Some of the best NYC museums are in historic homes and mansions, several dating to the Revolutionary War or Civil War.
Here are seven historic homes in the Bronx well worth a visit. If only the walls could talk, and tell us even more than the wonderful exhibits.
Alexander Hamilton built this Federal-style house in 1801 as a country retreat, back when this part of Northern Manhattan was still farmland. The floor-to-ceiling windows offer commanding views from the hilltop location. The neat row houses on the streets around the house were built in the early 20th century on land Hamilton once owned.
George Washington camped out here briefly, using the house at his headquarters during the Revolutionary War. Washington used the mansion again a few years later for the very first presidential cabinet meeting, which included both Secretary of the Treasury Alexander Hamilton and lifelong rival Aaron Burr.
Park Rangers give hourly tours, but because of Hamilton’s new superstar status, reservations are absolutely required. If you just show up, you are unlikely to get inside, even to visit the gift shop. But the surrounding park is lovely.
- Hamilton Grange National Memorial is at 141st St. and Convent Ave., just north of CUNY.
Built in 1812 in what was then the village of Fordham, just off what is now the Grand Concourse, this white clapboard house is typical of the working-class homes in the area at the time. Poet Edgar Allan Poe, his wife, and mother-in-law, moved into the cottage in 1842 when it was still “the country”, and it was hoped the clear country air would help cure Mrs. Poe’s tuberculosis. It didn’t, and she died a few years later.
Poe wrote some of his most famous works here, including “Annabel Lee,” “Eureka” and “The Bells.” In 1913, the New York Shakespeare Society raised enough funds to save the house from destruction.
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This is the last Dutch farmhouse in Manhattan. Jan Dyckman established a farm near the northern tip of Manhattan in the 1660s. After its destruction in the Revolutionary War, his grandson, William Dyckman, replanted the land and built this Farmhouse around 1784. Constructed mostly of fieldstone and clapboard, it features sloping spring eaves, wide porches, and a simple brick facade facing the street.
The small home served three generations of the Dyckman family until 1868.
In 1915, daughters of the last Dyckman to grow up in the house, bought the building and restored it as a museum to early America, and donated it to NYC. Displays include uniforms of the Hessian soldiers who occupied the house during the Revolutionary War, and period furnishings. Be sure to visit the charming small garden behind the house.
- Also a member of the Historic House Trust. It’s a few blocks north of Dyckman Street, named for the family that once owned the land.
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In 1654, Thomas Pell purchased the land on which the Bartow-Pell Mansion now sits from the Siwanoy Indians. Four generations of Pells lived in the house, which was constructed in 1836 by Robert Bartow, hence the hyphenated name.
In 1888, the Bartow family sold the house and its vast grounds to New York City to become part of what would become Pelham Bay Park, the city’s largest park.
After being home to numerous private and charitable organizations, Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia used it as his home, instead of Gracie Mansion.
The house has been open to the public as a museum since 1946, and also is part of the Historic House Trust. Bartow-Pell Mansion is a National Historic Landmark and a New York City Landmark.
- In addition to the house, its grounds, gardens and historic cemetery are well worth a visit.
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This 1758 Georgian style home was once the center of a 1,000 acre estate, built and owned by Dutch settlers, the Van Cortlandt family, in a town then knowns as Jonckers (Yonkers). In addition to being the oldest building in the Bronx, the house is important for its Revolutionary War history, when it was used by George Washington, Rochambeau and the Marquis de Lafayette.
It was converted into a museum in 1896 by the National Society of Colonial Dames in the State of New York, and has been opened to the public ever since. According to the museum website, the “museum’s research focuses on the Van Cortlandt family, the social history of those who lived and worked on the property and the study of decorative arts.”
- It is owned by the NYC Dept. of Parks and Recreation, operated by the Colonial Dames group, and a member of the NYC Historic House Trust.
Built by Isaac Valentine in 1758, this Georgian style farmhouse is the Bronx’s oldest farmhouse and second oldest house. It was purchased n 1792 by Isaac Varian from Valentine’s creditors, hence its hyphenated name. The house was donated to the Bronx County Historical Society in 1965 to ensure its preservation, and moved to its present site from further down the street.
Exhibitions focus on changes to the Bronx over time. When visiting, make sure to keep an eye out for the Bronx River Soldier sculpture in front of the house, which was made forbut ended up at the bottom of the Bronx River.
- It is currently one of the Historic House Trust sites and also home to the .
Built as a country house in 1843 by attorney William Lewis Morris, grandnephew of Lewis Morris, a signer of the Declaration of Independence, it was later rented to famous residents including Theodore Roosevelt, Mark Twain, and Arturo Toscanini. The house was purchased in 1903 by J. P. Morgan’s partner, George W. Perkins, whose family donated it to New York City in 1060.
The views across the Hudson River to the Palisades are picture postcard perfect in any season, as are the visits to the well-maintained gardens and green house.
What’s your favorite NYC museum? Especially a small, off the beaten track NYC museum.
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