Posts Tagged ‘Alexander Hamilton New York City’

A founding father’s country home in Harlem

April 8, 2013

Today, wealthy New Yorkers boast of luxury estates upstate and in the Hamptons. But two centuries ago, prominent residents chose Upper Manhattan as the location of their grand manors.

Thegrangefromback2013

These scenic estates had names like Pinehurst, Minniesland, and Mount Morris (former home of Aaron Burr and his wife and now known as the Morris-Jumel Mansion).

Hamiltongrangeengraving1880Ex-Treasury Secretary Alexander Hamilton, the face of the $10 bill, also had an uptown estate, which he called the Grange, after his father’s ancestral home in Scotland.

In 1802, disenchanted with Thomas Jefferson’s presidency, he “threw himself into building a house in northern Manhattan nine miles from town,” writes Richard Brookhiser in Alexander Hamilton, American.

Hamilton commissioned architect John McComb Jr. (the designer of Gracie Mansion) to build a Federal-style mansion on 32 acres near today’s 143rd Street and Convent Avenue in Harlem.

ThegrangesecondlocationIt was a simple, dignified house on a high foundation amid fields and woods.

“The bay windows had sweeping views of the Harlem River to the east and the Hudson River to the West,” writes Brookhiser.

Front and rear porticos were complemented by side piazzas. On the lawn, Hamilton planted 13 sweet gum trees (for the 13 colonies), gifts from George Washington.

Hamilton only had the house for two years. In 1804, he was fatally wounded during his infamous dual with political rival Burr.

AlexanderhamiltonportraitYet the Grange lived on. After changing owners several times, it was moved to Convent Avenue and 141st Street in 1889.

There, sandwiched between a church and an apartment building (above photo), it fell into disrepair as Harlem became urbanized.

In 2008, the Grange was trucked to its third location: inside St. Nicholas Park at the end of brownstone-lined Hamilton Terrace, with the Gothic City College campus overhead.

Maintained by the National Park Service, the Grange has been beautifully renovated and is open to the visitors.

[Second and Third photos: NYPL Digital Collection]

New York City: the capital of the United States

February 20, 2012

It lasted little more than one year.

But between April 1789—when George Washington was sworn in as the first president (at left)—and July 1790, New York was the nation’s capital.

What was the city, with a population of just 28,000, like back then? Rich and crude.

“Men and women of the upper class dressed in the latest fashion from London or Paris and attended balls,” explains a 1989 New York Times article.

“But the streets were unpaved, narrow and crooked, often unlighted at night and frequently impassable because of wandering pigs.”

Despite these problems, many citizens, as well as brand-new secretary of the treasury Alexander Hamilton, wanted New York to be the permanent capital.

The city’s advantages: it was equidistant between New England and the South and had all the hotels, restaurants, and other amenities a proper capital needed.

Problem was, Thomas Jefferson, the new secretary of state, hated New York. He thought the nation’s capital should be located in “a new rural setting on the Potomac, across from his native Virginia,” write Ric Burns and James Sanders in New York: An Illustrated History.

Jefferson and Hamilton were deadlocked on the issue—until Jefferson agreed to acquiesce to Hamilton’s demand for the Federal government to assume states’ Revolutionary war debts.

In turn, Hamilton abandoned the dream of keeping the city the nation’s capital.

[Illustration at left: View of Broad Street by George Holland, 1797. Federal Hall, where Washington was sworn in, is in the center; above, the George Washington statue at the modern-day Federal Hall, commemorating his inauguration]