The company unified two enterprizes created by John Dwight and his brother-in-law, Dr. Austin Church of Connecticut. Their partnership had begun in 1846 with the two founders selling sodium bicarbonate, also known as baking soda, that they refined in Dwight's kitchen. The arm and hammmer logo was derived from the Vulcan Co. of Church's sons, which had formed a part of the Church and Dwight merger.
On finding all my loved-ones cruelly dead,
Who knows my many agonies and so deep a dreading.
I swear, I thought: 'I'll never relearn love,
For look where all my faith and hope have led.'
"You'll be alright. In time, all will be OK."
The concerned grief councilor reassuringly said.
But while I lie and toss and weep and turn,
Still finding little rest, safe tucked in bed.
Each night I wake, and wonder out-loud;
'Why: Somehow, I did not cruelly die instead?'
Do you belive in true love? Many do. Sentimental people offer such hopefulness. They provide an outward manifestation of ideas so many cherish; that love can be real, that affection might endure. Love is, and always has been an extraordinary motivator. So, it ought hardly come as a surprise learning that Darryl Pinckney's and James Fenton's Harlem house, undergoing a painstaking and commendably-costly restoration emblematic of mutual devotion, arose out of a romance.
This is not by any means, always the case. In various works Edith Wharton has demonstrated how the idea of the absence of love and fulfillment can be perfectly symbolized by a deceptively grand house, crowded with lonely desolation. Certainly it was of the utmost importance to grand people of her time, the possession and proper arrangement of, well-appointed houses. Obtaining so secure a perch sometimes involved negotiation and adjustment that compromised all involved in the most unspeakable terms.
So, we arrive at the descriptive reference to such a dwelling, set forth by Wharton in her 1891 storey, The Fullness of Life ,
I have sometimes thought that a woman's nature is like a great house full of rooms: there is the hall, through which everyone passes in going in and out; the drawing room, where one receives formal visits; the sitting room, where members of the family come and go as they like, but beyond that, far beyond, are other rooms, the handles of whose doors are never turned; no one knows the way to them, no one knows whither they lead, and in the innermost room, the holy of holies, the soul sits alone and waits for a footstep that never comes...
One who has never owned a house, might imagine that most people are best revealed by the room or rooms they occupy. For a creative person, like Wharton maybe it really is that inner-sanctum, where the soul resides, depicting one's true self?
Darryl Pinckney, the prolific and talented essayist who wrote the insightful novel High Cotton and his partner, esteemed British poet, James Fenton. In addition to writing and teaching, they are hard at work restoring Harlem's historic Dwight house, ably advised by Sam White, Stanford White's grandson.
For happily, John Dwight, it seems, was sentimental and so was his first wife, the former Nancy Shaw Everett. A doctor's son, as a young farmer, John Dwight did odd jobs to boost his income. He was putting down a carpet at Mount Holyoke's new Seminary in 1837, when one pupil who had just arrived, caught his eye. A relative of a Massachusetts's governor, the elegant but modest young lady had remained perfectly composed, but Dwight had not escaped her notice, either. John Dwight rethought his earlier refusal to supply the school with milk. Forthwith he arranged for a delivery at the school, first-thing every morning. The pair was married in 1841.
Nancy Shaw Everett who became Mrs. John Dwight.
Portraits of John and Nancy Dwight reflected in an heirloom mirror of the 1820's.
Years later, Dwight immortalized the friendly cow that had facilitated their courtship, as the trademark of one of two brands of baking soda that made his fortune. In production until the 1970's, the Cow Brand bore a pastorial image of a South Hadley cow with a little bird at its feet in the corner. During Dwight's lifetime, inside each box one found a colorful card with a bird-picture. Both Dwights were fond of bird-lore, and prior to the formation of the Audubon Society, or the popularity of the ecology movement, interest in wildlife had been instilled in any number of people, who as children had embarked on making a collection of these informative cards depicting birds that came in the soda box.
To this day at Mount Holyoke the Dwight Memorial Art Building also attests to the couple's sentimentality. And, so too must the fine house they erected in 1890.
John and Nancy Dwight's grand Harlem townhouse bore, over the years, four different addresses. It has variously been designated as number 1 West 123rd Street, 31 Mount Morris Park Square, 31 Mount Morris Avenue and as number 31 Mount Morris Park West.
A decorous structure with limited concentrations of elaborate ornament, John Dwight, Esquire's Harlem townhouse, was quite unlike its relatively ordinary neighbors. Built on West 123rd Street, it overlooks picturesque Mount Morris Park. In 1973, in a cost-free nod to Harlem's historic black community, the park was renamed for pan-African black nationalist Marcus Garvey. Completed in 1890, stylistically, Dwight's mansion is a curiously confounding house. After the mid-1870’s, designers in the United States began to explore and reassess Early American examples of neo-Classical architecture. Also looking favorably on how freely their British colleagues such as Richard Norman Shaw, William Eden Nesfield or Ernest George and Harold Peto mixed together Queen Anne, Georgian and both Northern and Italian Renaissance-derived design, the most innovative practitioners here followed suite. Only by way of adding an extra flourish of national pride and erudition, in some instances, as with the Dwight residence, having adopted Georgian or Federal precedent, more ornate and decorative Renaissance embellishments were liable to be introduced.
Like a fire ranger's lookout in a national park, Julius B. Kroel's Mount Morris Park fire tower, from 1855, is the only survivor among several which promoted fire prevention before the advent of the telegraph.
John Dwights house at number 1 West 123rd Street, overlooking Mount Morris Park was built in 1891 and designed by Frank H. Smith.
Nine years earlier the Dwights had built three brownstone row houses designed by Charles Baxter, immediately north, at numbers 32-34 Mt Morris Avenue, today's Mount Morris Park West . Unprepossessing, except for having electric lights, these dwellings were meant to house both the Dwights, at number 33 and on either side, most of their childeren and their families. Surviving, these Dwight houses from 1881, were joined by a related row by Baxter built a year later, at 4-26 West 123rd Street.
As things turned out none of the Dwights ever lived at number 34 Mount Morris Avenue. Instead it had been sold to Jesse W. Powers, a founder of the Merchants Exchange Bank at 256 Broadway, who was a builder and a politician. Serving as commissioner of parks from 1884-1888, he was responsible for erecting 'Cleopatra's Needle', and represented Harlem and the Bronx in the City Council as a member of Tammany Hall. Born a penniless Irish immigrant clearly he had 'made good'. Powers and his wife lived at number 34 with their four sons, attended to by three Irish women who acted as servants.
A singular, almost sole concession to his great wealth, was the private astronomical observatory John Dwight had affixed to the roof of his house at number 33 'Mount Morris Park Square' in 1881. It numbered among perhaps five others gracing Manhattan millionaires' houses. Otherwise, except for collecting paintings by New England artists, Dwight eschewed the conspicuous consumption typical of many successful men of his time. Errecting numbers 32 and 34 Mount Morris Park West to adjoin his own residence Dwight was assured of being well cossetted in the warmth of family, a value he prized far above mere empty show.
In Boston, Newport, New York and beyond, McKim, Mead & White, Little & Browne and Ogden Codman were at the forefront of America's amalgamated style combining Colonial and Georgian forms with Italian Renaissance embellishment. It is unknown why or how John Dwight, who built James' and Darryl's house, a founder of Church & Dwight Co., the makers of Arm & Hammer bicarbonate of soda, selected his architect, Bostonian Frank Hill Smith.
Maintaining the cornice height of the three houses he'd built in 1881 was certainly admirable of John Dwight. Out of a desire to produce a harmonious street-scape conventional brownstone was employed with iron-spot Roman brick. Otherwise, as Harlem's first Renaissance style house, with an early adaptation of the 'American Basement' plan, with a ground floor entrance, his new residence at 31 West 123rd Street made dramatic departures from prevailing custom and architectural tastes.
John Dwight's architect Frank Hill Smith's distinctive wrought iron double window guard was inspired by 16th-Century Spanish examples. More specifically, it resembles one drawn by his friend Julius A. Schweinfurth of Peabody and Stearns, published in 1888, in a collection of Schweinfurth's travel drawings, "Sketches Abroad".
The New York Real Estate Record and Builder's Guide is an excellent source for gaining information about the unusual Dwight house. One learns in the issue of November 27, 1886: "Joseph O. Brown has sold a lot on the northwest corner of Mt Morris Avenue and One Hundred Twenty Third Street, 25x100, to John Dwight for $30,000. We hear Mr Dwight will erect a handsome dwelling for his own occupancy on the site."
Two years later, the Guide's April 21, 1888 number reports: "Edgar K. Bourne, of No 18 Broadway, will make plans for a four-story, attic and basement residence, 25x64 with extension, which John Dwight will build on the northwest corner of Mt Morris Avenue and One Hundred Twenty Third Street. It will be built of Tiffany brick and Little Fall's stone, with slate roof, gables etc. The style is to be Dalmatian. Cost, $40,000."
Number 35-38 Mount Morris Park Avenue, the Montana, designed by William B. Franke and completed in 1890. Just as the Dwight house was errected, on the southwest corner of the Avenue at 124th Street, in the form of the Montana Apartments, the future arrived.
Ca. 1929: Number 31 Mount Morris Park West with an ell addition covering the yard. This was add about 1926 when the house was converted into a private clinic.
At ordinary brownstones tradesmen enterd via the door below the stoop...
At the Dwight's the service entrance was through a dignified gate near the drying yard.
An artful rendition in wrought iron of the date, 1889.
By 1891 the Dwights had been married for fifty years. During that time, in an era when, whether rich or poor, it was quite easy to sicken and die, no member of their immediate family, nor anyone in thier children's families, had passed away. It was a comforting record, joyfully noted during a gala dinner for family and a few close friends who came together to celebrate the Dwights' golden wedding. Most of their children were close at hand. The eldest was their son, the Rev. Melatiah Everett Dwight, M. D., D. D.. Both the Reverend Doctor Dwight and his family, like his sister Anna Frances, who had married the Rev. Theodore A. Leggett, lived on Staten Island. In distinction, their other siblings each lived with their families close to or with their parents. Clara, married to Col. Alexander Phoenix Ketchum, an officer in the Church & Dwight firm, had started married life at 22 Mount Morris Park West. But by the early 90's, the Ketchums lived with the aging Dwights at number 31. A door away, at number 33, Clara Ketchum's brother John E. Dwight and her sister Marion, Mrs. William I. Walker, at first lived together with their spouses and children. Mr. Walker was the treasurer of Church and Dwight. While John E. Dwight would remain at 33, as late as 1917, by 1912 the Walkers had moved away to 11 Mount Morris Park West.
A laurel wreath tied with furling ribbon, surrounds the oculus that lights the first floor's book niche in the Reception Hall above the foyer .
Sooner than anyone had imagined, only a year after John and Nancy Dwight celebrated being wed for a half century, on November 2,1892, Mrs. Dwight died. Mourned by her devoted husband, mourned by her children and neighbors, she was buried from her still neatly-new house at 31 Mount Morris Park West. This then proved to be but the start of a series of dramatic transitions. A year later the Dwight's daughter Clara, Mrs. Alexander P. Ketchum, was to perish. With the passing of a further year, 75 years old, on March 14, 1894, millionaire John Dwight was married for a second time. His widowed bride, Clara Leigh Freeborn, was a family friend who would sadly predecease her husband by two years, in 1900.
An unusually complete restoration is underway.
At this point the Dwight household consisted of the twice widowed patriarch John Dwight, now 80, his 58-year-old son Melatiha Dwight, his daughter-in-law, Helen M. Dwight, who was 52, a 29-year-old grandson, Ellsworth Dwight, Ellsworth's 20 year-old brother, William K. Dwight, and the boys' sisters, 18 year-old Katherine W. Dwight and Marion E. Dwight, who was 14.
They were looked after by four faithful servants, 40-year-old Mary Lynch, 29-year-old Maggie Doran, Katie Nolan, who was also 29 and 24-year-old William J. McKeever. Like the vast majority of servants working in New York then, the Dwights' entire slaff were first generation immigrants from Ireland. How had they managed? As the esteemed late scholar Nicholas King has observed with great insight, the simple matter of napkins is monumental. Properly of starched Irish linen damask, a yard square for dinner, smaller for breakfast, lunch and tea, in fastidiously run establishments, a fresh napkin was required for each adult, at each meal, for every day one did not dine out. This alone represents a considerable amount of work, hence the Dwight's home laundry, on the ground floor, adjoining the kitchen.
One of the things to see here is the house of Mr. Frank Hill Smith, the artist. He has transformed an old wooden building at the corner of Mt. Vernon and River Streets into the most attractive and picturesque place in the city... The upper story and roof are tiled, the windows are abundant and pretty; on the front of the large gable in the roof is a huge sunflower in high relief; below it, on the upper story, is a winged lion in relief; over the front door...
Highly proficient, it is well he should have remained uncommitted to a single division of the arts. In 1880 he was among the group engaged to decorate New York's new Union League Club. Had this high point of Aesthetic Movement taste survived, doubtlessly it would be ranked today alongside the widely admired Seventh Regiment Armory. At the Union League Smith worked in collaboration with John La Farge, Augustus Saint-Gaudens, Candace Wheeler and Will H. Low.
Boston's number 32 Hereford Street, was completed in 1884, according to plans by McKim, Mead & White for John Andrew. It is just one of a group of grand houses that influenced the design of Harlem'sDwight-Fenton-Pinckney House. The balcony above the entrance came from the Tuileries Palace.
Andrew's house balcony salvaged from the Tuileries Palace.
Christmas time: McKim, Mead & White's dwelling for the Cochrane Family, was built at 257 Commonwealth Avenue in 1886.
The entry at McKim, Mead & White's dwelling for the Cochrane Family.
The Cochrane's front door with a colored marble pediment and iron scroll-filledoculus, bears a strong resemblance to the Dwight house entrance.
Stanford White's Quattrocento-inspired entrance at the Judson Memorial Church.
Frank Hill Smith's sublime entrance into John Dwight's new house was sheltered by a segmental portico of the type that was supposedly derived from Split on the Dalmatian coast. More likely than ancient Yugoslav examples, it relied on Italian Renaissance prototypes. Whatever its origin, the detailing is divine.
The pediment's tympanum is of inlaid colored marbles. Its dentaled cornice is embellished a vitruvian scroll. The cornice is surmounted by an anthemion-form acrateria. The pediment's coffered soffit is carved with a rosette in each compartment. The frieze has stopped fluting. The framework of the rosette carved oaken door, is carved with an interlacing guilloche. The columns have bronze capitals and rest on bronze bases. There can be few more erudite expressions in architecture, saying, 'welcome!'
Monolithic columns at John Dwight's doorway were rather smartly finished with bronze bases and bronze Ionic capitals supplied by John Williams. A most vexing puzzle arises inspecting every known photograph and drawing showing them between 1895 and 1935. Light colored in the photographs, they would appear to match the sienna marble ground of the inlaid tympanum of the Split-pediment they support. Coverd for some years by gunite, restoration revealed a quite dark surface, networked with delicate cracks. Polished by the stone mason, the columns were pronounced granite? An unholy mystery.
Jno. Williams, Inc., a leading New York forge and bronze foundry, was established in 1875 by a former employee of Tiffany & Co., John Williams . Incorperated in 1905 , the firm was long located on West 26th Street, in a building which later served as a studio for photographer Annie Leibovitz. The foundry of choice to cast work for Daniel Chester French, Karl Bitter, J. Massey Rhind, Anna Hyatt Huntington, Frederick MacMonnies, Charles Keck, Andrew O'Connor, Alexander Phimister Proctor and others, including Frank Hill Smith, for whom Jno. Williams, Inc made the scrolling iron balustrade for the Boston State House staircase, the company dissolved in 1956.
Wonders within: Frank Hill Smith's Interiors for the Dwights
From cellar to 'attic', Frank Hill Smith's plan for the Dwight house is unfailingly straight forward, without the adventurous twists and surprises typical of Shaw, Lutyens and Little.
Frank Hill Smith borrowed the idea for the Dwight Stair Hall's arcaded screen from sources like McKim, Mead & White's house for Charles Whittier. in turn this handsome feature influenced architects like Clarence True, who devised the Ionic version in maple shown below, for number 473 West 143rd Street. Notice how Smith has used a stenciled border to reinforce the impact of the ceiling beams.
Mr. Charles Whittier's Hall, Commonwealth Avenue, Boston.
Hall of number 273 Commonwealth Avenue, Boston.
Staircase at 473 West 143rd Street.
A lidded seat in which to store galoshes that also served as a convenient place to don or remove them, was a common feature of American Halls, as were large built-in looking glasses.
Was the Dwight Hall carpet a William Morris design?
In the USthe first production of Lincrusta, a type of embossed wallpaper, was in 1883, in Stamford, Connecticut. Smith applied Lincrusta to the spandrels of his staircase-arcade at the Dwight house to mimic ornately carved wood.
A friend or associate of Louis Comfort Tiffany, Maitland Armstrong, John LaFarge and every other celebrated Aesthetic Movement devotee, Frank Smith loyally patronized colleagues like John Williams repeatedly. So who produced the intricate stained glass found at the Dwight house? Was it the same anonymous craftsman responsible for the contemporary transom light pictured below, from 137 West 122nd Street? The ingenious placement of the panel on the stair landing, is reminiscent of one on the landing at number 4 West 122nd Street. Here the landing window also 'lights' the adjoining Billiard Room, while the landing window at122nd Street also 'lights' the pantry. In each location it was appreciated that day or night, either sunlight or gaslight would enliven the panels from both sides.
Transom light at 137 West 122nd Street.
A design of Byzantine exuberance.
John Williams' ornate light fixtures, custom designed by Frank Smith, were equipped from the start with both gas jets and electricity. Surviving accounts suggest that John Dwight seems not to have entirely trusted this innovation however. Only after his death was the uninsulated wiring finally replaced.
The foliated damask pattern stenciled onto the Hall walls, in different colors continues in the Billiard Room and the Reception Hall upstairs.
Consisting of a leather-bound album entitled: "The Corner House", 31 Mt. Morris Park West, New York City, Built in 1890 For Mr. And Mrs. John Dwight And For Thirty-Five Years The Family Home, a superb collection of sepia-toned photographs document Frank Hill Smith's handiwork in Harlem. Produced as the title notes, in 1925, the album marked the families' decision to move. With the first African Americans fighting to move into this section of Harlem property values were falling ever lower. For this reason, selling to a practice of doctors who sought to establish a private clinic, the Dwights, not a bank, held the mortgage on number 31.
If this nostalgic keepsake is not extraordinary enough, consider a group of stereoptican cards depicting the Dwight's interiors! Hand-colored, they are a marvelous record revealing information, as to color schemes and juxtapositions, almost impossible to obtain any other way. The existence of these cards likely has solely to do with the fact that they were the photographer's specialty.
Founded by brothers, Elmer and Bert Elias Underwood in Ottawa, Kansas, in 1881,Underwood & Underwood was the largest publisher of stereo view cards in the world. Producing 10 million a year by 1891, the firm moved to New York. By 1897, the company had a large full-time staff and they also engaged free-lance photographers. Around 1900, Underwood & Underwood introduced boxed sets, with specific themes, including documenting places and events. The event commemorated by this photographic document? The end of an era at a much-loved place, called home.
Ebony Chinese chairs with marble seats and backs stood in the marble lined, mosaic floored vestibule.
In 1904 a New York Times reporter described the Dwight house and entrance as forboding:
"an odd-looking house [that] resembles a fortress, viewed from the exterior, the windows being secured with iron architectural work. The doors are double barred, and to gain an entrance to the lobby it is necessary to pass two heavy doors, one oak, the other of iron, and then to pass the inquiring scrutiny of an English hall boy."
The hall boy mention by the Times, the 1900 Federal Census indicates was 24-year-old William J. McKeever. Perhaps the Chinese chair was for McKeever?
Green, with a rose-colored carpet, the Hall opened into the Billiard Room. Commanding a park outlook it had rose-colored walls, stenciled with a damask pattern and a green fitted Wilton carpet overlain with a rose-toned rug.
How fitting that at John Dwight's house Frank Hill Smith ought to have brought together and reconciled all the divergent facets of what might be meant by a "Dalmatian style house." Overall it meant doing something he had learned to do quite well as a painter, to create a particular atmosphere and mood. Adhering to an overriding principal of using neo-Classicism to discipline his passionate creative impulse, he otherwise felt under no constraints to limit himself to any one period mode. This was how he was able happily to place a neo-Romanesque billiard table, supported on columns, in a room with a Renaissance tabernacle as an over-mantel and Queen Anne style chairs in a space worthy of a basilica. But why the Adam Drawing Room?
Hung with ancestral portraits and furnished with a magnificent, highly architectural, custom-made oak table, John Dwight's beautifully appointed Billiard Room followed the lead of those created for the Vanderbilts and others. Increasingly fashion dictated that these high-status spaces were treated as one of the most important rooms in one's house.
A steer horn easy chair.
A portrait showing John Dwight's father, Dr. Elihu Dwight.
A brass, wrought iron and glass hanging lamp designed by Frank Smith and manufactured by John Williams' foundry.
An over-mantle with twin columned niches was created by Smith as the perfect spot to showcase one of his own romantic landscapes. The 18th-Century andirons were probably family heirlooms.
A broad Mexican Onyx fire-surround frames the iron fire-box cast in high relief.
A beribboned escutcheon.
Cut velvet, the Dwight's Billiard Room curtains were some of the most costly in his house. In addition to one of three pianos, this room also has a table by the window for chess and checker games.
As a means of aesthetic refreshment American designers after the mid 1880's grew ever more partial to white, cream or pastel colored Drawing Rooms. The comparative levity of a white room following a succession of spaces meant to impress on account of richness, made this choice at once fashionable, all the more so because it was costly to keep immaculate. As for Frank Smith, as a true Victorian, his much-admired 'white rooms' were never just white. By applying white enamel over an undercoat of strong color, he was able to produce a nuanced opalescence that was widely praised. Of course no true Adam room was ever solely white, but the rooms that Adam inspired in early America frequently were. Oddly enough, such was Frank Smith's knowledge that he appreciated Adam's work on two accounts: it had provided the model for Boston's Federal and Greek Revival houses and had as well an ancient Classical pedigree proceeding from the splendors of public baths and Diocletian's Palace at Spalato in Dalmatia.
The Principle, 'First Floor'
Aside from an elliptitcal room, the Dwight house's 'first floor' plan, with the Drawing Room and Dining Room on either side of the Hall, was standard for Harlem row houses.
Ascending from the Stair Hall below, the way lighted by another magnificent lantern, passing through yet another columnar screen, one emerges into the Dwight's Reception Hall.
Both in the British Isles, as well as in America, Scotsman Robert Adam was a leader of the first phase of the classical revival, from around 1760 until his death. Like Smith, he found no detail too trivial to merit his attention. So Adam too had designed buildings, interiors and fittings as minute as a door knob. As a shining example to Smith, he also had patronized favored craftsmen, suppliers and artists, thus assuring a level of consistency, unity and integration seldom seen before.
Making the grand tour, Adam stayed in Rome until 1757, studying the remains of Classical architecture and polishing his drawing and social skills. His tutors included the French architect and artist Charles-Louis Clerisseau, and Italian visionary Giovanni Battista Piranesi.
Making sketches and even undertaking excavations at the Roman Forum was hardly an un-heard-of phase of an 18th-Century architect's preparation. Adam's and Clerisseau's time spent measuring and recording the ruins of Diocletian's Palace at Spalato in Dalmatia, today's Split was something far more revolutionary.
The Reception Hall was articulated with Doric columns and pilasters which corresponded to columnar standards on the frieze.
The Reception Hall's Adam mantelpiece. Note the reappearance of Frank Smith's foliated damask-like stenciling.
A brass chandelier designed by Smith and made by the Jon. Smith foundry. The adjustable lamp aided readers who had found some book of intrerest in the book alcove.
In marked contrast with the highly enriched plinths of the Reception Hall's staircase, except for small paterae at intervals, the dado there was perfectly plain.
Lincrusta reappears in the 'first-floor' Recption Hall, both as a bas relief ornamenting the frieze and between the ceiling beams. The Drawing Room's porteries, glimpsed on the right, are differentiated to coordinate with the room decor on each side. Multicolored brocade within the Drawing Room, these luxurious hangings were faced in cut velvet on the outside.
The Recption Hall's book alcove.
Exqusite leaded glass cabinetry in the Dwight Recptiom Hall's book alcove.
As of yet the book alcove's opulent occulus is unrestored...
Fortunately this stained glass rondel survives.
The spatial complexity, diversity of form and the wealth of conventionalized ornament he encountered in this out-of-the-way spot helped to heighten all he'd learned previously. Eventually publishing what he'd seen, as well as books featuring his own work, Adam was able to successfully disseminate and popularize the refined tastes which were his own. Lofty, attenuated spaces, rooms of contrasting sizes and shapes, spatial articulation with an inter-related network of repeated, delicately wrought, correctly rendered neo-Classical ornament, whether applied to a great English country house, or reinterpreted and simplified at Mount Vernon's lovely Banqueting Hall, this is Robert Adam's legacy.
Inlaid with mother-of-pearl, the Chinese table in the left foreground is one of several pieces of Eastern furniture used by Smith.
An enfilade expanded by the Dining Room mantle's mirror.
Smith's efforts for the Dwight's compares favorably with another Adam Drawing Room, in Boston, created for William Powell Mason in 1883.
A sun-filled Drawing Room with light walls and white woodwork.
A Chickering upright piano of ca. 1880.
Only the lamp on the satinwood center table betrays the 1925 date of this photograph.
With the Drawing Room mantelpiece, Smith reintroduces the Ionic columns of the entrance, now fluted, along with the front doorway's stop-fluted frieze
Wildly eclectic this Dwight mantelpiece garniture comprised a Chinese bronze vessel, a pair of enameled Japanese vases, two photographs and late 18th-Century English style silver candelabra.
More Mexican onyx and yet another escutcheon.
Adamesque garlands of husks embellishing the Drawing Room ceiling are complimented by the wall's related stencil as well as by the room's elaborate frieze and the herm graced looking glass. The frieze was adorned with a bas relief with festooned cherubs, torches, cornucopia, and fan-tail doves. Each of these devices is an emblem of Venus, the goddess of sensual earthly love!
Suspending be-ribboned roses amidst flowered festoons, the Dwight's Drawing Room walls were painted and stenciled in two shades of olive green.
Perhaps the gilded Louis Quinze table by the windows is an antique? As in other rooms in the Dwight house, most furnishings which appeared to be antiques were instead skillful reproductions.
Worthy of Candace Wheeler, the undocumented Dwight Drawing Room curtains. of a sumptuous brocade, had valances with a diaper of ribbon, recalling the description of curtains Wheeler supplied in collaboration with Frank Smith, for New York's Union League club-house in 1881.
The satinwood center table no doubt did duty for afternoon tea.
An ebony Chinese table bearing paper-white Narcissi.
A William and Mary style wing chair.
1925: Marion Edith Dwight, being served at lunch by 65-year-old Mary Lynch, assisted by 54-year-old Maggie Doran who have each worked for the Dwights for over 25 years. Katherine Wolcott Berry, with her back to the viewer, is flanked by her daughters, Louise Coy Berry and Helen McClure Berry.
Harlem's most notable surviving late 19th-Century Dining Room.
A cut-glass punch bowl and a marquetry tray with brass handles sit below the stamped polychromatic leather-hung wall.
Short silk velvet window curtains frame the view to 123rd Street. Even the brass-framed footed aquarium of goldfish is decorative.
Of unsurpassed dexterity, no Dining Room in all Harlem, and few others elsewhere, equals the virtuosity of detailing found in this magnificent elliptical space.
Carving, of the highest order, especially as exhibited in the altar-like built-in sideboard and an arcaded fireplace mantle with a lovely surround of roseate alabaster, suggests the skilled handiwork of a masterful firm such as Davenport & Co. of Boston.
Smith's subtle contrasts of the glowing luster of highly figured Mahogany, juxtaposed with the bright gleaming of the highly polished pierced brass vent for the hot-air furnace, the vibrancy of the blue and gold leather wall hangings and the ever-changing slight shimmer of the monochrome sensuously-figured fitted Wilton carpet, made the Dwight Dining Room a tour de force. Just as his damask patterned stencil was consistent, only varying as to color over a series of rooms, from the Stair Hall, to the Billiard Room, to the Reception Hall, Smith similarly maintained the same material, leather, and pattern, for the Dwight Dining Room's walls and chair upholstery, which only differed as to color.
An altar-like built-in sideboard exhibiting the same finely figured Mahogany and lavishly disposed carved decoration that so distinguishes the Dwight's elliptical Dining Room.
Displaying cut glass bowls, silver candle sticks and a tea service as well as early 19th-Century blown glass, a full panoply of relics and vessels as revered and ritualistic as any found in a church, Smith's monumental built-in sideboard was fittingly adorned with spiraling Corinthian columns, arabesque ornamented pilasters, leaded glass-fronted cabinets and a crowning shell-shaped recess.
Every surface vibrates with ornamentation.
Pierced vents in the central rosette of the ceiling ....
Undoubtedly, exhausted fumes from a chandelier equipped with an adjustable...
Oil-lamp that helped to focus light on the table. That this was a conventional feature of Upper-class dining rooms is illustrated by both the Dwight's chandelier, which also burned gas and by the one provided in William Powell Mason's oval dining room in Boston's Back Bay in 1881, which was made for candles.
Above the deep cove a garland of fruit encircled the ceiling.
The smallest diamonds on the elliptical dining room's ceiling are emblazoned with the letter-D for Dwight.
Charles Tiffany's Hall overmantle, with an arcade between pilasters, again very like the Dwight's Dining Room overmantle was designed by Stanford White in 1881.
An elaborate arcade between engaged fluted Corinthian columns.
The trumpeting figure of Fame.
"Architecture with a capital-A!...", Andrew Alpern.
The unusually un-screened door to the Butler's Pantry.
Dwight housemaid Mary Lynch, in the Butler's Pantry. It's unclear as to whether or not the silver and fine linen displayed on the table were provided for servant's meals? Instead, perhaps the mahogany wainscoted room with linoleum imitating tiles, might have been used for family breakfasts?
The Ground Floor Kitchen, Below the Dining Room
Set for four, it's my guess that the Kitchen table was where the Dwight servants took their meals. As in the Butler's Pantry upstairs, the linoleum floor here imitates encaustic tiling. The stained and leaded glass panels helped to light the passage from the Stair Hall to the elevator. Because the coal-fired stove was kept going as long as the family were in residence, it was employed to heat water, stored in the copper tank on the right.
Although its glazed brick vault remains, the Dwights' “Perfect” brand, range, model 12 is long lost. It was manufactured by Richardson & Boynton Co. at the firm's enormous Newark, New Jersey, plant, which went on making coal stoves well into the 1920's .
Nearby at 10 West 122nd Street an almost identical model 11 1/2 survives.
As for the legacy of John and Nancy Dwight's "Corner House", conceived in love for each other, for family, nature and community, what shall that be? When the Doctor's practice that built the extension to make number 31 a private clinic failed, because they had held the mortgage, Dwight heirs reclaimed the house. In the mid-1930's it became Harlem's Works Progress Administration funded art school. After serving briefly as an SRO rooming house, in 1972 it became the Commandment Keepers Congregation Synagogue, which reportedly had acquired the building from the City of New York for $50.
A unique element of Harlem's history, this religious body, not surprisingly, was a seat of devotion and familial affection. One might like to imagine that the bond between members of a family, or of a congregation, associates brought as close as a family by their common purpose, would be protected by love forever. The naive imagine a family-group dedicated to piety and good works immune to hate, unmoved by rancor or discord.
The same sort of family relationship, the same kind of reckless choices and inadequate responses and communication that led to the recent tragedy at Newton, Connecticut, helped to hasten the dissolution of the Commandment Keepers. Alleging fraud, connivance, bigotry and elitism, a bereft tiny remnant of this once proud and active group, one and two at a time, harass, harangue and disparage Darryl Pinkney, James Fenton, their guests and their workforce, daily.
Ironically, the initial buyer of the Dwight House from the perilously divided Synagogue, Julian Wormley, is long gone from the scene. Mr. Wormley, is the developer, who before real estate tanked, planned to gut the house for condos. In this light its acquisition by Fenton and Pinkney amounts to an act of rescue, just as their generous restoration efforts for a house they can't hope to inhabit as long as the 35 years the Dwight family did, is a gift to the future.
In a moving essay, The Destruction of Commandment Keepers, Inc. 1919-2007, Rabbi Sholomo Ben Levy helps to allay the concerns of anyone worried about how eerily this latest transition at 31 Mount Morris Park West can be made to look like a text book case of displacement, with the weak giving way to the strong and well connected.
We did not lose this part of our foundation to a tragic fire, nor was it due to a lack of financial resources, nor were racist or anti-Semites to blame. No! We lost that building because self-interest became more important than devotion to Hashem and love of each other. Thus, the memory of that building has now become a monument to self-destruction.
Perhaps, but is it not better to think otherwise? In our world so assaulted by all manner of mischief and folly, ought not the improbable rescue and restoration of an old and beautiful place that good and caring people have cherished as home, to inspire something else? Why not, hope, joy and even love?
Destined to become a garden of enchantment, from the Dwight house roof all the world seems to be a marvelous place...TO BE CONTINUED...