Roger Morris Park
Manhattan’s oldest surviving house, Morris-Jumel Mansion, is a monument to colonial grandeur. Built in 1765 as a summer retreat for British colonel Roger Morris and his American wife Mary Philipse, this house is the only survivor of a number of similar country houses built by wealthy New Yorkers. Morris, the nephew of a successful English architect, was greatly influenced by the designs of the 16th-century Italian architect Palladio. His sophisticated residence includes a monumental portico and pediment, supported by grand Tuscan columns, and a large, two-story octagonal addition at the rear, one of the first of its kind in the country.
Before Harlem Heights developed into the vibrant community it is today, this site commanded views of lower Manhattan as well as of New Jersey and Westchester. With the outbreak of the Revolutionary War, Morris, a Loyalist, left for England. His home, which he called “Mount Morris,” was then occupied successively by George Washington, British Lieutenant General Sir Henry Clinton, and the Hessian commander Baron Wilhelm von Knyphausen. Washington’s use of this house as his temporary headquarters between September 14 and October 20, 1776, is well documented by his daily correspondence and official papers.
After the war, the Morris’s property was confiscated and sold by the new American government. It became Calumet Hall, a popular tavern along the Albany Post Road. In 1810, Stephen and Eliza Jumel bought the property. Madame Jumel was from an impoverished Rhode Island family. Her marriage to Stephen Jumel, a wealthy French merchant who had made his fortune in the wine trade, gave her entry to New York’s highest social circles. The Jumels spent several years in France, where they made friends in the elite circle around Napoleon’s court. They returned to the United States in 1828 to settle in the mansion. Inspired by cutting-edge French fashion, Madame Jumel bought new furniture and redecorated her home in the elegant Empire style.
One year after her husband’s death in 1832 from injuries sustained in a carriage accident, Madame Jumel married former Vice President Aaron Burr in the mansion’s front parlor. The marriage was not a success, and the couple formally divorced in 1836. The immensely wealthy Madame Jumel became increasingly eccentric as time passed, and lived in the mansion until her death in 1865. The City bought the house from later owners, the Earles, in 1903. With the assistance of the Daughters of the American Revolution, it opened as a public museum the next year.
Today, the mansion and Roger Morris Park are part of the Jumel Terrace Historic District. Run by Morris-Jumel Mansion, Inc., the house features nine restored period rooms including George Washington’s office, a dining room glittering with 18th century crystal and glass, and Eliza Jumel’s chamber showcasing a bed that she maintained belonged to Napoleon. The third floor houses an archive and reference library.