17 September 2012

A House in the Bronx

During Labor Day weekend I spent a day up in the Bronx visiting the oldest building in the borough. The Van Cortlandt House Museum, part of the Historic House Trust of New York City, sits in a 1,000-acre park. I was given a tour of the house by one of the museum's docents and learned about its fascinating history.

Built in 1748, the home was the summer residence of the Van Cortlandts, a Dutch family that made its money in trade. Their main residence was in Manhattan but during the summer they escaped to the Bronx, which was still farming country at the time. There they built their Georgian-style stone house as well as a working grain plantation and grist mill. The house stayed in the family until the 1880s.

During its history, the Van Cordlandt house saw the arrival of dignitaries (the future King William IV of England and George Washington were guests), played a part in the American Revolution (Augustus Van Cortlandt, who worked for the city, hid the city records at the home during the war), and stood the test of time as the land around it changed.

Inside, you can still get an idea of what life was like in the 18th century. The East Parlor is pale and Georgian, displaying evidence of wealth (pianoforte, carved mantel) while in the West Parlor, the family's Dutch roots can be seen in the orange and blue cabinets and fireplace decorated with blue and white Delft tiles.

In the bedrooms, curtained beds remind us of how cold winters were while a small desk and chair by a window conjured up an image of the woman of the house answering her daily correspondence (which must have been easy to send and receive; the house sits near the old Boston Post Road). With creaking stairs and filtered light straining through the shutters, It’s hard not to find beauty in the place. 

Outside the grounds are peaceful with large trees and a view down to the park below. Most of the remnants of the farm and outbuildings are long gone but if you squint just enough you can picture what it must have looked like 200 years ago.

The house is open for tours and events are held throughout the year including special candle-lit Christmas tours, which I would love to go on. To find out more, visit their website here

Photos by Michele (taken without flash so please excuse any fuzziness).

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