Elizabeth J Spence (1878-?1947)

41. Susanna Mary Boulding and William Spence: New York City and Newport, RI

In which we follow the fortunes of Susanna [Boulding] and William Spence through nearly 40 years of marriage, five children, and their lives divided between metropolitan Manhattan and fashionable Newport RI.

In my last post, I described the marriage of Susannah Mary Boulding to William Spence, Coachman, in October 1870.  William appeared in the 1870 Census in Newport, Rhode Island (RI), in the Gibbs family home.  Susannah has not yet been found in this census.  And so, the first sighting we have of the family is in the 1880 US Federal Census, in a property on Manhattan’s West 18th Street, which has featured in a New York Times article about New York’s heritage sites, accessed in April 2019 by a search on ‘Streetscapes West 18th Street’.  This address was a stables, in a row of architecturally distinguished stables, where resided at number 130:

William Spence, 43, Coachman. Self and parents born Ireland [sic] [William’s death certificate states his father was born in Scotland]
Susanna M Spence, 34, Wife, Keeping house, self and parents born England.
Susanna M Spence, 8, daughter, at school.  Born New York.
Sarah C Spence, 6, daughter. Born New York.
Florence V Spence, 4, daughter. Born New York.
Elizabeth J Spence, 2, daughter.  Born New Jersey.
William F Spence, 11 months, son.  Born New York.
(The family would be completed by the birth of Arthur Boulding (‘Bussy’) Spence on 8 January 1882.)

The 1890 New York City Directory also lists William Spence as ‘Ostler’ at this address (the 1890 US Federal Census having been largely destroyed by fire).

20181128_113153.jpgNumber 130 W. 18th Street  is now a New York Landmark Site.  Pictured here in November 2018 by William and Susannah’s 2x great grandson, number 130 is behind scaffolding, but the fine architecture can be seen in the building to its left in the photo. Its accommodation housed carriages at the front of the ground floor, with the horses stabled at the rear. On the first floor front were living quarters for the family, with the hayloft behind.  It was one in a row of 13 stables individually designed and built in the mid 1860s for wealthy New Yorkers.

These stable rows reflect a period in the city’s developmental history when private carriage houses began to be erected some blocks away from their owners’ homes, on streets devoted almost exclusively to private stables and commercial liveries.  An early manifestation of this trend, which became common practice during the late-nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries, the West 18th Street row was one of the most extensive of the period and contained unusually large and handsomely decorated stables.[1]

William Spence, Coachman: William Spence was said to have worked from his arrival in the USA in approximately 1868 until his death in 1908, for Major Theodore K. Gibbs, owner of the stables at 130 and 132 W. 18th Street, and one of a wealthy family from Newport, RI.  One of his sons gave a few details about the family to his great nephew in the early 1960s:

‘The Major fought [in the Civil War] on the side of the North, and was injured in the head by a bullet, and never was in good health after that.  Father worked around the estate, he knew everything about farming and horses, as he was born in a section of Ireland (County Tyrone, North Ireland) where they did nothing else beside farming.  Father took the best of care of the Major because he was always in poor health due to the brain injury.  Father used to get long vacations during the winter because the Gibbses used to go to Pasadena, Cal., where the weather was warm, and the estate at Newport was closed down, and so we had long visits from Father in New York where the family lived.  Father was always with us for Christmas and Easter, under all circumstances.  His pay went on as usual during the vacation visits.’

William Spence was said to have been born in Stewartstown, Northern Ireland in 1832, and came to America in about 1868.   He had joined the huge migration of Irish people to the USA in the second half of the 19th century, following the 1846 famine. Around the time William is said to have arrived in the USA, one third of that country’s foreign-born population was Irish, and by the end of the 19th century, the population of Ireland was half that in 1851.[2]

Newport Society:  It seems the family lived a split existence, with William in service to the Gibbs family (variously in Newport RI and New York City), and Susannah based in New York City with their brood of six children.  The house ‘Bethshan’ in which T K Gibbs, his wife, and many servants (including William Spence) were recorded as living in the 1900 US Federal Census, was built in 1882, near to (but not one of) the great ‘cottages’ of fashionable Newport.  It was said to be a pleasant, but not overly grand, property. An extract from the New York Times dated 3 May 1899 is just one of many examples recording the comings and goings of the Gibbs family as part of Newport’s ‘season’: ‘The News of Newport.  May 2. A large number of horses, with baggage, carriages and servants for the cottagers, arrived today.  Major and Mrs Theodore K Gibbs will arrive tomorrow for the season.’  The New York Times reported in December 1895 that the ‘Theodore K Gibbs family’ would remain in Newport for the winter, despite other ‘cottagers’ having left for their New York homes with the approach of winter.[3]  This presumably meant that William Spence also remained with the Gibbs’ in Newport.

Worship:  During these formative years of the Spence family children in New York City, the family was said to have worshipped and all the children were christened at the nearby Church of the Holy Communion.  As with many other aspects of this story, this Church, located at 6th Avenue and W. 20th Street,  had wider significance than that my ancestors worshipped there – it is also of interest to the Landmark Preservation Trust. Designed in Gothic Revival style in 1846, it was commissioned by Mary Rogers, who intended that it should be an Episcopal church whose pews were free to all worshippers.  Its first Minister, Rev William Augustus Muhlenberg, was the founder of the New York Ecclesiological Society, which aimed to promote doctrinal aims through good church design. [4]

‘Although an urban church, this small Gothic Revival group of buildings has more nearly the feeling of a rural parish. The extreme simplicity of the architecture and the picturesque profile of roofs and towers give to the buildings an indescribable charm rarely to be found in the hard rectangularity of the City.  Its chief significance lies in the fact that this is a group of buildings executed in a uniform style of architecture and that, at a glance, it tells its own story. The church with tower, rose windows and gabled entrances built of uncoursed stonework proclaims itself at once for what it is, while the Sisters’ House is set ever so slightly apart and has its own smaller tower, gable and gabled entrance door.
Historically, it is significant as the first ‘free church’, that is, the first church in the City ~ which the pews were free to all comers, as today.
At this church they were not sold to pew-holders. It can also boast the introduction of the first “boy choir” in the City. The Sisters’ House is notable for having housed the first Anglican Sisterhood in this country. Another notable achievement associated with these buildings was the founding of St. Luke’s Hospital, under the Rectorship of the Rev. William Augustus Muhlenberg. It began in the Sisters’ House under the auspices of the “Sisters of Charity” and was later removed to the large building which once stood on Fifth Avenue at 54th Street. Today the Hospital is located at 113th Street and Amsterdam Avenue.’ (http://s-media.nyc.gov/agencies/lpc/lp/0216.pdf)

If the Spence family regularly worshipped here, they did so in the company of some of New York’s wealthiest citizens, including Roosevelts, Astors and Vanderbilts, and also Major T K Gibbs,  his New York residence shown in the 1880 US Federal Census as being nearby, at 62 W. 21st Street. In the first decade of the 20th century, New York Times articles show that Major T K Gibbs was a prominent member of the Episcopal Church in New York City.[5,6]

A constantly changing neighbourhood:  The area in which the Spences lived was one of great and continual change during the last two decades of the 19th century.  It is now in the Landmark Preservation Area called ‘The Ladies Mile’, referring to that stretch of Broadway which in the last part of the nineteenth century had been the centre of retailing of all types.  Throughout this period, new stores were built and expanded, which must have meant the area was undergoing constant change.  For instance, the Altman Brothers Department Store on Sixth Avenue (and also joining onto W. 18th Street) had several extensions, including the building of a 5-story stable building on West 18th Street, opposite where the Spence family lived.

The steam-operated Sixth Avenue El (elevated railway) had opened in 1878, with stops at 14th, 18th and 23rd Streets, allowing the development of a Fashion Row along Sixth Avenue, with department stores catering for all classes of customer.  The Broadway stores, however, were served during this period by clientele using private carriages or horse-drawn omnibuses.[7]

The Spence family thus lived in a very socially mixed area which varied in character street by street.  The 1880 Census showed that West 18th Street, for instance, housed many coachmen and others related to coaching (and many from Ireland) , while nearby streets, for instance 20th Street, where Theodore Roosevelt had been born, and 21st Street, where the Gibbs’ lived, housed the wealthy and prosperous merchant classes.  By 1900, however, the changing economy of the City meant that the big department stores were being rebuilt further uptown, and the Spences had moved fifteen blocks north.  Their move may have reflected the general northward migration as the population explosion of Jewish and Italian immigrants further south created pressures on housing.

1900:  New York City Directories of the 1880s, and of 1890, show William Spence as ‘Ostler’ at the 18th Street address.  However, in 1894, Wm Spence is shown at 333 W 32d St, the same address as that shown for Susan M Spence in 1896.  This address places them squarely in the middle of the site of Pennsylvania Railroad Station (‘Penn Station’, first opened in 1910.  Its construction probably caused subsequent moves for the family.

What is difficult to explain is that on the later date of 1896, and in the 1900 Census, there is no mention of William Spence and, indeed, the 1900 Census states that Susan Spence is a ‘Widow’, whereas William Spence appears in  the Census of that date as a married man in service to the Theodore K Gibbs family at Bethshan in Newport RI.   Susana [sic] heads the family at 921 33rd Street [it is not clear if this was ‘East’ or ‘West’], her occupation shown as ‘Boarding House’.  The children have, of course, grown up since the last record of them in 1880 – Susanna Mary is now 28; Sarah Charlotte 26, ‘review office’;  Elizabeth Jane, 24; William Frederick, 20, Clerk; and brother Arthur Boulding, 18, Bookkeeper.  Five Boarders and a maid complete this household.

Deaths of William and Susannah Spence: William Spence died of stomach cancer on 23 February 1908, at St Francis Hospital.  His address was given as 2394 Morris Avenue in the Bronx.   Susanna Mary Spence died two years later, on 5 June 1910.  Her address was given as 2384 Tiebout Ave, also in the Bronx, where she had been recorded in the 1910 Census just a few months earlier as ‘head’ of the household, a ‘widow’, residing with her unmarried children son Arthur and daughter Elizabeth, and married daughter Florence Victoria and her husband.  Both William and Susannah were buried at Woodlawn Cemetery, in Lot A, Range 165, Grave 54.  I hope one day some descendant may venture there to visit this site.

I will leave the Spence family here.  Anyone wishing further information about the descendants of William and Susannah can contact me through a message on this website.  In my next post, I will return to the Pellatt/Meriton branch of the family.

[1] Landmarks Preservation Commission, December 11, 1990; Designation List 230 LP-1817: ‘130-132 West 18th Street Stables Building, 130-132 West 18th Street, Borough of Manhattan. Built 1864-65. Architect unknown. Downloaded 10 February 2009 from:  http://www.neighborhoodpreservationcenter.org/db/bb_files/1990-130West18StreetStables.pdf
[2] Hey, David, Ed. The Oxford Companion to Family and Local History. Oxford University Press, Oxford, 2nd ed. 2008, p. 448.
[3] ‘Newport Villas Closed. A sharp touch of winter drives many visitors to New-York’, New York Times, Dec 15, 1895. http://query.nytimes.com/mem/archive-free/pdf?res=950DE2DC1E3DE433A25756C1A9649D94649ED7CF
[4] New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission, Ladies Mile Historic District Designation Report, Vol 1, 1989, page 355.
[5] See, for instance, New York Times April 14, 1896, ‘Funeral of Dr J W Roosevelt, Services in Holy Communion Church largely attended’
[6] See, for instance, a report of the Diocesan Convention of the New York Diocese of the Protestant Episcopal Church, New York Times, Sep 26 1902.
[7] New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission, Ladies Mile Historic District Designation Report, Vol 1, 1989.