AMERICAN SCENIC AND HISTORIC PRESERVATION SOCIETY INTERESTED IN PROJECT
Famous Homestead Going to Rack and Ruin ‒ Poles Use It For Tenement, While Billboards Obstruct the Front Yard.
The announcement that the American Scenic and Historic Preservation Society is considering the advisability of securing possession of the DeWitt Clinton Home in Maspeth has renewed the hope that this old landmark will yet be spared to the coming generations of Queens.
The recent rumor that the famous old homestead was to be torn down to make way for a block of modern tenement houses gave rise to considerable anxiety to those who are anxious to see the historic homes in Newtown preserved and there is lively hope that the above-mentioned society will succeed in securing this house for preservation and restoration.
This matter was first brought up at a meeting of Local School Board of District No. 41 at the suggestion of Superintendent Franklin, and members of the board have gone on record in favor of the purchase of the property.
It is now owned by the estate of Philip Gruse and in view of its present condition and the surroundings, it ought to be bought at a very reasonable figure. A couple of families of Poles live in the house, together with a bunch of boarders.
The house is in a sad state of repair and the grounds are in keeping with the house. In fact, it is rather difficult to imagine the dejected-looking barn-like structure was ever the imposing country home of one of New York's greatest men.
Originally the house was surrounded by spacious and well-kept grounds and the front of the house, now rather bleak-looking, as the accompanying photograph shows, was made homelike by a double-decked veranda that ran the full length of the house. A two-story addition on the easterly end of the house, now long since torn down, was originally the kitchen and the servants' quarters. Flowering vines and bushes, an old-fashioned picket fence and a wooden pump in the foreground completed the picture of rural peace and comfort.
If Governor Clinton should come back to earth today and see what twentieth century civilization has done to the old place, he would probably feel like going back into the grave again and staying there.
The old lawn in front of the house has been trampled down and the house has been partially hidden behind a row of high billboards that tell glaring tales of the merits of somebody's ice cream, extol a recent theatrical success and boast of other things commercially.
To make the scene the more deplorable, the whole west side of the house has been splattered up with a life-sized representation of a raging bull going mad in excess of enthusiasm over a certain brand of smoking tobacco.
There are a number of historic places in Newtown, but no other house has so important associations as this. It was here that the Erie Canal was first dreamed of and that the preliminary plans were outlined. In fact, this old house might properly be called the birthplace of New York City's greatness, for it was the canal connecting Lake Erie with the Hudson River that gave the metropolis its greatest impetus in becoming the chief seaport of the New World.
The house antedates the Revolution by many years. It was built in 1750 by Joseph Sackett, a judge of the Court of Common Pleas. He died there in 1755 and the property then passed into the hands of Walter Franklin, a wealthy New York merchant who made it his country home until his death in 1780.
A sister of Mr. Franklin married Colonel Isaac Corsa and he was the next occupant. During the War of the Revolution, General Warren used the place as his headquarters for a time. But it was when DeWitt Clinton married Maria Franklin, the daughter of Walter Franklin, and made it his country home that he house achieved its greatest prominence in the society of old New York.
Clinton lived there during the larger part of his administrations as Mayor of the city. He resigned the United States Senatorship in 1803 to become Mayor and he held that office until 1807. In 1808, he was re-elected and served two more years and again in 1811 he was placed at the seat of municipal authority, serving until 1815.
It was during the closing years of his administration as Mayor, while he was also serving as Lieutenant Governor, that he first conceived the idea of building the canal. In the fall of 1815, in the seclusion of his Maspeth home, he prepared an argument in favor of this canal project and it was largely on this issue that he was elected Governor in 1816. His canal scheme was bitterly opposed by his political enemies, but he triumphed over all obstacles and finally, on July 4th, 1817, he had the honor of breaking ground for the beginning of the great enterprise. Eight years later, he was conveyed in triumph in a state barge along the completed canal while bells rang and cannons roared to acclaim the completion of the great achievement.
Posterity owes a great debt to the sagacity and statesmanship of DeWitt Clinton and it would seem that the least we can decently do would be to preserve his Maspeth home and maintain it as a perpetual memorial to his memory.
There ought to be a city park there, with this old house adequately restored as its central feature, just as the King house dominates the little park by that name in Jamaica. Maspeth is destined to be a populous section and it already needs a public park and playground for the dwellers of its tenements.
[The grounds of DeWitt Clinton's home were turned into a park, but the house burned down in 1933. Clinton Hall, named for the home, was a popular dance hall in the first half of the 20th century. That site is now a laboratory and industry has taken over the rest of the site. Let's not allow this sad story to be repeated – SAVE ST. SAVIOUR'S!]