Isaac Newton Phelps Stokes

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I.N. Phelps Stokes standing behind his wife Edith née Minturn, (painting by John Singer Sargent, 1897)

Isaac Newton Phelps Stokes (1867–1944) was an American architect, who was the eldest son of Helen Louise (Phelps) and Anson Phelps Stokes. His early architectural career was in partnership with John Mead Howells. Stokes was a pioneer in social housing, co-authored the 1901 New York tenement house law and for twenty years worked on the The Iconography of Manhattan Island, a six volume compilation that became one of most important research resources of the city. His designs included St. Paul's Chapel at Columbia University and several urban housing projects in New York City.[1]

229 Madison Avenue, birthplace of Isaac Newton Phelps Stokes.

Education and marriage[edit]

He was educated at St. Paul's School, Concord, and Berkeley School in New York City before graduating from Harvard in 1891. He later took post graduate courses at Columbia University and then Italy before studying for three years at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Paris. He married Edith Minturn in 1895 and they lived in Paris whilst Stokes continued his studies.[2] A friend sponsored their famous portrait in oil, by John Singer Sargent, as a wedding gift.[3][4] Edith also served as the artist's model for a well-known sculpture, Statue of the Republic by Daniel Chester French,[5] and a portrait by Cecilia Beaux.[6][7] She was President of the New York Kindergarten Association and of the Municipal Art Commission.[8] She was the aunt of Edie Sedgewick, who was named after her.[9]

Architectural work[edit]

I.N. Phelps Stokes founded an architectural firm, Howells & Stokes, with a partner, John Mead Howells, in 1897. Their first commission was the University Settlement Society building at 184 Eldridge Street, New York. Stokes was later appointed by his aunts, Caroline and Olivia Stokes, to design several of their charitable building projects. These included: the Tuskegee tenement building in New York (1901); St. Paul's Chapel at Columbia University (1907); Berea College Chapel (1906); Woodbridge Hall at Yale (part of the Hewitt Quadrangle) (1901); two tenements called the Dudley complex at 339-349 East 32nd Street, New York (1910); an outdoor pulpit for St. John the Divine Cathedral (1916) and memorial gates at both Harvard and Yale universities, Hartford First Church Cemetery and Redland Hillside Cemetery California. Howells and Stokes also provided designs for the Protestant College in Beirut, an institute often supported by the Stokes and Dodge families. Caroline Stokes funded work at the Booker T. Washington Tuskegee institutes. The architect for these works was Robert Robinson Taylor, who was offered some professional advice by I. N. Phelps Stokes, but this proved to be unhelpful to Taylor who was working with limited resources.[10]

Howells and Stokes were active in New York, but also opened an office on the West Coast in Seattle, designing many of the Metropolitan Tract buildings during the 1910s. Stokes was involved with his families property management companies, building and running apartment and office blocks in New York. In addition to his commercial work, he designed private housing such as Sanger Hill, a New York State country house for his cousin Colonel William Sanger; Beacon Hill House, Newport, Rhode Island for his uncle Arthur Curtiss James; Brick House, Collender's Point, Darien, Connecticut for his parents; and a house for his wife at Indian Harbor, Greenwich, Connecticut.[11]

In 1910, I. N. Phelps Stokes dismantled a large timber framed house, formerly the Queens Head, located next to what is now the A140 Ipswich to Norwich route in Thwaite, Suffolk, UK. He transported it in 688 crates from Tilbury Docks to the USA, where it was re-constructed using the timbers of a wrecked English ship, on a hill overlooking Long Island Sound near Greenwich, Connecticut. It was renamed High Low House (one of its former names whilst standing in Thwaite).[12]

Housing reform[edit]

Mr. Stokes was active in housing reform. He was appointed a member of the Tenement House Committee of the Charity Organisation Society in 1899, and was appointed a member of the State Tenement House Committee by Governor Roosevelt in 1901. He was a member of the Executive Committee and chairman of the Committee on New Building and in this role was a co-author of the Tenement House Law of 1901.

The Iconography of Manhattan Island[edit]

Stokes may be best remembered for an exhaustive and authoritative six volume work entitled The Iconography of Manhattan Island, published between 1915 and 1928.[13] He later became a political ally and then a friend of New York Mayor Fiorello H. LaGuardia. During the New Deal, as head of the Art Commission, Stokes oversaw the WPA mural program for the City of New York, which sponsored murals at locations including the Marine Air Terminal at LaGuardia Airport, Harlem Hospital, and New York Public Library.[1]

Fire at Albany State Archive 1911[edit]

A fire started in the New York State Capitol at Albany in the early hours of 29 March 1911. The building housed the New York State Library, and it was feared that many historical documents were lost or damaged in the fire. The trustees of the New York Public Library asked I. N. Phelps Stokes to go to Albany and offer support. When he arrived he became involved with the salvage. He first surveyed the building to ensure it was safe for workers to enter. A preliminary inspection by Stokes and the archivist, Mr van Laer found that some documents still survived under the damage but urgent action was require to save them. Governor Dix arranged for soldiers to help and they formed a chain to carry salvaged papers and books to a place of safety. The fire continued to be break out as they worked and to add to their problems the weather was so cold that water froze. It was estimated that 80% of the archive was lost in the fire. The night-watchman’s body was also discovered in the rubble.[14]


  1. ^ a b Morrone, Francis (Autumn 1997). "The Ghost of Monsieur Stokes". City Journal. Retrieved September 3, 2011. 
  2. ^ "MARRIAGE OF MISS EDITH MINTURN.; Wedded to I.N. Phelps Stokes at Her Mother's Summer Home.". New York Times. August 22, 1895. Retrieved September 3, 2011. 
  3. ^ "John Singer Sargent 1856–1925. Mr and Mrs IN Phelps Stokes 1897, Oil on canvas". Studios and portraits - Queensland Art Gallery - Gallery of Modern Art. Retrieved September 3, 2011. 
  4. ^ "Mr. and Mrs. I. N. Phelps Stokes, 1897, by John Singer Sargent (American, 1856–1925). Oil on canvas.". Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History, The Metropolitan Museum of Art. 2011. Retrieved September 3, 2011. 
  5. ^ Bey, Lee (February 16, 2010). "The Gilded Lady of Jackson Park by Lee Bey". WBEZ 91.5. Retrieved September 3, 2011. 
  6. ^ Tapp, P. Gaye (June 7, 2010). "Gilded Minturn as the century turned". Little Augury. Retrieved September 3, 2011. 
  7. ^ Reason, Akela (August 2, 2007). "Video lecture on 1898 portrait of Edith Minturn Stokes]". Forum Network, PBS/NPR. Retrieved September 3, 2011. 
  8. ^ "MRS. I. N. P. STOKES DIES AT HER HOME; Former President of New York Kindergarten Association Was Daughter of R. B. Minturn". New York Times. June 13, 1937. Retrieved September 3, 2011. 
  9. ^ Kendra (April 22, 2009). "Remembering Edie Sedgwick". Blogcritics. Retrieved September 3, 2011. 
  10. ^ Weiss, Ellen (2012). Robert R. Taylor and Tuskegee: An African American Architect Designs for Booker T. Washington. NewSouth Book.  Text "P.187" ignored (help)
  11. ^ Michelson, © 2005-2015 Alan. "Isaac Newton Phelps Stokes". Pacific Coast Architecture Database (PCAD). Retrieved 26 February 2015. 
  12. ^ Nova, Susan (March 16, 2011). "1928 waterfront Tudor in Indian Harbor, built, and rebuilt by Phelps Stokes". Retrieved September 3, 2011. 
  13. ^ "I.N. Phelps Stokes His Print Collection and the Iconography of Manhattan Island, 1498-1909". Columbia University Libraries, Avery Architectural and Fine Arts Library. Retrieved September 3, 2011. 
  14. ^ "I. N. Phelps Stokes tell thrilling of story of rescue of Albany Archive". New York Times. 30 April 1911. Retrieved 28 February 2015. 

External links[edit]

Further reading[edit]

  • Zimmerman, Jean. Love, Fiercely: A Gilded Age Romance. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. ISBN 978-0-15-101447-7.