“Whistler’s Mother”-The McNeills and the Whistlers

From the Bulletin of the Passaic County Historical Society, November 1962

motherThe great masterpiece of art, “Whistler’s Mother” is one of the best-known paintings throughout the civilized world.  It will probably be a surprise to many that ‘Mother” Whistler lived “on the beautiful banks of the Passaic River, In Paterson, over which a bridge of his (her husband’s) own construction now stands.”  The foregoing quotation was penned by Anna Matilda McNeill-Whistler in 1848.

William Gibbs McNeill, Anna Matilda’s brother, and her husband, George Washington Whistler came to Paterson about 1830.  Both were graduates from West Point and both were engineers.  They were employed in Paterson to lay out the Paterson and Hudson River Railroad.  They also engineered the draw bridges over the Passaic and Hackensack Rivers.  In 1834, Engineer Whistler constructed the West Street, Paterson bridge over the Passaic River to which “Mother” Whistler referred.

It seems quite probably that Engineer and Matilda Whistler lived in a small but “happy and unpretending cottage” on Water Street, Paterson during the years 1831-1834 while William Whistler was engaged in the construction of the railroad.