The Drown Newsletter

Issue 11 September 1996



If you have any interesting articles, stories or announcements that you would like to have printed in the Newsletter, please send them to the editor. I cannot keep making this stuff up forever!!

Henry Russell Drowne

Henry Russell Drowne is well known to Drown family historians for his early work on the genealogy of his family and for his interests in genealogy and history in general. I am indebted to one of his descendants, Susan Shannon, of Orlando, Florida for the following two articles.

Sketch of His Life

Henry Russell Drowne was born August 31, 1860, the only child of Henry Thayer and Sarah Rhodes Arnold Drowne. The family descended from old New England roots, its ancestors dating back to early Puritan days when they were prominent in the founding and early history of Rhode Island after first arriving on the Mayflower. (ed. note: We now know that they arrived after the Mayflower although there are ancestors through marriage that did.) After starting a dry goods business as a young man, Mr. Drowne, in 1895, established the woolen commission house of Stockton and Drowne, which later became the firm of Lawrie, Mann and Drowne. He retired in 1911. Henry Russell was the family genealogist, compiling diaries, journals, artifacts and historical momentos from early American history. Among his treasures was a watch belonging to Roger Williams, the first governor of Rhode Island, and pieces of floorboard from Constitution Hall. He preserved many of the surgical instruments used by his ancestor, Dr. Solomon Drowne, during the American Revolution, which are now on display at Fort Ticonderoga. Much of the rest of his collection is housed at the library at Brown University in Providence.

Widely known as a collector of stamps, coins, paintings, tapestries and antiques, he was one of the governors of the American Numismatic Society, and its secretary for 10 years. He was a life member of the New York Genealogical and Historical Society, the Sons of the Revolution of the State of New York, and the Rhode Island Society of the Cincinnati.

He, his third wife Mabel, and two servants were burned to death in a fire that swept through the five story mansion built by him in 1894 at 306 West 78th Street in New York City on November 15, 1934. Mr. Drowne was found in his third floor bedroom, apparently overcome by smoke before being burned. Mrs. Drowne, her seamstress Mae Buerum, and her maid , Sina Henderson, were found very badly burned on the top floor. The only survivor of the flames was a wire haired fox terrier found in the basement. The fire, which consumed all five floors, started in a closet on the first floor. Many priceless antiques and art treasures were lost, perhaps including several Rembrandts and two Whistlers.

Memories of Home

A personal remembrance of 306 West 78th Street, New York City

by Mildred Russell Drowne

My home was located near the Hudson River between West End Avenue and Riverside Drive. The steps from the street led to swinging doors into a front vestibule containing the front door with a lovely stained glass window. The front door opened into a large foyer with a fireplace, an original Hepplewhite desk, a 2 shell Goddard grandfather clock, and several Hepplewhite chairs. The walls were decorated with oil paintings of wild life and pastoral scenes and a collection of different types of arms (antique guns, an ancient Japanese sword, etc.) There was a spinning wheel by the fireplace, a large chart of our family tree, the helmet form a suit of armor, and a native Indian club complete with a dried scalp. In the rear of the 1st floor was a large kitchen, storage room, a back hall with set tubs and washing equipment, lavatory, dumb waiter to the floors above, and a door at the end of the hall opening into a fenced back yard.

A large "turning" staircase led from the front foyer to the 2nd floor. The front parlor overlooked the street. There was a fireplace with a striking bronze Indian on horseback by Remington on the mantle, a grand piano, a teakwood curio cabinet with a china urn and delicate rose wood furniture. Heading toward the back of the house between the Dining Room and the Parlor was a large room with a fireplace and decorated with a Raphael "Madonna and Child" and Rembrandt's "Guardsman" in huge gilded frames. Both the Parlor and the Dining Room had sliding doors and heavy velvet portiers (curtains). The Dining Room had a black marble fireplace, a large dining table with 2 sideboards to match, and a curio cabinet. At the far end of the room, behind a standing Chinese screen, was a door to a pantry, containing sinks, china closets, etc. from which meals arriving from the kitchen, either by way of the stairway or via the dumb waiter, could be served.

3rd floor. The huge master bedroom had a fireplace, a large mahogany Murphy bed that closed up and had a plate glass on the back side and 2 matching clothes presses. The bathroom had a sunken tub. Between the master bedroom and the Library was a Dressing room with a wash basin and closets. On the back side of the hallway by the stairs, between the two rooms, was a large watercolor of an Indian by Russell and a hand painted Drowne Coat of Arms, "Make Hay While the Sun Shines." The Library, located in the front of the house, which served as my father's study, had a fireplace and glassed-in bookcases on 3 walls. The furniture was antique Chippendale, the walls were decorated with oil paintings, and there were marble busts of Julius Caesar and Shakespeare on either side of the bay window. There were watercolors of plants and flowers by Eliza Russell Drowne, daughter of Dr. Solomon Drowne. (To Be Continued.)

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