There are so many reasons we love New York City – the cultural treasures, the shopping, the fabulous food and, of course, the general hustle and bustle of iconic places like Times Square, Central Park, and the Empire State Building.
But tucked away in the most northeastern corner of Manhattan – in the Washington Heights neighborhood, not too far from the border with Harlem – is a place that will make you feel like stepping back in time, and far from it. hustle and bustle just a few blocks away. It’s called Morris-Jumel Mansion, and this former estate turned museum is a real treat.
Here are a few reasons why you should consider visiting Manhattan’s oldest – and some say most haunted – house on your next NYC getaway.
The long and rich history
The Morris-Jumel Mansion was first built near the banks of the Harlem River in 1765, making it the oldest house in Manhattan. Known then as Mount Morris, the imposing columned rectory served as a summer refuge for British Colonel Roger Morris and his family. It was a working farm and offered superior views of the surrounding countryside that spanned both New Jersey and Connecticut. When the War of Independence broke out some 11 years later, Morris and his family moved, and General George Washington made the big house his headquarters for several weeks in 1776, before and during the Battle of Harlem Heights.
When Washington had to leave, the estate briefly became a tavern, then was abandoned again. This remained that way until 1810, when Eliza Jumel and her French immigrant husband, Stephen, purchased Mount Morris and began a major renovation and redecoration to make the house their own.
As Stephen’s luxury goods import business collapsed shortly after arriving, Eliza was the one with the fortune, fame, and funds. She was truly ahead of her time, a New York real estate mogul who made big profits buying, selling and renting land and houses. When Stephen died in 1832, Eliza was considered one of New York’s wealthiest women.
After Eliza died in 1865, the town bought the house after a long legal battle. Since then it has housed a local chapter for the Daughters of the American Revolution and ultimately became the museum it is today. When you stop to consider the vast amount of history that has taken place in the house – and on its grounds – you realize how special and important this house really is.
Artifacts are fascinating
Upon entering the mansion, you will experience it as 18th and 19th century guests did. The rooms – drawing, study, formal dining room, and imposing octagonal room – are all decorated in period style (including paint color and wallpaper!) And fitted with furniture, rugs and artifacts. of the time. Some pieces of the Jumel’s personal furnishings remain in place, including the dining table, Duncan Phyfe sofa, and personal artwork, including a striking portrait of Madame Jumel and her grandchildren on a major tour of Europe. .
Upstairs you will see where the family slept, with lots of original furnishings, and also where George Washington monitored troop movements at the very start of the War of Independence. Downstairs, it’s a different story, but one worth exploring: the basement kitchen is where family staff prepare their meals, without using modern conveniences, of course. You’ll see the tools they used to prepare food – truly farm-to-table – including pans, churns, and other appliances. All of this gives you a very real idea of what it must have been like to live here.
The Morris-Jumel Museum also has special exhibits. Past installations have included a documented history of the house and artwork by local and regional artists based in or focused on New York City.
You will find a link to Hamilton
Remember when we mentioned that Eliza’s husband Stephen died in 1832? Eliza still had a long life to live, and she certainly made the most of it. She was determined to remarry for a good “society” game, to improve her position with the region’s elite. Eliza’s next husband was the Third Vice President of the United States … an often pilloried person who has experienced some kind of 21st century renaissance. She married none other than Aaron Burr, the man who killed Alexander Hamilton in a duel, and who also became a central character in the hit musical Hamilton, which first captivated the country in 2015.
Burr certainly brought his share of the baggage to the wedding, and after their nuptials in the living room of the house, he hoped he could count on his new wife’s largesse to get him out of his debts. But as he burned her money, Eliza’s patience quickly ran out – she filed for divorce after just 4 months, and her choice of lawyer was… shall we say inspired? None other than Alexander Hamilton, Jr. represented her during the proceedings. The divorce decree was issued on September 14, 1836… the same day Burr died. Madame Jumel, increasingly eccentric and isolated, stayed at home until her death at the age of 90.
Upstairs in the mansion you’ll find Burr’s bedroom. Lin-Manuel Miranda traveled here to find inspiration and write two songs for his musical masterpiece. Really, it was a “where it happened” room.
It is a great place for ghost hunters
As you can imagine, with its historic past, the Morris-Jumel is a favorite stopover for ghost hunts. Many people claim to have experienced paranormal activity at home over the years. Much is blamed on Eliza, who has been sighted in and around her large estate from time to time. Strange footsteps, sounds and other strange occurrences have also been reported. Are they real events, or just the product of a vivid imagination? If you are interested, decide for yourself! There are several guided tours of the house – which take place at night, of course – that you can book to face spooky spirits and events, head on! Book, if you dare!
An oasis in the city
Despite being a short walk from bustling Washington Heights, the Morris-Jumel feels light years from the city. Perhaps this is because of its perch, above the surrounding neighborhood, or the preservation of its beautiful grounds and gardens. Let’s face it, New York can be overwhelming, even for the most seasoned traveler. But a stop here is a great way to carve out some peace, quiet, and serenity during a hectic New York vacation. A brief break here is a nice reset and reload!
The surrounding houses are also historic
As you approach the mansion, you can’t help but notice the pristine period townhouses surrounding it. There is also a story behind them! Jumel Terrace, a short walk from the mansion, is a historic neighborhood made up of 50 townhouses set in cobblestone streets. The small neighborhood was built as Eliza’s descendants slowly sold the land surrounding her house. The houses, both brown stone and timber framed, are simply charming and worth exploring either on the way to the mansion or after your visit. Jumel Terrace was also the center of Harlem’s Renaissance – singer / activist Paul Robeson lived there for a while.
Pro tip: The Morris-Jumel Mansion sits at the northern tip of Manhattan. By far the best and cheapest way to travel from the lower part of the borough is by metro. The C train stop at 163rd is a short walk from the museum, it is a 10 minute walk to the 1 train at 157th Street.
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