Chelsea House

Manhattan, New York

Rebuilt in 1750, for the retired British Major Thomas Clarke (1692-1776) and his wife Mary Stillwell (1714-1802). Their home stood on what is now the corner of 23rd and 9th Avenue. The good-humoured old Major named it for Royal Chelsea Hospital in London, a pun as the hospital was a home for retired, old soldiers - like him. In 1816, the manor was significantly enlarged into a three-story mansion by the Clarke's grandson, Clement, who became famous as the author of the poem popularly known today as, "Twas' the Night Before Christmas". What was its farmland now constitutes Manhattan's fashionable Chelsea Village, which takes its name from the house....

This house is best associated with...

Thomas Clarke

Major Thomas Clarke, of "Chelsea" Manhattan, New York


Mary (Stillwell) Clarke

Mrs Mary "Mollie" (Stillwell) Clarke


Charity (Clarke) Moore

Mrs Charity (Clarke) Moore


Rt. Rev. Benjamin Moore

2nd Episcopal Bishop of New York; President of Columbia College


Clement Clarke Moore

Clement C. Moore, of "Chelsea House" Manhattan, New York


Catherine (Taylor) Moore

Mrs Catherine Elizabeth (Taylor) Moore, of "Chelsea House" Manhattan


Major Clarke was a retired officer who served with the British Army. In 1745, aged 53, he married his American wife, Mary, who came from a notable American family and was born in Monmouth County (New Jersey) and brought up in New York City. Her sister, Elizabeth, was married to Lt.-General John Maunsell and they lived at Pinehurst.

In the Summer of 1750, Clarke purchased a 94-acre farm on Manhattan Island from Jacob Somerindyck for $5,000. In today's terms, it ran from 8th Avenue to the Hudson River, and from 21st Street to 24th. His immediate neighbour to the south was retired British Admiral Sir Peter Warren who had wryly named his property "Greenwich" for London's Greenwich Hospital that housed retired, old sailors. In the same vein, Clarke named his home "Chelsea" for the Royal Chelsea Hospital that housed retired, old soldiers.

Clarke made various improvements to the existing wooden farmhouse, calling it his "snug harbor". He surrounded the house with gardens and an orchard and lived here very happily throughout the summers until disaster struck in 1776: the house caught fire and burned to the ground. In the midst of the chaos, the old Major had attempted to salvage what he could from the inferno, but he suffered severe injuries and died days later.

The now widowed but quite undiminished Mrs Clarke with "the pride and strength of a Tory" wasted no time in rebuilding her home, but took the opportunity to turn it into a much more elegant Regency-style manor built of brick. However, no sooner was her house complete, she then found herself faced with another problem:

The Revolution

Because her husband had been a British officer, the house became a target of harassment from troops belonging to the Continental Army who were encamped nearby. Mary picked up her quill and appealed to no less a figure than George Washington (1732-1799), and demanded to know,“why’d the quiet home of a widow and two young daughters be infested by your uniformed loutish varlets?” The General immediately jumped on his horse and paid her a visit, reassuring her with “real kindliness as well as stiff courtesy”.

On another occasion during the War, a British ship passing along the Hudson took a cursory shot at the mansion. There were no injuries, but the hole made by the cannonball remained for years to come. Mrs Clarke had been absent at the time, and when she returned (on a chaise, carried by slaves) a soldier informed her of the infringement, to which she replied with disinterested, blue-blooded sangfroid, "thank you for that".   

"The Pulpit" of Bishop Moore

Mrs Clarke died in 1802 and left Chelsea to her son-in-law, Benjamin Moore (1748-1816), the Bishop of New York, which was when the locals humorously dubbed it "The Pulpit". He acquired further land south of 19th Street and on his appointment as Bishop in 1813, he and his beautiful wife, Charity Clarke (1747-1838), deeded the property to their only child, Clement C. Moore (1779-1863) who'd been born here in 1779. However, although it was now their son's in name, they continued to make their home here.

Manor to Mansion

Shortly after the Bishop died, Clement and his wife, Catherine, upgraded the elegant, modest manor to the status of imposing, country mansion: "the old house had a third story added to it, cellars built under the old foundation, and the whole square was walled around". For the most part, the estate was still operated by a number of slaves. Though slavery had been outlawed in New York in 1799, it was not until 1827 that all slaves were liberated, and Clement Moore was among those who vociferously opposed their liberation.

'Twas the Night Before Christmas...

Clement Moore was a Professor of Greek & Hebrew, but he is best known as the author of the now famous poem, "A Visit from St. Nicholas", better known today as "The Night Before Christmas" or "'Twas the Night Before Christmas". He penned the poem at Chelsea in 1823, as nothing more than a gift for his young daughters. When it had inadvertently become famous, he was interviewed by the New-York Historical Society shortly before his death when he revealed that the idea of making St. Nicholas the principal character had been suggested to him by, "a portly, rubicund Dutchman living in the neighborhood". Of course, all this is hearsay if you're in the camp of Major Harry Livingston...

Chelsea Village

Back at Chelsea, the story goes that by 1819 Clement had become fed up with boys from the city coming in to pilfer from his orchards. So, one day, he set off angrily into town determined to dispose of his property for $40,000. But, on the way, he ran into an old acquaintance, a builder by the name of James N. Wells. On hearing of his plan, Wells suggested that he'd be better to divide the land into street lots, encourage settlers, and develop it. Thus started the beginning of a long and very profitable professional relationship and in 1825 Clement removed his family to Elmhurst, Queen's County.

As for the mansion, its demise came about circa 1855, a contemporary account explained: "the place remained until the Corporation of the city ordered a bulkhead to be built along the river front. It was thought advisable, if not absolutely necessary, to dig down the whole place, and throw it into the river; when, of course, the old house was destroyed." Today, the London Terrace Apartments take its place on the corner of 23rd & 9th Avenue. 

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Contributed by Mark Meredith on 03/04/2019 and last updated on 31/01/2023.
Main Image "The Pulpit" as seen before 1816; My Forefathers, their history from records & traditions (1910) by Augustus Maunsell Bradhurst; Luxury Apartment Houses of Manhattan: An Illustrated History (1992), by Andrew Alpern; The Lost Clement C. Moore "Chelsea House" (daytoninmanhattan.blogspot); The History of Chelsea, New York City; Valentine's Manual of the Corporation of the City of New York, 1856; The Street Book: An Encyclopedia of Manhattan's Street Names and Their Origins (1990), by Henry Moscow


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