A Mansion in Washington Heights
Washington's War Headquarters & A Haunted House
The Morris-Jumel Mansion (right photo) has an intriguing story and historic connections to George Washington, Aaron Burr, the wealthiest woman in Colonial America, and is allegedly haunted by more than one ghost. It was used by General George Washington as his Revolutionary War headquarters after his troops retreated from lower Manhattan on September 14, 1776. After the war in 1790, President Washington dined here with his cabinet members and their wives.
Washington Heights, the highest point in Manhattan, was an ideal spot with strategic views for observing troop movements. The Battle of Harlem Heights was planned here before Washington was forced to evacuate most of his army from Manhattan. The house later became the headquarters of British General Sir Henry Clinton, and finally that of the Hessian commander, Baron Wilhelm von Knyphausen, a German fighting for the British Army with Hessian mercenaries.
In 1765, this Georgian frame-and-shingle house was built as a summer home by Colonel Roger Morris, a British Tory, for his wealthy American wife and perhaps George Washington's first love, Mary Philipse Morris. The original estate covered an astoundingly large part of upper Manhattan, an area of 135 acres straight across the island. In 1810, a wealthy French wine merchant, Stephen Jumel, purchased and remodeled the mansion in a Federal style. Jumel lived there with his wife, Eliza Bowen Jumel. Eliza was raised in a brothel, was once a courtesan, briefly lived in France where she collected art, was a friend of Napoleon's, and supposedly kicked out of France by Louis XVII.
Following Jumel’s death, Eliza married former Vice President Aaron Burr who used her money to pay off his numerous and large debts. The Burr/Jumel marriage lasted a short time and ended with a nasty divorce and much gossip. Each party accused the other of being unfaithful and, apparently, accusations of both were true. Burr, 77 years old at the time, was alleged to have had an affair with a 26-year-old woman. Burr called his wife "the Madam of the Heights" and one of Burr's contemporaries described Eliza as: "born a bastard, in youth a prostitute, in middle age a social climber, died an eccentric." On the day the divorce was finalized, Burr suffered a stroke and died at a Staten Island hotel. Eliza's divorce lawyer just happened to be none other than Alexander Hamilton, Jr. Eliza lived at the mansion until her death in 1865. She left all of her money to a local church and charities and nothing to her relatives.
Located at 160th Street and Edgecombe Avenue in Washington Heights, the mansion is the oldest extant residence in Manhattan. It has 19 rooms, is known for its Palladian forms, beautiful Georgian interiors, and has what is believed to be the country’s first octagonal room. Legend claims that it's haunted by the ghosts of a wandering Hessian soldier who died there, a female servant who commited suicide there, Burr himself, and, of course, the very colorful Eliza.
A carriage driveway of cobblestones leading to the mansion (left photo above) was sold in 1882 and converted into Sylvan Terrace. The 22 row-houses of wood clapboard siding and high-stoops are examples of the frame dwellings once common in northern Manhattan. Sylvan Terrace has been featured in films and television series including Boardwalk Empire. Eliza Jumel's cook and a freed slave, Anne Northrup, was the wife of Solomon Northrup the kidnapped slave whose story is told in the Oscar winning film, Twelve Years A Slave.
Morris-Jumel Mansion is a New York Preservation Commission landmark and on the National Register of Historic Places. Playwright, actor Lin Manual Miranda, wrote some of the musical Hamilton at this historic spot.