“It’s quiet uptown.” So sings Alexander Hamilton about moving to Harlem in the hit eponymous musical chronicling his life which debuted on Broadway to incredible fanfare in 2015. At the time the Founding Father built his “country” house in 1802, “uptown” was indeed placid. Situated on a bucolic 32-acre plot of land nine miles north of the then city limits, traveling to the residence from his downtown law office took Alexander an incredible two hours by carriage! Two hundred plus years later and the area is a bustling metropolis with towering buildings, busy bodegas and brimming shops replacing the once rural farmland. Despite the growth of the city around it, though, Hamilton’s former home remarkably still stands! Said to be the only residence he ever owned (“Like most New Yorkers, he was a lifelong renter,” asserts the Permanent Collection website), the property now serves as a museum honoring the revered statesman.
Born in the British West Indies in either 1755 or 1757 – as Ron Chernow notes in his 2005 book “Alexander Hamilton,” “Few questions bedevil Hamilton biographers more than the baffling matter of his year of birth” – Alexander was a true Renaissance man. A prolific writer, seasoned lawyer, Federalist Party founder, creator of the Revenue-Marine (predecessor to the United States Coast Guard), signer of the Constitution (the only New Yorker to have that distinction) and the first Secretary of the Treasury, he certainly left his mark on America. But he was not without his detractors. Fellow Founding Father and second U.S. president John Adams called him “The most restless, impatient, artful, indefatigable and unprincipled intriguer in the United States.” Regardless, there’s no denying the man helped shape the nation as we know it.
Hamilton’s country house was a later-in-life endeavor. Per Eric Sloane and Edward Anthony’s book “Mr. Daniels and the Grange,” his first mention of plans for the residence was in a November 1798 letter he wrote to his wife, Elizabeth Schuyler Hamilton (aka “Eliza”), which stated, “I have formed a sweet project, of which I will make you my confident [sic] when I come to New York, and in which I rely that you will cooperate with me chearfully [sic]. You may guess and guess and guess again, your guessing will be still in vain. But you will not be the less pleased when you come to understand and realize the scheme.”