New York City – John Bigelow

Tilden was fortunate in having as his biographer, his friend and neighbor, John Bigelow, who knew him well, and appreciated all his fine qualities. Mr. Bigelow was one of Tilden’s executors and was the last survivor of the group of men who made the Park famous during the last century. He lived at No. 21 for thirty years and died there in 1911, but many still recall his venerable figure and massive gray head, the very embodiment of the dignity of age, and recall the keen sympathy and quick intelligence with which to the very last he greeted his many visitors. Few, however, recall the important part which he played at a most critical period in the history of the nation, when in 1865 by appointment of President Lincoln, he represented the United States as Minister Plenipotentiary at the Court of France. At this time the issue of the Civil War was uncertain and the sympathies of Napoleon and his government were so strongly on the side of the South that gun boats for the Southern Confederacy were built in the imperial shipyards and equipped from the government ordnance stores. Mr. Bigelow worked in season and out of season to make it impossible for these vessels to get to sea without an open breach between France and the United States, and his success was a diplomatic triumph of the utmost importance to his country. Previous to his going abroad Mr. Bigelow had been associated with his intimate friend, William Cullen Bryant, on the Evening Post, and while abroad he devoted all of his literary skill and ingenuity to counteracting the propaganda actively conducted on behalf of the Southern Confederacy. He also aided the Government in disposing of its securities abroad, and like his great predecessor, Franklin, he was instrumental in securing financial aid from Holland, when the “cotton bonds” of the Confederacy were proving a seductive in-vestment to the capitalists of other European countries. Returning to New York after having accomplished his onerous and difficult diplomatic task with success and distinction, and resuming his literary labors in the quiet seclusion of Gramercy Park, he wrote the “Life of Samuel J. Tilden” and finally “Retrospections of an Active Life.” He was richly entitled to describe his life as “active,” for when not engaged in national service he gave the greater part of his time to matters of public interest and importance and held numerous public positions, from that of a member of the Tilden Commission, which broke up the Canal Ring, to the Presidency of the New York Public Library. It was a tribute to his remarkable virility that he was elected President of the Century Club in his eighty-ninth year and he held that office until his death. At the memorial meeting which was held in his honor the appreciation of the club was happily expressed by one of the speakers who said :

“John Bigelow deserves, and will receive from all who knew him and from all who come to understand the work that he did, cordial gratitude and the largest possible measure of appreciation as a sturdy, courageous and able national representative, a skilled diplomat, a Christian gentleman, and a great citizen.”

But the Park has an architectural as well as a biographical story, and if we inquire as to the up-building of the sixty-six lots which Mr. Ruggles laid out on his map it appears from the City Directories that it was not until about 1851 that they were nearly all built upon and occupied. Even then there were a number of vacant lots but the growth of population is indicated by the establishment of churches in the vicinity.