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Hamilton Grange

St. Nicholas Park, Manhattan, New York

Completed in 1802, for Founding Father Alexander Hamilton (1755-1804) and his wife, Elizabeth Schuyler (1757-1854). Officially known today as Hamilton Grange National Memorial, it is one of only three Federal-period mansions left standing on the Island of Manhattan - the other two being the Gracie Mansion and the Morris-Jumel Mansion. Having been moved twice, today it is again surrounded by parkland on what had been part of the original Hamilton estate. It has been beautifully restored to its original glory and is open to the public as a house museum.
Born in the West Indies, Hamilton came to America to study as a guest of the Livingstons, living at Liberty Hall. He rose to prominence during the American Revolution as chief aide-de-camp to George Washington (1732-1799) and, today he is easily recognised as the man whose face appears on the ten-dollar bill. A Founding Father who created the new nation's financial system, he was 1st U.S. Secretary of the Treasury and is credited as a founder of the U.S. Coast Guard, the Bank of New York, the New York Post and the now defunct Federalist Party. His wife, Elizabeth, grew up at the Schuyler Mansion.

In 1798, the Hamiltons rented a house for the summer in upper Manhattan with the family of Mrs Hamilton's brother-in-law, John Barker Church (1748-1818). But, it was the view of the Hudson from Rooka Hall that enticed them to build where they did. In 1799, Hamilton paid just short of $3,650 to Samuel Bradhurst III (1749-1826), of Pinehurst, for 20 acres on Harlem Heights. The following year, Hamilton persuaded another great friend, Jacob Schieffelin III (1757-1835), the owner of Rooka Hall, to part with 15 acres of adjoining land for $4,000, on which Hamilton built his country home.

Hamilton's newly acquired 35-acre estate combined sweeping views over the Harlem Valley, Harlem River, Hudson River and East River. He sited the mansion at what today would be 143rd Street and Convent Avenue, sitting directly between the East and Hudson Rivers. Set amid woods and numerous streams that led down to a large duck pond, it stood on a rocky outcrop at the top of a 200 foot incline to make the most of the spectacular surrounding countryside.

Taking inspiration from the Gracie Mansion, Hamilton employed architect John McComb, Jr. (1763-1853) to design his new home, while Ezra Weeks would build it with timber gifted from Hamilton's father-in-law, Senator Philip John Schuyler (1733-1804). During construction, with his usual zeal Hamilton worked closely alongside McComb involving himself in every detail. Its completion cemented his place in aristocratic society - he had his wife's name, his achievements and lineage; and, now an elegant country seat within a fashionable sphere of the city.

Hamilton's new home stood two stories high over a raised basement. It's timber exterior measures roughly 50-by-50 feet and its flanked on both sides by broad Tuscan-style porches. He named his country estate Grange which became referred to as The Grange. His father, James Hamilton (1718-1799), had grown up at Grange in Ayrshire, Scotland, which is better known today as Kerelaw Castle and was the ancestral seat of the Hamiltons of Cambuskeith and/or Grange from 1655 to 1787.

Behind the entrance hall and beyond an arch, the interior features two octagonal rooms (the drawing room and dining room) joined by folding doors inlaid with mirrors. The mirrors - likely inspired by those he had seen at the Bingham Mansion - 'delighted' Hamilton by capturing the reflection of the landscape through the floor-to-ceiling bay windows. The inspiration for the octagonal shape of these rooms is usually accredited to the drawing room at the nearby Morris-Jumel Mansion, but he would have seen others like it in Boston and Philadelphia too.

On the top floor there were six bedrooms, while the basement contained the kitchen, offices and servants rooms. In the grounds, a grove of thirteen American sweetgum trees were planted as saplings taken from Mount Vernon. Chosen for their star-shaped leaves, they represented the 13 original states. Building and furnishing Grange had nearly bankrupt Hamilton; but, it was worth it, for he referred to his country home as "a sweet asylum from care and pain".

Here, Alexander and Elizabeth Hamilton graciously entertained many of the best known figures of the day in America, such as George Washington (1732-1799), Joseph Bonaparte (1768-1844), Comte de Survilliers, who was then living at Point Breeze; James Fenimore Cooper (1789-1851), of Otsego Hall; and, Marie-Joseph Paul Yves Roch Gilbert du Motier (1757-1834), Marquis de Lafayette. As an escape from politics, Hamilton enjoyed the solace of hunting and fishing on his grounds and after a weekend at the Grange James Kent (1763-1847) observed,
He never appeared before so friendly and amiable… He treated me with a minute attention that I did not suppose he knew how to bestow. His manners were also very delicate and chaste… He appeared in his domestic state the plain, modest, and affectionate father and husband.
Just two years after the house was completed, Hamilton was notoriously shot dead in a duel with Aaron Burr (1756-1836), 3rd Vice President of the United States. Unbeknownst to his widow, Hamilton died with debts to the tune of some $60,000, which ordinarily would have left her and their seven children destitute. But, led by Gouverneur Morris I (1752-1816), over one hundred of his friends secretly clubbed together to raise $80,000 which they held in trust for Elizabeth.

In 1805, twenty-eight of these men, this time led by Archibald Gracie (1755-1829), "the old gentleman (with) the soul of a prince," purchased the mansion and estate for $30,500 before selling it back to Elizabeth for just $15,000, allowing her and her children to remain at Grange.

By 1833, Elizabeth Hamilton was 76 years old and with the residue from the trust running low (the secret of it's origins remained that way until long after her death), it was time to downsize. That year, she sold the Grange for $25,000 to Thomas E. Davis (1785-1878), who in turn sold her son - Colonel Alexander Hamilton Jr. (1786-1875) - one of his downtown properties at 4 St. Mark's Place for $15,500. Elizabeth lived with her son at the townhouse (known today as the Hamilton-Holly House) until 1848, when she made her final move to Washington DC, where she died.

DAVIS & PEARSON 

Davis was one of Manhattan's most prominent real estate developers during his era, and just two years later he sold Grange on to Isaac Green Pearson (b.1791) for $56,511, which was more than double what he paid for it. Pearson came from a prominent Boston family, raised by his mother's sister, Elizabeth Greenleaf (1758-1829) and Chief Justice Theophilius Parsons (1750-1813). In New York, he too became a developer and made a fortune building LeRoy Place in 1827, home to many of the city's finest, including Joseph Christopher Yates (1768-1837), 7th Governor of New York.

THE WARD FAMILY

In 1842, Pearson was declared bankrupt and the house was repossessed by Prime, Ward & King. Two years later, it was sold to tea merchant William Greene Ward (1802-1848), the uncle of Samuel Cutler Ward (1814-1884), senior partner of Prime, Ward & King, who later perfected the art of political lobbying and gained the nickname the "King of the Lobby". This Sam Ward is not to be confused with Samuel Gray Ward (1817–1907) - former poet and contemporary of Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882) and Nathaniel Hawthorne (1804-1864).

In November, 1844, Ward's silver-tongued nephew, Sam Ward, obtained use of the Grange for the honeymoon of his sister, Louisa Cutler Ward (1823-1897), who had fallen in love with Thomas Gibson Crawford (1814-1857) - soon to become a well-known sculptor. Ward himself died in 1848, but his widow, Abby Maria Hall (1802-1886), their children and grandchildren continued to use the house as their summer home until 1876, when it was repossessed by The Emigrant Savings Bank.

DECLINE

By this time, what little was left of rural Manhattan was in the process of being bought up and developed. In 1879, the Emigrants Bank sold the Grange for $312,500 to architect-cum-developer Anthony Mowbray (d.1896), who turned it over for a swift profit just one month later to a business associate. The new buyer was William H. de Forest , a wealthy silk merchant and collector of art who became a millionaire real estate developer before ending up in a mental institute.

De Forest and his son carved up the old Hamilton estate into 300 lots, which they either sold or developed themselves. In 1889, to save it from demolition, Amos Cotting (d.1889), of 835 Fifth Avenue, purchased the mansion and donated it to St. Luke's Church on the condition it was relocated next to it. So, for the first time, the Grange was picked up, moved 250 feet and squeezed into its new home at 287 Convent Avenue, where it was used as a chapel.

HOUSE MUSEUM

In 1924, the Grange was purchased by the American Scenic and Historic Preservation Society. They opened it as a house museum, but it continued to fall into disrepair. It was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1960, but when it was purchased two years later by the National Park Service, it's cramped, urban location was deemed inappropriate for it's survival.

After decades of fund-raising, cutting through bureaucratic red tape and bypassing various objections, the Grange went on the move again in 2008. Known officially today as the Hamilton Grange National Memorial, its present location is next to the City College of the City University of New York within St. Nicholas Park on land that was once part of the Hamilton estate.

Beautifully restored to it's original splendor and once again open to the public as a house museum, since 2015 it has seen an influx of interest following the award-winning success of Lin-Manuel Miranda's Broadway hit Hamilton, a musical inspired by Ron Chernow's biography.

References

A Founder's At Home (New York Times: September 15, 2011), by Edward Rothstein; The Founding Fathers (1987), by Charles W. Meister; Mr. Daniels and The Grange (1968), by Eric Sloane and Edward Anthony; Hamilton Grange, from the National Park Service; Cipher/Code of Dishonor; Aaron Burr, an American Enigma: Trinity: The Burrs versus Alexander Hamilton and the United States of America (2005), by Alan J. Clark M.D.; Mr and Mrs William Bingham of Philadelphia, Rulers of the Republican Court (1937), by Margaret L. Brown; Hamilton Grange National Memorial, from the National Park Service; Harlem, from Columbia College Today (Fall, 2011); Harlem's Historic Hamilton Grange District, from mrmhadams.typepad.com; An Old House with Legs (2013), from bigoldhouses.blogspot.co.uk; A Place in History: Albany in the Age of Revolution, 1775-1825 (2010), by Warren Roberts; Scenic and Historic America: Bulletin of the American Scenic and Historic Preservation Society, Volumes 1-5 (1929); Early American Silver in The Metropolitan Museum of Art (2013); Leroy Place (Leroy Historical Society, 2011), by Lynne Belluscio; Historic Furnishings Report - Hamilton Grange National Monument (1986), by Katherine B. Menz for the National Park Service; Thomas Crawford: American Sculptor (1964), by Robert L. Gale; Caribbean Influences on the Hamilton Grange (2008), by Tiffany Lang as a thesis presented to the University of Florida; Hamilton Heights Historic District Extension (2000), by Matthew A. Postal for the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission; In Hamilton Heights, A Townhome Reflects the Neighborhood’s History (2015), from Observer Real Estate; A Founding Father's Country Home in Harlem, from ephemeralnewyork.wordpress.com.