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For Alexander Hamilton’s Home on “The Grange”

One day, three items checked off my 2017 to do list (! That is what I call a successful day.

Alexander Hamilton is one of our most famous founding fathers. He was never president but in many ways his contributions to our country’s establishment were even more important. His most vital role was likely as the first Secretary of the Treasury in George Washington’s cabinet. Hamilton is also well known for creating the national banking system we still use. 

These accomplishments are not too shabby for a man who was born in another country (Nevis), orphaned by age thirteen, and grew up having dreams of grandeur for himself. This immigrant was a modern man of his times. Unlike other founding fathers he never owned slaves, in fact he was very much opposed to slavery.

Unfortunately Hamilton only lived in this house for two years. He died at the age of forty-nine, in 1804, having been murdered by then Vice-President Aaron Burr in a duel.  

His wife Elizabeth and eight children continued to live in the home that had been designed by John McComb Jr., who is also behind New York City Hall and Gracie Mansion. Elizabeth Hamilton lived on The Grange until 1833.

Named for the ancestral home Hamilton’s grandfather owned in Scotland, The Grange originally sat on thirty-two acres of land. I say originally because for a national landmarked property (since 1962) it has changed locations more than once. That is a first in my experience. 

The first time The Grange was moved was in 1889 and it was taken from West 143rd Street to West 141st Street. The second move brought it to St. Nicholas Park.

After a few other changing hands of ownership the final purchase was made by the National Park Service in 2008. This is when the final move took place leaving The Grange in its current spot where it can be appreciated as a museum and landmark. 

Most if not all of this information I had known prior to my visiting The Grange. Sadly I didn’t get much additional information during my visit. 

When I arrived I had missed the eleven a.m. tour by fifteen minutes. The next tour wasn’t until two p.m. which I had no intention of waiting around for. Luckily, starting at noon there was an open house. Self-guided tours are allowed and there was a bunch of people waiting around for that to begin as I was. In the basement of the home is a visitor’s center where you can purchase souvenirs, watch a brief film about the life of Alexander Hamilton, checkout the small exhibit, or use the facilities. It made the waiting that much easier. 

When it was finally time to ascend the stairs I was consumed with the familiar feeling of excitement and anxiety. When I got to the first floor of the home I was greeted by a huge portrait of the home’s former owner and a magnificent wide reaching front door. 

On this floor there was the dining room, sitting room, and Alexander’s office. There were two rooms towards the back the seemed to have no real purpose or depiction of what the Hamilton’s used it for. There was a video playing about the moving of the home in one and another basic exhibit in the other. 

Visitors are not allowed on the second floor as the NPS uses that for office space. I was HUGELY disappointed by this.

Another disappointment was discovering the most of the furniture in the home are reproductions. This just added to the inauthentic experience I felt I was having.

As far as landmarked buildings go this was probably the least pleased I have ever been. The whole visit took about ten minutes if that, once I was allowed upstairs. 

I was also dismayed to learn the house should be facing the South, not North as it currently is. However that view would not be pleasing for those passing by. Before I knew that I didn’t mind that the house was not in its original location. I liked that it was in a location that resembled what the Hamilton’s saw, a large plot of land without obstructing views of modern city life. But this last change of direction seems false. 

Of course I am happy I finally got to see the home in person, I just wish there was more to see and learn about Hamilton himself.   

An interesting tidbit of information I discovered on my own, at home, was that Hamilton decided to locate his home way uptown in Harlem for two reasons. The first being the yellow fever outbreak the downtown area was experiencing at the time and second because of the open space and desire for fresh air. However, traveling by horse and carriage Hamilton still had a ninety minute commute downtown for work. Not much has changed since his time. A sad and true irony of life in New York City.

Despite my own traffic woes I decided to hit up two nearby locations on my aforementioned to do list on my way home from The Grange.

First up, was the statute of Harriet Tubman. We all know how much this heroic woman did as an abolitionist and this statute depicts as much. Officially called “Swing Low” it was unveiled in November 2008. The triangle in which it is located is surrounding by flowers indigenous to Maryland where Tubman hailed from. The statute shows Tubman struggling to move forward with roots tugging on her from behind. This is said to be the artist’s interpretation of her breaking free from slavery and helping others do the same. It is quite a special piece of art in the middle of this metropolis.

Next up and last on my to do list this day, was Collyer Brothers Park, the former site of Collyer Brother’s home. If you haven’t ever heard of the Collyer’s before let me give you the scoop. They lived in one of those gorgeous brownstones in Harlem that I long to own. However I could do without their decorating touches. 

The brothers were born in the late 1880s and had spent much of their time after their parent’s deaths as recluses. Homer was found dead in 1947 after someone reported his apparent death to the NYPD. His death was due to dehydration, starvation, and an array of untreated illnesses. The brothers had lived in their mansion since 1928 without any running water or electricity.

While going through the house to rid it of garbage the crew found the body of Langley Collyer, five days after the discovery of Homer’s body. Langley seemed to have died as a result of the numerous booby traps he had set for intruders. 

By the time the brothers died and the home was being cleaned out there was over fifty tons of trash removed. That makes the women of Grey Gardens seem like they were just poor housekeepers.  

I could go on for days about the oddities of these men and their parents but that is not the purpose of this post. But I do suggest you check out the Daily News link below to see the photos taken inside of the house to get an idea of just how much stuff and the variety of it that was in that mansion. I suppose that is the part that fascinates me the most. I have read that there were cars, numerous pianos, live and dead cats, just about every newspaper that was ever written in that home. The list goes on and on. 

As a result of neglect the home had to be demolished and in its place is the park named after the Brothers now stands in its place. 

A small part of me wishes that I could have had a sneak peak inside while the mansion was still standing. 

I have an odd thing about people who are odd. 

Odd, brave, and historic, just as my afternoon in Harlem was that day.

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