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Posts Tagged ‘Austin v Ahearne’

I recently searched land records in not one, but two counties: New York and Dutchess.

New York – 66 John Street

I went back to 66 John Street to get more information about the lot that Mary Coleman Colbert leased. She was quite the fighter. She did not give up on her right to the 15 year lease she had obtained in 1865. The plaintiff, Cornelia Austin, did not give up either and kept appealing decisions that did not go her way. The property was finally sold at auction in late 1877, with Mary’s case still open. The other tenants were apparently paid costs out of the sale. I don’t know what happened with Mary’s costs, but she seems to have been able to stay until the end.

The property where Mary Colbert lived was sold at auction in late 1877.

Her grandson, John Grossman, first child of Mary Colbert and George Grossman, was born in his Grandmother’s house  in September 1879.  Mary’s lease ended on April 1, 1880. A few months later, in June 1880, the family is living in Bronxville, Westchester County.

When they returned to the city they lived at 421 East 12oth Street. Not only was this right in back of their old place, it was the lot that had been leased by Charles Spear, one of the other tenants named in the lawsuit! Curious. Spear gave a description of his house in his testimony, so I’m going back to the Old Records Room to check  it out.

I was also able to find that Mary Coleman Colbert’s brother owned a house in Manhattan, also on East 121st Street, but  several blocks west. He bought it in 1885, but didn’t move there until 1900. Maybe he rented it out?

Lawrene Coleman and his wife Julia bought this house in 1885.

Dutchess – 22 Market Street, Poughkeepsie

In New York you usually look up the block and lot number – after all, New York is divided into a grid. In the Dutchess County Clerk Records Room you search using the grantor/grantee books and look for the name. I found what I was looking for quickly and then went straight to the liber to see the deeds. These libers are heavy, and I believe the ones on the bottom row are heavier!

I have to admit  the typed deeds are much easier to read, but it was interesting to read the handwritten property description in one deed. The property was transferred in 1835 in Amenia and was a farm. The description went on and on – a very long page with very small handwriting. Here’s how it starts:

…end of a stonewall  North of the road and north west of the house of Noah Brown thence south eighty three and one half east twelve chains and nine links to stake and stones thence north ten and one half and five chains and fifty links to stake in the wll thence south…

I gave up at that point.

I looked at another deed (typed). This one was from 1926 for property in the City of Beacon and had an interesting clause. I think it may have been carried over from a previous deed. What do you think?

…Occupants and servants at all times to freely pass and re-pass on foot, or with horses, cattle, beasts of burden, wagons, carts, sleighs, carriages, or other vehicles whatsoever to and fro, over said right of way as above bounded and described..

This did  have cars by 1926 and the horses and sleighs were almost a thing of the past. And just how long did people keep cattle in Beacon?

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Mary moved her one-story house, which included a store, to East 121st Street not long after John died.

East 121st Street between Pleasant Avenue and First Avenue did not have many houses at the time and most of them were like Mary’s – one or two story framed buildings. They don’t appear on the maps of the time. The lots to the west of Mary were empty. Mary was in the dairy business and may have kept cows, or goats, or geese, like many Irish in Harlem.

1867 Map - Mary's house was by the arrow - note the lines of the old farms. There were several other small houses on the block that are not on the map.

When I started researching the family history I didn’t even know the name of my great great grandmother. So how did I manage to find a description of her house?

It took 30 years and the internet, plus some good old-fashioned court house research.

At first it seemed that Mary and John left few records and even fewer family stories.

There was one story that was a little strange. The Colberts, it seems, had a farm in Harlem and it was taken from them by greedy people? the city? That wasn’t clear.  My grandmother, or maybe it was my great grandmother, was going to look into getting it back, but nothing ever came of it.

As I found more records, Mary and John and their children slowly came into focus. The Emigrant Savings Bank records revealed that Mary came from County Waterford. Cemetery records yielded clues about her husband and children (see Colbert Mystery Solved and Where’s John Colbert?). I learned that she had a brother named Lawrence Coleman who also lived on East 121st Street. The census records showed that the houses must have been small – only one or two families per house. I found that the family lived in Bronxville for a very short period in 1880.

Emigrant Savings Bank, April 7, 1865, Note she used her maiden name. Avenue A is now Pleasant Avenue.

Later I learned that the family moved to Manhattanville in 1890 when Mary’s daughter bought a house – more on that in a later post.

Could I find any else?

The New York Public Library has a great blog and their post on researching NYC Homes was the key to more information about Mary than I ever thought I would find. I decided to try the Real Estate Record first and found this description of Mary’s house.

422 East 121st Street - sold to William Austin

Who was William Austin and why did he buy Mary’s house? As it turned out, there was a lot more to this story.

Next post:

How Mary got caught up in the case of

Austin v Ahearne 61 N.Y. 6.

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