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Hollywood mansions got nuthin’ on these treasures residences.
Way before s ys ra ers filled this town with tiny apartments, NYC as home to bona fide estates and r ral farmho ses. o in bet een the edifi es in this as halt ngle they still live on. By Lois Levine
New York is a city known for its largesse—grand department stores, huge museums, seriously tall buildings. But there is a gentler, smaller side to our town, where you can visit both modest and elegant dwellings of former New Yorkers—from poets to politicians to everyday folks. Today, these treasured homes are open to the public so that you, too, can get a glimpse of what life was like in Old New York, when a calling card was needed for a gentleman to pay a lady a visit, and, way before overly caffeinated New Yorkers made an afternoon run to Starbucks, teatime began promptly at 4 pm.
EDGAR ALLAN POE COTTAGE
Once upon a time, in the wilds of what was then Westchester County and is now the Bronx, sat a cheerful-looking, small white farmhouse, built in 1812. It was owned by a number of people throughout the years, but in1846, Bostonian poet, writer and critic Edgar Allan Poe rented the cottage for five dollars a month and moved in with his wife, Virginia, and mother-in-law, Maria Clemm. Having spent time in Manhattan, they favored the farm for its bucolic setting and unobstructed views of the rolling Bronx hills and surrounding area. Although Poe only lived here for three years (he died in 1849), he penned some of his most famous poems in the house, including “Annabel Lee” and The Bells,” supposedly, while the family cat sat on his shoulder. The house was later moved across the street and today sits in Poe Park, open to the public as a museum. Listed in the National Register of Historic Places, the home, though modest by any measure, was apparently a delight to the Poe family. Poe himself described it as “beautiful,” and his mother-in-law extolled, “it was the sweetest little cottage imaginable: Oh, how supremely happy we were.”
Built in 1765 as a summer villa by Colonel Roger Morris and his wife, Mary Phillips, Morris-Jumel Mansion sits in the Washington Heights neighborhood of Manhattan, and is the oldest remaining house on Manhattan Island. In 1810, Stephen Jumel purchased the home and lived there with his wife, Eliza Bowen, a woman who amassed her own wealth through buying and selling real estate. After Stephen died, in 1832, Eliza married Aaron Burr (the former vice president of the United States, who, of course, is even even better known for having killed Alexander Hamilton in their legendary duel in Weehawken, New Jersey). The marriage only lasted a year: Eliza filed for divorced in 1833 and continued to live in the house until her death, at age 90, in 1865. In 1904, the city of New York purchased the house and turned it into a museum. Today, the house has been meticulously revived with period carpets and wallpaper, and features nine restored rooms, along with artifacts that belonged to Roger Morris, Eliza Jumel and Aaron Burr.
Back in 1654, British physician Thomas Pell bought a large tract of land in lower Westchester County from the Siwanoy Indians and built a home on the premises. In 1836, Robert Bartow purchased the dwelling for his family and turned it into a Grecian-style stone mansion, complete with Greek Revivial interiors. In 1946, the estate opened as a museum; in 1977, it gained status as a Designated National Historic Landmark. The palatial house includes a dramatic, freestanding spiral staircase, The Orangery (a conservatory), double parlors and an upstairs reception room.
MERCHANT’S HOUSE MUSEUM
This 1832 late-Federal brick home became the residence of hardware merchant Seabury Tredwell and his family in 1835. Tredwell, his wife and eight children lived there for most of their lives. Seabury’s youngest child, Gertrude, died in 1933, in the upstairs front bedroom, at the age of 93. The Old Merchant’s House, as it was called, was designated a New York City landmark in 1965. It consists of four floors: The top floor was occupied by Irish servant girls, on call 24 hours a day (with one afternoon off a week). The building, virtually unchanged since 1832, is also believed to be haunted. You be the judge.