On Saturday, Archtober took a tour of the oldest house in Manhattan, the Morris-Jumel Mansion located in Washington Heights. Frederick Cookinham, a Revolutionary Manhattan expert and volunteer at the mansion, led us on the tour of the estate.
The Morris-Jumel Mansion, located on a beautiful hill perched above what is now known as Robert Morris Park, is rich with American history. The house is named for the two families that lived there. In 1765, Robert Morris, a British military officer, bought a vast plot of farmland to build a summer home. Morris began construction a year later and, just as construction finished in 1767, he added an octagonal addition to the north of the house, ultimately creating a three-story, 8,000 square-foot mansion. Morris and his wife lived there until 1775 when they fled the American Revolution. The house was then occupied by General George Washington during the war. Located at the highest point in upper Manhattan, the house gave Washington a strategic advantage with its views to the east and west.
In 1810, the mansion was purchased by Stephen Jumel, a wealthy French wine importer, and his wife Eliza. The Jumels were eager to be accepted into New York’s high society, and felt that their home would be their key to that world. They renovated the house, adding an oversized portico and installing detailed wallpapers to the interior. When Stephen Jumel died, Eliza was quickly pursued by Aaron Burr. They married and quickly divorced a year later. Eliza lived the rest of her life in the mansion.
As the house stands today, it is decorated in the 1820s style that the Jumels designed. Eliza Jumel is clearly an important figure in the history of this estate and the house’s interior reflects that. The remaining grounds of the estate, which make up Robert Morris Park, were significantly altered by the WPA in the 1930s. Pathways were added, along with a French-style garden on the north side of the property, similar to the one Eliza Jumel planted on the south.
In the past few years, the museum has been working towards updating the house and has been sending pieces of furniture out for restoration, including two original couches (from the Jumel era) and Eliza Jumel’s bed. The interior of the house is maintained by the museum, but the surrounding grounds and exterior of the house are actually maintained by the NYC Department of Parks and Recreation. Money has been earmarked for restoration work on the exterior. We look forward to seeing the grandeur of this Old New York house return.
Join us on Tuesday, October 31 for the last Archtober Building of the Day at the William Vale Hotel!