C. G. (Charles Gilbert) Hine.

History and legend of Howard Avenue and the Serpentine Road, Grymes Hill, Staten Island online

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returned to France for treatment. There he
was advised that a cure would be a matter
of years and came back to New York, closed
up his interests and returned to his native
France only to die within a few years.

Mr. Cazet is spoken of as a gentleman and
a friend of the needy, as well as a shrewd
business man, and appears to have left only
pleasant memories behind him. He sold
to George Law, one of the conditions in-
sisted on by the latter being that the con-
tents of the house should go with the place ;
this was presumably because of the rich-
ness of the furnishings, everything having
been imported from France, the carpets were
of such quality that after fifty-five years of
use they are still in good condition.

We find a legend to the effect that the
stone wall which surrounds the Cisco place
was constructed with slave labor, but as
Emancipation day came to Staten Island,
July 4, 1825, and Mr. Cazet not until Oc-
tober 25, 1855, the legend can hardly be
taken seriously. It is a fact, however, that
the wall was erected by Frederick Law
Olmstead who did considerable of his early
landscaping on Staten Island. The con-
struction is peculiar in that the wall is built
on the surface of the ground without foun-
dation, the interior being filled with loose
stone and although it has been standing
full fifty-five years it is to-day as good as
when built.

These walls are one of the most pic-
turesque features of the road and it will be



43



George Lam






Frederick

Law

Olmstead



44



HOWARD AVENUE



George
Law



Ji>lui Jay
Cisco



a sad day for the hilltop when the time
of their fall arrives. The effect of ex-
clusiveness has been heightened to some ex-
tent by bits of broken glass set in the top of
the wall as more than one marauder has
been pained to discover.

I have been told that George Law pur-
chased this property as a home for his
daughter, but that the lady found the hill
too dull, preferring brick and mortar to the
enchantment of nature. It is said that there
was a husband who honored the army with
his time and attention, and who was chiefly 1
celebrated for the length of his hair, but
not much appears to have been handed down
concerning this branch of the family.

George Law himself was a self-made man
having built his success on a foundation of
industry and study. A farmer's son, he
learned the mason's trade, secured employ-
ment on the Delaware and Hudson canal,
employed his leisure in study and made him-
self a good engineer and draughtsman.
Became a large railroad and canal con-
tractor. In 1837 went to New York, ob-
tained contracts on the Croton water works,
built High Bridge over the Harlem. In
1842 became manager of the Dry Dock
Bank. Purchased and extended the Harlem
and Mohawk railroads. Assumed the con-
tract to carry the mails to California, 1849
built the first passenger steamer for Pan-
ama. Purchased the steam ferry to Staten
Island and Brooklyn. Was known as "Live
Oak George".

John Jay Cisco. The name Cisco is an
abbreviation of Francisco, the prefix hav-
ing been dropped several generations since.
After having served an apprenticeship of
nine years, Mr. Cisco started in the whole-




THE CISCO-LAW-CAZET HOUSE, ERECTED ABOUT
1855 BY ERNEST CAZET. THE WALL SURROUNDING
THE PLACE WAS BUILT AT THE SAME TIME UNDER
THE SUPERINTENDENCE OF FREDERICK LAW OLM-
STEAD, THE NOTED LANDSCAPE ARCHITECT.



SERPENTINE ROAD



45



sale dry goods business in New York, and
retired at the age of thirty-six with a for-
tune. Some eleven years later, or in 1853,
he was appointed by President Pierce, much
against his inclination, Assistant Treasurer
of the United States, and placed in charge
of the Sub-Treasury in New York. When
President Buchanan came into office he at-
tempted to resign, but was persuaded to re-
main and when Mr. Lincoln was inaugu-
rated he again made an effort to retire, but
his administration had been such that both
Mr. Lincoln and Secretary Chase insisted
that it was his duty to remain and he ac-
quiesced. His relations with bankers and
merchants were such that he was of great
service during the Civil War in placing
early loans, and at one time actually paid
the interest on certain bonds himself rather
than allow the hard-pressed government to
default. As a government officeholder Mr.
Cisco stands almost alone. Mr. Cisco was
finally allowed to retire in 1864, but was
immediately appointed, at the insistance of
Mr. Lincoln, a government director and
Treasurer of the Union Pacific Railroad. In
1865 the banking house of John J. Cisco
& Son was established. Mr. Cisco died on
March 23, 1884. The above account is
taken chiefly from the New York Herald
of March 24, 1884, with some additions by
Hiram Smith and Mrs. Angus McKenzie,
grandchildren.

About a year after the death of John J.
Cisco his son, John A. Cisco, removed from
his own home, now the Convent, to this
place, and it still remains in the family.

Late in 1913 George Cisco, grandson of
John J. Cisco, commenced the erection of a
home at the corner of Howard avenue and



John A.
Cisco



George
Cisco



46



James

Morgan

Davis



Thomas
Eaken



Harvey
North



Supply

Water

on Grymes

Hill



HOWARD AVENUE



Eddy street. The white stuccoed sides of
this, gleaming over the old stone wall and
half shaded by tall hornbeams, has an air of
seclusion and aloofness that a building so
close to the road could not hope to possess
except it were walled about, as is the case
here.

On the east side of the road lies the James
Morgan Davis estate, "East Over". October
1 6, 1841, Caleb T. Ward sold this property
to Harvey North, "late of New Orleans,"
consideration $5,940. October 12, 1853,
North sold to Thomas Eaken "of Nash-
ville," consideration $12,000, and Eakin
erected the present dwelling, but died shortly
after and his family did not long occupy the
place. Mr. E. D. Clark who came to this
place when a boy in November, 1843, tells
me that his father, Eusebius Clark, was em-
ployed by Mr. North to lay out the grounds,
a house being erected for his occupancy in
which he lived thirteen years.

There were two brothers North, in the im-
porting business in New York one of whom,
Harvey, married a French woman. He ex-
pected to build a handsome house and make
this his home, but his wife refused to live in
this country and he went to France with
her. Mr. Clark caused the well, 102 feet
deep, to be dug ; up to this time Logan Spring
had never run out of water but since has
gone dry on occasion and it is supposed this
well tapped the water supply of the spring.

The water supply on this high land is
erratic, there have been in the past at least
three natural ponds here which must have
been fed by springs, two on the Cisco
place and one on the Kendall place and yet
the well on the Cisco place went down 117
feet before water was reached and that



SERPENTINE ROAD



47



on the Kendall place is 130 feet deep.

Many years ago Mr. Davis purchased the
property from Mrs. Eaken and it is still the
Davis home. The architect of the dwelling
was James Renwick, one of New York's
most noted architects. Grace Church,
Broadway and Tenth Street, and the Catho-
lic Cathedral, Fifth avenue, are among the
creations of Mr. Renwick's genius.

James Morgan Davis had a business ca-
reer that was of unusual interest. He was
a member of the New York Stock Exchange
by the time he was old enough to vote, and
retired from business at the age of twenty-
five.

Mr. Davis began his business career in
the stock brokerage office of Travers &
Jerome, and when the latter retired was ad-
mitted to the firm, which was then known
as Travers & Co. By the time he was twen-
ty-five his health became impaired and he
concluded to give up work and go abroad.
His partner, William R. Travers, wished
him to retain his interest in the firm and
step back into the harness when his health
would permit, but Mr. Davis preferred to
leave no loose ends that might carry worry
into his retirement, and refused to entertain
the proposition.

After remaining inactive for seven to
eight years he entered the Wall street arena
again as a member of the firm of Work, Da-
vis & Barton.

Among others, the firm acted as broker
for Commodore Vanderbilt, and it was dur-
ing this period that the Commodore cor-
nered Erie. He had Jay Gould "busted,"
and had it not been for the latter's methods
of high finance, would have completely
cleaned him out, but the ingenious Mr.



James
Renwick



i O







48



HOWARD AVENUE



Gould moved over into Jersey, where the
New York courts could not reach him, and
being in complete control of the Erie, issued
a convertible bond which he immediately
converted into stock. This he put on the
market in large quantities, and as the proc-
ess could be repeated ad libitum, owing to
the lax railroad laws of the day, he rather
had the Commodore "on the hip."

The case was immediately thrown into
the courts and the Commodore brought suit
against Gould. Work, Davis & Barton also
brought suit in the namer. of certain custom-
ers, and it was here that Mr. Davis discov-
ered the real character of Frank Work,
which proved to be anything but lovely.
Work suggested that in order to prevent
the dragging of all members of the firm into
the court and interfering with its business,
suit be brought in his name; this was done
and Work was left to engineer the details.

One fine morning Mr. Davis saw in his
newspaper that the Commodore had com-
promised his suit out of court, and knowing
that Work would, of course, do likewise,
called on him for an accounting, but the lat-
ter insisted that his suit had been dropped
and that he had received nothing beyond at-
torney's fees. This was so palpably untrue
that Davis threatened suit, but to have
brought suit would have dragged the Com-
modore in, and compelled him to uncover
his hand, and this the firm could not afford
to do. The firm was, however, immediately
dissolved, as neither of the other members
cared to be longer associated with Work.

In 1874 the firm of Davis & Freeman was
formed with Commodore Vanderbilt as a
special partner and, some six years later, or
when Mr. Davis was forty-two years of




HOWARD AVENUE, LOOKING SOUTH FROM THE DAVIS GATE. THE AVENUE
WAS OPENED FROM EDDY STREET NORTH BY OR BEFORE 1836 BY MAJOR
GEORGE HOWARD, WHO ERECTED THE FIRST DWELLING ON GRYMES HILL IN
1830 ON THE SITE OF THE PRESENT CISCO HOUSE.



SERPENTINE ROAD



age, he retired from business permanently.

The Davis family came to Staten Island
in 1832 from Rhode Island, and James Mor-
gan Davis was born here in 1837, and al-
ways regarded himself as a full-fledged
Staten Islander.

In the southwest corner of Howard ave-
nue and Eddy street stands the dwelling of
J. D. Lawrence. This is one of two houses
erected by William Butler Duncan about
1870. Apparently these were to be the ni>
cleus of a small colony, but the buildings did
not rent as expected and the venture went
no further. About 1875 Mr. Lawrence pur-
chased, after having rented for a short time,
and he has occupied the property ever since.
The second house stood at the back of
the Critten place and was later moved to
the opposite side of Duncan avenue, where
it still stands.

The before-settlement history of the
Lawrence and Critten properties will be
found under the description of the Hunt
grounds.

Next south stands the home of Mrs. De
Frees Critten, "Olive Crest." In January,
1874, Arthur Oilman, architect, purchased
the land from Wm. B. Duncan, paying $15,-
ooo ; it was he who erected the dwelling now
standing, but it appears to have been too
much of a load for his bank account as we
find the property again in the possession of
Mr. Duncan. In June, 1879, it was sold by
order of the court as part of the bankrupt
Duncan estate, being purchased by the estate
of Orondates Mauran, apparently to protect
a mortgage. April 30, 1881, the Mauran
estate sold to Davis Johnson. July 8, 1886,
Johnson sold to Charles McNamee. No-
vember 23, 1886, McNamee to Anna E. Lord



49



/. D.

Lawrence



Olive Crest

Arthur
Giiman



Davis
Johnson

Chns.
.VlcXaniee



50



Castleton
Heights



Arthur
Gilman



Da7.'is
Johnson



Anna
E. Lord



HOWARD AVENUE



and October 3, 1895, Lord to De Frees Crit-
ten. The plot is known as lots 5 and 8 on a
"map of valuable property in the village of
Edgewater, Staten Island, sold June 19, 1879,
under judgment of the New York Supreme
Court by Theodore C. Vermilye, Jr., referee
in suit of James E. Mauran as executor, etc.,
against William B. Duncan and others.
George M. Root, city surveyor."

In the deed from Johnson to McNamee,
1886, the hill is called "Castleton Heights"
thus it would appear that even so late as
twenty-five years ago the present name was
not universally in use.

Arthur Oilman was an architect of con-
siderable note, not only as a designer but
also as lecturer and at least to some extent
as a writer. Before coming to New York
and while a resident of Boston he advocated
the filling in and improvement of the Back
Bay, and it is claimed that the handsome
features of Commonwealth avenue are due
almost entirely to his efforts. In 1865 he
removed to New York. The Equitable Life
building which burned during the winter of
1911-12 was his work and he had much to do
with the designing of the Capitol at Albany.
St. John's church and parsonage, Clifton, are
also of his creating. Mr. Gilman is recalled
by his old neighbors as an unusually pleas-
ant companion and exceedingly social, a
great after-dinner story-teller and raconteur.

Davis Johnson was a broker and while
recalled pleasantly by his one time neigh-
bors I have not come on any store of infor-
mation concerning him.

While the real estate records show that
Charles McNamee was the next to purchase
the property and that he in turn sold to
Anna E. Lord, it is believed that he was



SERPENTINE ROAD



merely acting for Mrs. Lord who was his
mother-in-law. He or she called the place
"The Beacon", an appropriate name surely
and the more so as the earliest known name
of the ridge was "Signal Hill."

The man who is remembered for his
kindly and neighborly qualities, who re-
verses Shakespeare's oft-quoted lines, "the
evil men do lives after them, the good is
oft interred with their bones," has accom-
plished more than will most of us. Such was
De Frees Critten, who is recalled lovingly
by his neighbors as "the best man that ever
lived," and who also commanded the ad-
miration and respect of the men with whom
he associated.

Mr. Critten was in a way a forty-niner,
that is, he was born in Piqua, Ohio, in that
year of the gold fever, which may or may
not have had something of an influence on
his acquisitive powers later on in life, but it
is more probable that the early struggle to
support a widowed mother developed a
natural ability to improve his opportunities.
In 1886 he came to New York and formed
the firm of Critten, Cliff & Co., and was on
the high road to a large success when death
overtook him. His hobby was his home, but
he was the same clean man in business that
his neighbors knew. "He was known
throughout the business channels of the
country by his manly dealings and upright
character, and was respected for his integ-
rity and honesty of purpose."

Mr. Critten died in 1907, having been a
resident of Staten Island for twenty years.

Still south stands the home of Mrs.
Charles W. Hunt. An abstract of title
gives us the early history of this place and
to a great extent that of the Lawrence and



51



De Frees

Critten



Mrs. C'has.
W. Hunt



52



Orondates

Mauran



Eddy St.
If award Av.



HOWARD AVENUE C&



Critten homes as well. As far back as
1789, this, with the exception of a strip at
the back, was part of the Cornelius Corson
farm. This portion descended to his son
Daniel C. Corson. Was sold by him in 1806
to James Dobson, who immediately dis-
posed of it to David Mersereau and he in
1814 to Daniel D. Tompkins. The strip at
the back of the place was willed in 1798 by
Wilhelmus Vreeland to his son Eder Vree-
land, it having been aforetime probably a
portion of the Hendrick Kbndrickson grant
from the Dongan trustees.* In 1814 Eder
Vreeland sold to Daniel D. Tompkins. Thus
the latter came into possession of the tract
which is now bounded by the Turnpike,
Eddy street, Howard avenue and the Ken-
dall place.

Daniel D. Tompkins fell on evil days and
in 1817 mortgaged the property to Thomas
Hulme, who foreclosed in 1822. He sold to
Caleb T. Ward in 1826 and he to Oron-
dates Mauran June 14, 1831, and Mr. Mau-
ran probably erected the present building
immediately as Mr. Betton, a great-grand-
son, has the record book of the wine cellar
which begins with the year 1833. This
would make it the oldest house now stand-
ing on the hill. The deed to Mauran gives
the impression that neither Eddy street nor
Howard avenue at this point were then
established as Ward agrees therein to allow
an avenue on the north side of the property
fifty-six feet in width and on the east side
of the property forty feet in width. Eddy
street was named by Mr. Mauran in honor of



Vreeland Billed his farm to Ms two sons,

Won tha ivr r ' , m! ? y be Int *-"ff to note in this coimec-
Mr. Delavan believea tlie line of boulders which leav
'* '' rni ", k opposite the division line of the Cisco ad Con veut
Une wWoh <Uvided the Vreeland farm between




THE KAUI'E-HUXT-.MeXAMEE-DUXRAR-MAURAX HOUSE. THE OLDEST HOUSE
NOW STANDING OX GRYMES HILL, BUILT ABOUT 1831-2. IT WAS STIPULATED
IN THE DEED TO MAURAX THAT THE PRESENT EDDY STREET AXD A PORTIOX
OF HOWARD AVENUE SHOULD BE ESTABLISHED FOR HIS CONVENIENCE. EDDY
STREET WAS NAMED AFTER MAURAX'S FATHER-IX-LAW, CHIEF JUSTICE EDDY
OF RHODE ISLAND.



SERPENTINE ROAD



his father-in-law, Samuel Eddy, chief jus-
tice of Rhode Island. Mrs. Mauran died
about 1855 and the house stood vacant for
some time thereafter.

Orondates Mauran died October 6, 1846,
leaving a widow and nine children. James
Eddy Mauran, the elder, was made execu-
tor of the estate and in November, 1868, he
sold the Hunt property to Edward E. Dun-
bar and at the same time the remainder of
the tract to William Butler Duncan. At the
instance of Mr. Duncan it was agreed that
the joint property of himself and Mr. Dun-
bar should be restricted to residential pur-
poses and that this restriction should be
insisted on in future sales.

Edward E. Dunbar married Sophia R.
Sterry Mauran, a niece of O. Mauran. He
died February 18, 1870, Mrs. Dunbar and
two children, Edward Mauran Dunbar and
Clyde Trippett Dunbar surviving him. In
1871 Mrs. Dunbar sold to William B. Dun-
can. In 1875 Duncan (William B.), Sherman
& Co. assigned and in 1881 James McNamee
purchased the Hunt portion of the property.
He died in 1896 and in the fall of 1899
the widow sold to C. W. Hunt.

June, 1913, Mrs. Hunt sold to W. xvaupe.

The Hunt house was built in the most
substantial manner. Its beams were hewn
from oak trees that grew on the place and
it is as sound and strong to-day as when
erected over seventy-five years ago. Mr.
Mauran called his home "Monocnong," an
Indian word which the owner translated as
meaning "surrounded by trees." The
name does not now apply as formerly, as
the hand of time has dealt heavily with the
timber in these parts. In those days the
entrance to the place was from Eddy street



53



Eduard E.
Dunbar



Monocnong



54



/. C.
Mauran



Orondates



HOWARD AVENUE



and the front door of the house was on its
north side.

As in the case of the Anthon family the
Mauran ancestor came to this country a
prisoner. Joseph Carlo Mauran, a native of
Villefranche, Italy, was impressed when
twelve years old on board of a British man-
of-war; he was kept a virtual prisoner for
some two years, but while the vessel lay in
the harbor of New London, he escaped and
in the course of time found his way to Bar-
rington, Rhode Island, where he settled
down and took unto himself a wife. He
soon tired of farming and took to the sea
and by 1776 was a man of importance.
During the early years of the Revolution,
Rhode Island built two "row-galleys" both
of which he commanded with honor to him-
self; each carried a crew of fifty men,
mounted one eighteen pounder and several
swivel guns. In 1778 he received Lettres
of Marque and Reprisal as commander of
the private schooner of war, "Weazel," but
after that we hear of him as a merchant-
man.

Oroondates or Orondates, as the name
was later spelled, was born in Barrington
in 1791. His singular name is accounted
for as follows: His mother owned a book
entitled "Rival Kings or the Loves of
Oroondates and Statira," by John Banks,
and it is supposed she confounded the name
with Onorato, an old Mauran family name.

Oroondates married Martha Eddy, and
removed to New York where he went into
some mercantile business. He was pas-
sionately fond of music and was proprietor
of the first Italian Opera House erected in
New York. Among his other ventures was



SERPENTINE ROAD



an interest with Commodore Cornelius Van-
derbilt in the Staten Island ferry. Old
Staten Islanders used to say that it was
Mauran's money that first put the com-
modore on his feet and gave him his start,
but I do not know how much of fact there
may be in this.

He erected this house on Grymes Hill,
then known as Castleton Heights, as a
summer residence and as many opera
singers and musicians from abroad brought
letters to him, and as he was lavishly hos-
pitable it is to be presumed that notables
of the musical world were frequent visitors
to this hilltop and that Monocnong was as
musical as is its pleasant sounding name.
One of his intimate friends was Captain
Marryat who might easily have found in-
spiration in our view for a background for
some story.

James Eddy Mauran, eldest son of above,
was a noted antiquarian and scholar; while
in New York he was a dealer in books, more
particularly rare volumes of which he him-
self was a large collector, he was also an
authority on Fourteenth century matters and
heraldry and was exceedingly clever in the
art of inlaying prints for the purpose of extra
illustration.

James McNamee was born in New York
and graduated from Columbia at the head of
his class. As a young man he was familiar
with Staten Island and no sooner was he

free to do so than he and Vanderbilt,

daughter of Captain Jake, caused the
preacher to say those mystic words which
flatly contradict the multiplication table.
In the course of time he purchased the
Mauran property and resided here until his
death.



55



Jas. Eddy
Mauran



James
McNamee



56



HOWARD AVENUE



Chas. W.
Hunt



Mr. McNamee became prominent in the
profession of the law, and was also some-
thing of a politician though he appears to
have been too honest to have been much of
a success in the latter line ; in fact, his disin-
clination to any but a straight course was
so pronounced that he became more than
distasteful to those who are disinterested
enough to devote all their time to govern-
ment.

One of his chief hobbies was "good roads,"
and I am told that he worked long with the
legislature at Albany in order to get a bill
through which would deal fairly with the
question and that the first good roads on the
island were largely, if not wholly, due to
his efforts.

Captain Vanderbilt, his father-in-law, was
everlastingly rubbing the wrong way such
neighbors who owned fast horses as he met
on the highway, for the Captain never could
take anybody's dust and consequently he
was much sought after by those who had
claims for damages against him and Mr. Mc-
Namee was kept busy defending him.

Charles W. Hunt who came to Grymes
Hill in 1900 began his business career on
Staten Island about 1868 in the storing and
handling of coal. The clumsy methods then
in use suggested to his inventive mind the
present system of handling through the
use of an automatic railroad by which coal
is lifted from barges and carried back on an
elevated track to be dumped automatically
at any desired point. This led to other in-
ventions and soon Mr. Hunt was one of
the foremost men in his line, the handling
and storage of coal in large quantities.

The coal stations of the United States
Navy at Guantanamo, Puget Sound and



SERPENTINE ROAD



57



Manila, as well as other large plants in South
Africa, Europe and Australia, are of his cre-


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Online LibraryC. G. (Charles Gilbert) HineHistory and legend of Howard Avenue and the Serpentine Road, Grymes Hill, Staten Island → online text (page 4 of 6)