The Fun Fact Historical Footnote: Chester A. Arthur
This section may be useful info to keep on hand during trivia night at your local Murray Hill bar.
Though our 21st president may be more publicly remembered today for his spectacular mutton chop moustache than for any policy passed during his tenure (1881-85, in case you’re wondering), President Chester A. Arthur was a New Yorker through and through. After coming to the city as a young man to practice law, Arthur spent most of his adulthood living at 123 Lexington Avenue, now known as the Chester A. Arthur House, which also happened to be a convenient short walk away from his in-laws’ place overlooking Gramercy Park.
Arthur’s stint in the Civil War was soon followed by a foray into national politics as James Garfield’s Vice President, but Garfield’s assassination in August 1881 meant he had to make a quick move to D.C. He was back in New York, however, a few years later after losing a bid for re-election, and dead by 1886.
The Roosevelts: The Kennedys of New York?
New York City at the onset of the twentieth century was finally coming head to head with the traits that would continue to shape it over the next one hundred plus years: extreme wealth alongside cramped poverty, industry intermingled with fast-paced business deals, factory pollution alongside the occasional art movement.
And, perhaps not coincidentally, it fell upon the arms of a New Yorker to lead the United States as a whole into this new century. Theodore Roosevelt, the only president born within city borders until the Queensite Trump, spent most of his bed-ridden childhood in his family’s town house at 28 East 20th Street. The Roosevelts eventually moved north to West 57th Street, and the house of Teddy’s formative years was destroyed just three years before his death in 1916. But in the years following his death, the Women’s Roosevelt Memorial Association hired Theodate Pope Riddle to build a replica of the house right next door, now a museum devoted to exploring Teddy’s life and adventures.
Which brings us to Teddy’s cousin, Franklin, and their other cousin and Franklin’s wife, Eleanor. They spent the early years of their marriage, well before Franklin’s rise to power, living in the heart of Murray Hill at 125 East 36th Street (a morning run past the row of townhouses is well worth your time). They then lived next door to Franklin’s mother, Sara, at 49 East 65th Street, until Sara’s death in 1941, at which point then-president Roosevelt sold the home to the nearby Hunter College.