Friday, March 9, 2007

George Washington Slept Here

The Morris-Jumel Mansion

Dear Postcards from New York Reader,

Bundling up to brace against the bitter cold, dodging slush pools and snow banks and tugging tight boots on and off has left me exhausted. Winter cannot come to an end too soon. Moments like this, when I crave an escape, I seek the quiet peace and romance of one of my favorite house museums. Imagine Colonial Period elegance in the midst of skyscrapers and concrete!

From the moment you approach the Morris-Jumel Mansion’s graceful Georgian fa├žade of towering white columns the house comes to life. It is 1770, lively music from violins, cellos, piano and flute float from the house along with the muffled din of dancing feet. The buzz of pleasant conversation and the expectation of light refreshment force you to hasten your pace to join the party. Inside, wide corridors, double parlors, hand-painted wall paper, handsome portraits, antique Chippendale, Empire, and Classical Revival furniture tell the tale of the entertaining that obviously took place here during the Pre-Revolutionary Period in British New York.

Built in 1765, the mansion was once the country home and summer retreat of Colonel Roger and Mary Morris. When war broke out in 1776, Colonel Morris, a British officer, returned to England to raise money for troops and military supplies. His home, meanwhile, was seized by George Washington’s forces and served as his headquarters because of its key strategic location overlooking both the Harlem and Hudson rivers.

Walk slowly around the parlor, dining room and drawing room downstairs then imagine the life of the former inhabitants in the comfortable airy bedrooms upstairs. The furniture in Washington’s study and bedroom painstakingly restored look the way they might have appeared when he lived here. Venture down a narrow staircase, peek in the kitchen below the main floor. Now notice the hearth, odd-shaped curious wrought iron kitchen utensils and cooking accessories once used to toast bread.

The Mansion and beautiful landscaped garden off Roger Morris Park in Harlem is a bit of a hike from midtown, but without a doubt your effort will be pleasantly rewarded. A couple hours spent here allows your imagination free rein and transports you to another era.

Best of all, it’s never crowded. This is a museum only the most discerning New Yorkers have discovered. Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis engaged the drawing rooms for private luncheons and tea parties, while Katherine Hepburn found the gardens a welcome refuge from her East Side townhouse. If you are lucky, you may find you have the place all to yourself.

Suggestion: When you return to midtown, take a taxi. Ask your driver to drive south through Central Park. The wooded landscape will give you a sense of what this area of the city looked like in the late 18th and early 19th century when cultivated farmland, grazing sheep and cows were commonplace.

Jacqueline Cable
For Postcards from New York

Address to remember: Morris-Jumel Mansion, Roger Morris Park, 65 Jumel Terrace at 160th St, New York, NY 10032, 212-923-8008.

Hours: Weds – Sun 10 AM – 4 PM. Closed holidays.

Admission: $ 4.00 Adults, $3.00 Seniors and Students. Children under 12 free when accompanied by an Adult.

Directions: From Times Square MTA C train to 163rd Street, proceed up St. Nicholas to Roger Morris Park, you will see the Mansion.
Bus M2, M18, M101 to 160th Street, short walk to the Mansion.

Photo courtesy of The Morris-Jumel Mansion

Copyright 2007 The Cable Group ©