Staycation: Morris-Jumel Mansion

Editor’s Note: An updated version of this post can be viewed here.

For many of us, staycations are this year’s vacations. Instead of the cottages and castles of the Continent, visit one of New York’s fascinating house museums. Each week, for the entire summer, we’ll alternate between a site in New York City, or one in greater New York State. Many of these houses are in danger of closing if we don’t patronize them. Check them out, and go visit! If you’ve been, please leave comments and suggestions, including dining or any other amenities.

Name: Morris-Jumel Mansion
Location: Washington Heights, Manhattan
Address: 65 Jumel Terrace, between 160-162nd St, between St. Nicholas and Edgecomb Aves.
Hours: Wednesday Saturday, 10-4, Monday & Tuesday by appointment. Closed July 4th.
Admission: $5.00 adults, $4.00 seniors and students.
Children: Under 12 free, accompanied by parent. School programs offered, see website.
Directions: C train to 163rd St. See website for more directions.

Details: On this prelude to Independence Day, this summer, take the opportunity to visit the house that was Washington’s headquarters for the Battle of Harlem Heights, during the Revolutionary War. The house was built in 1765 for British colonel Roger Morris and his wife, Mary, as a country retreat. The orginal estate of over 130 acres was called Mount Morris, and sat high on a hill with views of the Harlem River, the Bronx, and Long Island Sound to the east, New York City and the harbor to the south, and the Hudson River and Jersey Palisades to the west. This would prove to be a most strategic military headquarters, during the War, although Washington was forced to retreat, and the house was commandeered by the British and Hessians for the remainder of the war. After the war, the house became an inn, and passed through several hands before being bought by French immigrant Stephen Jumel, a wealthy wine merchant, and his wife Eliza, in 1790. The décor and furnishings of the house are mostly from the period the Jumel’s owned the house, and feature French Empire style furnishings, including a bed said to have belonged to Napoleon.

When Stephen Jumel died in 1832, after a tragic accident, Eliza was made one of the wealthiest women in the country. At 58 she married 77 year old Aaron Burr, the former Vice-President of the United States, who tore through her money until he granted her a divorce on his deathbed in 1836. Eliza Jumel, a fascinating woman in her own right, would live in the house until her own death in 1865, at the age of 91. The house passed to relatives, and several other owners until 1903, when the City of New York bought the property to preserve it as Washington’s headquarters. The house became a National Historic Landmark in 1935, and part of the Jumel Terrace Historic District, in 1970, with the interior landmarked in 1975.

The house is also on the National Registry of Historic Haunted Places, said to be visited by the spirits of Eliza Jumel, a Hessian soldier who fell down the stairs on his bayonet, and a maid who commited suicide in the house. The Parks Dept, which runs the house denies those rumors. The house is important architecturally as the oldest house in Manhattan, and a fine example of the Georgian Palladian style, with an octagon addition at the rear of the house believed to be the first of its kind in the colonies. The interior is filled with period antiques and furnishings, a colonial kitchen, and herb garden, and spacious grounds. The surrounding brownstone blocks are beautiful, and next door is Slyvan Terrace, an restored block of wood frame rowhouses, and fine examples of historic preservation and restoration. The Morris-Jumel Mansion is a great trip, and well worth the journey to that other borough.

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