Celebrating its 15th anniversary this year, Open House New York has been coordinating an annual weekend for people to celebrate urban architecture, public spaces, and built environment at sites throughout all five boroughs. They inherited the model from an open house program in London and started in the wake of the 9/11 terrorist attacks; as they explain on their website:
“Taking shape in the months and years immediately following September 11, 2001, OHNY became an important platform for celebrating New York at a critical moment in its history. At a time when much of the city was closing itself off through increased security measures, OHNY offered a countervailing force, one that advocated for openness and access as key components of an enlightened and vibrant civic life.”
I am very proud to be joining hundreds upon hundreds of New Yorkers who volunteer for this annual event and will be spending the afternoon of Saturday, Oct. 15th at a site very close to my own doorstep: the Morris-Jumel Mansion, the oldest house in Manhattan. Built in 1765 for the British loyalist Colonel Roger Morris, he eventually fled New York at the beginning of the American Revolution and his property briefly fell into the hands of General George Washington and his troops who used the strategically placed mansion (it afforded views of both the Hudson and Harlem rivers as well as an overview of Manhattan and up into the Bronx), Washington was able to coordinate his only NYC-based military victory from here in the autumn of 1776, the Battle of Harlem Heights.
After the war, the house and property was sold in 1810 to a wealthy French wine merchant, Stephen Jumel. Jumel would later marry the notorious New Yorker, Eliza Jumel (née Bowen), who would live off and on in the home until her death in 1865 (100 years after the house was built.) I’ll be writing up a separate entry about Eliza Jumel because she most definitely deserves a whole blog entry herself (she reputedly haunts the home to this day, so if you visit the weekend of Open House maybe you’ll catch a ghost siting as well!)
In 1904, the city purchased the house and converted it into a museum. It is now a National Historic Landmark as well as a New York City Landmark and a very active museum with all sorts of community events. If you come on Open House (or any other time), you can see where George Washington slept as well as the bed that Eliza Jumel slept in (and which she claimed once belonged to Empress Joséphine de Beauharnais.)
There are great sites to see in the area as well, such as Sylvan Terrace which sits where the original carriage drive for the mansion used to be. In the early 1880s, architect Gerald R. Robinson Jr. designed a row of twenty wooden houses that were intended for laborers and civil servants. Today this row of houses still stands as one of the last remaining streets of framed houses in all of Manhattan and is one of the most charming streets on the island, in my opinion.
Hope to see any and all at Open House New York! If you can’t make it to my neck of the woods, there are plenty of other participating sites throughout all five boroughs and you can view an easy to navigate list of the over 275 places to visit at Open House’s website (some require reservations which they will start taking tomorrow, Thursday, October 6, starting at 11:00 AM): http://www.ohny.org/weekend/plan-your-weekend/list-view.