The Morris-Jumel Mansion: the history of a house

 
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If you want to learn about the history of New York City simply step into the Morris-Jumel Mansion. It is the oldest house in Manhattan and if a house could talk, the Morris-Jumel Mansion would have generations of stories to tell.

The mansion, now a museum is located in the Uptown Manhattan neighborhood of Washington Heights, has a history of hosting a wide variety of notable inhabitants. Beginning with Roger Morris, a British officer, who in 1765 purchased the then farmland in the Township of Harlem to build a summer house (named Mount Morris) on top of the hill for his wife Mary Philipse. The house had expansive views of Manhattan, from North to South and river to river, East to West. The architecture of the house was very progressive for the time.

This octagon wing was the first of its kind in the colonies.

This octagon wing was the first of its kind in the colonies.

Side note: Put in modern terms, Mary Philipse once “dated” George Washington, then a young Colonel in the military. Some say she turned down his hand in marriage while others say he was too busy with his military duties that he missed his window to really pursue her hand and Roger Morris beat him to it.

When the Revolution heated up, the Morris family stopped spending summers at the house .

The house would later be used by now General George Washington for about a month for military purposes due to the house’s location being ideal for military combat, although Washington would later surrender New York to the British.

After Washington left the house it hosted English generals and deadly Hessian mercenaries. After the war was won by the Americans, a now President George Washington returned to the house for gatherings with members of his cabinet and their families.

In 1810, the house was purchased by Stephen Jumel, a French wine importer and his wife, actress, Eliza Bowen. They immediately renovated, as it sat abandoned for some 20 years by this point. The Jumel’s led fascinating lives globetrotting, being friends with many European notables like Napoleon Bonaparte. Later Stephen fled the country for being loyal to the King of England while Eliza remained and became known for her shred business practices as she worked hard to hold on to their fortune. There are many stories, some true, some false, that add to Eliza’s folklore of being a shrewd and ruthless businesswoman and social climber but after Stephen’s “accidental death” when he returned to the house, she embarked on a short-lived marriage to Vice President Aaron Burr. That’s a whole other story….

Later in Eliza’s life she would be introduced to Anne Northup, the wife of Solomon Northup, who’s life story is told in “12 Years A Slave.” The house would host Anne and her three children from 1842-1843.

After Eliza’s death the house would be home to photographer and motion picture film inventor and rival of Thomas Edison, Augustine Le Prince (who later mysteriously “disappeared”) and finally General Ferdinand Earle. He and his family lived there until his death when his wife sold the house to the city of New York in 1903. Despite the many occupants, it is Eliza, or rather her ghost, that is said to remain today.

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Take this information with you on your visit and imagine the that you too are a part of history. The mansion is beautifully staged with furniture from times past as well as an art exhibit where Eliza, a collector of art, would have had her collection. Walk around the house and the grounds and image the life its seen.

As you walk around the grounds and the streets surrounding the mansion, check out the brick houses with their Queen Anne-style architecture, the Romanesque revival stone houses and classical revival homes. They represent several eras in the history of New York City.

Self guided tours offered daily and guided tours offered only on specific days and times. Visit the museum website for details on admission, tours and directions.

MORE TO SEE AND DO IN WASHINGTON HEIGHTS:

Washington Heights has some much to offer. Besides it being the stomping ground of Lin Manuel Miranda.

Sylvan Terrace Townhomes. Located just off the 163 subway stop and Sylvan Place leads right up to the Morris-Jumel Mansion. While on 163rd street there is a small set of stairs that take you to the townhouses. If you miss the stairs that lead to walk simply take 162 or 160 East to Jumel Terrace to get to the mansion. Once there you can’t miss the townhomes.

Periodically one will come up for sale. The most recent sold for just over 1 million dollars, which in NYC prices is relatively cheap for a slice of history.

Highbridge Park. a large park with paved trails stretching from 160th street to Dykman street. On 180th St. The High Bridge, a pedestrian bridge that takes you to The Bronx and the Highbridge Water Tower.

La Barca Restaurant. Open 24 hours, La Barca is the place to go for authentic Dominican food in the city. The place is tiny and ordinary looking but the service is friendly and the food is delicious. What more could you ask for?

 
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