MORRIS-JUMEL MANSION



The MORRIS-JUMEL MANSION was built as a summer home in 1765 by Colonel Roger Morris, a Tory who fled to England during most of the Revolutionary War years, and his wealthy wife, Mary Philipse Morris, a woman whom a young George Washington once pursued. Washington seized this mansion and used it for his headquarters during the Revolutionary War after retreating from lower Manhattan on September 14, 1776.  Washington left in mid-October when he was forced to evacuate most of his army from Manhattan. British landings in the Bronx threatened to isolate the Americans on the island.  The Morris house then became the headquarters of British General Sir Henry Clinton, and finally that of the Hessian commander, Baron Wilheim von Knyphausen.  The house located at 160th Street and Edgecombe Avenue in upper Manhattan's Washington Heights, has a great view of Manhattan to the south.  Prominent Revolutionary War figures -- both American patriots and those loyal to the crown -- attended fashionable parties and dinners here.  After George Washington was elected President, his cabinet members including Thomas Jefferson, Alexander Hsmilton, John Quincy Adams and Henry Knox, met here.

Architecturally the mansion is known for its early use of Palladian forms, its beautiful Georgian interiors, and what is thought to be the “country’s first octagonal room.”  The house, composed of 19 rooms, took three years to build.  It also had the distinction of being the oldest extant residence in Manhattan (see the New York Times F.Y.I. column, March 16, 2008). 

A wealthy French wine merchant, Stephen Jummel, purchased the house in 1810 and lived there with his wife, Eliza Bowen Jumel who had been a courtesan and was the mother of an illegitimate son before marrying Mr Jummel.  After Jummel’s death, 58-year old Eliza married former Vice President Aaron Burr although their marriage was short -- only six months and led to a messy divorce and much gossip.  Both parties accused the other of being unfaithful (getting a divorce in New York State was not possible without proof of adultery) and both were said to be correct.  Burr, 77 years old at the time of their divorce, was alleged to have had an adulterous affair with a 26-year-old woman.  Burr called Eliza "the Madam of the Heights."  One contemporary described her as:  "born a bastard, in youth a prostitute, in middle age a social climber, died an eccentric."

Burr suffered a major stroke and died at a Staten Island hotel on September 14, 1836 -- the day his divorce was officially final.  Eliza continued to live here alone until her death in 1865.  The original property for this estate covered an astoundingly huge part of upper Manhattan -- over 100 acres straight across the island from 145th Street and the Hudson River to the East River.  New York City bought the mansion in 1903 and operates it as a museum.

The drive leading to the mansion (bottom photo) was sold in 1882 and converted into Sylvan Terrace, 22 wooden row-houses.  These houses are examples of "frame dwellings once common in northern Manhattan."  The mansion itself can be glimpsed at the far end of the road.





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