A. T. Stewart
Alexander Turney Stewart (1803-1876) came to New York from County Antrim, Ireland in 1820. Three thousand dollars invested in Irish laces brought him enough profit to open a store in 1823 on Broadway. Stewart built New York’s first department store by 1846, a marble dry-goods palace that faced City Hall Park. Stewart was a ruthless businessman and by the 1860s, he was considered to be one of the three wealthiest men in America. Stewart purchased the largest brownstone in New York located at 1 West 34th Street. Dr. Samuel P. Townsend, the patent holder for the restorative compound “extract of Sarsaparilla,” formerly owned the home. Stewart originally thought he would modify the building but in the end it was completely demolished. Stewart then hired the architect John Kellum (1809–1871) to plan his new 55-room mansion that was completed in 1869. 
The A.T. Stewart collection was auctioned off at Chickering Hall on March 23rd, 24th, and 25th, 1887. The sale continued on March 28th at the AAA, by order of Henry Hilton, Esq. and Charles Clinch, Esq., executors of the estate of Mrs. Cornelia M. Stewart. The Stewart sale was one of the AAA’s three most famous and record-breaking auctions of private collections along with the George I. Seney sale (1885) and the Mary J. Morgan sale (1886). The Stewart catalogue contained extensive biographical information on artists and lengthy excerpts of period criticism. The gilt-edged red volume, further described as “too large for an ordinary pocket, impossible to hide in a fashionable muff and too expensive to throw away,” was considered a token of rank during both preview and auction.
The Stewart mansion was decorated with sculptures, paintings, French furniture, chandeliers, and Oriental carpets. It contained a richly appointed entrance hall with life-size white marble statues, a reception room furnished with blue chintz silk fabric and magnificent paintings including Bourguereau’s Shepherdess. The dining room was decorated with elegant frescos by Brigaldi. In the grand picture gallery, Meissonier’s 1807 Friedland, dated 1861-1875, took center stage on the northern wall. The painting, considered one of the most important works in the Stewart collection, was purchased directly from the artist in 1876. It was sold at the Stewart auction for $66,000 to Judge Henry Hilton, who bequeathed it to the Metropolitan Museum, where it remains today.
When A. T. Stewart died in 1876 he left behind a very wealthy widow. His estate, estimated between $35 and $60 million, was left entirely to his wife Cornelia, with Judge Henry Hilton, Stewart’s personal attorney and trustee, as co-executor. Cornelia Stewart transferred virtually all of her business interests to Hilton for $1 million not realizing that her assets were valued at close to $40 million. Hilton mismanaged the estate and drove Alexander Stewart’s business assets into receivership within six years. After the death of Cornelia Stewart in 1886, her home was leased to the Manhattan Club. The Club was unable to afford the building and after a few short years they were forced to vacate the premises. The former Stewart mansion was demolished in 1901. It is now the site of the Empire State Building.