Last weekend I returned to the Schuyler Mansion in Albany, the splendid home of the Schuyler family in the 18thc. The house is now a New York State landmark, and open to visitors. The tours are fantastic, and the Mansion is well worth a side-trip on your summer vacation.
As readers of I, Eliza Hamilton will know, the house played an important role in the life of Eliza Schuyler Hamilton. Her father Gen. Philip Schuyler designed it, and her mother Catherine oversaw the house’s construction while her husband was away in London ordering every kind of fashionable furnishing to make his home the showplace of northern New York. He succeeded, too, and after young Eliza and the rest of the family moved in, the house became as celebrated for hospitality as it was for its beauty. Eliza wed Alexander Hamilton here, and throughout her marriage she returned, often with children in tow, to enjoy her family’s company as well as a climate that was more healthy than either New York City or Philadelphia.
I’ve written before about the house’s Family Parlor, the large corner room that was the site of Eliza’s and Alexander’s wedding. While the house has been an historic site for over a century, new research is always revealing more about how it was originally decorated. Recently the Family Parlor received new period-correct window draperies and carpeting, as you can see above. The rich layering of pattern and color are characteristic of upper-class houses of the era, and match the elegance of the late 18th silk-covered furniture, which may have been chosen for Philip by his eldest daughter Angelica Schuyler Church while she was living in London.
The most dramatic part of the restoration is overhead. Philip had installed an papier-mache ceiling that mimicked the elaborate plaster ceilings found in aristocratic English houses. Papier-mache is fragile at best, and only a handle of 18thc examples still remain; the one that graced the Mansion was destroyed long ago. The new recreation was copied from the east parlor of Philipse Manor Hall in Yonkers, NY. State-of-the-art laser-printing fashioned the molds that were used to shape the papier-mache elements, which were then installed onto the ceiling of the Mansion’s Family Parlor.
With the ornate chandelier centering the rococo-inspired motifs, the effect is stunning - and much closer to what Philip must have planned, and what Eliza would have remembered from her wedding day.
Photographs ©2017 by Susan Holloway Scott.
Read more about Eliza Schuyler and Alexander Hamilton in my latest historical novel, I, Eliza Hamilton, now available everywhere.