Isaac Newton Phelps Stokes (1867-1944) was a housing reformer, real estate developer and architect from a prominent and wealthy New York family who trained at Columbia and at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Paris after receiving his bachelor’s degree from Harvard. In partnership with John Mead Howells, it was Stokes who designed St. Paul’s Chapel on the new Columbia campus at Morningside Heights between 1903 and 1907. Earlier, he had served on the New York State Tenement House Commission, which wrote the ground-breaking New York Tenement House Law of 1901.
One of Stokes’ longest-lasting legacies, however, came as a consequence of his enthusiasm for collecting prints, which he began to do in 1899. His collecting activity intensified along with his interest in the history of New York, which together resulted in his monumental work, The Iconography of Manhattan Island, 1498-1909, a six-volume pictorial history published between 1915 and 1928. In 1922 Stokes expanded his collecting interest to include views of other major cities. In 1930 he donated the entire collection, which by then included prints, maps, drawings, paintings, view-books, photographs and other documents, to the New York Public Library, where a selection of images can now be viewed online as the I.N. Phelps Stokes Collection of American Historical Prints, part of the NYPL Digital Gallery collection Picturing America, 1497-1899: Prints, Maps, and Drawings bearing on the New World Discoveries and on the Development of the Territory that is now the United States. The I.N. Phelps Stokes Papers consist primarily of correspondence regarding his print collection and the research for and publication of the Iconography. They are housed in the Library’s Manuscripts & Archives department in the Humanities Division at 42nd Street and Fifth Avenue.