In Inwood, a scaled-down marble replica of the Arc de Triomphe is the only surviving element of Seaman’s Folly.
By David Owen
Valentine Seaman was born in Queens County in 1770 and studied medicine in Philadelphia under Benjamin Rush. He defied early-nineteenth-century anti-vaxxers by introducing Edward Jenner’s “kine-pock” inoculation to New York City, initially by administering it to one of his own children. In 1851, his son John Ferris Seaman bought twenty-six acres near the northern tip of Manhattan, in what’s now called Inwood but was then known as Tubby Hook. He built an ornate, multi-cupolaed, statue-embellished mansion on the crest of a hill, using marble that had been quarried approximately where Columbia University’s football stadium stands today. “If you were coming south into the city on the railroad in the late eighteen-hundreds, the mansion was the first thing you saw,” Cole Thompson, a real-estate salesperson and amateur local historian, said one morning, in his office, on West 207th Street. “The Seamans called it Mt. Olympus on the Hudson; others called it Seaman’s Folly.”