The Lilacs

Thomas B. & Sarah M. Richards James & Henrietta M. Richards    
(brothers and their spouses)


Thomas & James Richards (and spouses)

Although The Lilacs was owned by Thomas & James Richards, there is no record of them ever living on the property. In fact, we have not been able to establish their connection to western New York. They were immigrants from England to New York City and became wealthy iron merchants. However, Benjamin Richards and his wife Louisa and their family did live at The Lilacs from 1849 until Benjamin’s death in 1863. We do not know the connection between Benjamin and Thomas & James – i.e. brothers, cousins, etc. Our research to this point has covered all of them.

Thomas & James Richards were born in England, and it is not known when they immigrated to the U.S. However, they became wealthy iron merchants in New York City, establishing the oldest iron foundry in NYC in the early 1820s (either 1820 or 1823 – both dates were reported in various newspaper accounts).

James was born in 1792 in England, and died October 21, 1879 at Jersey City, NJ at 87 years of age. His wife Henrietta, whom he married after immigrating to America, was born in Maryland in 1805, and died Feb 13, 1876 at Jersey City, NJ. We believe they were married prior to 1830 and had 6 children – 3 sons James R., Thomas W. and John T. – and 3 daughters Henrietta M. (Smith), Deborah Eliza (Cole) and Hannah V. (Ostrander).

Thomas was born in 1787 in England, and died November 21, 1869 in New York City at the age of 82 years. At the time of his death, he was living at 221 W. 10th Street, NYC (an address which seems to no longer exist). His wife Sarah, whom he married after immigrating to America, was born in New York City in 1796, and died on February 11, 1882 in New York City at the age of 86 years. She may have been a widow or divorcee at the time of her marriage to Thomas, as her death notice gave her prior name as Sarah M. Reece and noted she was the daughter of the late William Standerwich (who had been a very prominent resident of New York City). We believe they were married prior to 1822 and had 3 children – 2 sons Thomas B. Jr. and James Joseph, and 1 daughter Hannah Jane.

The 1860 and 1870 Census both show the Richards families living in Ward 9 in NYC –
- James’ family in District 2 in 1860, and District 14 in 1870, and
- Thomas’ family in District 4 in 1860, and District 8 in 1870).
Both were large households, which included several domestic servants – typically young ladies from Europe (Ireland, Prussia, etc).

The 1880 census shows that most of James’ family had moved to Jersey City, NJ except for his son James R. who was living on W14th Street in NYC.
The 1880 Census shows Thomas’ widow Sarah living in a large residence in Manhattan, with her 2 sons (Thomas & James) and her grand-daughter and family (Sarah & Charles Buxton). The census does not show the address, although it is believed to have been well up-town. The total household included 10 family members, 2 female domestic servants and a male servant/coachman.

The Richards brothers were very successful in their foundry business. An article in the New York Times in 1847, that included mention of James Richards, referred to him as “a wealthy iron merchant in the City’. At the time of his death, Thomas B.’s will included several lots (premises with houses) on W 10th Street, and several lots and houses on Perry Street, among other assets.

The Richards brothers became prominent in NYC business and social circles, and inter-mingled with other prominent families. For example, Thomas B.’s daughter Hannah married Professor Jacob Van Nostrand, who was one of the most celebrated and widely-known instructors of deaf-mutes in America at the time. He came from a well-to-do family, and spent many years with the Institution for the Deaf and Dumb in New York, Connecticut and Texas.

The families of both Thomas B. and James are buried in Greenwood Cemetery in Brooklyn. Greenwood was described in the New York papers as the “fashionable resting place for New York”. Many of New York’s most notable citizens have been buried in Greenwood. The Richards’ had a circle of 4 lots (all connected in a large circle) – and all the lots were purchased at the same time. There are 31 Richards family members interred in those lots.

“The Richard Brothers iron foundry founder’s mark”

T. B. & J. Richards, 34 Water St., New York, 2013

James and Thomas founded and operated an iron foundry on Perry St in New York City known as “T.B. & J. Richards”. It encompassed Nos. 143, 145 & 147 Perry St in Greenwich Village. The September 11, 1880 edition of the NY Sun reported that it was the oldest foundry in the City, having been established 60 years prior (i.e.1820). The Richards’ founder’s mark on the property at 34 Water Street in downtown Manhattan is thought to be the oldest mark of its kind in NYC.

The January 1, 1844 edition of the New York Morning Courier reported that the co-partnership existing between Thos. B. Richards and Jas. Richards was dissolved by mutual consent, and that Thomas would continue the iron foundry business on Perry St on his own. The 1850 census notes that $30,000 capital was invested in the business, with annual sales of $45,000, and 35 employees (per the website

By 1870, James had taken over ownership of the foundry (perhaps at the time of Thomas’ death in 1869, or before), and was operating it at a more modest level, with the number of employees reduced to 20. Along the way the foundry’s name had been changed to Greenwich Iron Foundry – which may have happened at the time of the 1844 dissolution of the partnership between Thomas and James.

In 1873, James decided to retire and, accordingly, advertised the foundry for sale. The April 20, 1873 edition of the New York Herald announced that the property would be sold by auctioneer Adrian Muller on April 23, 1873 –
“this valuable property with the brick factory and stable on the north side of Perry St between Washington and West streets, Nos. 145, 147 & 149, and lots in the rear of 153, 155 & 161 Perry St. and the lot on the south side of W 11th St. (No 360) . . . desirable for the erection of first class tenements . . . the foundry business has for 50 years been known as the Greenwich Iron Foundry. . . the proprietor retiring on account of advanced age” (note – this would date the foundry to 1823).

The New York Herald then reported on April 24, 1873 that the foundry (about 5 lots – Nos. 145, 147 & 149 Perry and 360 W. 11th streets) had been sold for $35,750. An advertisement for the foundry around that time said it produced “Round and Square Iron Columns, Door and Window Sills and Lintels, Newels and Railings and all kinds of Castings for Architectural work”.

The foundry was purchased by Lewis Fink, Sr. who set his son, Lewis Fink Jr., in business with Peter Wather. However, the new ownership was not successful and the September 11, 1880 edition of New York Sun reported that –
“the Greenwich Iron Foundry in Perry St., the oldest in the City, was sold by the Sherriff yesterday. . . the proprietor, Lewis Fink, Sr., having become financially embarrassed. The Foundry was established sixty years ago by Messrs. Richards . . sold in 1873 to Mr. Fink . . . the business was not prosperous and Mr. Fink, Sr., who was estimated to be worth $150,000 at that time, took over running the Foundry himself. Unable to succeed, he ultimately had to sacrifice most of his real estate. . . foreclosure proceedings have commenced, on which mortgages total $31,000”.
The failure of the iron foundry under Fink’s ownership had an impact on James Richards’ financial situation. Following his death in 1879, his will probate records listed a 3rd mortgage dated June 2, 1873 from Lewis Fink, Jr and Peter Wather for $6,500 on property at Perry and W 11th St, NYC (the iron foundry property) that was considered worthless, as the foreclosure in 1881 did not generate sufficient funds to even pay off the 2nd mortgage.

We do not know what ultimately became of the iron foundry, but it is possible that it may have continued on in the Richards family for a further period. The February 1, 1881 edition of The Daily Graphic: New York reported in their ‘Real Estate-Foreclosure Sales’ section that “the property – Greenwich Iron Foundry (north side of Perry St) and No. 360 W. 11th St. (sold) to J. J. Richards for $15,600. We do not know if this was James Joseph Richards, son of Thomas B. Richards. James J. was listed in the 1860 Census as a ‘dealer in metals’ and in the 1880 Census as ‘iron merchant’.

An article in the August 7, 1838 edition of the New York American (Published for the Proprietor) caught our attention, and shows the hardships of life in New York City (or probably any city) in the mid-1800s.
The paper reported on a “list of sufferers by the fire yesterday morning” – the article contained a long list of properties owned by the Richards that were either partially, or completely, destroyed by a fire. This list included –
- 7 properties on Perry St, plus 4 houses in the rear of those properties, including the office and iron foundry of T.B. & J. Richards – loss estimate $15,000 and insured for $5,000;
- another 3 story brick house at 145 Perry St occupied by James Richards;
- 7 properties on West St (including a 2 story frame building owned by James Richards leased to a starch factory); and
- 16 properties on Hammond St.
This must have been a huge fire to essentially wipe out an entire neighborhood.


Benjamin & Louisa Richards

Benjamin Richards was born in England in 1790, and died in East Aurora, NY on April 9, 1863 at 73 years of age. Louisa was born in England around 1804, and died in East Aurora, NY on June 5, 1878 at 74 years of age.

Benjamin is listed in the book “History of Buffalo & Erie County 1620-1884” as being one of the early settlers in this area.

The 1850 Census shows them with 3 children – Mary Jane (24), Elizabeth F. (21) and John (9 and in school) – all were born in England. Based on John’s age at the time of the Census, the Benjamin Richards family must have immigrated to America after 1842, probably 1849 when they moved to The Lilacs.
The 1860 Census shows Benjamin, Louisa and John on the farm, along with 2 other school-age children with the surname of Van Buskirk, who had been born in England.

Benjamin farmed the 20 acre farm until his death, at which time the farm was sold. The 1849 Aurora Tax Roll showed the farm’s assessed valued at $240 and subject to property tax of $2.16.

The 1870 Census shows the widow Louisa living with another family in the East Aurora area, and listed as “keeping house”. That family consisted of William Deimes, born in Germany and a manufacturer of carriages, and his 3 children – all born in New York.

Louisa died in June 1878 at the Globe Hotel in East Aurora. According to Surrogate Court records, Louisa spent the last years of her life living with, or next door to, a Twiss family. Court records also show that she had told the Twiss family that she had no surviving next-of-kin or relatives – raising the question of what happened to the 3 children.
Interestingly, the petition for Probate dated June 11, 1878 was witnessed by John A. Case, Notary Public, who, by that time, was living at The Lilacs.
Both Benjamin and Louisa are buried in unmarked graves in East Aurora’s Pioneer Cemetery.