Friday, April 4, 2014

From the Archives: The Wylie House on 40th Street

BPC archivist Anne Kumer takes a look at one of the Park's adjacent buildings. This post also appears on NYC Circa.

In the late 1800s, Fifth Avenue in Midtown Manhattan was lined with mansions designed and built for the wealthy. The turn of the century brought retail and office buildings to the area -- and soon, the New York Public Library -- redefining it as a predominantly commercial region of the city. Few of these residences survived the shift, though one still stands at 28 West 40th Street, in between the American Scientific and the Engineer's Club buildings.

The Wylie House at 28 West 40th Street, with the American Scientific Building on the left, and the Engineers' Club on the right, 1926. Image MCNY
The mansion was commissioned by Dr. Walker Gill Wylie (Bio: p. 8-12), designed by R.H. Robertson, and built in 1891.

Dr. Wylie was born in South Carolina in 1849, joined the Confederate Army at age 16, and graduated from the University of South Carolina in 1868 with an Engineering degree. In 1871, he received his medical degree from Bellevue Medical College in New York City, and spent the following year in Europe observing hospital construction and nursing instruction. While in Europe, he consulted and collaborated with British Reformist Florence Nightingale. After returning to the States in 1873, he helped form the first nursing school, the Bellevue Hospital School of Nursing, which is now called the Hunter-Bellevue School of Nursing.

Bellevue Nurses, 1880s. Image via
For a number of years Wylie assisted James Marion Sims in abdominal surgery. A monument of Sims was erected in Bryant Park after his death in 1883. It stayed there until 1928, when it was removed and placed in storage in preparation for the 1933-1934 Moses renovation. In 1933 the monument was taken from storage and installed on a pedestal in Central Park at 103rd Street and Fifth Avenue.
J. Marion Sims monument in Bryant Park, October 1894. The Croton Reservoir's west wall can be seen in the background.

In 1882, Dr. Wylie was appointed Visiting Gynecologist at Bellevue, a position he held for 25 years. That same year, he was also appointed Professor of Gynecology at the Polyclinic School of Medicine, lecturing there on gynecology and abdominal surgery for 20 years.
Bellevue surgeons, with -- I think -- Dr. Wylie front and center with the mustache [early1900s?]. Image via
Dr. Wylie lived with his family in the mansion until he died in 1923.
Bellevue Nursing graduating class, 1923. (Note the backwards print). Image via
The mansion's front facade has been altered, and it's long been converted from a single family home into apartment housing, but it's a small indication of a pre-commercial 40th Street.

The Wylie House today. Photo: A. Kumer
Other Sources:
-"Relations of Hospitals to Pauperism," W. Gill Wylie. Popular Science Monthly. Volume 9, October 1876.
-Bellevue: a short history of Bellevue  Hospital and of the training schools. Alumnae Association of Bellevue, 1915. (link)
-Walker G. Wylie books, available on google books
-Bellevue School of Nursing Archives, housed at NYU.
-Daytonian in Manhattan blog post

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