Today’s “Then and Now” features 19 Ocean Avenue:
It was a September Saturday in 1899. Elizabeth Wood, a widow who summered annually in Ocean Grove, drove her handsome horse-drawn phaeton into the heart of OG to run some errands. She parked in front of Perrine and Jackson’s Meat Market on Heck Avenue and went about her business.
What is a phaeton? Popular in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, the phaeton was the sports car of its day. Drawn by one or two horses, the phaeton was a light, open carriage on four wheels.
But while she was gone, her skittish horse grew uneasy in the presence of a dog and started bucking and kicking. By the time the horse had been soothed, the phaeton was completely destroyed.
The demolished phaeton would certainly have been an inconvenience for her, but not the end of the world. Elizabeth Wood was a well-to-do woman and no doubt she was able to replace her phaeton in short order.
Just nine years earlier, she’d purchased oceanfront property in Ocean Grove from James Black – specifically, lots 600 and 601, and parts of lots 598 and 599. She paid $7,000. It was on this plot that she built her summer home, which still stands today at 19 Ocean Avenue. (She made changes to her home and possibly expanded it in 1894.)
When she wasn’t summering in Ocean Grove, Elizabeth Wood lived in a beautiful row house mansion in Harlem. The building still stands today at 14 Mt. Morris Park West, between 121st and 122nd streets. In 2009, a nearly identical house just one door down was on the market for $8 million. The web site Curbed.com provides a floor plan and interior photos of 12 Mt. Morris Park West, which will give you an idea of what it was like to be Mrs. Wood in the off-season living at #14.
Elizabeth Wood was known for being generous with her wealth and made many charitable gestures, both big and small, to the people and organizations that mattered to her. For example, the Ocean Grove Record newspaper tells us that in August of 1906, Mrs. Wood paid for her friends Mrs. J.N. Fitzgerald and Mrs. A.H. DeHaven to become lifetime members of the Ocean Grove auxiliary of the Women’s Foreign Missionary Society. She was also a member of the American Association to Promote the Teaching of Speech to the Deaf, was active with the New York House of Refuge for wayward girls on Randall’s Island, and was a vice president of the New York City Indian Association, the aims of which were “to awaken and strengthen, by every means in its power, that Christian public sentiment which shall aid our Government in its present policy of granting citizenship to Indians, and the same protection of law enjoyed by other races among us”, and “To aid in the support of suitable missionaries and instructors to reside among the Indians, to labor for their industrial, political, moral and religious education”. (The “Indians” the organization sought to Christianize were native Americans.)
Upon her death from pneumonia in April 1907, Elizabeth Wood endowed a parcel of property to Trinity Methodist Episcopal Church of Harlem — three buildings at Second Avenue and 118th Street. She was 75 years old and died at home in New York. She’s buried in Greenwood Cemetery in Brooklyn.
Elizabeth Wood probably willed her Ocean Grove house to one of her siblings. She had at least two brothers – John and William Laird. In the Ocean Grove Times of April 5, 1913, it’s noted that “Mrs. H. Murgatroyd, of New York City, who recently bought the Laird cottage at the corner of Main and Ocean Avenues, over Sunday last entertained a party of Newark friends.” It seems Mrs. Murgatroyd (“Hettie”) named the cottage “The Bellaire” (also seen spelled as “Belaire”). According to her great-granddaughter Cindy, Mrs. Murgatroyd sold the house when her husband was away during World War I.
By 1937 the house had become the summer home of Mr. and Mrs. S. Walter Stauffer of York, PA. Mr. Stauffer had been engaged in the manufacture of lime, crushed stone and refractory dolomite from 1916 to 1936, and went on to serve as a U.S. Congressman from 1953-55 and again in 1957-59. According to his granddaughter Salome who made a recent visit to Centennial Cottage, Ocean Grove was where her grandparents fell in love. It’s no wonder they chose to make their summer home in a place that held such sweet memories.
Today, 19 Ocean Avenue is still a private residence. The current owners call the property “Strandvue”.
If you like this story, you’ll like Then and Now: Lane Villa.
Funding provided by the New Jersey Historical Commission.