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Elliott Fitch Shepard
Crosshatch portrait, based on a gelatin silver print by Edward Bierstadt, 1890
Crosshatch portrait, based on a gelatin silver print by Edward Bierstadt, 1890
Born Elliott Fitch Shepard
(1833-07-25)July 25, 1833
Jamestown, New York
Died March 24, 1893(1893-03-24) (aged 59)
New York City
Cause of death Edema of the lungs
Place of burial Moravian Cemetery
Residence New York City, Briarcliff Manor
Ethnicity English
Education City University of New York
Political party Republican
Religion Christian
Denomination Presbyterian
Spouse(s) Margaret Louisa Vanderbilt Shepard (m. 186893)
  • Florence
  • Maria Louise
  • Edith
  • Marguerite
  • Alice
  • Elliott F., Jr.
  • Fitch Shepard
  • Delia Maria Dennis
  • Elliott Shepard Schieffelin
  • (grandson)
Signature File:File:ElliottFitchShepardSignature.svg

Elliott Fitch Shepard[nb 1] (July 25, 1833 – March 24, 1893) was a New York lawyer, banker, and newspaper owner. He was the husband of Cornelius Vanderbilt's granddaughter Margaret Louisa Vanderbilt Shepard. His Briarcliff Manor residence Woodlea and the Scarborough Presbyterian Church, a church he founded nearby, are contributing properties to the Scarborough Historic District.

Shepard was born in Jamestown, New York, and was one of three sons of a president of a bank note engraving company. He attended school at the City University of New York and practiced law for about 25 years. During the American Civil War, he earned the title Colonel and served as a recruiter for the Union military. He later served as a founder and president of the New York State Bar Association, founded the Scarborough Presbyterian Church, and built a large estate in Briarcliff Manor's hamlet of Scarborough-on-Hudson; the property is now part of Sleepy Hollow Country Club.

Early life

Elliott was born on July 25, 1833 in Jamestown, New York. He was the second of the three sons of Fitch Shepard and Delia Maria Dennis; the others were Burritt Hamilton and Augustus Dennis.[1] Fitch Shepard was president of the National Bank Note Company (later consolidated with the American and Continental Note Companies). Elliot's brother Augustus D. later became president of the American Bank Note Company.[2] Fitch, son of Noah Shepard, was a descendant of Reverend Thomas Shepard, a Puritan minister, Major James Fitch, son-in-law of William Bradford, and Robert Dennis, who emigrated from England in 1635.[1] Elliott was noted to be prominent by birth and ancestry.[3] He attended public schools in his town and graduated from the City University of New York in 1855.[4]


Shepard during the American Civil War

Three years after graduation, Shepard was admitted to the bar.[4] He became a partner to Judge William Strong in the firm Strong & Shepard.[5] At the advent of the American Civil War, Shepard became aide-de-camp of Governor Edwin D. Morgan, and received the title "Colonel". Shepard never entered the field, but was involved in recruiting.[4] He had not visited Jamestown from infancy until 1862, when he came as Colonel to inspect, uniform, and quip the Chautauqua regiment of volunteers; many citizens assembled to welcome him to his birthplace.[1] He organized the 51st Regiment, New York Volunteers, which was named the Shepard Rifles as a compliment to him. George W. Whitman, brother of the poet Walt Whitman, was in the regiment at the time. Shepard informed George of his promotion, and may have influenced his promotion to the rank of major. Shepard was also involved in correspondence with Walt.[6][7]

Shepard later was put in charge of the recruiting station in Elmira, and enlisted 47,000 men from Western New York.[2] President Lincoln had offered him a brigadier's commission, which Shepard declined due to his awareness of other officers who had seen field service. In 1864 for the New York Metropolitan Fair, Shepard was a member of the Executive Committee and chairman of its Committee on Contributions from Without the City. He was the chairman of lawyers' committees for disaster relief, including in Portland, Maine and Chicago after the Great Chicago Fire; he served on the municipal committee for the benefit of sufferers by the Johnstown Flood.[5]

In 1867, Shepard was presented to Margaret Louisa Vanderbilt, at a reception given by Governor Morgan.[4] Their courtship had obstacles;[2] yet a year later, on February 18, 1868, Shepard married Margaret Louisa Vanderbilt in the Church of the Incarnation in New York.[4][8] Upon the death of Margaret Louisa's father William Henry Vanderbilt, she inherited $12 million ($315 million today[9]).[4] The family lived at 2 West 52nd Street in Manhattan,[10] one of three houses in the Vanderbilt Triple Palace. The houses were built in the 1880s for William Henry Vanderbilt and his two daughters. After Elliott's death, Margaret transferred the house to her sister's family, who remodeled their two houses into one.[11] The houses were eventually demolished; the nine-story De Pinna Building was constructed there in 1928 and demolished around 1969.[12] 650 Fifth Avenue is the current building.

The Shepards' New York City house, part of the Triple Palace

Shepard continued in law practices for the next 25 years;[4] he later served as a founder of the New York State Bar Association and served as its fifth president, in 1884.[13][14] In 1880, the New York City Board of Aldermen appointed him to codify the city's municipal ordinances along with Ebenezer B. Shafer. In the 1880s, he was involved in banking, and was a founder of the American Savings Bank, the Bank of the Metropolis, and the Columbian National Bank.[15](p154) In 1888, Shepard purchased the Mail and Express newspaper from Cyrus W. Field, which was said to be worth $200,000 ($5.25 million today[9]); Shepard paid $425,000 ($11.2 million today[9]) for it.[2][4] He was strongly religious, and changed the paper to have a Bible text at the head of each paper's editorial sheet. Shepard was the newspaper company's president until his death, and every important decision or policy in the company required his approval.[16] He became the controlling stockholder of the Fifth Avenue Stage Company to force it to suspend work on Sundays.[4] After a trip to Tarsus, Mersin in 1868, Shepard became a founder and major financial contributor to Tarsus American College.[17] He agreed to pay $5,000 a year and to write in his will to leave an endowment of $100,000 ($2.62 million today[9]) to the school.[18][19]

He supported the Republican Party, giving $75,000 ($1.97 million today[9]) to the 1888 Presidential campaign fund and $10,000 ($262,500 today[9]) to the State Committee in the Fassett campaign. He furnished Shepard Hall, at 6th Avenue and 57th Street, and gave it rent-free to the Republican Club.[2]

Shepard and his family took a world tour from 1884 to 1887;[15](p154) after visiting Alaska in 1884 and realizing opportunities for church work there, Shepard founded a mission and maintained it with his wife, spending about $20,000 ($525,000 today[9]) a year. For some time. his church was the Fifth Avenue Presbyterian Church under Reverend Dr. John Hall.[2] He was president of the American Sabbath Union for five years.[5]

Briarcliff Manor developments

Woodlea, Shepard's Briarcliff Manor residence

Shepard came to the Briarcliff area in the early 1890s,[15](p158) and purchased the Victorian house of J. Butler Wright, named Woodlea. Shepard kept the house and had a mansion built to its south, facing the Hudson River.[20] He ordered improvements to the grounds of the new house, which he had named Woodlea after Wright's house. Construction on the mansion began in 1892,[21] and it was completed in 1895.[15](p153) Shepard died in 1893, leaving his wife Margaret to oversee the completion of Woodlea.[15](pp159–60) The house had between 65,000 and 70,000 square feet (6,500 m2), making it one of the largest privately-owned houses in the US.[15](p163)[22][23]

After his death, his wife Margaret Shepard lived there only during spring and autumn,[15](p165) with less and less frequent trips. By 1900, she began selling property to Frank Vanderlip and William Rockefeller, and she sold the house to the two men in 1910. The men assembled a board of directors to create a country club. Their first meeting took place at Vanderlip's office at 55 Wall St., the National City Bank Building (Vanderlip was the president of the bank at the time), and Sleepy Hollow Country Club was founded, with Woodlea remaining as the clubhouse and the J. Butler Wright house serving as the club's golf house.[15](p169)

Shepard established a temporary chapel on his Briarcliff Manor property and founded the Scarborough Presbyterian Church on October 13, 1893.[24] The church building and manse were donated by his wife Margaret Louisa Vanderbilt Shepard. It was dedicated on May 11, 1895 in memory of the Colonel, who had died in 1893.[15](p165) The church was completed in 1895 and designed by Augustus Haydel (a nephew of Stanford White) and August D. Shepard, Jr. (a nephew of Elliott Shepard and of William Rutherford Mead).[15]

Later life, death, and legacy

The Vanderbilt mausoleum, Shepard's initial resting place

In 1892, the City University of New York granted him a Master of Laws degree; in the same year, the University of Omaha gave Shepard a Doctor of Laws degree.[25]

After no signs or mention of health issues to family or others, Shepard died on March 24, 1893 at his Manhattan residence. He was being examined by doctors after indicating health issues; the doctors administered ether, which worsened his condition. At 1 o'clock, the doctors gave him more oxygen, which helped, although he died within twenty minutes. The cause of death was stated to be edema of the lungs.[2] Shepard was first buried in the Vanderbilt mausoleum at the Moravian Cemetery. On November 17, 1894, George Vanderbilt, Margaret Louisa, and a daughter oversaw the transfer of his body to the new Shepard tomb; at the same time, the remains of his daughter Florence were also transferred.[26]

His will included the $100,000 Tarsus American College endowment, $850,000 of real estate ($22.3 million today[9]), and $500,000 worth of personal property ($13.1 million today[9]), making his estate worth $1.35 million ($35.4 million today[9]). The will distributed property and money to his wife and children, religious bodies, and his brother Augustus.[27]

Four days after Shepard's death, the wife of Chicago publisher Horace O'Donoghue began reading the news of the event to him; he meanwhile picked up a razor and cut his throat, killing himself.[28] Initially his death was rumored to be due to a sudden impulse after hearing of Shepard's death, although later it was revealed that O'Donoghue was involved in large financial embarrassments involving Chicago publishing houses.[29]

While New York University's Elliott F. Shepard Scholarship was annually awarded from funds given by Shepard. Shepard also donated a large collection of books from lawyer Aaron J. Vanderpoel's library to the school's Law Library.[30]

Family and personal life

With Margaret Louisa, he had five daughters and one son: Florence (1869–1869), Maria Louise (1870–1948), Edith (1872–1954), Marguerite (1873–1895), Alice (1874–1950) and Elliott Fitch Shepard, Jr. (1877–1927).

Shepard was described to be tall, well-built, and often having pleasant expression and manner.[5] The New York Times named him the "perfect type of well-bred clubman". He had thick hair, manicured nails, a well-trimmed beard, and an athletic figure.[15](p154) Shepard disliked antisemitism; he attended dinners publicizing the plight of Russian Jews, and he regularly addressed Jewish religious and social organizations that others shunned. He was known to be strict with his children; he beat his son, who was described to be as wild as his father was rigid and moralizing. Shepard strove for political importance; he decided to build Woodlea as a symbol of power and influence.[15](p157)

For his family, Shepard employed a private chef, and hired governesses and tutors for the children. He rented pews in many New York churches, supported about a dozen missionaries worldwide, and was a liberal donor to hospitals and charitable societies. His children attended Sunday school and church. Shepard had horses and carriages which the family rode through parks; Shepard was most proud of his riding ability over his other strengths.[31]

Selected works


  1. Other common spellings of his first name include "Eliot" and "Elliot"; "Shepherd" was sometimes used as his last. Shepard was sometimes referred to as Elliott Fitch Shepard, Sr., to distinguish him from his son.


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 Young, Andrew W. (1875). History of Chautauqua County. Buffalo, New York. p. 370. Retrieved August 5, 2014. 
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 2.4 2.5 2.6 "Elliott F. Shepard Dead". The New York Times. March 25, 1893. Retrieved August 5, 2014. 
  3. Weeks, Lyman Horace (1898). Prominent Families of New York. New York: The Historical Company. OCLC 4604610. Retrieved August 6, 2014. 
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 4.3 4.4 4.5 4.6 4.7 4.8 The Illustrated American. 13. Chicago, Illinois: The Illustrated American Publishing Company. April 8, 1893. p. 427. Retrieved August 5, 2014. 
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 5.3 Proceedings of the New York State Bar Association. 17. Albany, New York: The New York State Bar Association. 1894. pp. 212–3. Retrieved August 5, 2014. 
  6. "Life & Letters". The Walt Whitman Archive. Retrieved August 7, 2014. 
  7. "Life & Letters". The Walt Whitman Archive. Retrieved August 7, 2014. 
  8. "NYC Marriage & Death Notices 1857–1868". Retrieved August 5, 2014. 
  9. 9.0 9.1 9.2 9.3 9.4 9.5 9.6 9.7 9.8 9.9 Consumer Price Index (estimate) 1800–2014. Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis. Retrieved February 27, 2014.
  10. A Brief History of the Fifth Avenue Presbyterian Church. New York: Stephen Angell. January 1882. p. 57. OCLC 52050563. Retrieved August 6, 2014. 
  11. "Hotel for 57th St. Site". The New York Times. December 22, 1925. Retrieved August 6, 2014. 
  12. Gray, Christopher (April 2, 2009). "Queen Anne Meets Plain Jane, a Grand Meat Retailer and a Fifth Avenue 'Ghost'". The New York Times. Retrieved August 6, 2014. 
  13. "Past Presidents of the New York State Bar Association". New York State Bar Association. 2014. Retrieved August 6, 2014. 
  14. Martin, George W. (The Association of the Bar of the City of New York) (1970). Causes and Conflicts: The Centennial History of the Association of the Bar of the City of New York, 1870–1970. Boston, Massachusetts: Houghton Mufflin Co.. p. 131. ISBN 0-8232-1735-3. LCCN 96053609. Retrieved August 5, 2014. 
  15. 15.00 15.01 15.02 15.03 15.04 15.05 15.06 15.07 15.08 15.09 15.10 15.11 Foreman, John; Stimson, Robbe Pierce (May 1991). The Vanderbilts and the Gilded Age: Architectural Aspirations, 1879–1901 (1st ed.). New York, New York: St. Martin's Press. p. 159. ISBN 0-312-05984-1. LCCN 90027083. OCLC 22957281. 
  16. In the Matter of the Application of Alexander B. Larkin for a Writ of Mandamus. Albany, New York: Court of Appeals of the State of New York. 1900. pp. 15, 27. Retrieved August 6, 2014. 
  17. Page, Walter H., ed (1908). The World's Work. 15. New York: Doubleday, Page & Company. p. 9870. OCLC 1770207. Retrieved August 6, 2014. 
  18. Tejirian, Eleanor H.; Simon, Reeva Spector (2012). Conflict, Conquest, and Conversion. New York: Columbia University Press. pp. 147–8. ISBN 978-0-231-13864-2. 
  19. Jernazian, Ephraim K. (1990). Judgement Unto Truth: Witnessing the Armenian Genocide. New Brunswick, New Jersey: Transaction Publishers. p. 22. ISBN 978-1-4128-2702-7. LCCN 89020662. Retrieved August 6, 2014. 
  20. Diedrich, Richard (2007). The 19th Hole: Architecture of the Golf Clubhouse. Mulgrave , Vic.: The Images Publishing Group. pp. 90–5. ISBN 978-1-86470-223-1. Retrieved August 5, 2014. 
  21. "National Register of Historic Places Inventory—Nomination form - Scarborough Historic District". National Park Service. United States Department of the Interior. Retrieved May 10, 2014. 
  22. "Sleepy Hollow Country Club – Scarborough, New York: General Manager". Denehy Club Thinking Partners. Retrieved August 5, 2014. 
  23. Finan, Tom. "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow Rides On". Club Management. Retrieved August 5, 2014. 
  24. Pattison, Robert (1939). A History of Briarcliff Manor. William Rayburn. OCLC 39333547. 
  25. Report of the Sixteenth Annual Meeting of the American Bar Association. Philadelphia, Pennsylvania: Dando Printing and Publishing Company. 1893. p. 439. Retrieved August 6, 2014. 
  26. "Elliott F. Shepard's Body Removed". The New York Times. November 18, 1894. Retrieved August 5, 2014. 
  27. "Elliott F. Shepard's Will". The New York Times. April 12, 1893. Retrieved August 6, 2014. 
  28. "A Publisher Cuts His Throat". The New York Times. March 28, 1893. Retrieved August 6, 2014. 
  29. "Horace O'Donoghue's Suicide". The New York Times. April 19, 1893. Retrieved August 6, 2014. 
  30. The University of the City of New York: Catalogue and Announcements. The University of the City of New York. 1889. pp. 141–2. Retrieved August 6, 2014. 
  31. Crodise, L. F. (February 13, 1891). "Some of Col. Shepard's Good Points". New York: The Epoch Publishing Co.. pp. 21–2. OCLC 31581175. Retrieved August 11, 2014. 

Further reading

External links

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