Top photo shows grand staircase inside the Hurst residence on 215th Street and Park Terrace East in 1920's. (Photo courtesy of Hurst family) Lower photo taken in 2012. (Photo by Cole Thompson)

Top photo shows grand staircase inside the Hurst residence on 215th Street and Park Terrace East in 1920′s. (Photo courtesy of Hurst family) Lower photo taken in 2012. (Photo by Cole Thompson)

In 1912 an Irish architect named James O’Connor constructed a beautiful brick home on Park Terrace East and 215th Street.

1920's photo of the Inwood home of William H. Hurst. (Photo courtesy of Hurst ancestor JoAnn Jones)

1920′s photo of the Inwood home of William H. Hurst. Note Isham Gardens under construction to the right. (Photo courtesy of Hurst ancestor JoAnn Jones)

Undated photo of the Hurst home.  (Photo courtesy of Hurst descendants)

Undated photo of the Hurst home. Photo is taken from Isham Park looking north to 215th Street. Stone building in the foreground was the Hurst’s garage. (Photo courtesy of Hurst descendants)

While O’Connor would later go on to design “Great Gatsby” style playhouse homes for wealthy clients, this particular design had children in mind.

Lots of children.

William H. Hurst. (Photo courtesy of Hurst family)

William H. Hurst. (Photo courtesy of Hurst family)

Hurst Family portrait June 24, 1924. (Photo from Hurst family)

Hurst family portrait June 24, 1924. (Photo from Hurst family)

William H. Hurst, the President of the New York Stock Telegraph Company, and his wife Minnie, needed an especially large home to accommodate their thirteen kids. The grand home at the top of the newly constructed 215th Street stairs, which remarkably still stands today, suited their needs perfectly.

1915 photo of Hurst home. The Hurst's garage is to the right and behind that the Isham home. (Photo courtesy of Hurst descendants)

1915 photo of Hurst home. The Hurst’s garage is to the right and behind that the Isham home. (Photo courtesy of Hurst descendants)

The house had a stone garage out back where Bruce’s Garden sits today.  The brick house bordered Isham Park, which had been donated to the city by the Isham family the very year the Hurst’s moved to the neighborhood.

The interior was spectacular.
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As the population crowds around the park in commercial and residential buildings, this breathing space of exceptional beauty, with its varied topography, will be more and more appreciated and remain a constant reminder of the generosity of the donors and the wisdom of the city officials in accepting and preserving such a noble gift for the benefit of the people of the City of New York.”  -Borough President George McAneny on the gift of Isham Park (New York Times, March 24, 1912)

Sketch of the William B. Isham home, New York Sun, August 3, 1934.

Sketch of the William B. Isham home, New York Sun, August 3, 1934.

An Uptown Oasis

In the summer of 1862, shortly after General Robert E. Lee assumed control of the Confederate Army, a 35-year-old leather merchant named William Bradley Isham rented a sprawling wood-frame house on a verdant promontory on the uppermost tip of the city.

William Bradley Isham portrait from Warrensburgh Historical Society.

William Bradley Isham portrait from Warrensburgh Historical Society.

The rental was intended as a seasonal retreat, but the businessman with the blue eyes, beard and mustache apparently made a connection with the land, for two years later he returned to purchase the home and surrounding property.

For half a century the Isham family tended lovingly to their uptown oasis, in northern Manhattan’s Inwood section, before donating the land to the city for use as a park that would bear their family name.

The Isham Estate

The Isham’s two-story house rested squarely on a hilltop with sweeping views of both the Harlem and Hudson Rivers.

Isham Estate, circa 1905.  The Isham home is located at the rear center of the lawn.  Photo courtesy of Don Rice.

Isham Estate, circa 1905. The Isham home is located at the rear center of the lawn. Photo courtesy of Don Rice.

Dr. Floyd T. Ferris, the principal physician to the Cholera Hospital on Duane Street, had occupied the home until his death seven years before the Isham’s first visit.

Dr. Ferris’ old home, likely built in the 1850’s, was of an unusual design. Three extended wings together formed a cross that maximized both light and ventilation.

Isham mansion in 1934 photograph.

Isham mansion in 1934 photograph.

It is an interesting brick and frame building of peculiar shape, having a spacious central hall with a winding staircase and gallery from which the rooms extend in three wings,” wrote Reginald Bolton, an eminent turn of the century Manhattan historian. (Reginald Bolton, Washington Heights Manhattan: Its Eventful Past, 1924)
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