William Backhouse Astor Jr., founder, breeder and yachtsman of Harlem Astor Row, 1829 – 1892


William Backhouse Astor Jr., July 12, 1829 – April 25, 1892, was a businessman, racehorse owner/breeder, yachtsman and Astor Row in Harlem, NY, the founder who was a member of the prominent Astor family.

His older brother, financier and philanthropist John Jacob Astor III became the head of the British line of Astors in England. William Jr. was the head of the American bloodline of the Astors, while his wife, Caroline Schermerhorn, was the head of the “Four Hundred” of New York society in the Golden Age.

First years


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William B. Astor, Jr. Prominent and Progressive Men of New York State, 1900.

William Backhouse Astor Jr. was born on July 12, 1829 in New York, New York. He was the second son of real estate businessman William Backhouse Astor Sr. (1792–1875) and Margaret Rebecca (née Armstrong) Astor (1800–1872).

Her siblings included eldest brother John Jacob Astor III, who married Charlotte Augusta Gibbes; Emily Astor, who married Samuel Cutler Ward; Laura Eugenia Astor, who married Franklin Hughes Delano; Mary Alida Astor, who married John Carey; Henry Astor, who married Malvina Dinehart; and Sarah Astor, who died in infancy.



Astor’s paternal grandparents were fur trader John Jacob Astor and Sarah Cox (née Todd) Astor.

His maternal grandparents were United States Senator John Armstrong Jr. and Alida (née Livingston) Armstrong of the Livingston family.

Astor line

Astor Row is the name given to the 28-row houses on the south side of West 130th Street, between Fifth and Lenox Avenues in New York’s Harlem neighborhood, which were among the first speculative townhouses built in the area.

Designed by Charles Buek, the houses were built between 1880 and 1883 in three pushes, on land that John Jacob Astor purchased in 1844 for $10,000. Astor’s grandson, William Backhouse Astor, Jr., was the driving force behind the development.

The design of the three-story brick single-family homes is unusual, in that they are set back from the street and all have front and side yards – an oddity in Harlem, NY – as well as wooden porches .

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The first group of houses, numbers 8 to 22, consist of self-contained pairs, while the others, numbers 24 to 60, are interconnected at the rear.

1920 James Cruikshank, an investor, buys 20 homes on Astor Row — all previously owned by middle-class and upper-middle-class white people — and begins selling them to black buyers, prompting the New York Times to predict the row will soon be fully occupied by African Americans.

The Astor Row houses were designated New York City landmarks on August 11, 1981.

A highly regarded man, Astor graduated from Columbia College in 1849.

In his novel Welcome to Harlem (1928), Claude McKay described Astor Row as “the magnificent block”.

In his novel Welcome to Harlem (1928), Claude McKay described Astor Row as “the magnificent block”.

Subsequent activity

He supported the abolition of slavery before the American Civil War, and during the war he personally bore the cost of equipping an entire Union Army regiment.

Unlike his business-oriented father, William Jr. did not aggressively pursue the expansion of his inherited fortune. Instead, he preferred life aboard the Embassy, ​​at the time the largest private yacht in the world, or horseback riding at Ferncliff, the large estate he had built on the Hudson River. Astor’s horse “Vagrant” won the 1876 Kentucky Derby race.

Involvement in Florida

William Jr. often spent winters aboard his yacht in Jacksonville, Florida, and he was responsible for the construction of a number of important buildings in the city.

He and sixteen other businessmen founded the Florida Yacht Club in Jacksonville in 1876, although he was the only person in Florida to own a yacht.

The club is now the oldest social club in Jacksonville and one of the oldest yacht clubs in the United States.

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Loving the area, in 1874 he purchased approximately 80,000 acres (320 km2) of land along the St. Johns River north of Orlando, Florida in an area now called Lake County, Florida.

There he and two partners used 12,000 acres (49 km2) to build an entire city which he named Manhattan but was later changed to Astor in his honor.

His project, which will include several hotels, begins with the construction of quays on the river to accommodate steamboats. These steamboats attracted a steamboat agency that could provide the necessary materials and supplies.

Astor appreciated its development and purchased a railroad that connected the city to the “Great Lakes region” of Florida. He donated the town’s first church and land for the local non-denominational cemetery, and he also helped build a school, which still stand today.

In 1875, one of the many nearby lakes was named Lake Schermerhorn after his wife, Lina Schermerhorn.

The city of Manhattan, Florida boomed and Astor, with an eye on the great New York market, extended his interests to a grove of grapefruit trees, a fruit which at the time was only available on a very limited in other parts of the United States. States.

He didn’t live long enough to see the orchard become productive. Following his death on April 25, 1892, the property passed to his son Jack. By this time, however, rapid changes were occurring throughout Florida.

railroads had been built by 1885 through the central and western part of the state, and in the late 1890s Henry Flagler built a railroad line down Florida’s east coast from Daytona Beach.

All of this expansion left the town of Astor isolated and it was all but abandoned after train service to Astor ceased.

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Private life

On September 23, 1853, he married the ambitious Caroline Webster “Lina” Schermerhorn (1830-1908) at Trinity Church in Manhattan.

His parents were Abraham Schermerhorn, a wealthy New York merchant, and Helen Van Courtlandt (née White) Schermerhorn.

Lina would go on to reign over New York and Newport society known simply as “Mrs. Astor”.

William Jr. had little interest in social gatherings and, it seems, Lina would try to keep him late at his club to prevent him from coming home and sending the band and his children to bed.

Together, William Jr. and Lina had five children:

Emily Astor (1854–1881), who married sportsman/politician James John Van Alen (1848–1923) and had three children.

Helen Schermerhorn Astor (1855–1893), who married diplomat James Roosevelt “Rosey” Roosevelt (1854–1927), half-brother of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, and had two children.

Charlotte Augusta Astor (1858–1920), who married James Coleman Drayton (1852–1934) and had four children. They divorced and she later married George Ogilvy Haig (1859-1905).

Caroline Schermerhorn “Carrie” Astor (1861-1948), who married Field Marshal Orme Wilson (1860-1926),[22] brother of banker Richard Thornton Wilson Jr. and socialite Grace Graham Wilson, and had two sons.

John Jacob “Jack” Astor IV (1864–1912), who married socialite Ava Lowle Willing (1868–1958) and had two children, later married socialite Madeleine Talmage Force (1893–1940), sister of real estate businesswoman/socialite Katherine Emmons Force, and had a son. He died in the sinking of the RMS Titanic in 1912.

William Backhouse Astor Jr. died of an aneurysm at the Liverpool Hotel in Paris, France.

Astor, an Episcopalian, was buried in Trinity Church Cemetery in New York, New York.

He is one of many responsible for opening up the tourist trade in Florida. His widow died years later in 1908.

Photo credit: 1-3) Wikipedia.

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