Manhattan Madness

I’ve been on a Last Will & Testament kick of late – ever since the big gold strike described in the last post. The coolest find so far was the LW&T of Dr. John Hassell, my 4th great-grandfather. He and his first wife were from Birmingham, England, as were their first five or six children. The family moved to New York City in 1832 and made quite a success. Not quite sure how that happened though. John started out as a minister of some sort, then moved off into a wacky kind of medicine. The Eclectic School of Medicine, to be precise. This ad/announcement is from 1861.

John Hassell MD 1881

Yikes! Whatever it was, he prospered.

John also started buying up property in and around New York City. At the time of his death in 1884 his surviving five children received a whole lot of land. The sons were allowed to keep theirs, fee simple – but the daughters were given life estates, and would have to make arrangements for the property to be sold in their respective wills (with the proceeds going to their various heirs). Odd.

What’s really too bad is that everyone probably ended up selling. And not only did the family miss out on what would have been mind-boggling profits, but now I have to find hotels in the city when I visit. That’s sucky, AND it’s expensive.

I’ve discussed one of these parcels before, one of my 3rd great-grandmother’s. (Here.) But now I have some context – a clearer idea of just the kind of wealth my ancestor accumulated!

These are the parcels John Hassell’s children received when he passed. The photos come from either Google Earth or New York Public Library’s Digital Collection. (An amazing website!)


26th-First 1939

Southwest corner, First Avenue & East 26th Street (originally purchased in 1852). The first of three parcels right in the thick of the nifty neighborhood of Kips Bay. The lots run from this, the SW corner up E. 26th Street, probably up to Mt. Carmel Place. The photo is from 1939, and gives an idea of how much this neighborhood came to be identified with Bellevue Hospital. The view here is East 26th, looking west toward First Avenue. The tall, dark brick building sits on Samuel’s lot. The other two were adjacent (I think) moving westward on 26th.


He also received the house and lot at 11th Avenue (now West End Avenue, I believe) & West 97th Street (originally purchased in 1866). This was Dr. John’s residence – and at the time the home was pretty much inaccessible by road, requiring a bit of a hike through the woods to reach the front door. This is a view today of the back end of that block – 97th & Riverside Drive (though I’m not sure which side of 97th the house was on). The greenery at left is the outer fringes of Riverside Park, with the Hudson River just beyond. Tasty.


378 Grand 1931

380 Grand Street (btwn Norfolk and Suffolk) (originally purchased in 1877)  A stone’s throw from the Williamsburg Bridge, and a bustling commercial center at the turn of the last century. A typically Lower East Side conglomeration of immigrants and cultures. The lighter brick building at right (circa 1930) is #378 – so either #380 is the next-door building out of frame, or it was torn out to build this one.

Joseph was also designated to also receive “all my lands, tenements, and real estate situated outside the City of New York, wherever the same may be.” Maybe there was still property in Birmingham… maybe he bought something near his brother in Newark and/or Hackensack. No clue.


350 8th Ave

335 Eighth Avenue (at W 26th Street) (originally purchased in 1852). She got this parcel across Eighth Avenue from one Sarah, my 3rd Great-grandmother, inherited – near the site of today’s Fashion Institute of Technology.


Her other parcel was 7 Stanton Street (at Bowery) (originally purchased in 1849) An intriguing little morsel – I think it’s the site of a small parking lot now, but it sat right next to that corner building on the left, just this side of the 6th Avenue El. Of course, the El wasn’t there in 1849, and the train certainly transformed the neighborhood (likely not for the better). But what a fascinating spot!


340 East 26th Street. The westernmost of the three Kips Bay parcels; and

115 W 25

115 West 25th Street (originally purchased in 1877), which is still in a stretch of industrial/commercial buildings. The 4-story one, without the awning. Charming – in that gritty not-quite-gentrified Chelsea kinda way. At the time John bought this, his daughter Sarah was living with her daughter’s family (my 2nd great-grandparents) just a few blocks away at 9th Avenue & 23rd St.

And finally, Sarah:

The lot and building at 350 Eighth Avenue (at W 26th Street), discussed in that earlier post (originally purchased in 1877); and the third Kips Bay parcel – 338 East 26th Street, between Maria’s and Samuel’s.

Those are some seriously nice little nest-eggs!!


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