Daily Archives: November 6, 2017

William Kemp and his 65 Second Street Home

Published by:

Our brief mention of the Troy home of William Kemp got us curious … how did 65 Second Street come to be designed by one of the leading architects of his age, Stanford White? White, of the massively influential firm of McKim, Mead and White, designed the arch in New York’s Washington Square, the second Madison Square Garden, a great number of churches and clubhouses, and many residences of the wealthy of the gilded age, primarily on Long Island.

A 1964 article in the Knickerbocker News tells some of the story of the home, which was then undergoing renovation. It was then owned by former U.S. Representative Dean P. Taylor. Just north of it was (and is) the Hart-Cluett mansion, owned by the Rensselaer County Historical Society and also under renovations at the time. To its south was an apartment building that was scheduled to be razed to make way for the Russell Sage College dorm that stands there now, at the corner of Congress and Second. Taylor had served nine terms, starting in 1943, but left Congress after 1960 owing to poor health. He recovered and went into private practice.

“The building is a showplace, from tile and marble-appointed foyer through the main floor reception room and offices to Mr. Taylor’s suite on the second floor. Mr. White – who left many memorials of his talent in such structures as the original Madison Square Garden, the Washington Arch, Farragut Monument and Tiffany Building in New York City – was induced to design the Troy building as a favor to a family friend.

According to stories handed down from old-time Troy families, Mr. White stayed in Troy to supervise construction of the building. His trademarks are found in pilasters in the library, elevation of the treads of the stairs as well as the cathedral windows.

Cornices of the structure correspond with photographs of the original Metropolitan Club in New York City, another creation from the White drawing board.

The first and second floors are trimmed ornately in heavy oak paneling. Even the pickets supporting the bannister on the stairway are carved in unusual detail.

The elegance of the building is further manifested in the more than a dozen fireplaces each [of] different design and size, on the two floors. Rooms have been renovated to afford a hearth for the office of each of Mr. Taylor’s seven partners and associates in the firm of Wager, Taylor, Howd & Brearton of which Mr. Taylor is the senior member.

In a first floor section, which originally was a billiard room when 65 Second Street was one of the most fashionable dwellings in downtown Troy, is a tiled mantle with the inscription, ‘Hang care – Care would kill a cat. Therefore, let’s be merry!!’”

65 Second Street, TroyThe building was built for William Kemp, who was, as his obituary in 1908 reported, associated with Troy’s development for more than half a century. He was last known as a banker, president of the National City Bank of Troy, a national bank that had currency issued in its name. Kemp was born in 1829 in a house that later was the site of the Troy Club, at 7-9 First Street. He left school at the age of nine, and became a clerk in a drug store, and then a typesetter with the Troy Post. He clerked in a grocery store, then entered a machine shop and learned the mechanic’s trade. In 1851 he founded the Kemp Brass Foundry in 1851, and later led the Troy Steel and Iron Company. He also worked in chain manufacture as the president of J.B. Carr Company, and was an organizer and director of The Citizens’ Steamboat Company, formed in 1871 and later under the Hudson Navigation Company. He also was involved in street railways, as president of the Troy and Lansingburgh Railway Company and its successor, the Troy City Railway Company. Later he was a director of successor United Traction Company, vice president of The Troy Gas Company, and director of The Boutwell Miling and Grain Company. He was president of the Mutual Savings Bank, and in 1878 became head of Mutual National Bank, which merged with Central National Bank into National City Bank in 1906; he retired in 1907. He didn’t lack for jobs, or wealth, but he was also active in civic affairs. He was a member of the Board of Education from 1855-72, and president of the board for 14 years. He was a trustee of the Troy Female Seminary and Emma Willard School for more than a quarter of a century, and was a trustee of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute from 1868 to his death. He was a trustee of the Troy Orphan Asylum, and a member of the board of the Marshall Sanitarium, a member of Christ Episcopal Church, a member of the Troy, Ionic, Riverside and East Side Clubs, as well as a Mason and Odd Fellow. He served as paymaster of the Second Regiment, New York Volunteers in the Civil War, and was treasurer of the organization that erected the Soldiers and Sailors’ Monument in Monument Square. For many years, he lived on Fifth Avenue between Federal and Jacob streets, until building 65 Second around 1898.

None of that gives the slightest hint how he might have become acquainted with Stanford White. There was a William Kemp brokerage tangentially involved with the Stanford White scandals, but there doesn’t appear to have been any connection to this William Kemp or his family.

We do know that after the death of Kemp, the home was sold to Charles W. Frear, son of William H. Frear (of Frear’s Cash Bazaar), and then when Frear died it was owned by a Dr. Francis and Mrs. Gladys Fagan. In 1954, they sold it to former District Attorney Earle J. Wiley for about $40,000.