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First Visits: Exploring Morris-Jumel Mansion

Wednesday, February 19, 2014 by Tina H
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First Visits: Exploring Morris-Jumel Mansion
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Upon seeing the Morris–Jumel Mansion for the first time, both my young daughter and I could not help but feel the building’s overpowering presence. Known as the oldest house in Manhattan, built in 1765, this beautiful gem once served as headquarters for none other than George Washington. With almost 250 years of history under its belt, the house isn’t short of stories, and some even claim that you can still feel the ghostly presence of Eliza Jumel, mistress of the mansion from 1810 until 1865, as she roams the hallways, wearing her favorite violet gown.
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Exploring the Museum
The front door of the house serves as the main entrance to the museum, and as you enter you are immediately taken back to the time of the American Revolution and the glory days of George Washington. To the left is a drawing room used for entertainment and parties, and to the right is a beautiful dining room that was once a setting to a dinner party consisting of George Washington, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, first Secretary of War, Henry Knox, and one of the Founding Fathers and first Secretary of Treasury, Alexander Hamilton. It is hard to imagine a more impressive guest list.
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First Visits: Exploring Morris-Jumel Mansion
Moving away from the hallway, you enter the parlor–a room as mysterious and unforgettable as its most famous owner, Eliza Jumel. It was in this room that she married the former vice-president Aaron Burr in a quiet ceremony in front of the fireplace. His desk can still be seen in the southwest corner of the room. Today, the museum hosts many parties in this very space as a reminder that the jovial spirit of Eliza lives on.
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Upstairs you'll find yourself in the second floor hall, with a large painting of Eliza and her adoptive grandniece and grandnephew dominating the room. There are many artifacts exhibited throughout, including a panel of the original 18th century hand-painted wallpaper that once graced the walls of the downstairs drawing room. While there are several notable rooms upstairs (including the bedrooms of Aaron Burr and George Washington), the jewel of the house is definitely Eliza’s bedroom, outfitted in the tranquil shades of blue with gilded furniture brought from France. It was said that Eliza once hosted a party honoring Joseph Bonaparte, the elder brother of the infamous French Emperor who gifted her a set of gilded wings as a thank you for an unforgettable evening.
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First Visits: Exploring Morris-Jumel Mansion
While the contents and history of the house are fascinating to say the least, the vast grounds surrounding this national landmark should be noted for their beauty and majesty. With plenty of picnic space on the front lawn of the house, one need not go far to get some peace and quiet in the back, where the sunken gardens offer its visitors a momentary escape from the hustle and bustle of the big apple. In the spring and summer months, the museum offers special guided tours that allow children of all ages to explore the garden grounds all around the mansion, and are taught the importance of gardening in 18th century Colonial America.
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Fun For All Ages
First Visits: Exploring Morris-Jumel Mansion
The most surprising thing about this historic space is not its history or beauty, but the friendly staff running the museum. With many programs geared towards visitors from all over the world, I quickly discovered that the main goal of the Morris-Jumel trust is to educate residents about the significance of this incredible space. While there are numerous programs offered for elementary aged kids, there are just as many for the younger ones as well.
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Little kids are educated with a hands-on, explorative approach of all 11 rooms in the house including the incredible colonial kitchen. After all, what could be better than showing your little ones how toast was made over 250 years ago? This activity is called “A Country House in Manhattan” and lasts approximately an hour and half. There is a small fee of $3 per child–which is nominal considering that the entrance for kids 12 and under is free. Other activities include “The Mansion in the Revolutionary War”, “The Morris Jumel Mansion Time Machine”, “I Am an Archeologist”, “Garden With History”, and “Mansion Mysteries”.
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First Visits: Exploring Morris-Jumel Mansion
While most of these activities are recommended for ages four and up, if you are interested in booking a group for toddler aged (2-4), you can submit an inquiry email to Carol Ward, the museum director, who would be happy to accommodate all of your requests. Time slots may be limited as they are understaffed, but the staff definitely goes out of their way to ensure that every person, no matter their age, has an unforgettable experience.
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For those interested in getting better acquainted with other parents and children, a program called “The Mammas and the Pappas” takes place in the spring and summer months and is basically a picnic style meet and greet on the weekends on the front lawn of the house. Details about this program will be made available as weather improves.
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Last Thoughts
I visited this museum with my two-year-old daughter, and she loved it. Being able to explore the creaky hallways and enter the rooms (especially the kitchen) left her mesmerized. Keep in mind, the museum is not handicap accessible, and if you have a stroller you will have to leave it downstairs. The admission cost is minimal, only $5 for adults, and kids 12 and under gain free entry.

There are always events happening at the mansion on the weekends, including a celebration of George Washington’s birthday happening this Saturday February 22nd. This event is free, and will allow the individual to tour the mansion, try on colonial costumes, and complete a scavenger hunt.
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So hurry and get yourselves over to this beautiful space, after all, wouldn’t you want the chance to meet the ghost of Eliza quietly gliding the halls of her beloved mansion? I would–and did.

65 Jumel Terrace
(212) 923-8008
www.morrisjumel.org
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