Thomas E. Davis

Thomas Edward Davis or Davies[1] (c. 1785 or 1795[a] – March 16, 1878) was a prolific real estate developer who built residential properties in New York between 1830 and 1860.

Thomas E. Davis
Thomas Edward Davis

c. 1785 or 1795[a]
Died(1878-03-16)March 16, 1878 (age 83 or 93)
Florence, Italy
OccupationReal estate developer
Spouse(s)Anne Power
RelativesFrederick Gebhard (grandson)
Isabelle Gebhard Neilson (granddaughter)
Harry La Montagne (grandson)
John F. A. Sanford (son-in-law)

Early lifeEdit

Davis emigrated from England to New Brunswick, New Jersey, early in the 19th century, with the intention of setting up a whiskey distilling business.[2] When the distillery failed, he moved to New York City in 1830.[2]

Property developmentEdit

Hamilton-Holly House; developer: Thomas E. Davis
Daniel LeRoy House; developer: Thomas E. Davis


Davis began his career in property speculation in New York with financial backing from the banking house of J.L. & S. Joseph & Co.[2]

In 1831, Davis built Federal style townhouses in red brick on both sides of East 8th Street, between Third & Second Avenues, developing the entire block known as St. Mark's Place.[3] The townhouses originally stood "virtually alone in the meadows and marshland of the Stuyvesant family's farm", heightening "the grandeur of these two rows".[4] There remain three surviving townhouses from this development: the Hamilton-Holly House at 4 St. Mark's Place, the building at 25 St. Mark's Place, and the best preserved of the three, the Daniel LeRoy House at 20 St. Mark's Place.

Further developments by Davis in the area included Carroll Place, on the block from Thompson Place to LaGuardia Place.[5]

Toward the end of the recession that followed the Panic of 1837, which lasted until the mid-1840s, Davis was able to purchase 400 plots on Fifth Avenue (north of Twentieth Street) for a few hundred dollars each and built a complete block of fine dwellings between East 31st and East 32nd Street.[6]

Staten IslandEdit

Between 1834 and 1835, Davis bought land on Staten Island that ran from the quarantine station to Sailors' Snug Harbor, or nearly the whole of northern Staten Island.[7] He called the area New Brighton (after a coastal resort in England), and built Greek revival style houses on the shoreline.[8] An association of wealthy entrepreneurs was set up to further develop the land and promote the area as a suburb, with easy access to New York via steam ferries. However, almost immediately, the financial crisis known as the Panic of 1837 resulted in foreclosure of the association.[7]

Davis, with co-partners, re-acquired the development and managed to ride out the recession. Davis lost a substantial amount of money during this period but survived the crash, while the bankers who had initially provided support for Davis, J.L. & S. Joseph, failed.


Davis and two of his sons-in-law, Frederick C. Gebhard and John F. A. Sanford, became involved with financing the St. Anthony Falls Water Power Company in Minneapolis. Sanford, who had been a frontiersman, was acquainted with the men developing the project and they invited him to invest. He in turn brought in Davis and Gebhard. The relationship between the developers and the New York backers was not good, and finally broke down following the death of Sanford in 1857. Gebhard died in 1865, his brother William H. Gebhard became involved, court action followed, and it took several years for the situation to be finally resolved.[9]

Later lifeEdit

Davis became extremely wealthy, and was considered the greatest real estate speculator of his time.[7] Among New York City real estate owners, c. 1862, Davis's holdings were placed third after John Jacob Astor and department store mogul Alexander Turney Stewart.[3]: 134  In the mid 1860s, Davis moved with his family to Italy.

Personal lifeEdit

Davis's wife was Anne Power, who had been born in Ireland in October 1799. Her brother was John Power, Vicar General of New York and pastor of St. Peter's on Barclay Street in Lower Manhattan. Another brother was Irish politician Maurice Power, who married the daughter of Judge Henry Brockholst Livingston. Together, Thomas and Anne Davis had eight children who survived to adulthood,[10] one son and seven daughters:

  • Thomas Edward Davis Jr. (d. 1916), who married Marianita Jove (d. 1870), daughter of Lorenzo Jove. Davis Jr. was a friend of the Irish writer and poet Fitz James O'Brien, and was involved in trying to raise a regiment with him during the American Civil War, called the McClellan Rifles. When O'Brien was killed, Davis Jr. brought his remains back from Baltimore for burial in New York and acted as one of his executors.[11][12] Davis Jr. was in poor health and eventually moved to Europe where he died in Bournemouth, England, in 1916. His daughter, Marianita, remained his companion until his death.[13]
  • Catherine "Kate" Davis (1829−1870), who married Frederick Charles Gebhard (1825−1865). Of the Davis children, they were the only couple to remain in the United States.[b]
  • Isabel Davis (1832−1898), who married John Francis Alexander Sanford (1806–1857), a widower twenty-five years older than herself. She moved to Paris after his death.[c]
  • Anna Davis (c. 1833–1925), who married Auguste La Montagne (c. 1840−1894).[17][d]
  • Mathilde "Tilly" Davis (1841−1917), who married Don Antonio Lante Montefeltro della Rovere (1831−1897)[e][20][21][22]
  • Eliza "Lizzie" Davis (b. c. 1844), who married Marquis Angelo Gavotti Verospi (1835−1916)[23][24]
  • Nora Davis (1846−1913), who married Charles Joseph Blanc de Lanautte, comte d'Hautverie (b. 1848)[25]
  • Marie Davis (1850−1932), who married Anatole Eugène Alexis Taffin d'Heursel (b. 1844); she left him for Henry Louis Eugène Marie Say (1850–1899) of the French sugar manufacturing family in about 1878. Unable to obtain a divorce, she took Swiss naturalization and married Say on May 20, 1882 in Switzerland. After his death in 1899, his will was contested by his sister, Jeanne-Marie Say, Vicomtesse de Trédern, on the grounds of his children's legitimization.[26]

He died in Florence on March 16, 1878, at the age of 93. His body was returned to America, where he was buried at Saint Patrick's Old Cathedral Churchyard in Manhattan.[10]


  1. ^ a b Note that 1850 New York census indicates Davis was born 1785, however 1860 census conflicts and indicates Davis was born in 1795.
  2. ^ Kate Davis Gebhard's two children were: playboy Frederick Gebhard, who had a relationship with actress Lillie Langtry for about ten years,[14] and Isabelle Gebhard, who married Frederick Neilson (their daughter Cathleen Neilson married Reginald Claypoole Vanderbilt).[15]
  3. ^ Isabel Davis Sanford's two children were: Emilie Sanford (1852−1932), who married French diplomat Count Maurice Sala,[16] and John Francis Sanford (1853−1912).
  4. ^ Anna Davis La Montagne's daughter Kate La Montagne married Nicholas Murray Butler (the 12th President of Columbia University) and her son Harry La Montagne (1869–1959) was a recipient of the Legion of Honour, a horse owner and artist.[18][19]
  5. ^ Mathilde's daughter, Marianita dei Duchi Lante Montefeltro della Rovere (1873–1971), married Alessandro Ruspoli, 7th Prince of Cerveteri, in 1897; he was an official of the Pontifical Household.


  1. ^ Nevius, James (February 11, 2015). "The Forgotten Developer Who Transformed 19th-Century NYC". Curbed New York. Archived from the original on November 21, 2016.
  2. ^ a b c Lynch, Denis Tilden (2017) [1927]. "Boss" Tweed: The Story of a Grim Generation. Routledge. p. 80. ISBN 978-0-7658-0934-6.
  3. ^ a b Scoville, Joseph Alfred (1885) [1862]. The Old Merchants of New York City, Volume 1. Written as Walter Barrett (pseud.). New York: Thomas R. Knox & Co. pp. 132–134.
  4. ^ Lockwood, Charles (2014). Manhattan Moves Uptown: An Illustrated History. Mineola, N.Y.: Dover Publications. p. 58. ISBN 978-0-486-79890-5.
  5. ^ New York City Landmark Preservation Commission (October 9, 2012). "East Village/Lower East Side Historic District Designation Report" (PDF). p. 12. Retrieved February 9, 2014.
  6. ^ Harris, Luther S. (2003). Around Washington Square: An Illustrated History of Greenwich Village. JHU Press. p. 24. ISBN 978-0-8018-7341-6.
  7. ^ a b c Smith, Matthew Hale (1871). Twenty Years Among the Bulls and Bears of Wall Street. Hartford: J.B. Burr & Company. p. 495.
  8. ^ Goldfarb, David; Ferreri, James G. (2009). St. George. Arcadia Publishing. p. 16. ISBN 978-0-7385-6252-0.
  9. ^ Kane, Lucile M. (1987). The Falls of St. Anthony: The Waterfall that Built Minneapolis. Minnesota Historical Society Press. ISBN 978-0-87351-205-3.
  10. ^ a b "Disposing of Two Millions" (PDF). The New York Times. June 28, 1878. Retrieved February 9, 2014.
  11. ^ Davies, Thomas E. (1881). "O'Brien in His Last Days". In Winter, William (ed.). The Poems and Stories of Fitz-James O'Brien. Boston: James R. Osgood & Co. pp. xxxi–xxxv. Retrieved June 27, 2016.
  12. ^ Gunn, Thomas Butler (March 5, 1862). Whitley, Edward (ed.). "Thomas Butler Gunn Diaries, Volume Nineteen: page sixteen". The Vault at Pfaffs: An Archive of Art and Literature by the Bohemians of Antebellum New York. Lehigh University. Retrieved June 28, 2016. O'Brien wounded – A letter from him – At Frank Leslie's.
  13. ^ "Passport application with affidavit by Marianita Davis". February 1920 – via Missing or empty |url= (help)
  14. ^ "Fred Gebhard Near Death" (PDF). The New York Times. April 22, 1910. Retrieved March 7, 2014.
  15. ^ "Reggie Vanderbilt and Miss Neilson Overcome Objections to Marriage". The St. Louis Republic. August 10, 1902. Retrieved February 9, 2014.
  16. ^ "SALA-SANFORD Isabel (1832–1898) – Sépulture de famille". Amis et Passionnés du Père-Lachaise (in French). Archived from the original on August 15, 2016. Retrieved February 17, 2014.
  17. ^; Italian Genealogical Group and German Genealogy Group. "New York, New York, Extracted Death Index, 1862–1948". Index to New York City Deaths 1862–1948 (database on-line). Provo, Utah – via Missing or empty |url= (help)
  18. ^ "30 U.S. Officers Decorated in Paris. Cross of the Legion of Honor is conferred in the Name of the French Republique". The Washington Evening Star. June 7, 1919.
  19. ^ "The Racetrack Speed Boy". The New Yorker. May 7, 1949.
  20. ^ Hessisches Hauptstaatsarchiv; Wiesbaden, Deutschland; Bestand: 908; Laufende Nummer: 1495; Source Hesse, Germany, Marriages, 1849-1930 [database on-line]. Lehi, UT, USA: Operations, Inc., 2016. Original data: Eheregister und Namensverzeichnisse. Hessisches Hauptstaatsarchiv, Wiesbaden, Deutschland. Name: Mathilde LanteMontefeltro Della Rovere; Maiden Name: Davis; Gender: weiblich (Female); Spouse: Antonio LanteMontefeltro Della Rovere: Child: Thomas Ludovicus LanteMontefeltro Della Rovere.
  21. ^ The Salina Daily Union, 04 Jan 1917, Thu, Page 2
  22. ^ Los Angeles Herald, 06 Apr 1895, Sat, Page 3
  23. ^ "Married. VEROSPI – DAVIS". The New York Times. November 4, 1861. Retrieved June 18, 2020. In Paris, on Thursday, Oct. 10, at the Church of St. Roch, by the Abbe de Roquefeuil, the Marquis ANGELO GAVOTTI VEROSPI, of Rome, Italy, to LIZZIE, daughter of Thomas E. Davis, of this City
  24. ^ of), Melville Amadeus Henry Douglas Heddle de La Caillemotte de Massue de Ruvigny Ruvigny and Raineval (9th marquis (1914). The Titled Nobility of Europe: An International Peerage, Or "Who's Who", of the Sovereigns, Princes and Nobles of Europe. Harrison & Sons. p. 690. Retrieved June 18, 2020.
  25. ^ Various (1887). Annuaire de la noblesse de France et d'Europe. Paris. p. 159. Retrieved January 30, 2018.
  26. ^ Clunet, Édouard, ed. (1901). Journal du droit international privé et de la jurisprudence comparée (in French). 28. Paris: Marchal & Billard. pp. 535–542. Retrieved October 19, 2016 – via Gallica (Bibliothèque nationale de France).