Saturday, June 24, 2017

O'Connor and De Peyster and Lancaster, PA

In the post on Thursday about Frederick Law Olmsted and his comment about Promenade Hill, I mentioned that the first library at Franklin & Marshall College in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, had been designed by Hudson architect Michael J. O'Connor and promised more on that subject. Today is the day to make good on that promise.

The story starts with General John Watts De Peyster, the last patroon of Lower Claverack Manor and the great-great-great-grandson of Abraham De Peyster, who was mayor of New York in the 1690s. We in Hudson know De Peyster as the philanthropist who gave us the statue of St. Winifred by George Edwin Bissell that stands on Promenade Hill. 

From The Hudson Valley Sketchbook, "a fragmented history of the area by Mrs. Marion C. Smith of Hudson," which was self-published in 1964, we learn that De Peyster, who lived in Tivoli, and Michael O'Connor were personal friends. O'Connor played a role in getting De Peyster to donate the statue to Hudson 1896, when it turned out it couldn't be placed where De Peyster had intended it to go. A few years later, when De Peyster decided to build a library for Franklin & Marshall College in Lancaster, Pennsylvania (the college had honored him as an amateur historian), he commissioned his friend Michael O'Connor to design the building. The pictures below show the library designed by O'Connor, which was dedicated in 1898.

Sad to say, the De Peyster Library at Franklin & Marshall College was demolished in 1937.

The colorized post card and the photograph above it both show a statue positioned in front of the library. That statue has its own story, one that was told in 2011 in the New York Times. In 1893, John Watts De Peyster commissioned Bissell to create a larger than life likeness of his great-great-great-grandfather, Abraham De Peyster. The intention was that the statue be placed in Battery Park. The New York Times complained at the time that "the Battery was already overrun with statuary." 

Photo: Ruby Washington|The New York Times
Growing weary of arguing with city officials about the placement of the statue, De Peyster offered it to Franklin & Marshall College, where presumably it was gratefully accepted, but when his dispute with the City of New York was resolved and the statue was placed in Bowling Green, a duplicate was cast and placed in front of the De Peyster Library. 

When the De Peyster Library was demolished in 1937, the statue was moved to a place of little prominence on the edge of the F&M campus. The statue in New York also suffered the indignities of being moved about--from Bowling Green to Hanover Square to a parks department warehouse on Randalls Island where it remained from 2003 until 2014, when it was installed and rededicated in Thomas Paine Park in Foley Square, at the corner of Lafayette and Worth streets.

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