Best-selling author, Harold MacGrath and his life at 1618 James Street

This past summer, I was contacted by Joelle McAndrew after she saw a post I had written on Instagram regarding Harold MacGrath and his former home at 1618 James Street. A few years ago, Joelle had found a photograph of MacGrath at a rummage sale at the former Rockefeller United Methodist Church on Nottingham Road, and purchased it for 10 cents.

The photograph is signed by MacGrath and written to E. Austin Barnes with a date of 1923. The photograph shows MacGrath standing in the backyard of his home, a home that was known for its landscaped garden surrounded by ponds, pools and flowering shrubbery.

The photograph provided by Joelle McAndrew
The photograph provided by Joelle McAndrew

In the summer months, the MacGrath’s would host lavish garden parties and Barnes was often one of his many guests. Barnes lived just at half mile away at 322 Farmer Street. He worked as a purchasing agent for the Solvay Process Division of Allied Chemical Corporation; when he retired in 1949 he had worked there for over 50 years. Barnes would enjoy 29 years of retirement before passing away, at the age of 101 in 1978. When he passed away he was the oldest living Cornell Graduate and self-proclaimed oldest continuous subscriber to The Post-Standard.

His friend, MacGrath, was a nationally known author who started as a columnist for the Syracuse Herald and went onto write over 35 novels, many of which were made into films and even Broadway plays. He often wrote in his study located in the above pictured home, a room that overlooked his famous garden. His writing was extremely popular, and it was not unusual for him to have multiple books listed as current bestsellers at any given time during his career.

MacGrath’s tombstone in Oakwood Cemetery

MacGrath had lost his ability to hear when he was a teenager due to an accident. He kept this impairment hidden from the public for most of his life. MacGrath said that his deafness made him “action-minded”, therefore emphasizing the visual viewpoints in his plots. In 1932, MacGrath would pass away at the age of 61, the result of a year-long illness. He was in the act of writing a new novel when he died. It was said that he was on page 43 of the story with a blank page ready to be brought to life.

The above featured picture shows both the home at 1618 James Street and the photograph provided by Joelle McAndrew. How the photograph ended up at the rummage sale, is unknown.

  • Trevor

    Is that house as fantastic in person? Wow.

    Absolutely loving the site! Thanks for doing this.

    • Uh I wish I knew! I’ve only been right inside the door. It’s now split into apartments.

    • Also, I’m glad you are enjoying the website, hearing those comments adds to my reasons for doing it! Thanks for following along.