William Backhouse Astor, Jr., Founder Of Astor Row In Harlem

He was born on July 12, 1829, the youngest son of William Backhouse Astor, Sr.. His brother was John Jacob Astor III.

William Backhouse Astor, Jr., graduated from Columbia College in 1849. In 1853 he married the socially ambitious Caroline Webster Schermerhorn, who reigned over New York and Newport society as simply “the Mrs. Astor.”

After college William Backhouse Astor, Jr., created Astor Row the name given to 130th Street between Fifth Avenue and Lenox Avenue in Harlem, New York. More specifically, it refers to the semi-attached row houses on the south side of the street. These were among the first speculative townhouses built in Harlem, and their design is very unusual. The houses are set back from the street and all have front yards, an oddity in Manhattan, and all have wooden porches. The effect is southern, and has been compared to the appearance of parts of Savannah, Georgia. The houses were built on land that had been purchased by John Jacob Astor in 1844 for $10,000, but the development was driven by his grandson, William Backhouse Astor, who hired architect and builder Charles Buek to oversee the project. The houses were all built between 1880 and 1883.

William, however, had little interest in society parties, and his wife would try to have him kept late at his club to prevent him coming home and throwing the orchestra out and sending his children to bed.

He supported the abolition of slavery before the American Civil War, and during the war, he personally bore the cost to equip an entire Union Army regiment.

Unlike his business oriented father, William Backhouse Astor, Jr., did not aggressively pursue an expansion of his inherited fortune, preferring life aboard the “Ambassadress,” at the time the largest private yacht in the world, or horseback riding at Ferncliff, the large estate he had built on the Hudson River. Astor’s horse “Vagrant” won the 1876 running of the Kentucky Derby.

William Backhouse Astor, Jr. died of a aneurysm in 1892 in Paris, France. He was buried in Trinity Cemetery in Washington Heights, in Harlem, New York.

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