Watson House | Seton Shrine Architecture
The Watson House at 7 State Street actually consists of two parts. The eastern portion, only two windows wide, was built in 1793. The distinctive western portion with its curved porch is attributed to John McComb Jr. and was added in 1806. McComb is credited with the design of many distinctive landmarks of the late 18th and early 19th centuries including City Hall and Gracie Mansion. He also designed Castle Clinton in nearby Battery Park—which, coincidentally enough, was used as an immigrant reception station before Ellis Island was built.
James Watson, the wealthy merchant and importer who lived at 7 State Street, was one of the ambitious, early-rising group called the “Peep o’ Day Boys” who awoke before dawn to scan the harbor for incoming ships. The wooden columns on the porch of his house are said to be repurposed ship’s masts.
The Watson House was once part of an elegant row of townhouses, but by the late nineteenth century when Father John Joseph Riordan bought the property for the Mission of Our Lady of the Rosary the street’s glory days were in the past. At the turn of the twentieth century an elevated train rattled just outside the house’s front windows. By the 1960s the property had so deteriorated that the Watson House was gutted inside and 8 State Street, where Elizabeth Seton had lived, was demolished.
Architects Walter Knight Sturges and Joseph Sanford Shanley, who was a descendant of Mother Seton, designed a new church for the 8 State Street site in a style that drew from the Federal and Georgian periods to complement the Watson House next door. It is said that Sturges and Shanley planned the sanctuary to be reminiscent of a ballroom because of Elizabeth Seton’s love of dancing.
Outside, above the entrance looking out over New York harbor, is a white marble statue of Mother Seton sculpted by Robert E. Gaspari.