Recently many of you saw me in a short video interview on Instagram and here on Facebook, standing in front of The Grange, the house that Alexander Hamilton began to have built for Eliza and their family. We didn't have time to go inside for the interview, but I thought you might like a glimpse into several of the house's restored rooms.
The house was the Hamiltons' "American Dream" even before there was an America. Alexander's letters to Eliza while they were engaged in 1780 envisioned the home he hoped they'd one day share. Yet for most of the first twenty years of their marriage, they lived in rented houses in New York and Philadelphia; The Grange is the only one with a record of their ownership, and the only one to survive.
Alexander bought the land for the house in 1800, teasing Eliza about the "sweet project" he had in mind. At the time, the thirty-two acre lot in upper Manhattan was still considered country, far from New York City, yet close enough that Alexander could commute (a 90-minute ride by horse or carriage) to his law office on Wall Street. The Federal-style house was designed by architect John McComb, Jr. and was built from wood supplied by Eliza's father, General Philip Schuyler, from the Schuyler family's lands and sawmill in upstate New York. The Hamilton family moved into the completed house in 1802.
Situated high on a hill with views of both the Hudson and East Rivers, The Grange was perfect for both family life and the frequent entertaining that the Hamiltons enjoyed. The porches and numerous windows made the most of the view, while the doorways between the large parlor and dining room could be thrown open to make an even larger space to accommodate more guests.
Alexander oversaw every element of the house's design, decoration, and gardens, and the results are elegant but comfortable. In the house's hallway stands a marble bust of Alexander by the Italian sculptor Giuseppe Ceracchi, and in the parlor is the piano that belonged to their elder daughter Angelica; the piano was sent from London by Eliza's sister, Angelica Schuyler Church, as a gift to her namesake niece. In Alexander's office - painted a brilliant, fashionable green - is a replica of his desk, and nearby are tall bookcases holding a few of the hundreds of volumes that he originally kept in the house.
Compared to the country homes of other Founders - consider George Washington's Mount Vernon, Thomas Jefferson's Monticello, and James Madison's Montpelier - the wood-framed Grange is small and almost humble. Although Alexander called his house after the estate belonging to his Scottish grandfather, the name itself is unpretentious, if a little droll: "grange" is an archaic term for a barn.
But to the Hamiltons, it was home. Tragically, Alexander did not live to enjoy his country retreat for very long, dying in 1804 after his fatal duel with Aaron Burr. Although Alexander's creditors threatened to foreclose on the house after his death, friends stepped in to make sure that Eliza and the children would not lose their home. Eliza continued to live there until 1833, when she moved in with her second daughter Eliza and her husband back in the city.
The house passed through several owners as the city grew around it. Development cut the once-spacious grounds into a tiny parcel, and the house itself was physically uprooted and moved twice: once in the late 19thc, and again in 2008 to its present location in St. Nicholas Park. Known now as Hamilton Grange, it's a National Park Service property, and open free to the public.
Yet despite all this, The Grange still feels very much like the home of Eliza and Alexander Hamilton. Visit, and you'll understand. In some way, more than two hundred years later, they're still watching over the "sweet project" that was their dream.
I, Eliza Hamilton by Susan Holloway Scott will be published September 26, 2017, by Kensington Books. Pre-order now.