Real Estate of Edith Warton’s ‘The Age of Innocence’ – NYTimes.com

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A Pair of Bluebloods With Blueprints

Real Estate of Edith Warton’s ‘The Age of Innocence’

Rowhouses built by Rebecca Jones stood on the east side of Fifth Avenue, from 55th to 56th Street, in 1870.

Edith Wharton’s corpulent great-aunt Mary Mason Jones served as one of the most memorable inspirations in literary New York: the model for Mrs. Manson Mingott in Wharton’s novel “The Age of Innocence.”

Much of the 1920 book is centered on Mary Jones’s remarkable row of stone houses on Fifth Avenue, from 57th to 58th Street. But almost absent from Wharton’s writings is Mary’s sister Rebecca Jones, who built an equally impressive row just two blocks south.

The father of Rebecca, born in 1801, and Mary, born the year before, was John Mason, a founder of the New York and Harlem Railroad, which first ran in 1832. Rebecca married Isaac Colford Jones Jr., and Mary his cousin, also named Isaac Jones.

Rebecca and Mary early exhibited a taste for domestic proximity, occupying neighboring rowhouses on Chambers Street. No. 122, Mary’s place, supposedly had the first bathtub in New York; Rebecca’s ablutionary activities are not documented.

Later, three Jones families, including Rebecca and Mary’s, occupied three adjoining houses from 732 to 736 Broadway, in which the entertaining rooms could be opened to one another.

It is not clear where the sisters lived after 1854, when a nasty fight over their father’s estate, much of it property in New York City, was resolved.They were awarded two city blocks, each running from Fifth to Park, where streets had just recently been cut through. Rebecca’s domain was between 55th and 56th, Mary’s between 57th and 58th. These are where their architectural aspirations played out shortly after Wharton’s birth in 1862.

 

 

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