It's difficult in today's world to image a house sitting on 34 acres of farmland, "picturesquely wooded and watered by two streams," in what is now the middle of New York City. That was the original setting for Alexander Hamilton's house called The Grange, but after two centuries of change, the original site had been swallowed by pavement and buildings.
Now, after a five year project, the historic house has been restored and moved to a new site, and Hamilton Grange National Memorial has been reopened to the public.
Although some present-day Americans may recognize Alexander Hamilton's name, few could likely recount many details about this life. Hamilton was a self-made man, an orphan with few resources who came to America as a teenager in 1773, became active in the quest for independence from Great Britain, and fought with Washington and became his aide de camp.
Following the Revolution, Hamilton was a delegate to the Constitutional Convention and the only original signer of the Constitution from New York. 1788 Hamilton, James Madison and John Jay wrote the “Federalist Papers” in support of the Constitution, and in 1789 became the first Secretary of the Treasury during President Washington’s administration. In that role he also remained a trusted advisor to Washington and wrote at least some the President’s speeches.
In 1795 Hamilton resigned from the government and resumed his legal practice in New York. In 1800 he bought 34 acres of farmland, described by a park history as "picturesquely wooded and watered by two streams, in upper Manhattan. The 200-foot elevation offered views of the Hudson River on the west and the Harlem and East Rivers on the east."
Hamilton hired John McComb, Jr., the leading architect of the time in New York City, to design a house on the property. McComb had also completed Gracie Mansion and later designed the New York City Hall.
The family moved into the house in 1802, and Hamilton named it The Grange, a reference to his father’s ancestral home in Scotland. His enjoyment of the house and property was short-lived; Hamilton was killed in a duel with Vice President Aaron Burr in 1804. The property remained in the family until 1833, when it was sold.
Continued growth of the city eventually spelled the end of the original estate; in 1889 West 143rd Street was to be built through the site where the Grange stood. The house was purchased by St. Luke’s Episcopal Church, front and rear porches were removed, and the house was lifted off its foundation and drawn by horses to a new site on Convent Avenue, near West 141st Street.
Yet another change in ownership occurred in 1924, when The American Scenic and Historic Preservation Society bought the Grange and turned it into a public museum. Furniture and decorative objects associated with the Hamilton family were displayed, and in 1962 The National Park Foundation purchased the house and property and transferred it to the National Park Service.
Congress had authorized Hamilton Grange National Memorial, but contingent upon relocating it and restoring the house as Hamilton knew it in 1802 – 1804. Those years are considered its period of historic significance.
That process has been a lengthy one. A park spokesperson notes that by the 1960s the house was "cramped between St. Luke’s Episcopal Church and an apartment building, with its front and back entrances stripped away and its interior reconfigured." A key question was where to relocate the house without losing its historical context.
A solution came from the New York City Department of Parks and Recreation, which granted a permanent easement in the northwest corner of St. Nicholas Park. In the 1890s the City had begun purchasing property in the area that includes part of the former Hamilton estate, and that 22 acre parcel later became known as St. Nicholas Park. Thanks to that project, the new site for the house allowsthe Grange to remain on property that once belonged to Hamilton.
A five year project to restore the house has now been completed, and the park staff selected September 17th, Constitution Day, to reopen his home to the public.
“I like to think, on this 224th anniversary of the signing of our Constitution, that Hamilton would look upon this project as a wonderful example the executive and legislative branches of the federal government working together for the benefit of ‘We the people’,” said Maryanne Gerbauckas, deputy director for Northeast Region.
“When the Grange was named a national park in 1962, we were told by Congress to find a ‘fitting location’ for the home where we could recreate Hamilton’s vision of a country retreat in Harlem. Thanks to the support of the community of Harlem, the City of New York and many others after a long journey, we have arrived,” said Shirley McKinney, the park’s superintendent. “The house is again in balance, with piazzas on either side of the elaborate front entrances and 13 sweet gum trees adorning its grounds just as in Hamilton’s day.”
“We are gratified to have worked with our partners in Congress and at the National Park Service to dedicate a small piece of St. Nicholas Park to Alexander Hamilton, a founding father who played such a large role in both our city’s and nation’s history,” said parks commissioner Adrian Benepe. “St. Nicholas Park’s pastoral acres, once part of Hamilton's estate, are a fitting home for the restored Grange, one that Hamilton might have recognized and visitors are sure to enjoy.”
Nearly 3,000 people visited Hamilton Grange on its opening weekend, which featured not only the rededication ceremony in the morning, but a full afternoon of music, dramatic performances and demonstrations of 18th-century crafts such as weaving, chocolate making and blacksmithing on Saturday. The event concluded with a special lecture series with topics covering both Alexander Hamilton and his home as well as musical performances.
You'll find information to help plan a visit to Hamilton Grange National Memorial on the park website.