and Battery Company ("battery" being the term then in use for hammering sheets of metal into kettles).
He later added a brass mill and a brass wire mill, and in 1869 added the manufacture of clocks to the company's business which, in1878, spun off to become the Ansonia Clock Company which was later moved to Brooklyn, New York. Ansonia clock was enormously successful and produced thousands of clocks in a large number of styles.
Clocks were a logic investment for Phelps. By 1838, clocks brass movements had replaced wooden and cast iron movements due to the volumes of supply of rolled brass and Phelps had a lot of brass.
In 1835 Phelps moved down to New York and bought a house built in 1810 by Henry A. Coster, a Dutch merchant who was a director of the Manhattan Bank and the Merchants' Bank. The house was situated on what is now First Avenue, between Thirtieth and Thirty-first streets and was filled with rare fruit, plants, trees, and it was said to have been one of the finest private gardens in America. Phelps being Phelps, bought up the adjoining properties, so that the land eventually extended from Third Avenue to the East River, and from Twenty-ninth to half-way between Thirty-third and Thirty-fourth streets.
Phelps and his wife Olivia Egleston of Middletown Connecticut, would have eight children;
Elizabeth Woodbridge Phelps, born in Hartford, Connecticut, August 22 1807; died June 19 1847; married in New York City March 24 1829 Daniel James.
Melissa Phelps, born in Hartford March 3 1809; died in New York City 15 March 3 1903, married 24 June 1828 William Earle Dodge.
Caroline Phelps, born in Hartford November 1812; died in New York City March 1881, married in New York City 12 April 1837 James Boulter Stokes.
Harriet Phelps, born in Hartford or New York City September 1815; died in New York City April 1892, married May 1836 Charles F. Pond.
Anson Greene Phelps Jr.., born in New York City October 1818; died in New York City May 1858, married 1845 Jane Gibson.
Olivia Egleston Phelps, born in New York City 5 January 1821; died at The Dakota, New York City, March 1894, married April 1847 Benjamin Bakewell Atterbury.
Caroline Olivia Phelps, born in Hartford 5 January 1811; died young, probably before November 30 1812, when another daughter was named Caroline.
Lydia Ann Phelps, born in New York City March 5 1823; interred in the Phelps vault in New York Marble Cemetery July 13 1831.
Son-in-law William Earle Dodge Sr. (September 4, 1805 – February 9, 1883) was born in Hartford, Connecticut, the second son of David Low Dodge, founder of the New York Peace Society.
The elder Dodge, born and raised in Hartford, built and managed the first cotton factory in Connecticut, near Norwich. He was one of the first directors of the Erie railroad, and had interests in several insurance corporations, owned large tracts of woodland, and had numerous lumber and mill interests, besides being concerned in the development of coal and iron mines.
William Earle Dodge Sr. mother was Sarah Cleveland, the daughter of Minister Aaron Cleveland who established the first Presbyterian Church in Canada and was a great great grandfather of United States President Grover Cleveland.
They were one of Connecticut’s oldest families. Stephen Cleveland (Born 1740 in East Haddam) went to sea at the age of fourteen, was taken by a British press-gang in Boston in 1756, and kept in service until 1763. He eventually was commissioned a captain in the United States navy, (His commission is supposed to have been the earliest issued by the American government.) His son, Richard Jeffry Cleveland, was a U. S. vice-consul at Havana, Cuba, 1829-1834.
Another ancestor was Aaron Cleveland (Born 1744 in Haddam) in 1779, he appointed to the Connecticut provincial legislature and eventually became a Congregational pastor near Hartford. His son William Cleveland was a grandfather of President Grover Cleveland.
William Earle Dodge Sr. married Melissa Phelps (1809–1903), one of Anson Green Phelps daughters and in 1833, helped his father-in-law found Phelps, Dodge and Company.
After the civil war, Dodge and his partners outside of Phelps-Dodge bought enormous tracts of timberland (Over 300,000 acres) in what would become Dodge County, Georgia. However the land was purchased through highly questionable and probably illegal land deeds that kept the Dodge led consortium in court for five decades.
Dodge and his associates built the Macon and Brunswick Railroad, connecting Macon to what was then a remote area of Dodge County that was formed in 1870 by Dodge lawyers. Dodge visited the area only once, to dedicate a two-story courthouse that he donated to the county.
Dodge was active in the Indian reform movement and helped to form the then privately funded United States Indian Commission. As a member of the government-sponsored Board of Indian Commissioner, he lobbied for the prosecution of the U.S. cavalry commanders responsible for the 1870 Marias Massacre in Montana, which left 173 Blackfeet dead. Dodge unsuccessfully campaigned to establish a cabinet-level department for Indian Affairs.
Son-in-law Daniel James was born in Truxton, New York, a wholesale grocer who married Anson Greene Phelps daughter Elizabeth Woodbridge Phelps. He and Elizabeth would run the Phelps interests from Liverpool.
During the recession that started in 1837, Daniel James was faced with insolvency in England while over in the States, his partners were investing in lumber and metal manufacturing. He wrote to his brother-in-law’s that "a merchant ought not to be a manufacturer" and later in 1857 “The place for all the Capital we have is in the business, and not in pine lands, factories, and Lackawanna R R or Iron concerns”.
“Daniel James” it was written “was a worrier and unlike his partners did not have the inclination or temperament for risk taking.” So while the others expanded into metals and mines, he concentrated on the fading merchant end of the business. Even during the worst of times Phelps, James & Co. (A partner with Phelps-Dodge) dominated the export of tinplate from the UK.
His wife Elizabeth, never in good health, died in 1847. She was buried in the Liverpool Necropolis, a cemetery built on the outskirts of the expanding and overcrowded city. Daniel remarried twice more before his death. When he died in 1876, he chose to be buried with Elizabeth.
Daniel James son was Daniel Willis James. With time, Daniel and his cousin, William E. Dodge, Jr., became the sole partners in Dodge Phelps.
In 1880 the president of the Detroit Copper Mining Company asked Dodge-Phelps for a loan to expand the company. The partners sent Dr. James Douglas to inspect the mines and give his opinion on the viability. Douglas reported back that mines held enormous potential but that transportation to and from the mines was a problem.
Dodge-Phelps bought into the mines and built their own railroad, the El Paso and Southwestern Railroad to fix the transportation issues, eventually owning more than 1000 miles of track. The mind were so profitable that by 1906, Phelps, Dodge & Co. sold their old mercantile business and went full time into the production of copper and copper wire.
Daniel Willis James son was Arthur Curtiss James (June 1, 1867 – June 4, 1941) who was the largest stockholder in the Phelps Dodge organization, but unlike other family members he shunned publicity and focused his attention and considerable wealth on the railroad, and he became the largest private owner of railroad stock in the United States. He held controlling interest in the Western Pacific line, Great Northern, Northern Pacific, Burlington, Southern Pacific, and other Western railroads. In all he owned 40,000 miles of track - about one-seventh of entire network in the United States. His Newport, Rhode Island, summer residence, Beacon Hill House, included a replica Swiss village which served as a working farm. When he died in 1941, James left a fortune of $38 million, of which over $25 million were put in trust to the James Foundation, for use in charitable, religious, and education institutions. The terms were such that the money had to be distributed within 25 years of his death.
Son-in-law James Boulter Stokes (1804–1881) was already rich when he married Anson Green Phelps daughter Caroline Phelps. His parents came from England in 1798 where they started several businesses including importing fine woolen cloth, selling coal and real estate investment. When his father died, he left Stokes with a fortune of $100,000 dollars.
In his life time Stokes was known as simply James Stokes, although he had been born James Boulter Stokes, Boulter being his mother’s name and her father’s full name. However on a trip to England in 1833 to meet his grandfather, he found the old man so cantankerous that he legally removed Boulter from his name.
A deeply religious man he joined the New York Peace Society and the New York Tract Society and from those groups met the industrialists Anson Greene Phelps and David Low Dodge. When he died in 1832 his sons James and Edward Halesworth Stokes took over the businesses.
James Stokes's younger brother, Josiah, worked for Anson Greene Phelps as a confidential clerk and was engaged to Phelps daughter Caroline when he was killed on May 4, 1832 when a warehouse he was working in collapsed. In 1837 James Stokes married Caroline and became a partner in the Phelps-Dodge financial and industrial empire, the third son-in-law of Anson Phelps to become a partner in the family business with a 15% share. He would leave in 1878 to enter the banking business.
In 1839 he was in business with the firm of Stokes, Shapter & Walton, importing cloth, and living in England. On his return to New York in 1841 he built a house called Clifton Cottage, in the grounds of Anson Phelps's 35 acre estate on the East River, situated between 29th and 31st street. Later he lived in 37 Madison Avenue and in a house situated between the villages of Old Derby and Ansonia. It was originally an Episcopal rectory, enlarged at the rear.
Stokes provided funding for his father-in-law's Phelps, Dodge & Co. business during the 1837 financial crisis when the banks had suspended payments.
In 1847 he was invited to join the business, holding a 15% share in 1853 and 20% in 1858. He became the first president of the Ansonia Brass & Copper Company, the Ansonia Clock Company, and the Ansonia Land & Water Company. Later two of his sons, Anson Phelps Stokes and Thomas Stokes, joined Phelps, Dodge & Co, Stoke had business interests outside of Phelps, Dodge including the ownership of 38,000 acres of pine land in Michigan.
Stokes had several homes. One in England, a house called Clifton Cottage, on the grounds of Anson Phelps's 35 acre estate on the East River, 37 Madison Avenue and in a house situated between Derby and Ansonia that was originally an Episcopal rectory, enlarged at the rear.
Despite his wealth Stokes visited Bellevue Hospital and taught Bible class there and gave of his time to several public schools. He supported the YMCA and gave fortunes to the Association for Improving the Condition of the Poor; Hospital for Ruptured and Crippled; New York Eye and Ear Infirmary and Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. He was offered the nomination for Mayor of New York but declined.
In 1878 the Stokes family left Phelps, Dodge & Co. and entered a banking business Phelps, Stokes & Co., located on 45 Wall Street. The partners were James Stokes, his son Anson Phelps Stokes and Anson's father-in-law Isaac Newton Phelps. Their business included issuing credits on the Union Bank of London and on Melville, Evans & Co., London.
Caroline Stokes, James wife died on March 9 1881 and Stokes died shortly afterwards. His daughter Dora Stokes Dale and her husband Henry contested the will based on the stability of James Stokes mind during the final years of his life.
Dora died in 1884, but her husband continued the court action after her death, and it was not until 1888 that the courts finally settled the matter. Stokes's son, the unpredictable W. E. D Stokes, who was one of the executors, also took several court actions against his fellow executors. Dora Stokes husband sued W. E. D Stokes for the return of company shares he had somehow received from his father before his death.
James Stokes son, Anson Phelps Stokes, was appointed temporary administrator of his father's estate until the court actions were finally settled, closed the banking business, partly due to the litigation and partly because his eyesight was starting to fail him.
In 1839 he was in business with the firm of Stokes, Shapter & Walton, importing cloth, and living in England. On his return to New York in 1841 he built a house called Clifton Cottage, in the grounds of Anson Phelps's 35 acre estate on the East River, situated between 29th and 31st street. Later he lived in 37 Madison Avenue and in a house situated between the villages of Old Derby and Ansonia. It was originally an Episcopal rectory, enlarged at the rear.
Stokes provided funding for his father-in-law's Phelps, Dodge & Co. business during the 1837 financial crisis when the banks had suspended payments. In 1847 he was invited to join the business, holding a 15% share in 1853 and 20% in 1858.
He became the first president of the Ansonia Brass & Copper Company, the Ansonia Clock Company, and the Ansonia Land & Water Company. Later two of his sons, Anson Phelps Stokes and Thomas Stokes, joined Phelps, Dodge & Co, Stoke had business interests outside of Phelps, Dodge including the ownership of 38,000 acres of pine land in Michigan.
When Anson Green Phelps died on November 30, 1853, he left and estate of about $2,000,000. (About $50,000,000 or more by today’s standards) Olivia received everything including Phelps Dodge Company stock, which his partners bought from her for $700,000 (About $21,000,000 today. The partners were their son Anson and sons-in-law, Daniel James, William Dodge and James Stokes) He also left about $300,000 in cash and another $1.million in properties in New York, Indiana, Connecticut, Pennsylvania and Missouri. However, the will was contested by the beneficiaries, including their children and grandchildren, and Olivia, overwhelmed by it all, sought clarification by the courts. The complexity of the arguments in the case resulted in up to 12 lawyers in court at any one time arguing for a dozen different clients. It was after Olivia’s death that the final verdict was given by the court of appeals in 1861.
Due to a technical issue with the wording of the will, one large bequest of $50,000 to the Liberia College was declared void by the courts. However, the family decided to carry on with the bequest and the donation stood despite the ruling.
Olivia continued to live in their home on the East River with her daughter Olivia and husband Benjamin Bakewell Atterbury, a merchant with a shipping agency in based Manchester England who married Olivia Phelps in 1847.
Phelps, Dodge & Co. became identified with the Presbyterian Church and because of their high standard of mercantile morality, his deep personal piety the company leadership was dubbed “The Christian merchants”
Phelps generously supported American Bible Society, the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions, the American Home Missionary Society, the Colonization Society and the Blind Asylum of New York City. He set up a fund of $1000 for the poor who lived in his hometown of Simsbury.
Olivia, deeply religious like her husband, supported dozens of charitable works, including the Society for the Relief of Half Orphans and the Association for the Relief of Aged and Respectable Indigent Woman.
Their son in law James Stokes was involved with and left money to the American Bible Society; American Home Missionary Society; Union Theological Seminary; Baptist Theological Seminary, Rochester; Baptist Home Missionary Society; American Tract Society; Home for Incurables, West Farms; Society for Ruptured and Crippled; Colored Orphan Asylum; American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions; American Baptist Missionary Union for Burma and Foreign Missions; Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, the Association for Improving the Condition of the Poor; Hospital for Ruptured and Crippled; New York Eye and Ear Infirmary. He visited Bellevue Hospital and taught Bible class there and gave of his time to several public schools. He supported the Young Men's Christian Association and the Young Women's Christian Association. He was offered the nomination for Mayor of New York but declined.
The family commitment to charity left an impression with her grandson Boudinot Currie Atterbury (1852–1930). Boudinot attended Phillips Academy (Class of 1869) and Yale and medical school at Bellevue Hospital. Graduating with a medical degree in 1878, he furthered his medical knowledge in New York, Paris and Palestine before moving to China as a medical missionary in 1879.
With funding from family and friends (His uncles, which included James Boulter Stokes, Daniel James, Charles F. Pond and William Earle Dodge, supported and funded his missionary work.) he built a hospital for the poor in Peking, (In 1894 he also built and supported a dispensary at the medical mission at Pao-ting-fu) and in 1890 he married Mary Josephine Lowrie (1858-1910), the daughter of missionaries. In 1896 he was awarded the Order of the Double Dragon by the Dowager Empress for his services during the First Sino-Japanese War of 1894.
Ill health forced him to leave China in about 1898 and go into semi-retirement while continuing to work with the poor and indigent in the Chinese population in Pasadena, Los Angeles and Brooklyn. Atterbury died on May 21 1930 in Altamonte Springs, Florida. Their daughter Daisy (Marguerite) returned to China to continue the missionary work and was interned in the Japanese Weihsien Compound during WWII.
Olivia’s final years were difficult. The lawsuits over her husband’s estate alienated the immediate family and in 1858 her only son, Anson Greene Phelps Jr., died of smallpox and within a year Olivia was dead.
The Copper Kings
Phelps's death gave his son and each of his two sons-in-law a 25 percent interest in the business, with 15 percent going to a younger son-in-law. A new partnership was formed but had to be reformed again with the expected sudden death of Anson Phelps, Jr. The second new partnership gave William Dodge and Daniel James each a 28 percent share. With reorganization complete, the company turned its attention to developing other interests.
By 1885 Phelps, Dodge & Company bought the Copper Queen Consolidated Mining Company in New York (then producing about 300 tons of ore monthly) that they later merged with Moctezuma Copper Company in Sonora, Mexico, from the Guggenheim family. Two years later they purchased the Detroit Copper Company. They owned considerable stock in the Morenci copper mine. The company the world's largest lumber mill in Pennsylvania where it also owned thousands of acres of timber land as well as a timber agency in Baltimore, Maryland, to send its products to domestic and foreign customers. The also owned the New York & Erie Railroad and a controlling interest in the Bank of Dover New Jersey,
In December 1872 Phelps, Dodge & Co. had their books and papers seized by the United States government for alleged frauds on the revenue to the amount of $1,750,000. A Phelps Dodge employee in New York noticed a discrepancy in the declaration made to Customs which resulted in an underpayment of import duty. He removed the pages from the ledger and took them to an agent of the Custom House named B. G. Jayne, who was empowered to seize the entire value of the import from Phelps Dodge if the case against them was proven. (The scam was called “the Moiety system”. In those case the Custom House received 50% of any money recovered and the remainder was split between Jayne and the Phelps-Dodge employee)
Jayne seized Phelps-Dodge’s books and entered suit claiming the company was liable to pay a forfeit of $1,750,000. Without access to his ledgers, the senior partner of the firm, William E. Dodge, was unable to verify the underpayment of duty and was forced to reach a settlement with Jayne of $271,000.
When the ledgers were returned to Phelps Dodge they discovered that the underpayment was as little as $1664.68. The reason for this discrepancy had been the difference of the value of the goods declared in Liverpool and the eventual market value in America, which had fallen. Dodge eventually appeared before the House of Representative’s Ways and Means Committee in 1874 when they investigate the Moiety system but little came of it.
The Ansonia Hotel and W.E.D. Stokes.
William Earle Dodge Stokes, he preferred W.E.D., was born in 1852 into a family of enormous wealth and power. His grandfather, Thomas Stokes, who came wealthy London merchants in a family founded by a Norman who came to England with William the Conqueror. He settled in New York in 1796 and founded a series of businesses that made him even richer. Aside from his merchants fortune he was one of the founders of Phelps, Dodge & Co. His son, James Stokes, made even more money as a financier and philanthropist.
W.E.D. Stokes was also the grandson of the fabulously wealthy industrialist Anson Green Phelps, the founder of what would become Ansonia.
In 1837, James Stokes married Caroline Phelps, daughter of Anson G. Phelps. William Earl Dodge Stokes was their fourth son.
W. E. D. Stokes was graduated from Yale in 1874 and joined his father business and eventually inherited his share of his father’s estate, valued at $11,000,000, probably somewhere in the neighborhood of a million to a million and a half dollars.
In his life, he made and lost a fortune. He had public arguments with his tenants and a fist fight with his maid’s drunken brother. He owned a house in Reno but was only there once and that was only because as the owner of the local railroad he was required to have a residence in the state. His business career was peppered with lawsuits, failed marriages and nasty affairs. He was an almost full time philanderer, occasional wife beater and the darling of the New York press because he was guaranteed fodder for a juicy headline.
He made legions of enemies, most for no logic reason nor did he care how powerful or rich his enemies were. Between 1889 and1890 Stokes served as secretary on a committee formed to secure the 1893 World's Fair for New York City. The Committee chairman was former mayor Abram Hewitt whom Stokes undermined and back ended whenever the opportunity present itself. Soon Hewitt learned to despise Stokes and eventually managed to remove Stokes off of the committee. The World's Fair went to Chicago.
Stokes more or less left the family business in the early 1880's, took his fortune of about one million dollars and began developing real estate on the Upper West Side. From 1885 through 1890 he built several dozen row houses on the West Side, a few of them still stand today including the now-decrepit townhouses at 231 and 233 West 74th that were part of a group of 17 row houses Stokes built. But he had far bigger ideas than just land speculation and home building. Stokes planned to build the tallest building in Manhattan, which the Ansonia was for a short while. He’d quietly began piecing together 22 parcels of land on the site of the old New York Orphan Asylum, at 73rd Street and the Boulevard.
Although the architect of record for Stokes new mega building was a Frenchman named Paul E.M. Duboy, who had studied at the École des Beaux-Arts but it was Stokes who ran the show and listed himself as "architect-in-chief" for the project.
Duboy rendered one set of original drawings before Stokes paid him $5,000 and shipped him back to France, where he had a nervous breakdown although Stokes maintained that Duboy was out of his mind when he hired him.
Erected between 1899 and 1904, at Broadway and Seventy-Third Street on the upper West Side at a final cost of $3 million, the eighteen-story steel-frame structure was the first air-conditioned hotel in New York and the largest (It had 1400 rooms and 350 suites) residential hotel of its day.
He would call it the Ansonia, a Latinized version of his grandfather’s name as well as the name of the Connecticut city he had built (and more or less still owned) that was then one of the most important and successful industrial towns in the world.
And what a grand place it was. Apartments came standard with high ceilings, elegant moldings, bay windows, multiple bedrooms, parlors, libraries, double-width mahogany doors and formal dining rooms that were either round or oval. Each suite’s lush inventory of towels, napkins, table linen, soap, and stationery was refreshed three times a day. Full suites were equipped with electric stoves, hot and cold water and freezers and thick walls, installed to protect against fire, a feature that made the Ansonia apartments one of the most soundproof in the city. Pneumatic tubing snaked through the walls and delivered messages in capsules between the staff and tenants. There was a cooling system - the first one in New York- that kept the building at 70 degrees even on the hotter days.
Every apartment offered views north and south along what would become Broadway. There were a few small units that offered one bedroom, a parlor and bath but no kitchens. But that wasn’t a problem since the Ansonia had a central kitchen as well as serving kitchens on every floor manned by professional chefs.
Common use rooms included tearooms, restaurants, a grand ballroom, a bank, a barbershop, Turkish baths and a lobby fountain with live seals. The Ansonia had its own curator, Joseph Gill-Martin, who collected 600 paintings for the hotel to display. Stokes started his own corporation to manufacture the building’s magnificent elevators. Durable terra-cotta helped fireproof the building because Stokes loathed insurance companies and planned to do without them.
The buildings ballrooms and the dining rooms could seat and feed accommodate 1,300 guests. For a while it had the world’s largest indoor pool in its basement. The interior corridors, which may be the widest in the city were probably meant for cows since the property also had a cattle elevator, which enabled Stokes dairy cows to be stabled on the roof.
Every day, a bellhop delivered free fresh eggs to all the tenants, and any surplus was sold to the public in the basement arcade. It was part of Stokes a vision for a self-sufficient building. He believed in it so much he built a farm/zoo on the roof. “The farm on the roof,” Weddie Stokes wrote years later, “included about 500 chicken, many ducks, about six goats and a small bear.”
Stokes explained the animals on the roof by saying “Last summer my boy and I were motoring on Long Island. We stopped at a farmhouse and my son made the acquaintance of this baby pig. The pig’s mother had died and the boy wanted him for a pet. We brought him to town in the motor, and fed him for weeks on milk from a bottle. Then from the same farmer we bought these wild geese to relieve the pig from boredom. Everything was quite sanitary, and the boy had great fun playing with his pets. It merely shows how a most innocent incident can be misconstrued, but I laughed heartily over a big city department pursuing a boy’s pet pig.”
Years later during an ugly divorce battle, Stokes wife claimed that he “maintained a poultry farm in his apartment at the Ansonia Hotel” which included 45 hens and several roosters and that their presence in the apartment constituted such a nuisance that she was frequently unable to eat there. Mrs. Stokes described the place as “absolutely filthy.”
The Board of Health agreed and planned to raid the Ansonia roof farm and confiscate the four pet geese and a pig, Nanki-Poo. Stokes got word of it and working with his butler, he hid the animals in the basement and convinced the inspector that the roof was animal-free. In 1907, the Department of Health shut down the farm in the sky and the animals were moved to new homes at the Central Park Animal Park.
Two years after it opened, the Ansonia, luxurious but not chic, was known as a gamblers hotel, especially after Albert J. Adams, “The Meanest Man in New York” who ran the New York policy rackets on the West Side from 1890 to around 1905.
Adams and Stokes met at Sing Sing prison when Stokes had gone there to visit an inmate friend of his, Sam Parks. Stokes had done business with Parks and thought Parks, one of the most detested men in New York, deserved to be pardoned, although only Stokes would know why.
Sam Parks, was a New York labor leader who had already been convicted of extortion at time. He was prominent for years in Chicago labor circles, before coming to New York and setting up shot as a labor leader/extortionist. His game was simple. He called strikes and then took cash to call the strike off. He was walking delegate, or business agent, of the local Housesmiths' and Bridgemen's Union for several years and it was under his leadership that the New York Irion workers went on strike. He was finally indicted for taking $500 from an employer on a promise to call off a strike. Parks died in the prison of natural causes in 1906
It was Parks who introduced Stokes to Adams. While he was at the prison Adams asked Stokes to use his considerable weight in the state to get him a pardon.
“He asked me to use what influence I had with the Governor to get him out. He said: “My being here is an awful disgrace to my family, and I can’t stand it much longer. If I don’t get out pretty soon I shall die.”
Stokes said that Adams “promised to reform and on that strength I obtained the his advance release from prison”
Al Adams was a Rhode Island Yankee and born poor, who came to New York when he was 27 years old and working as a brakeman on the New Haven Road. He eventually fell in with Zachariah Simmons, the man who owned the policy game in New York during the late 19th century. Supported by the Tweed Ring, Simmons pushed his way into policy rackets and pashed out old time bosses Reuben Parsons and John Frink. Simmons criminal empire ran three-fourths of the city's six or seven hundred policy operations and eventually held interests as far away as Milwaukee and Richmond. When Simmons retired as an extremely rich man, he sold the rackets to Adams who would continue to run Simmons' policy games until the reform movements during the 1910s.
Adams soon made a fortune was made out of nickels from the poor. On Dec. 14, 1901, a police raid at one of his casinos on West Thirty-Third Street resulted in piles of evidence against him. He was convicted and sent to Sing Sing.
When Adams was released he moved into the Ansonia with Stokes blessing. Before his conviction, police estimated that Adams was making more than $1 million a year and was allowed to stay at the Waldorf-Astoria until he was sentenced. Adams, who listed himself as a "segar dealer, wrote to the New York Times on October 8, 1905 that he had quit the policy racket forever
Almost exactly one year later, on October 2, 1906, broke and out of power, Adams was found dead in Suite 1579 in the Ansonia from a self-inflicted shoot to the head at age 61. Adams had lost several million dollars by investing in a business venture with his eldest son.
Adams, a renowned skinflint, took his usual 6:45 wake up call. A valet named Earnest Miller who dressed and shaved Adams in the morning knocked on the suite door at about 7:00, when there was no answer he entered the three room suit with a pass key and found Adams lying across a chair, a bullet hole that had gone into his left temple and excited trough his right temple. On the floor beside the chair lay a .44 caliber Colt’s revolver, new, and with one chamber empty.
From what could be pieced together at the scene. Sometime between 6:45 and 7:00, Adams opened the blinds to his apartment to let in the light. He had stood directly in front of a long mirror and had placed the muzzle of the revolver to his right temple. The bullet was found imbedded in the wall of a little private hall, having passed through the bedroom door. Adam’s fell to the left across the chair, and the revolver had dropped to the floor. His blood dripped into a cuspidor.
His jewelry, diamond cuff buttons, pins, and watch were where he had evidently left them the night before. There was $185 in cash in his wallet and some IOU’s. There were evidences that Adams had started to dress before killing himself.
Stokes was notified and rushed to the apartment with Dr. Julius Thornley, the house physician who declared the gambler dead.
“He told me,” Stokes said “that he had a great number of securities that he could not realize on, and that he had lent to his eldest son, who was with Sage & Co., $2,000,000. He said also that he had $40,000 out on IOU’s and that he had lent another $40,000 to a trust company and had lost fully $20,000 in Union Pacific besides. I think that the hounding he received at the hands of the newspapers had a great deal to do with his suicide. I know he felt it deeply.”
However his son, who had once threatened to shot his father, said Adams real estate holding were worth not less than $1,500,000, that he owned a gold mine in Mexico and that a conservative estimate of Adams wealth was about $7,000,000.
To almost everyone, Adams death looked like suicide. To the police however, it looked like suicide.
The Coroner’s office was run by Julius Harburger who despised Stokes which everyone knew but it shocked the entire city when his initial inquest into Adams death found that he had been murdered by Stokes. His theory was that Stokes had spent the night in Adams room and killed him late in the night for reasons unknown. The police disagreed.
Another nationwide scandal inside the Ansonia followed in 1916. Edward R. West, Vice President of the C. D. Gregg Tea and Coffee Company of Chicago, had checked into the hotel with a woman he knew as Alice Williams.
Her real name was Helen Godman, AKA "Buda" Godman, who was part of a Chicago extortion gang. Buda was the bait. She and West were in their suit when two of the gang members pushed their way inside and identified themselves as Federal agents and told West he was being arrested under the Mann Act. (Transporting a female across state lines for immoral purposes) West eventually paid the gang $15,000, an enormous sum at the time. However, he became suspicious and reported the incident to the police. The two fake cops were sent to prison. "Buda" Godman escaped and disappeared but she was eventually caught and charged for trying to fence Jewels stolen in a 1932 robbery. She was sentenced to four to 8 years in prison.
On September 21, 1919, a group of Chicago White Sox players gathered at the Ansonia and agreed to throw the World Series for about $10,000 a man. Hoodlum Arnold Rothstein, who also lived at the Ansonia, planned the entire thing and never served a day in jail for it, unlike the players.
Beautiful people, the rich and the famous walked the halls of the Ansonia. It was an exciting place to be. Broadway impresario Florenz Ziegfeld moved into a ninth-floor suite with his first wife, Follies star Anna Held. He also kept a gold-painted, life-size statue of the shapely Anna in the foyer and kept his girlfriend in an apartment on the tenth floor, another Follies showgirl named Lillian Lorraine. Later, when Anna became pregnant, Ziegfeld, worried about her performance schedule, demanded she undergo an abortion in the apartment
World Heavyweight Boxing champion Jack Dempsey used the Ansonia to train for the heavyweight-championship bout of 1919 against Jess Willard. The fight was held on July 4, 1919. Dempsey, 6'1", 187 pounds beat 6'6½" tall and 245 pound Willard, "Pottawatamie Giant", in fact he knocked Willard down seven times in the first round. When the fight was over Willard suffered a broken jaw, broken ribs, several broken teeth, and a number of deep fractures to his facial bones. Willard later claimed to have been defeated by "gangsterism” meaning Dempsey cheated by using cement laden gloves. It wasn’t true and by all accounts it was a clean fight. Dempsey also lived at the Ansonia for a while.
The Ansonia was the home of most of the New York Yankees players including Babe Ruth, who moved in during the 1919 season. The babe’s apartment was gathering spot for the others players and as a result there was almost always a card game happening there. The Babe “who thought of the entire hotel as an extension of his apartment” would wear his scarlet silk bathrobe down in the elevator to the basement barbershop for his morning shave.
In 1930, the outrageous and colorful bank robber Willie Sutton was arrested while having breakfast at Childs Restaurant in the Ansonia two days before Thanksgiving.
It was said that the buildings temperature-control system, a great benefit for sinuses, brought singers to the hotel. True or not the Ansonia was the home to so many singers that it was dubbed “Palace for the Muses” including Arturo Toscanini. Composers included Igor Stravinsky, Sergei Rachmaninoff, and Gustav Mahler. Lauritz Melchoir, the foremost Wagnerian tenor in the world, lived in the building from 1926 to the early fifties and used his stuffed hunting trophies for archery practice in the hallways.
Over the decades the Ansonia was also home to writer Theodore Dreiser, the leader of the Bahá'í Faith, Nobel prize winner in literature Isaac Bashevitz, composer Igor Stravinsky, tenor Enrico Caruso, Elmer Rice, Cornell Woolrich, Amy Chua, Jed Rubenfeld, James Fenton, cartoonist Walt Kelly, Angelina Jolie, Natalie Portman,, Arnold Rothstein and Sergei Rachmaninoff.
On a winter’s day in 1894, Stokes was walking along Fifth Avenue when stopped to look at a framed photo in a photographer’s shop window. The girl in the photo was beautiful and Stokes, a man with a large and quirky appetite. He went inside the store and got the girls name.
She was Rita Hernandez de Alba de Acosta, the spoiled, intelligent, high strung, moody and badly tempered but beautiful daughter a Spanish heiress, Micaela Hernández de Alba y de Alba, reputedly a relation of the Dukes of Alba and Ricardo de Acosta, a steamship-line executive and poet of Cuban descent. Stokes, a 42 year old man, also learned that she was only 15 years old.
His attraction to the teenage Rita didn’t surprise anyone in the known since Stokes was said to like his girls young, very young. He had been accused of taking barely pubescent girls to his stud farm in Lexington, Kentucky, and tie them naked to a post in the barn, where they were forced to watch a stud horse mount a mare.
In her life, Rita would be hailed as "the most picturesque woman in America." The New York Times wrote “her beauty has made her famous in the social world...She is a tall brunette, with a perfect figure, high color, and large black eyes.” The portrait painter Paul Helleu called her “the most nearly perfectly beautiful woman in the world.”
She would be photographed by Adolf de Meyer, Edward Steichen, and Gertrude Käsebier, sculpted in alabaster by Malvina Hoffman, and was painted by Giovanni Boldini and John Singer Sargent.
The collector and creator of the Gardner museum in Boston, Isabella Stewart Gardner, asked John Singer Sargent why Rita had never expressed herself artistically. "Why should she?" Sargent answered, "She herself is art."
But, she had created, in a small way. She was a novelist who penned a book about romances between the wealthy.
She lived half the year in Paris whose personal wardrobe became the basis for the start of the Costume Institute at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. When she traveled outside of New York she towed along a hairdresser, masseuse, chauffeur, secretary, maid and forty trunks by Louis Vuitton.
Within months of their meeting, Rita and Stokes married, on January 4, 1895 in the bride’s parents’ mansion at 48 West 47th Street. Archbishop Corrigan performed the ceremony in front of 1000 guests. “No wedding this season in New-York has attracted more interest among society people” reported The New York Times.
For her birthdays Stokes gave to her the Patchen Wilkes farm in Kentucky, at the time the world’s foremost breeding farm and the following year he gave her Beuzetta, probably the most famous horse of the day that set Stokes back $15,000. (Just under $500,000 today)
Rita’s sister was Mercedes De Acosta an author, a scriptwriter, and social critic and an unabashed lesbian, she made no attempts to hide her sexuality, amazing thing for the day. "I can” she told the press “get any woman away from any man."
She was known for her often relationships with the cream of Hollywood and Broadway including actress Alla Nazimova, dancer Isadora Duncan, actress Eva Le Gallienne, Greta Garbo, Marlene Dietrich, Ona Munson, and Russian ballerina Tamara Platonovna Karsavina, Pola Negri, Eleonora Duse, Katherine Cornell, and Alice B. Toklas.
Raised as a strict Roman Catholic she had a lifelong obsession in eastern spirituality. She was rabidly anti-Franco in the 1930s, an advocate of women's rights and a vegetarian who refused to wear furs. She died in 1968 in dire poverty of a brain tumor at age 75 and is buried next to her sister at Trinity Cemetery in Washington Heights, New York City.
Mercedes wrote in her autobiography that “when Rita finally decided to marry Will Stokes it was, I believe, because she felt his wealth could open doors. . . . But she paid a high price for any material gain.” In other words she married the old goat for his money.
The couple moved into one of Stokes's new developments at 262 West 72nd Street (Today it is a 7 unit apartment building with Yoga center and bike repair business on the street level) but Stokes immediately began work on a new mansion at 4 East 54th Street designed by McKim, Mead and White, premier architects of the day.
Stokes spent $140,000 buying the two 4-story brownstones and had McKim, Mead and White design a five story white marble mansion in the Italian Renaissance-style with a carved marble balcony stretched the length of the second story above a rusticated ground floor protected by a marble and cast iron fence.
The couple would never live there. Rita sued for divorce just as the house was near completion. Four months before the divorce began, Stokes sold it on December 14, 1899 for $325,000 to the fantastically wealthy Chicago lawyer and business mogul William H. Moore and his wife Ada. Moore was the founder of U.S. Steel, American Can Company, Diamond Match Company, National Biscuit Company (later renamed Nabisco) and several railroads and banks.
In the summer of 1897, when Rita and Stokes were still speaking to one another, they rented Stone Villa, the Newport cottage of James Gordon Bennett, publisher of the New York and the Paris Herald, where Rita hosted an opening dinner party for 300. Demolished now, the estate was also leased by successive Imperial Russian Ambassadors as the summer legation and residence. In other words, it was no cottage. The summer after that, Rita rented a mansion in Bar Harbor and threw the party of the season for 200 guests who danced to a Hungarian Band from New York.
On January 5, 1896 Rita gave Stokes a son and heir, William Earl Dodge Stokes Jr, who would become known as simple “Weddie”. Again according to Rita’s sister Mercedes, Rita “hated the child and could hardly bring herself to hold him.”
Weddie would go on to become a boy wonder of sorts. As a child he built a wireless station on the top of the Ansonia and broadcasted to three states. At age 12 he testified before Congress as an expert on wireless communication. By age 14 he held patients on several gadgets.
In 1900 Rita sued for divorce. On April 5, 1900 The New York Times reported that “It has been known for some time that there was a rupture of the friendly relations existing between the couple, but the utmost secrecy is being observed as to the details of the case.”
Rita actually left the marriage before entering the papers for divorce. She and her mother were living in a beach mansion in the village of Quogue in Southampton on Long Island’s South Shore when the suit arrived on her husband’s desk, this was at about the same time that the ground-breaking for the Ansonia began.
For Stokes, representing himself in court (Which he often did) this time was a very bad idea. His wife’s lawyer was the noted courtroom battler Max Steuer. An emergent from Austria-Hungary, Steuer had no reason the fear Stokes money and power since he was deeply connected to the bosses at Tammany Hall, especially John F. Curry and was a delegate to the New York state constitutional convention.
Perhaps his most famous case was the defense of the factory owners after the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire in March 1911 when a factory fire killed one hundred forty-six women, adolescent girls, and men. The shop owners, Max Blanck and Isaac Harris, had locked the escape routes from the building.
Never have two men been so guilty of manslaughter then in that case, yet Steuer got them acquitted largely due to his brutal cross-examination and impeachment of one of the surviving employees. He went on to defend sports promoter Tex Rickard, banker Charles E. Mitchell and former Attorney General Harry Daugherty.
Rita said that her marriage was and unhappy one largely due to Stokes unmanageable temper and the physical beatings against her. Almost needless to say, Rita walked away from the marriage with a settlement of nearly two million dollars, a record for the time and worth about $25 million today. She also got an additional $36,000 a year in support, the largest settlement ever granted.
Of course Stokes wanted something in exchange for his considerable generosity. He wanted his son Weddie. That was fine with Rita who could care less about the child. She gave him up without a second thought and would not see him again for another sixteen years. Stokes wisely placed the child in care of his two spinster and deeply religious sisters Caroline and Olivia.
Rita came to no good in the end. She was a spend thrift and a horrible investor who eventually was forced to declare bankruptcy. She went through another divorce, suffered a decade of poor health and two nervous breakdowns. She died in 1968, near penniless, at age 54 of pernicious anemia (Due to a poor diet in her case) at the Gotham Hotel in New York.
He was always in some sort of trouble with women. In 1902 while the 50-year-old bachelor was riding in his carriage, he was flagged down Lucy Ryley who was leaning out her bedroom window. In 1907 Lucy sued Stokes for child support, claiming he is the father of her four-year-old son. Stokes denied it of course and won his case in court on a legal technicality despite the fact that Lucy had proven they were intimate and that Stokes had given her regular payments for child support. Lucy disappeared forever after that. However, because of the problem with Lucy, from therein Stokes actually had women that he was with sign statements that they had been with other men. He felt this would protect him from claims that he alone could be responsible if any of these women became pregnant.
In 1910 Helen Elwood of Denver, Colorado, moved into the Hotel Ansonia as the guest of Dr. and Mrs. Wilbur A. Hendryx and Stokes noticed. Helen was privately educated in Catholic schools and on a six month learning tour of Europe with his sister.
They were married a year later on February 11, 1911 in Jersey City, N.J., by a college classmate of Stokes. (The scuttlebutt at the time said that the marriage did violate a clause in the divorce agreement that ended his first marriage. Supposedly he wasn't allowed to re-marry although the restriction applied only to New York State, which might be why he insisted his second marriage take place in New Jersey. Stokes was 58 years old Helen was 24 however Stokes listed his age as "over 45." on the marriage certificate. It was reported that when Helen’s mother learned who her daughter had married, she fainted.
Just four months after he met Helen Elwood, on June 7, 1911, Stokes became involved in what became known as The Case of the Shooting Show Girls when Stokes was shot three times in the leg by a 22 year old vaudeville actress, Lillian Graham, in the Varuna apartment house, at 80th and Broadway.
Stokes at met Graham in 1906 when John Singleton, millionaire and Stokes partner in the gold-rich Yellow Aster mine in California, came to the Ansonia with his wife, Stella Graham Singleton and her sister, Lillian, an eighteen-year-old would-be actress. Stokes began his affair with the teenager that week.
In the shooting incident, Graham (She was booked in vaudeville as “The Great Emotional Psychic Actress,) maintained that Stokes had attacked her and her friend Ethel Conrad, another actress, (Who listed her occupation as “dressmaker’s model”) because he was enraged by her refusal to return letters he had written her. To protect themselves, the girls, both of whom had pistols, shot Stoke sin the legs three times. Stokes added that just before he was shot, three Japanese men, house servants who were setting up a dinner party across the hall, ran in and attacked him with jiu-jitsu moves. When police arrived they found Stokes bleeding on the floor and clutching a pistol he always carried with him.
The trial became an enormous tabloid news story, filling the Ansonia’s lobby with reporters, tourist and the curious. Stokes never once left his rooms at the hotel to testify in court, citing a variety of illnesses among them, he said that on December 12, a specialist, Dr. Bolton Bangs, operated on him at the Ansonia for an “abscess of the left kidney.” In an operation that took less than 45 minutes to perform. Pretending to be ill, actually pretending to be one step from death, to avoid court became his favorite ploy through dozens of law suits.
In court, Stokes counter claimed that she had been trying to blackmail him and that she had indeed attacked him, but Graham was found not guilty. The New York Times disputed the verdict by writing that the women were indisputably guilty but that Stokes’s "moral character and social worth" were so low that, basically, he deserved to be shot by someone.
A few days after the trial Lillian Graham and Ethel Conrad returned to vaudeville at the Victoria Theatre in a song and dance routine dubbed “Lillian Graham and Ethel Conrad in songs – Miss Graham at the piano.”
The New York Times wrote that the women “were not liberally applauded.” In fact they were booed and hissed and some audience members threw trash at them. A bounced was called out and “walked up and down the aisles frowning. Finally he sat on the orchestra rail facing the audience ready, it appeared, to leap upon troublemakers. His services were not required.”
The act was brief and quickly faded away.
Graham brought a suit for $100,000 for malicious prosecution W. E. D. Stokes which she lost. The judge called it a “misguided publicity stunt” The last that was heard from Lillian Graham was in 1914 when she announced she was marrying a wealthy man from back home in Washington State. And that was the last the world ever heard of her. Also in 1914, Ethel Conrad attempted moved to Hollywood where she hoped to follow her sister, Frances Pierce, into the movie business. But Francis was struck and killed by a car and shortly Ethel tried to kill herself by swallowing dichloride of mercury tablets. She survived and shortly afterwards she too, disappeared from the world stage.
Three years later Helen gave birth to their son, James, in Denver, while staying at her mother’s house. On December 29 1915 their daughter Muriel was born at the Vanderbilt Hotel in New York City.
In the middle of all this, in the summer of 1916, W. E. D. Stokes retired to his Kentucky horse farm to write a book called “The Right to be Well Born: Horse Breeding in its Relation to Eugenics.” In which he suggests that the solution to the world social ills is in fixing poor breeding habit, I.E. the sterilizing of “defective” humans. He suggested that careful selection and breeding of human stock would improve the race and that legislators pass a law requiring the registration of the laboring classes so that they might reproduce their actual value, and so that employers, by looking up the genealogical records of prospective employees, could estimate the amount and quality of the work of which they were capable. The books publishers sued Stokes to recover $5,000 which they had spent on the publication of this book.
In late 1918 Helen moved her family, including her husband to a brownstone a few blocks away from the Ansonia because she believed that a hotel was no place to raise a family.
A month later, on New Year’s night, Helen and her second cousin Hal Billig, went out to a series of parties. W.E.D. begged off and stayed home complaining of a slight cold. Stokes and Billig return later than Stokes thinks appropriate and a three way argument broke out that ended when Stokes walked out and moved back to the Ansonia. Divorce papers followed.
Before that ugly incident, the public got its first hint of trouble brewing between the Stokes was on November 4 1917, jewels valued in the tens of thousands of dollars belonging to Helen Stokes were stolen from a locked suitcase while she traveled by train from Denver to New York. Detectives believed that Stokes arranged the theft in hopes of discovering some of the jewelry had been given to her by another man.
Stokes sued his wife for infidelity, naming twelve men—including his own son— with whom he claimed she’d had sex. His lawyers assured him that if they could prove that Helen had committed adultery, he could end their marriage without paying her nay money.
Stokes presented the court a letter from Weddie, for whom Stokes had just transferred ownership of the Ansonia, to back up his claim. The letter read
My Darling Pop:
I am sorry to say I was intimate with Helen at the Narragansett Pier this fall.
WED Stokes Jr.
Helen Elwood Stokes sued Weddie for $1 million over the assertion. Stokes also named her lovers as Edgar T. Wallace, wealthy California oil man, Hal C. Billig, a playboy millionaire clubman (Billig later sued Stokes for $50,000 damages) Will H. Meyers, Roland Miller, her stepbrother, George Edwin Schroeder, mining engineer, and Hal C. Billig, her cousin, Elliott Brown, a roommate of her half-brother, Victor Miller, at Yale, who shared the room with Weddie when he was in town. The suit also named S. M. Roosevelt, an artist, who had died just before the trial started.
In the case of Roosevelt, a chauffeur who worked for Roosevelt testified that he entered the studio unexpectedly and saw Helen attired in a kimono and smoking a cigarette, sitting in front of an easel containing the picture of a nude woman smoking a cigarette but no such picture could be found in the artist’s collection.
It is still considered one of the dirtiest and mean spirited divorces of its time and it captured the attention of millions of newspaper readers which is what Stokes seemed to want. The divorce and separation suits, when added together, created one of the longest matrimonial trials ever held in this county with litigation that probably costs more than $2,000,000.
Stokes told Helen that he would divorce her “by fair means or foul” and he meant it. He had her shadowed by detectives, (In turn, Helen hired her own detectives, the most notable was W. C. Dannenberg, a legendary Chicago investigator. Dannenberg found a dictograph in Helen’s hotel suite. ) chauffeurs and other employees, who made reports on all her actions and circulated rumors among the servants that she slept had been guilty of misconduct with his son, “Weddie,” at the farm near Lexington, Ky., during the summers of 1912 and 1913.
He told her several times a day that there was something between her and “every man who looked at her;” that “throughout their married life the plaintiff frequently caused and procured strange men to sleep in the same apartment in which she lived,” and that at 2 a.m. on October 7, 1918, she awakened and found her husband standing over her with a drawn revolver in his hand pointing in her direction and “That plaintiff has, for many years, been addicted to the use of drugs and has thereby become habitually so morose and ill-natured in his disposition and so filthy and degraded in his personal habits, and generally so coarse, disgusting and loathsome as a man, that life with him has become intolerable” He also paid a New York City detective to link her with a murderer.
In the middle of the divorce Stokes decided that his wife had not only been a prostitute before her met but she worked for the notorious Everleigh Sisters in Chicago prior to moving to New York City in 1910. The purpose of the prostitution charge was to have custody of two children taken from Helen.
Former heavyweight boxing champion Jack Johnson testified that two private detectives working for W. E. D. Stokes had asked him to swear he knew Helen from her days as a high dollar prostitute in Chicago, but Johnson, whose life was often as messy as W.E.D. Stokes, admitted he had never met Helen.
The baseless charge that Helen had been a prostitute was picked up by the Illinois authorities who decided to prosecute W. E. D. Stokes, for conspiracy to defame his wife.
Helen Stokes was her own best witness and she gave as good as she got during cross-examination by one of the country's best lawyers. During questioning about a November 20, 1916 brawl with her husband, her refused to-be-intimidated attitude prevailed over her husband's lawyers Herbert C. Smyth.
Smith asked “Isn’t it a fact that you injured your husband that day and that he was laid up for five days with the wounds you inflicted?”
“Oh, no, but I defended myself when he choked me.” Mrs. Stokes answered.
“With all I had, my hands and fingernails, I guess.”
“You scratched him good and plenty, didn’t you?”
“I hope I did.”
Stokes lawyers never should have dragged up the issue of physical force being used in the marriage. Stokes ex-wife Rita testified that during Stokes frequently struck her which was followed up by Helen’s testimony that during a quarrel a month after their marriage that “He held me in bed for several hours in the morning,” said Mrs. Stokes. “And when he finally released me I asked him if he were going to pay for some clothing I had ordered. He struck me several times and hurled me against the wall, and told me he was the boss of that household and the sooner I found it out the better it would be for me.”
She added that a few years later Stokes threw her against the wall and pinned her there while his brother, Thomas Stokes, ate a luncheon she had refused to share with him.
“Tom Stokes was an objectionable guest,” she said “and I told my husband that I would not have him there any longer. He talked vilely, called me vile names, and in the presence of Mr. Stokes taunted me often about my husband’s preference for his first wife, saying that Mr. Stokes was sorry from the day he lost her. I left the table and said that Tom Stokes would have to leave. Then my husband slapped me, threw me against the wall and held me there until after Tom Stokes had eaten luncheon. He told me he would hold me a prisoner in the room, behind locked doors, for a week unless I would consent to entertain Tom at my table.”
Tom Stokes was as odd as his brother. In 1918 Thomas Stokes, 73 years old, married a women named Lillyan Marie Loise Kuenemann, age 30 family. He had met her when he was recuperating from stroke at a health camp in the Adirondacks. His first wife, Elizabeth Cosset, died in 1898.
Thomas Stokes family went so far as to get a restraining order against the marriage. But he married her anyway but he was never a fool where money was concerned. When he died on October 9 of 192o, his estate was valued at about $1,000,000. His new bride received only $100,000. Weddie Stokes, Tom’s nephew got a good chunk of the estate along with a gold watch that Weddie’s grandfather had owned as well as stock in Chesapeake Western Railroad.
In an effort to defend is reputation, W.E.D. Stokes told the court that while they were visiting the home of a Mrs. Phil Kearney that “She (Helen) tore my face to shreds. One of the marks I carry now. She spat in my face and kicked my legs. Then she seized a knife and as I fled from her to the kitchen, the cook came out and saved me.”
Helen took the stand and said that, yes, she had indeed, put her hands on her husband but only to defend herself. “He seized me by the throat, choked and shook me violently” and her lawyers added “Several times during the month of March, 1911 the defendant, who has the habit of talking aloud with himself, stated in the defendant’s hearing that he intended to bring a big, negro to the defendant’s room, in consequence of which the defendant was greatly frightened and underwent a nervous strain for a long time thereafter, so that she was afraid to go to her room at night for fear the plaintiff might carry out his announced purpose.”
What’s more she said that at various times he forced her to sign other papers, which she believed, were deeds conveying her dower interest in property belonging to Stokes in New York and other states.
She also said that in the fall of 1911 Stokes asked her to take three men riding in his car and told her later that it was about testing her fidelity
Stokes often told his wife that he was unfaithful and that he had so many women… “Bad women from the streets” ….loitering around his rooms at the Ansonia that she was afraid to go out into the corridor for fear they would attack her.
But it worked both ways. Stokes said he believed some of those women would throw acid on him, and on one occasion, she said, he came into the house with acid on his clothes, saying a woman had thrown it on him. Stokes told her “that one of his women had thrown acid on him; that she was demanding money of him, and that it was necessary that he arrange immediately for the plaintiff and defendant to go south to get away from said woman.”
The Stokes witnesses, many of whom were paid from the Stokes fortune, fumbled and failed and caused more harm than anything else to Stokes case. One primary witness, in fact, a woman billed as a star witness, Emma E. Goodwin, identified Helen Stokes as the woman she frequently saw going up and down the stairway leading to Wallace's apartment where her shop was and then added it was "either Mrs. Stokes or her double." Which gave rise to the theory that witnesses had mistaken another woman for Helen Stokes.
Helen’s former chauffeur, Albert E. Henshaw, testified, badly, that he had “improper relations” with her, Helen leaped to her feet and screamed, "You're a liar!", after which, under cross-examination, Henshaw explained he did not have sex with her. What he meant by "improper relations," he said, was she offered to pay him to uncover evidence against her husband. Helen interrupted, once more calling him a liar.
The nail in his coffin was “On information and belief on or about June 7, 1911, the plaintiff was shot by one of his mistresses while he was visiting her in her apartment in New York City.”
The jury was out only one hour and eight minutes. They awarded a trust fund of $800,000 to Helen and the two children, and gave her custody as. Stokes was granted the visiting privilege at any time, with reasonable arrangements. Helen was granted a legal separation with an understanding she would not appeal the divorce decision. She also received $30,000 a year in alimony.
After being found innocent of conspiring to fix the jury in his divorce against Helen Stokes told the court, “I haven’t very long to live, you know, but I’m going to try to do some good in the time that is left me.”
A year later he left his beloved Ansonia Hotel and moved across the street to an austere four-story brownstone at 238 W. 73d Street. He was alone in the world. He had outlived all but one of his eight siblings. His wives were gone, so were his children. Weddie and he had stopped talking to each other years before. However in his final year he reconciled with Weddie with whom he left his entire estate. His estate was probably worth $5,000,000, or slightly more, which, considering the value of a dollar at the time, was an enormous fortune. Although he left far less money than was expected and even after death, lawsuits initiated by him beforehand, or later filed against his estate, continued to drain away his fortune.
On May 19, 1926, just four days before his 74th birthday, at 11 o'clock in the morning W.E.D. Stokes died of lobar pneumonia. He had been ill for less than a week. None of the family was at his bedside. His nephew, Anson Phelps Stokes, Canon of Washington Cathedral read the funeral services. W.E.D. was buried in Greenwood Cemetery
When Stokes died of the Ansonia fell into the hands of his son Weddie who never cared about the Ansonia and gave its care over to a series of management companies all of which drove the property down. In 1930, the elegant central entrance was bricked up and converted in storefronts. The Depression closed the buildings once exclusive restaurants and above average kitchens. What was left was another New York City residence that offered no services and was quickly declining.
According to author and historian Steven Gaines: "Weddie, who as a young man had shown signs of inheriting his father’s brio and eccentricity, aged into a stern, difficult man who was afraid of germs and refused to enter the home of anyone with a cold. He never cared much about the Ansonia and left its operation to a series of management companies, one of which installed a miniature-golf course in the ballroom, and all of which let the building fall into disrepair. The restaurants and kitchens closed with the Depression. Although the Ansonia kept its 'hotel' designation, it turned into a residence with no services. In 1930, the elegant central entrance on Broadway was bricked up and storefronts were installed”
In 1942, in the midst of the world war the metal ornamentation were stripped from the building and converted to material for bullets and tanks. All of the magnificent cooper in the building was taken including the old cooling systems and copper pneumatic tubes were stripped out of the walls. The magnificent skylight at the top of the staircase was tarred over to comply with blackout regulations, and was never corrected.
Three years later in 1945, at the wars end Weddie Stokes sold the Ansonia to Samuel Broxmeyer, for about $2,500,000. But Broxmeyer was a hustler who drove the building downward rapidly and eventually served five years in prison for tampering with tenants rents. The building was sold at bankruptcy auction for $40,000.
By 1955, the Ansonia’s once fabulous grand apartments had been divided into studios and one-bedroom units. Then in 1968 former opera singer Steve Ostrow rented the abandoned basement swimming pool and turned it into a luxurious gay bathhouse with a renowned cabaret where Bette Midler played with Barry Manilow as her accompanist
When the Continental Baths was closed in 1977 and the new club was opened, Plato’s Retreat, a swingers club for heterosexual couples. A sex shop moved into a street-level storefront. Trouble followed of course. Single men who were denied admission to Plato’s (It was open to single women or couples) began to cluster in front of the building and solicit women. One of the building’s maintenance workers made a hole in the wall of the basement that looked into Plato’s and charged $2 for a few minutes’ peek. Both the Continental Baths and Plato’s became world famous but in 1980 Mayor Ed Koch ordered the club closed due to health concerns.
Adding to the buildings decline New York’s housing codes and laws were changed and residential hotels fell under the protection of the Rent Stabilization Board. As a result the Ansonia’s owner decided to demolish the building. But a petition drew 25,000 signatures and on March 15, 1972 the Ansonia Hotel became a landmark. In 1990, the Ansonia’s became a condo.
Weddie Stokes went on to graduate from Andover, Yale, and the US Naval Academy and earned a law degree from the University of Chicago. (His father gave Weddie a $6,000 a year expense account. At the time the national average income was about $3,000)
He served as naval officer in war time and wrote a book about the connection between the stock market and the stars and compiled a detailed history of the Stokes family, covering 1,000 years. He became a co-founding the much respected Berkshire Country (Mass.), Day School.
He married Florence Crittenton in 1926 and divorced her in 1930, the same year he took control of the Nevada Central Railroad. The couple met on Merritt Island after he beached his 55 foot yacht in front of her property. It took him only three days to propose to her. In 1932, when the depression hit, the courts allowed him to reduce his alimony payments to her from $16,000 a year to $6,000 a year, claiming his income had been reduced from $105,000 a year to $13,000, still about double the national income. Weddie told the court that the market crash had wiped out several sources of his income.
In 1938 he later married Lucia Houston Hobson, the daughter of Richmond Pearson Hobson, a Congressional Medal of Honor recipient. That marriage lasted for 53 years before her death in 1991. They had two children, a son and daughter.
Weddie invested wisely and avoided most of the downfalls that made his father’s life so interesting but dramatic. In 1958, at age 62, he bought the 12 acre Thistlewood estate in Lenox Massachusetts. Weddie had lived off and on in the Lenox area since the 1920.
Weddie and his wife lived in the house for the next 30 years. He was 96 years old when he died in 1992. The Berkshire Eagle wrote his obituary "Mr. Stokes was known in Lenox — and in much of South Berkshire County — as a curmudgeonly critic of a wide range of practices, from intemperate use of gasoline and banks' imposition of high interest charges to vandalism in town parks. He was also an inveterate writer of letters to the editor."
The Princess Sisters of New York
The prickly but well intentioned heiress Caroline Phelps and her sister Olivia, were the daughters of James Stokes and sisters of WED Stokes. The sister built the Ansonia library in 1892 in memory of her grandfather, Ansonia founder Anson Greene Phelps and her parents; Caroline Phelps Stokes (The daughter of Anson Greene Phelps) and James Boulter Stokes of New York City.
November 16 1894 Caroline Phelps ordered the Ansonia library building closed due to a "lack of appreciation" by the city and the people of Ansonia. Phelps built the library in father’s memory. She spent $100,000 on the construction and gave 30,000 volumes. The city said that Phelps placed so many restriction on library use that they were reluctant to be involved with the library services.
Both sister were raised in an atmosphere of Christian piety, missionary zeal, and philanthropy. Her father thought it his duty to spend the family’s wealth in alignment with his Christian values.
They were both home educated and at Miss Porter's School. Unlike their siblings, Caroline and Olivia never married, but chose to live together in devoted companionship. Following their mother's example, they spent their energy and substantial wealth in philanthropic pursuits, in addition to extensive traveling. They grew to be almost identical in their outlook and tastes despite being seven years apart. When their sisters married, both girls stayed single and dedicated themselves philanthropic deeds.
The sisters had been especially interested in creating opportunities for the vocational education of African-Americans in the South, and Caroline bequeathed large sums of money to support institutions like the Tuskegee Institute and the Calhoun Colored School in Alabama. Most importantly, she bequeathed the remainder of her estate to establish the Phelps-Stokes Fund for the improvement of tenement housing in New York, and the education of “Indians, deserving white students, and Negroes in Africa and the United States.”
Caroline died in 1909 after struggled for years with rheumatism. Olivia contributed generously to her sister's charity fund and, in 1915, had two model tenements built in New York.
Olivia served as secretary on the board of the New York Young Women’s Christian Association, taught Sunday school, inherited her mother’s sewing class at the Phelps Chapel, and attended a club for working girls. She was an accomplished writer and authored several inspirational and religious works including Pine and Cedar: Bible Verses (1885), Forward in the Better Life (1915), Saturday Nights in Lent (1922), and Letters and Memories of Susan and Anna Bartlett Warner (1925).
She died in 1927 at the age of 80.
Edward Stiles Stokes
James Fisk, Jr. (April 1, 1835 – January 7, 1872) was a stockbroker corporate executive who was one of the robber barons of the Gilded Age. Born in Pownal, Vermont, he ran away with the circus as a boy, when on to become a hotel waiter and peddler and eventually found his way to Washington DC where he worked for Jordan Marsh selling textiles to the government.
Army contracts and probably some cotton smuggling across enemy lines made him rich (Although he lost his first fortune in speculation)
Fisk became a stockbroker in New York City, and went to work for Daniel Drew a master at manipulating stock prices, as a buyer and played an essential role in Drew’s campaign to wrest control of the Erie Railroad from Cornelius Vanderbilt. Fisk and Jay Gould eventually took the railroad for themselves (By continually issuing fraudulent Erie stock) and remained lifelong business partners. The pair had an alliance with corrupt Tammany Hall leader Boss Tweed who handled their political bribery and when their back channel attempts to corner the gold market caused thousands of investors to lose fortunes Fisk and Gould another fortune.
Fisk married a women named Lucy Moore, an orphan from Springfield, Massachusetts, when he was 19 and she was 15. Lucy was. (She was a stepsister of Col. George W. Hooker of Vermont) It was a sort of open marriage. Fisk carried on in extramarital affair and Lucy had a childhood friend, Fanny Harrod as her lover. One of Fisk’s women was Josie Mansfield, a plump woman whom Fisk put up in an apartment a few doors down from the Erie Railroad headquarters on West 23rd Street and had a covered passage built linking the back doors of the headquarters and her apartment building.
In 1867, Jim Fisk met Helen Josephine “Josie” Mansfield, an unemployed actress, while visiting to the Manhattan bordello of Annie Wood, who introduced the couple. Mansfield was a friend of the Madam and may or may not have been working for her, history isn’t clear on that. Mansfield was broke and close to homeless and Jim Fisk fell instantly in love with her. He bought her clothes, gave her a place to live (a four story house on Twenty-Fourth Street) and paid all of her bills.
Mansfield was born in Boston and at age ten moved west to Stockton, California with her family. Her father was killed in a duel over a political issues and her mother remarried a man named Warren.
She was caught in a scandal when a middle-aged attorney named D. W. Perley started flirting with her and her stepfather had to chase him away at pistol point. Mansfield would later say she was being used by her parents in a blackmail plot. According to a newspaper report “About one month after this acquaintance had been formed, Perley was visiting at the house of Mrs. Warren. Some have said that Mrs. Warren was Josie’s mother. Perley was in the parlor with Helen Josephine at 2 o’clock in the afternoon. The door was locked. Suddenly a loud knocking was heard at the door. Before the inmates of the room had time to respond, the door was burst open, and Lawlor and Mr. Warren rushed into the room. Each had a cocked revolver in his hand. Lawlor quickly advanced to Perley and placed the revolver to his head. Warren stood guard at the door, while Helen Josephine pretended to faint. Lawlor said to Perley: “You infernal scoundrel, you have tampered with the affections of my wife. If you don’t instantly sign a check for $5,000 I will blow your brains out.”
Lawlor then produced a check already filled up for the amount on a local bank, only lacking the signature of Perley. Perley signed it. Lawlor then put his pistol to Perley’s head a second time, and ordered him out of the house, telling him if he ever spoke of the affair he would shoot him on sight.
When Perley escaped he hurried to the bank and stopped payment of the check. He then published the whole transaction in the San Francisco newspapers, describing it as a conspiracy by Warren, Mrs. Warren, Lawlor and his wife. He also sent a friend to Lawlor, warning him out of California within thirty days, on penalty of death. Lawlor sailed with his wife for New York. Mansfield eventually married an actor named Frank Lawler and made their way east. They divorced two years later.
The married Fisk's relationship with Mansfield scandalized New York society.
On New Year’s Day, 1870, Josie Mansfield hosted an open house and Fisk invited d Stokes to join him at the party where he introduced Stokes to Mansfield. Soon afterwards Stokes and Mansfield were secretly seeing other behind Fisk’s back. Mansfield eventually left Fisk and Stokes left his wife and children and moved in with her.
Edward Stiles Stokes (April 27, 1841 – November 2, 1901) was the owner of a New York oil refinery and the son of Edward Halesworth Stokes, A millionaire who owned a New York cloth business. Edward Halesworth Stokes was the brother of James Stokes.
Young Stokes was educated in Philadelphia and later New York before starting in a partnership with Jenks Budlong, manufacturing and selling cheese.
In 1862 he married Maria Southack, daughter of John W. Southack, wealthy furniture manufacturer of New York.
In 1865 Stokes was operating an oil refinery in Brooklyn at Hunter’s Point and brought in railway man James Fisk as a silent partner and carried on a secret arrangement with Fisk discounting freight charges for the Stokes refinery while they billed buyers for the nonexistent charges. Stokes, was a well know figure in New York’s night life. He was rich, tough, dashing, desperately handsome and athletic from a good family. But he was also spoiled and rash, a gambler who spent most of his free time between racetracks and saloons. A flashy dresser who liked be the center of attention, Stokes spent money at a faster rate than he could make it.
Fisk learned about the affair no doubt, since he regularly hired private detectives to follow his partners and top executives around. He struck in a revenge campaign and had Stokes arrested on a charge of embezzlement in connection with the oil business. Stokes also took over the refinery by force and got injunctions against Stokes and his mother (Who the land the refinery was on) from entering the property.
Mansfield has epic nerve. Although she has purred Fisk, she demanded that he turn over $25,000 he told her that he was keeping in trust for her. Fisk refused of course. Now she was in trouble. Word went out across the city that Fisk was no longer paying Mansfield bills and the creditors came called.
Stokes was almost bankrupt at this point. Fisk attacked Stokes Wall Street speculations and refused to ship oil from the Pennsylvania regions to New York. Stokes began a scheme to extort Fisk by blackmail, threatening to give his love letter to Mansfield to the press. The letters were said to outline Fisk’s various fiscal crimes and cheating but Fisk refused to pay.
On January 6, 1872, Fisk, 36 years old, came across Stokes in the Grand Central Hotel and Stokes shot him twice, once in the arm and once in the abdomen as he climbed a set of marble stairs where Stokes was waiting.
Fisk died six hours later after giving a dying declaration identifying Stokes as the killer.
The murder was the sensation of the day. Jubilee Jim Fisk lay in state for a day at the Grand Opera House, a theatre he had owned and managed where 20,000 people came by to pay their last respects. His body was taken by train to Brattleboro, Vermont where thousands more turned out to see the body.
Stokes pleaded self-defense using a blithering string of half-baked truths to explain his actions. Stokes was tried three times for the murder, with each trial showing signs of bribed jurors. He was eventually found guilty of manslaughter and was sentenced to four to six years in Sing Sing prison.
The thirty-nine blackmail letters from Fisk to Mansfield were published in the New York Herald one week after Jim Fisk’s death. They contained no proof of wrong doing and were, essentially, syrupy love letter and little else.
Stokes’s father had gone bankrupt paying for his son’s defense and Stokes himself was penniless. Businessman Cassius Reed put up the money for the second trial, and relatives spent $60,000 on the third trial. Stokes cousin, W. E. D. Stokes, convinced his father to spend this $60,000 for Stokes legal defense. The money never stopped pouring in. While in Sing Sing, he had a private office, a very comfortable cell with a small but respectable library and shelves stocked with good whiskey, cigars, champagne and delicacies.
After his release from prison Stokes became a one third partner of Cassius H Read, a friend of his who owned the Hoffman House Hotel, corner of Twenty-Fifth Street and Broadway. The Hoffman House was New York’s gather spot for the rich and famous. Its tenants and guests included Sarah Bernhardt, Grover Cleveland, Buffalo Bill Cody, Tony Pastor, John L. Sullivan, General Winfield Scott and others. Stokes and his family lived there as well. Stokes and Read were involved in several business ventures together before the Fisk killing.
While Stokes was on trial and sitting in a cell in the Tombs, he asked Read to watch over his affairs for him, which Read did faithfully. Despite the toll it took on his own reputation, Read stood by Stokes during the entire trial.
It’s interesting that while Stokes was being held on Murderer’s Row in the Tombs, he didn’t live badly. At the time, prisoner with money could have whatever they could pay. Stokes had a carpet on the cell floor, had meals brought in from Delmonico’s which was across the street from his home.
When Stokes was in Sing Sing Prison. Read loaned him $1,500, a considerable amount of money at the time and when Stokes was released from prison, Read took him in. But Stokes was always quarrelsome, with everyone, and seemed to thrive on lawsuits and he of course eventually sued Read. (Stokes also had a long running battle with his cousin, W. E. D. Stokes)
When he took Stokes in as a partner, Stokes managed to have Read change ownership of the hotel into a corporation. Stokes managed to get control of the corporation by secretly buying up stock and making himself President of the company. At the same time, Read made a series of bad investments at Stokes suggestion, and by 1895, Stokes had pushed him out of the company. Broke, Read retired from business. When Stokes and Read first went into business together, Read was worth an estimated $700,000, a fortune at the time equally today to about $20 million dollars.
Three years later, Stokes, now very wealthy, sold the hotel. However the New York Times reported that Stokes never went to bed without the lights on and a valet on a couch, beside him. He was always afraid of Fisk’s ghost.
Stokes died in New York City on November 2, 1901 at 3 o'clock afternoon at his sister home at 731 St. Nicholas Avenue. He had been battling Bright's disease for two month. Just before he died Rosamond Langdon Barclay, who was half black and half white, (called an “Octoroon” in the newspapers of the day) appeared at Stokes death bed and claimed to be his wife. She said they were married a year before “On Oct. 18, 1900, at Shipmen’s Point, Canada, by an Episcopal minister whose name I don’t remember.”
She said that she had first met Stokes when she was a little girl. She said her father was Charles Barclay, an Englishman, and a friend of Stokes and that she was given a private education in Farmington, Conn., and that twelve years ago she renewed her acquaintance with Stokes. “Mr. Stokes and I were married He was stopping at the hotel where we were. At the time Mr. Stokes was not in good health, and he wished to provide for me and arrange matters so that should he become seriously ill I would have the right to visit him, even though our marriage was not made public.”
The Stokes family probably managed to pay her off because a day after Stokes died Rosamond and her mother and brother (Who lived at Stokes house as well) left Stokes mansion and moved to Yonkers never to be heard from again.
Josie Mansfield, the lover of both Fisk and Stokes, sued Fisk’s widow for $200,000, which she claimed she was owed. She lost the suit. She left New York for Paris, France. In 1891, at the age of 50, in London, she married Robert Livingston Reade, a young multimillionaire who soon left her but always supported her. In 1899 she was stricken with paralysis she moved to Philadelphia to live with her sister, the wife of a wealthy merchant. In 1909, she was reported to be living in poverty with her brother in Watertown, South Dakota. She went to Boston. But was hooted and booed in the streets. She managed to return to Paris where she lived for many years, dying in an American hospital in Paris in 1931.
Anson Phelps Stokes
Anson Phelps Stokes (February 22, 1838 – June 28, 1913) was the son of James Boulter and Caroline Stokes. He was educated by tutors from the Union Theological Seminary who instructed him in mathematics, Latin and Greek. He then attended private schools in New York before joining the family business of Phelps, Dodge & Company in 1855 when he was 17.
Over the next few decades he invested in real estate and real estate development. The names of the companies within his portfolio, Wyllys, Woodbridge, Haynes and Dudley reflected Stokes's interest in family genealogy, as they were all names of his or his wife's ancestors. After his death in 1913 these various property companies and others were consolidated by his sons and his long term financial advisor, John W. McCulloch, to form Phelps Stokes Estate, Inc.
For a while he joined his father-in-law as a director at the Second National Bank and the Mercantile Bank. In 1884 there was a run on the Second National Bank following the misappropriation of funds by the bank's president, John Chester Eno who had speculated and lost millions of dollars on Wall Street during the panic of 1884. The banks directors, including Isaac N Phelps and Anson Stokes, made up the losses.
Stokes was also involved with the silver mining boom town of Austin, Nevada, later organized as the Manhattan Silver Mining Co and the Nevada Central Railway. His son, James Graham Phelps Stokes, who had recently finished his education at Yale and medical school, became the president. In 1897, Stokes built "Stokes Castle", a three-story stone tower just outside Austin for his son. The building was only occupied for a month, then fell into disrepair.
Stokes married Helen Louisa Phelps on October 17, 1865. Both were descended from George Phelps who came to North America from England in 1630. In 1893, Stokes built Shadowbrook, a 100-room Berkshire Cottage at Lenox, Massachusetts. The family also owned a house on Staten Island in 1868 where several of their children were born there. They sold in 1886, never to return, because "cheap excursion places had caused the ferry-boats to be overcrowded and had brought a rough element to the island." Stokes had built several "cottages" on the property before they vacated.
In 1902, Stokes bought land at the southern tip of Long Neck, a small peninsula in Darien, Connecticut and built Brick House where he lived for decades. The Stokes family also had a summer house called Great Camp on Upper St. Regis Lake in the Adirondacks.
On August 12 1899 Anson lost one of his legs in a horse-riding accident when he was thrown against a tree and his leg crushed.
Stokes was a committee member of the Civil Service Reform Association with Theodore Roosevelt. The objective of the Association was to establish a system of appointment and promotion in the Civil Service depending upon suitability assessed by competitive examinations, open to all applicants properly qualified, and that removals should be made for legitimate cause only, such as dis-honesty, negligence, or inefficiency, but not for political opinion or refusal to render party service.
He was also chairman of the National Association of Anti-Imperialist Clubs, a movement formed in 1898 to oppose the annexation of Cuba, Puerto Rico, Guam and the Philippines at the end of the Spanish‐American War.
An active member and supporter of the free trade league and first president of the New York Reform Club in 1894 Stoke published his proposals on a monetary system that would be based on the combined use of gold and silver called joint metallism. (Bear in mind Stokes's enormous interest in silver mining in Nevada)
Stokes was a yachtsman who designed a warship, referred to as a globular naval battery that was a floating fortress, typically used for harbor defense. The idea came from the story of the British naval use of an island in the Caribbean called Diamond Rock.
He was deeply interested in tracing his family history and in 1909 he published the first volume of Stokes Records. The final volume was printed in 1915, having been finished by his children.
A frequent visitor to London, his wife and daughters, Sarah and Helen, were presented at court in 1889. He attended court of Queen Victoria at St James's Palace during the London seasons, keeping a set of clothes for the occasion - black velvet coat, waistcoat, black silk stockings, shoes with buckles and a sword with a black scabbard.
Anson Phelps Stokes died at 230 Madison Avenue on June 29, 1913. His personal wealth was estimated at $25,000,000 at the time of his death, or about $599,579,125 in today's dollars. However, when his estate was settled, a month after his death, it was reported that the actual value of his estate was between $500,000 and $750,000 (about $17,987,374)
He left nine children: four sons and five daughters. His sons include Anson Phelps Stokes, an educator and clergyman. Architect Isaac Newton Phelps Stokes, noted socialist James Graham Phelps Stokes and Harold Montrose Phelps Stokes who was on the New York Times and a free-lance author.
Sarah Maria Phelps Stokes married Baron Hugh Colin Gustave George Halkett of old Scotch family, which dated back to King David Bruce. His father had been prime minister of Hanover, and his great-grandfather was the Colonel Halkett of the Hanoverian auxiliaries who personally captured the French General Cambronne, commander of the Imperial Guard, at Waterloo. One of his ancestors was Mary Seton, lady in waiting to Mary Queen of Scots.
They divorced in 1902. The divorce was granted on the ground of extreme cruelty (She testified that on several occasions he kicked her.) and the Baron’s “notorious infidelity”
Sarah went on to write three books of children's verses, Aunt Sadie's Rhymes, published in 1916 and Beyond the Mountain, published in 1917, and Elf King's Flowers, published in 1924.
She died at age 74, in Washington DC after an illness of several years. Halkett died on March 4 1904. “He was serving in the war in South Africa, got a slight hurt on his head, and had to have this operated on, when evidence was found of the effects of a more serious injury which he had sustained when, before his marriage, his horse fell with him in Hyde Park, and he struck on his head, fractured his skull and became unconscious, remaining for some time in hospital at Hyde Park Corner.”
Ethel Valentine Phelps Stokes married philanthropist John Sherman Hoyt in 1895. John Sherman Hoyt (Named after their great-uncle General W. T. Sherman) was from Darien Connecticut. His family owned Cinaudagraph Corp, a loudspeaker manufacturer in Stamford. Hoyt (1870 – 1954) is best remembered as the founder of the Boy Scouts of America. Hoyt’s son, Sherman Hoyt Jr., was a well-regarded breeder of poodles, greyhounds and other then rare breeds under the Blakeen Kennels name.
The Hoyt family had a large estate on Continent Island in the Tokeneke section of Darien. During the 1920’s and 1930’s Hoyt would allow Darien Scouts to camp on an island off of his estate. The Camp became known as Treasure Island and served as a Summer Camp. Hoyt helped to finance the original Darien Scout Cabin in 1926.
Caroline M. Phelps Stokes married Wiles Robert Hunter of Terre Haute, Indiana was a blue blood whose money came from the manufacture of horse-drawn carriages and buggies. A social progressive like his wife he was an organizing secretary for the Chicago Bureau of Charities and was involved with the Settlement Movement, a resident of Hull House and manager of the University Settlement in New York. He met Caroline M. Phelps Stokes while they were both serving on the New York Commission investigating child labor. Hunter ran for a seat in the New York State Assembly as a socialist and later for the United States Senate for Connecticut, again as a socialist. He was an avid amateur golfer and responsible in part for the sports enormous popularity in the US.
Mildred Phelps Stokes married Dr Ransom Spafard Hooker who was descended from Lyman Hall, a signer of the Declaration of Independence. Hooker was interested in anthropology and exploration and only illness in the family prevented him from joining Admiral Robert E. Peary to the North Pole in 1909. Hooker served as a major in the Army Medical Corps in World War 1 and commanded the 308thSanitary Train of the 83rd Division and later organized a 3,000-bed Army Hospital in Le Mans, France.
Back home after the war, he opened a successful surgical practice and taught at Columbia University’s College of Physicians and Surgeons as associate professor of surgery. The family summered at their home in Charleston, South Carolina and at the Hooker camp on Birch Island on Upper St. Regis Lake.
Their only son Ransom S. Hooker, Jr., sophomore at Yale, was killed on February 16, 1930 when a car he was striving “at a high rate of speed” through Simsbury skidded of the icy road, overturned and crashed into a large elm tree.
Helen Olivia Phelps Stokes was an activist and painter.
The Life of the Mind
James Graham Phelps Stokes
Life is often stranger than fiction. And to prove that in the year 1907, when the Stokes family essentially owned and operated Ansonia as a private fiefdom, James Graham Phelps Stokes, the heir to the vast Stokes fortune (when added together, the entire family fortune was estimated to be somewhere between $500,000,000 and one billion dollars) addressed a large crowd at Ansonia’s German Hall with the speech entitled “Why I am a Socialist" and was followed by a wife who’s speech was "Socialism, the Hope for the World"
At the time, the entire valley was feeling the effects of a business depression that caused a spike in applications to the Charities Department and the Stokes family owned Ansonia Brass & Copper Co, the Ansonia Copper Co and the Ansonia Land & Water Powder Co. (The reservoir, they also had a lock on the very lucrative ice business in the valley)
James Graham Phelps Stokes, who preferred to be called by his middle name Graham was born in New York City, one of 9 children to Anson Phelps Stokes (A founder of the Metropolitan Museum of Art) and Helen Louisa Phelps, descendant of one of America’s oldest and wealthiest families. Graham’s great-grandfather, Thomas Stokes, was founder of Phelps, Dodge & Co.
Graham Stokes attended Yale for his undergraduate work and then obtained an M.D. degree from Columbia University in 1896 although he never practiced medicine. He served in the New York National Guard during the Spanish–American War as a private in the U.S. Army cavalry.
According to the writer/historian Stephen Birmingham, Stokes was "Yale 1892, over six feet tall, darkly handsome, with the profile and athletic build of a Greek god. He sailed, he rode horses, and at college had been a track and tennis star. For years he had been regarded as one of New York s most eligible bachelors."
Like his Aunt Graham was also deeply concerned with the plight of the American underclass and poverty and in November of 1902 left the family mansion at 299 Madison Avenue (The family also owned a hundred room mansion in Lenox, Massachusetts) to live in a cramped settlement area for the masses of new immigrants from Europe on the Lower East Side of Manhattan, one of the poorest areas of New York City if not the entire USA.
Historians Arthur Zipser and Pearl Zipser describe l the scene: "There was a lively intellectual atmosphere on the top floor of the University Settlement house, where the highly educated, mostly rich, young social workers had their residence, dining, and club rooms.
It was a world apart from the lower floors of the building, where the regular settlement house functions were carried out among the denizens of the surrounding ghettoized slum. This separation between leaders and led was not the goal they were aiming for, which was the outreach of the privileged to the downtrodden. But the separation was real."
His sister Caroline Phelps Stokes joined him and soon fell in love and eventually married who with a settlement house, Robert Hunter, later was widely known socialist journalist and author. Graham also fell in love, to young a woman named Rose Pastor, news reporter who interviewed him for the Yiddish Daily News, whose offices were near the settlement area. They were married July 18, 1905.
Rose Harriet Pastor Stokes was born Rose Wieslander to an Orthodox Jewish family in a tiny shtetl, Augustava Suvolk, in the Russian Empire (present-day Poland), the daughter of Jacob and Hindl (later known as Anna) Wieslander.
The family immigrated to Cleveland Ohio in 1891 where they were abandoned by their step-farther and alcoholic who suffered from depression. Rose managed to attend high school while holding a series of jobs and held the rest of the family, her mother and six siblings, together. One job she had was as a cigar roller “surreptitiously” one writer said “holding books in one hand while she rolled wet, dirty cigars with the other until her supervisor came to inspect her work, at which time she hid the book under her apron.”
A natural, talented writer, she responded to a solicitation by the Yiddish Tageblatt (Jewish Daily News, based in New York City) for letters from Jewish workers, she submitted a letter about the fate of the working class. When it was published, she was encouraged to write more and eventually the Jewish Daily News hired her on staff and she moved to New York in 1903. She became a columnist at $15 a week, in the English-language section (The paper was published mostly in Yiddish.) offering advice to other young women. Several years later she was able to afford to send for her mother and siblings.
In July 1903, Pastor was assigned to interview Graham Stokes because of his financial support of the settlement house on the Lower East Side where was living. The day after they were married, (On April 5, 1905, the front page of the New York Times took the unusual step of announcing a wedding on its front page: "J.G. PHELPS STOKES TO WED YOUNG JEWESS.") the couple publically disowned their religions (Jewish and Episcopalian) and announced they were devoting themselves to developing Socialism in America.
The young couple wouldn’t have to fret over money matters. The family had already appointed Graham president of the state Bank of Nevada as well as giving him sole ownership of a railroad, the Nevada Central.
The following month, September 1905, heartened by the results of the Presidential election of 1904, which saw the party's candidate, Eugene V. Debs, win approximately 400,000 votes, they joined Upton Sinclair, Jack London, Clarence Darrow, and Florence Kelley, to found the Intercollegiate Socialist Society (ISS) to encourage study and discussion of socialism in colleges.
Jack London would be the first president of the organization, Sinclair as first vice-president, Graham Phelps Stokes as second vice-president and anti-child labor activist Owen R. Lovejoy chosen as treasurer.
In May 1907, London resigned the presidency of the ISS and Graham Stokes assumed the position.
From 1905 to 1921, the ISS, the brainchild of Upton Sinclair, attracted prominent intellectuals and writers and acted as an unofficial student wing of the Socialist Party of America. The Society sponsored lecture tours, magazines, seminars and discussion circles all over the US aimed at spreading socialist ideas among America's college population. Chapters were started at Wesleyan and Columbia University, Harvard, Princeton, Bernard, New York University Law School, and the University of Pennsylvania.
In November of 1905, Stokes became a candidate for public office, running as the candidate of the Municipal Ownership League for President of the New York Board of Aldermen.
Over the next decade, Graham and Rose Stokes lectured on behalf of the ISS on college campuses around America. However, despite his speeches on behalf of socialism, Graham never wandered far from the family fortune and served as an officer of Phelps Stokes Corporation, the Austin Mining Company, the Nevada Central Railroad, and the State Bank of Nevada as a member of the Board of Directors of the Tuskegee Institute.
In 1909, after the couple moved to Westport, Connecticut, Rose took part in the Shirtwaist Strike, to show support for the 40,000 garment workers in New York and because of her marriage to Stokes, became an instant media celebrity.
In May and June 1912, she led a strike by the New York City restaurant and hotel workers and in 1913, she aided the New York garment workers in another strike.
Rose’s next push was for birth control, illegal at the time. She distributed birth control information, organized meetings and worked closely with Margaret Sanger and Emma Goldman, two of the leading birth control proponents of the day.
Somehow, in the midst of all this, Rose also managed to write and produce several plays and contribute poetry to The Masses, Independent and The Century Magazine.
In the meantime, Graham Stokes began pulling away and spent most of his time writing. He was highly embarrassed by Rose’s birth control activities and more and more he was dubious about the party’s work in the labor movement. Understandably most members of the Stokes family vehemently opposed to Rose’s politics. (To say nothing of her passing out birth-control literature at Carnegie Hall during concerts)
In 1917, with the outbreak of World War One, the Socialists denounced the American war intervention into the war. However, Graham and Rose Stokes withdrew from the party. Graham joined the Armed Forces of the United States. Rose also disagreed with the party’s position on the war and believed that Germany was a threat to democratic nations.
Rose rejoined the party shortly afterwards and began travelling across the US speaking out against the war. In 1918, after her comments following a speech in Kansas City were incorrectly reported, Pastor Stokes wrote a letter to the editor of the Kansas City Star in which she criticized US involvement in World War I. She accused the US government of being allied with profiteers. Shortly afterwards she was indicted by the federal government for violating the Espionage Act of 1917.
She was tried in Kansas City, Missouri, found guilty and sentenced to 10 years in Missouri State prison. She was released on appeal and the government ultimately dismissed the case against her in 1920.
By then, Rose’s marriage to Graham was too strained to continue and in 1925 Graham brought a petition for divorce, on grounds of "misconduct by his wife". They were divorced shortly afterwards with Rose issuing a statement that she and her husband had lived as "friendly enemies for some time” but that she would cherish her freedom.
She remarried in 1929 to Jerome Isaac Romaine, a Polish-Russian Jew immigrant, was a language teacher and an active member of the Communist Party. The couple lived at 215 Second Avenue in the Lower East Side but Rose kept her cottage in Westport, and frequently lived there.
In 1919, she was among the founders with associates of the American Communist Party.
In 1922, she traveled to Moscow as an American delegate to the Fourth Congress of the Communist International and served there as the reporter for the special Negro Commission at the Congress and adopted the pseudonym "Sasha".
She participated in strikes and made court appearances to support men and women arrested for picketing and/or demonstrating. In 1929 she was arrested for demonstrating during a garment workers' strike. Due to her years of working with activists of the Lower East Side, she was called "Rose of the Ghetto".
She was diagnosed with breast cancer in 1930. In 1933, with hospital costs paid by her friends, she went to Germany for radiation therapy. However the cancer was too advanced and she died in the hospital on June 20, 1933, aged 53.
On March 13, 1926, Graham married Lettice Lee Sands at his sister’s home at 173 East Seventy-First Street in New York. The newlyweds moved into a home at 88 Grove Street. His sister eventually moved in with them and lived there until her death in 1945. Graham died of natural causes in 1960. Lettice Stokes remained in 88 Grove until her death in 1988.
The Upright Citizen
Isaac Newton Phelps Stokes
Isaac Newton Phelps Stokes (Called Newton by the family) was the eldest son of Helen Louise (Phelps) and Anson Phelps Stokes. The house he grew up in now houses the Morgan Library surrounded “by the requisite patrician eccentricities” especially his mother's fondness for her pet monkeys. "They used to sit” he recalled “on her shoulder and warm their clammy little hands by putting them inside the neck of her dress." One of them almost burned the Madison Avenue house down while playing with matches.
He was said to be effete, aristocratic and humble to a fault. He was educated at St. Paul's School, Concord, and Berkeley School in New York City before graduating from Harvard in 1891.
Newton graduated from Harvard in 1891, writing "I joined a rather `sporty' table. We had a room on the second floor of a frame building on Holyoke Street. There was a large old-fashioned square piano in the room, on which Jack Wendell used to play and sing after dinner. One night, when we were all feeling rather excited, I presume after some college athletic success, the other members of the table became rather boisterous—I was always quiet and well-mannered!—and proceeded to throw the furniture, including the piano, out of the window. We were promptly dismissed by the landlady on the following morning, and had to form a new table, this time exchanging our most outstanding `sporty' member (Foxhall Keene) for Joe Leiter, who, I well remember, had found a sure method for passing examinations without doing the prescribed course work—a bottle of champagne at breakfast did the trick, with amazing success."
It was reported that when he campaigned in freshman class elections, (He joined every almost every club and society on campus) that he took in most of the Jewish votes because many of the Jewish students assumed, based on his first name, Isaac, that he was Jewish. Although Newton always rallied against anti-Semitic behavior, he stopped using the name Isaac and referred to himself as I. N. Phelps Stokes, not Isaac Phelps Stokes.
Towards the end of his undergraduate years, his attitudes changed and he stove to understand and improve the life of America’s poor. "I came to the conclusion," he later wrote, "that better housing for the working classes was one of the crying needs of the day, and that the designing and promotion of better housing, especially in our large cities, furnished as good an opportunity for useful service as any other profession." To this end, "to equip myself with a better working knowledge of architecture in general, before beginning to specialize,"
When it came time to marry he turned towards a childhood friend.
Edith Minturn Stokes paternal grandfather built the world's fastest clipper ship. Her other ancestors included Josephine Shaw Lowell who was a big part of the settlement movement in New York, and her uncle was Robert Gould Shaw who led the all Black 54th Massachusetts regiment. Edith's great niece was Edie Sedgwick, (Edith Minturn "Edie" Sedgwick) the 1960's and Warhol icon, who was named after her. She died of an accidental drug overdose. Edith’s other niece was the tragic starlet Rosamond Pinchot Gaston. Her life was as glamorous and tragic as her distant cousin Edie Sedgwick. On the morning of January 24, 1938, a cook found Pinchot's body in the front seat of her car parked in the garage of a rented estate in Old Brookville New York. She had killed herself by asphyxia due to carbon monoxide poisoning.
She grew to be a tough young woman whom her brother Robert dubbed “Fierce”, her nickname inside the family. Due to a reversal of fortune by her father’s bumbling’s her debut was simple and inexpensive (A few years later the Minturn family fortunes was restored.)
They were both born in 1867 and grew up together on Staten Island, once a bastion of the rich. When it came time to marry, he took Edith for a sleigh ride in the country, tried propose but was refused. A few months he visited her at her family summer home in Canada, where she accepted his proposal.
They made a good couple. Both of them were progressive liberal who were interested in social justice and improving the lives of others and had little or no interests in the party life of the rich and famous.
As an example, in Paris, Where he was known by the local street urchins as Monsieur Tête D’Asperges (“Mr. Asparagus Head”) before his marriage, Stokes's sense of social conscience led him to experience the plight poor. He dressed as a street person, lived in flop houses. He wrote "A French Bowery boarding-house, or rather `night-retreat,' frequented mostly by tramps and criminals. I left my apartment at about ten o'clock at night, having donned a very old and dilapidated suit, and a peaked cap bought for the purpose. I tied a red bandanna handkerchief around my neck, mussed up my hair and beard, smeared my face with charcoal, slipped by the concierge, and made my way through some of the less frequented streets to this `under-world' resort. I selected a seat between the two least disreputable and dangerous-looking characters, and prepared for slumber, but my companions conversed in loud whispers most of the night. The conversation covered many subjects, but I remember particularly that my nearest neighbors discussed the mysteries of Free Masonry."
Nothing had improved by morning "The soup did not look appetizing, and the bowls were very dirty, so I decided to wait for my breakfast until my return to the Boulevard St. Germain. I expected to have some difficulty in getting by the concierge, who usually took a good look at everyone who rang the bell and came in during the night. I suppose he was particularly sleepy this night, or rather morning, for, as I called out: `Monsieur Stokes,' he pulled the cord that released the latch without even raising his head from his pillow."
After his marriage, he continued the habit in New York, writing "A night which I had spent some years before in the wood-yard of the Charity Organization Society in New York. . . . I arrived too late to do my regular stint of cutting wood, and also too late to secure a regular bed, escaping thereby the obligatory bath which went therewith. I was allowed to sleep on a table. . . . My immediate companions were two tramps who had recently worked as track-walkers on a railroad in the West. They asked me whether I had ever worked on a railroad. I told them that I had—which was true, as I was at the time president of the Nevada Central R.R."
For her part, Edith became involved with the New York Kindergarten Association, and helped make Kindergarten, then a radical concept, a daily part of American life. She also ran a sewing school for immigrant women. Unable to have children, the couple adopted a little girl from England in 1906. For good measure they bought a house in England and had it shipped to the states.
They married in 1895 at La Malbaie, Quebec, Canada. Both were 28, very old by standards of the day. The Reverend William Rainsford, a noted reformer who officiated at their wedding said "I have known one or two women as beautiful; one or two women as interesting; one or two women as spiritual; but for the combination of the three I have never known her equal."
They would live in Paris while Stokes continued his studies. By then he had taken post graduate courses at Columbia University and then Italy before deciding to take three years at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Paris.
While there, a family friend named James Scrimser gave then a portrait sitting by John Singer Sargent as a wedding present. Initially Edith arrived for the painting in a blue evening gown but after five weeks of sittings, Sargent dissatisfied with the painting. A while later Edith came to the studio in her daily clothes and Sargent immediately knew that was the look he wanted.
In the new portrait Edith, standing in front of her husband (A statement in itself for the times) holding a straw boater hat that gives her a vitality, an energetic glow of wealth and health. The slight smile on her face gives her a sense of freshness and her hands on her hips tells the viewer that she a modern woman, the new American women who is independent.
Aside from the John Singer Sargent portrait she also served as the model for Daniel Chester French's colossal Statue of the Republic, the centerpiece of the Columbian Exposition of 1893 in Chicago. (It still stands in the former fairgrounds, in Jackson Park on Chicago's South Side.)
Returning to New York, Newton founded an architectural firm, Howells & Stokes with John Mead Howells, in 1897. Their designs included St. Paul's Chapel at Columbia University, the University Settlement Society building at 184 Eldridge Street, New York, the Baltimore Stock Exchange; the American Geographical Society Building in New York, the Turks Head Building, Providence, the Tribune Tower and Daily News Building, New York.
His aunts, the spinsters Caroline and Olivia Stokes, hired him to design several of their charitable building projects including the Tuskegee tenement building in New York (1901); St. Paul's Chapel at Columbia University (1907); Berea College Chapel (1906); Woodbridge Hall at Yale (part of the Hewitt Quadrangle) (1901); two tenements called the Dudley complex at 339-349 East 32nd Street, New York (1910); an outdoor pulpit for St. John the Divine Cathedral (1916) and memorial gates at both Harvard and Yale universities, Hartford First Church Cemetery and Redlands Hillside Memorial Park Cemetery in California.
The partners parted way and the firm closed in mid 1910s.
Anson Stokes’s once said “I have been indisposed to political life, because it is here commonly sordid, interferes with freedom of conscience and of thought and of expression and of action, and often brings unpleasant and immoral associations; and I have felt that I could be more useful working non-politically for civil service reform, free trade, etc., and bringing up my children to be good citizens.”
And they were.
The entire family strongly believed in using their wealth to pursue Christian goals. They were active in the temperance movement, abolitionism, education of blacks, foreign missions, Bible and tract societies, the YMCA, and children's hospitals. The elder Caroline Stokes was a particularly strong influence on her daughters. She emphasized the importance of service to the poor, helped found the Colored Orphan Asylum of New York, and supported black students in the United States and Africa. She also taught a sewing class at the Phelps Chapel.
Among the institutions benefiting from the Phelps sisters' generosity were St. Paul's Chapel at Columbia University, Yale University, New York Zoological Society, New York Botanical Garden, Berea College, Peabody Home for Aged and Infirm Women in Ansonia, Connecticut, and many missionary causes.
Caroline Phelps Stokes, one of Anson's sisters, left her estate to the form the Phelps Stokes Fund in order to help improve the housing and education of minorities. Caroline bequeathed money to build chapels at such notable African-American educational institutions as Tuskegee Institute and Calhoun Colored School in Alabama. She also endowed a fund at Hampton Institute in Virginia to educate blacks and Native Americans. The balance of her estate established the Phelps-Stokes fund, which was dedicated to improving tenement housing in New York and educating Indians, "deserving" white students, and black students in the United States and Africa.
Later his other sister, Olivia, used the fund to specifically aid "Negro education". Nowhere on its website does it do more than acknowledge that it was founded by a bequest of Anson's sister Caroline. Her brother Anson and his son the Rev. Anson P. Stokes were both initial trustees of the fund. I wonder if any members of the family have anything to do with the fund at all anymore.
Newton was a member of the New York Municipal Arts Commission for twenty-eight years and president for nine of those years. As head of the Art Commission, Stokes oversaw the WPA mural program for the City of New York, which sponsored murals at locations including the Marine Air Terminal at LaGuardia Airport, Harlem Hospital, and New York Public Library.
He was also director and president of the Phelps-Stokes Fund; trustee, New York Public Library; honorary vice-president, Community Service Society of New York, Fine Arts Federation of New York and President of the Municipal Art Commission of New York.
In 1919 the Municipal Art Society put Stokes in charge of fund-raising for its campaign to restore Central Park. It so happened that while researching the Iconography, he had found Olmsted and Vaux's original Greensward plan for the Park, (Calvert Vaux had taught Stokes how to row in the park).
Based on the plan, he waged a successful, hard line, fight to save the park and keep its original intent in its development. He fought off a proposed stadium and managed to have the city to keep the park clear of recreational amenities. (Which meant he managed to keep ball fields off the Great Lawn of Central Park.)
Newton Stokes was active in housing reform. He was a co-author of the Tenement House Law of 1901, and designer of the University Settlement House. With his architect friend, John Meade Howells, the son of novelist and Editor William Dean Howells, he entered a competition for the design of the University Settlement House on the Lower East Side, then America's worst slum and he won. The University Settlement House, still stands at Eldridge and Rivington Streets.
He was appointed a member of the Tenement House Committee of the Charity Organization Society in 1899, and was appointed a member of the State Tenement House Committee by Governor Roosevelt in 1901. He was also a member of the Executive Committee and chairman of the Committee on New Building and in this role was a co-author of the Tenement House Law of 1901.
He also worked on the federal government's very first steps into mass housing: the erection of communities for shipbuilders during World War I. He was a vociferous advocate of garden housing for the poor; indeed, mention Stokes's name around 1930, and people would hear "playgrounds."
However, Newton is best known for an exhaustive and authoritative six volume tome called the Iconography of Manhattan Island which is the single most vital resource for historians of New York City. Published between 1915 and 1928, Stokes worked on it for twenty years, it is a huge compilation of historical information, maps, drawings and detailed chronologies and bibliographies tracing the physical development of Manhattan from earliest Dutch colonial times to the twentieth century.
The historian John A. Kouwenhoven wrote that it is "the most magnificent collection of New York pictures ever yet, or ever likely to be, published."
Stokes later said of his Iconography: "I now realize that it involved an expenditure of time, energy, and money, which was probably out of proportion to the results achieved, and consumed many hours which should have been devoted, not only to my office, but to my family, and to social amenities, so that, on the whole, I suspect that it has proved a rather selfish, perhaps even a narrowing, influence on my life."
As they aged Edith suffered from chronic hypertension which often left her bed ridden. In her sixties, she suffered a series of strokes, which left her almost completely speechless and paralyzed. Working on the belief that his wives mental faculties were intact, her husband would spend hours reading to her from her favorite books, taking through central park, or playing her favorite music.
She died at age 70 in 1937. Following the death of his wife Newton resigned many of his public duties. He lived on for another 7 years until he passed away in 1944 at age 77. By then, although he was till fabulously wealthy by standards of the day, his fortune was depleted from what it had been. His expenditures on the collection for the Iconography cost an enormous amount of money and he lost money on the stock market as well. When the Great Depression came, he sold their beloved Gramercy Park mansion and moved to a modest two-room-and-kitchenette duplex at 953 Fifth Avenue that he had designed years earlier.