One of the lesser known and more historically-charged places in New York City, the Morris-Jumel Mansion is a hidden gem of Upper Manhattan. This famous mansion watched the rest of New York develop from its place atop a hill in Washington Heights. Over the years, it has been carefully restored to its original condition, and today offers rare insights into New York City life at the dawn of the United States of America.
Built in Washington Heights in 1765, the Morris-Jumel Mansion is the oldest remaining building in Man- hattan, and when it was constructed, was also one of the grandest.
The house’s biggest claim to fame is George Washington’s brief stay during the Revolutionary War. He used the house as his headquarters during a battle in Manhattan in 1776. Atop a hill, the house proved to be a prime strategic point for viewing the city throughout the battle, which would come to be known as the Battle of Harlem Heights. This became the first Revolutionary War battle where the patriots managed to force British retreat. In 1790, after the war was over, Washington visited the mansion again and had dinner with his cabinet in the dining room.
In addition to this noteworthy history, the Morris-Jumel mansion has a very unique history of its own. In 1810, Haitian wine merchant Stephen Jumel and his socialite wife Eliza bought the house. Hoping to find acceptance in high society, she remodeled the house and redecorated the interior. After the death of her husband, she married controversial ex-vice president Aaron Burr in the hopes of increasing her social status. New York socialites ostracized Madame Jumel,
and she spent the rest of her years alone. She became very eccentric and died in 1865. She is buried at the Trinity Church Cemetery, but it is said that her ghost still haunts her portrait, located on the second floor of the mansion.
Since the death of Madame Jumel, the house has changed hands a number of times, finally becoming a museum in 1904. The mansion made modern history when it became a stop for Queen Elizabeth II during her visit to New York City in 1976. While it was only a short visit, preparations for the event included some major renovations to the surrounding community, which had been previously devastated after the construction of the Cross Bronx Expressway.
A modern-day visit to the mansion is a truly quaint experience. The architecture is beautiful, the furnishings are on-point and the tour is enjoyably informative. New York is such a modern city, and the Morris- Jumel Mansion is an excellent re- minder of the city’s great history.
The mansion hosts a number of events throughout the year including plays, concerts, crafts and family events, all listed on their website. Events are included with the cost of admission, and all easily accessible by train or bus. The Morris-Jumel Mansion is open for visitors Tuesday to Friday 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., with guided tours offered every Saturday at noon, and the first Sunday of the month at 1 p.m. However, the house is set up to allow for a self-guided tour so visitors can get the full experience at any time. A student ticket is only $4.00, making the Morris-Jumel Mansion a perfect place for a weekend excursion.