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Goelet family papers

Biographical note

Brothers Robert Goelet (1841-1899) and Ogden Goelet (1846-1897) were the scions of a wealthy New York family that had made vast investments in real estate over several generations. Upon the death of their father Robert R. Goelet (1809-1879) and their bachelor uncle Peter (c.1800-1879), they inherited holdings throughout Manhattan. The brothers maintained the empire and expanded it to Newport as well, building neighboring homes on Ochre Point. The Goelets were very much a part of high New York society and were founders of the New York Metropolitan Opera.

Older brother Robert married Harriett Louise Warren and had two children, Robert “Bertie” Walton Goelet and Beatrice Goelet. He graduated from Columbia College in 1860 and later studied law and passed the bar. He was regarded by his peers as a wise businessman with good financial judgment. In later years, the family’s main residence was at 591 Fifth Avenue in New York.

Younger brother Ogden married Mary R. Wilson [Mary R. Goelet] in 1878 and had two children, Mary "May" Wilson Goelet [Mary W. Goelet] (1879?-1937) and Robert Goelet (1880-1966). Ogden was a noted real estate investor with properties throughout Manhattan. After 1884, the main Goelet residence in New York City was at 608 Fifth Avenue (49th and Fifth), around the corner from a second house at 4 West 49th Street. The family's stables were located at 7 East 52nd Street. Ogden also owned interests in the Hotel Imperial, which occupied a block on Broadway (1250 Broadway) between 31st & 32nd Streets; the San Carlo apartment building (likely near Broadway and 31st Street); the Gorham Building at 889 Broadway on the northwest corner of 19th Street; the Judge Building at 110 Fifth Avenue on the northwest corner of 16th Street; the properties at 895, 897, and 899 Broadway; 10 East 20th Street; 9 East 19th Street; Abbey's Theatre (later the Knickerbocker Theater) at 1400 Broadway on the northeast corner of 38th Street; and the Kemble Building at 15-25 Whitehall, also identified as the intersection of Whitehall, Stone, and Bridge streets.

After several years of poor health, during which he spent his winters at Nice or Cannes, Ogden died in 1897 on his yacht Mayflower at Cowes, England. May and Robert were still teenagers when their father died.

In 1903, Ogden's daughter May married Henry John Innes-Ker, the eighth Duke of Roxburghe, with whom she had only one son, George.

Young Robert was a Harvard graduate who served as a captain in the infantry in France during World War I. He became a major force in the development of American railroads, hotels, and real estate, and he served as a director of Chemical Bank and of New York Trust Company. With three wives and four children, Robert had a more complicated matrimonial history than his sister. He married his first wife, Elsie Whelen, in 1904 and had two children, Ogden and Peter, before his divorce in 1914. He met his second wife, Fernanda Rocchi Riabouchinsky, while in Europe during the war and married her in 1919. They had one son, Robert Goelet, Jr., before divorcing in 1924. He married his third wife, Roberta Willard, in 1925 and with her had a daughter, Mary Eleanor. Robert and Roberta were married until her death in 1949.

In 1947, Robert donated his Newport house, Ochre Court, to the Sisters of Mercy for the formation of Salve Regina College. He and Roberta moved to a new home, Champs Soleil, down the street on Bellevue Avenue.

Other people mentioned in the papers are:

  • William Berrian, who was described as a real estate dealer by the New York Times (Dec. 29, 1897).
  • Ernest W. Bowditch, a civil engineer and landscape gardener who participated in the design of Ochre Court’s grounds.
  • James H. Bowditch, a landscape gardener from Boston who worked on the design of gardens and grounds around Ochre Court.
  • George G. DeWitt, who acted as an executor for both Ogden and his brother Robert.
  • T. Firth, Jr., who paid many bills for Ogden and was possibly a business manager or secretary in New York.
  • John R. Johnson, the horticultural consultant who worked onsite in Newport on the establishment of gardens and landscaping at Ochre Court. He is mentioned in the collection from 1894-1896.
  • Montgomery Maze, the general manager of Grand Central Palace at least from 1897-1898. He leased the building from the Goelets.
  • John Yale, the business manager or secretary in New York City who received and paid Ogden’s bills at 9 West 17th Street from at least 1894-1897.