George Lockhart Rives (1849-1917)

George L. Rives, of New York; U.S. Assistant Secretary of State

Associated Houses


Wappingers Falls

Rives-Gerry House




He was born in New York City and grew up between 8 Washington Place and Carnwath in Dutchess County. He graduated in law from both Columbia University in New York and Trinity College, Cambridge in England (1868-1872) where he was made a scholar (1872) and won the Harness Prize for the best essay connected with Shakespearian literature. Having been admitted to the Bar of New York, in 1876 he formed a partnership with Stephen H. Olin and kept an office at 32 Nassau Street up until his death. During the Presidency of Grover Cleveland he was U.S. Assistant Secretary of State (1887-89) but thereafter refused to enter into politics.

Returning to the law, he was a member of the New York Rapid Transit Railroad Commission (1896-1902); Corporation Counsel to the City of New York (1902-1904); President of the Commission to revise the Greater New York Charter in 1900; a Director of the Metropolitan Opera House; a member of the American Academy of Arts & Letters; and, President of the Board of Governors of the New York Hospital. He was a director of the Bank of New York and of the United States Trust Company, and for many years was on the Executive Committee of the New York County Bar Association.

He was Trustee of Columbia University from 1882 and was Chairman of the Board of Trustees (1903-1916). He was seriously considered as the successor to Seth Low as President of Columbia. He was a Trustee of the Astor, Lenox and Tilden Foundations and in 1895 co-founded The New York Public Library with John L. Cadwalader and John Bigelow, serving as Trustee and President (1914-17). He was close friends with the architect Charles McKim with whom he consulted on the campus buildings at Columbia and the projected New York Public Library at 42nd Street. He was a member of the Century, Tuxedo and Knickerbocker Clubs and authored several books including "The United States and Mexico, 1821-1848". He was also active in civic circles in Newport.

In 1892, he sold the house he grew up in at 8 Washington Place (identical from the outside to Commodore Vanderbilt's 10 Washington Place) and bought 14 West 38th Street before building the Rives-Gerry House at 69 East 79th Street. He summered at Swanhurst in Newport and counted Carnwath and his house in Tuxedo Park as his country homes. He was a first cousin of Princess Amélie (Rives) Troubetzkoy. He was married twice and had two sons and two daughters including his stepdaughter Mrs Natica Burden who took his surname after he formally adopted her. In 1889, he married his second wife, Sara Whiting, who was previously (briefly and disastrously) married to Oliver Belmont who remarried Mrs Alva Vanderbilt. On his death, Rives' estate was valued at $500,000 from which he left $50,000 to his alma mater, Columbia University.
Contributed by Mark Meredith on 28/10/2019 and last updated on 18/05/2022.