Tag Archives: Alexander Hamilton

New York City and the Inauguration of George Washington

PODCAST Part One of our two-part series on New York City in the years following the Revolutionary War.

The story of New York City’s role in the birth of American government is sometimes forgotten. Most of the buildings important to the first U.S. Congress, which met here from the spring of 1789 to the late summer of 1790, have long been demolished. There’s little to remind us that our modern form of government was, in part, invented here on these city streets.

Riding high on the victories of the Revolutionary War, the Founding Fathers organized a makeshift Congress under the Articles of Confederation.  After an unfortunate crisis in Philadelphia, that early group of politicians from the 13 states eventually drifted up to New York (specifically to New York’s City Hall, to be called Federal Hall) to meet. But they were an organization without much power or respect.

The fate of the young nation lay on the shoulders of George Washington who arrived in New York in the spring of 1789 to be inaugurated as the first president of the United States. His swearing-in would finally unite Americans around their government and would imbue the port city of New York with a new urgency.

This is Part One of a two part celebration of these years, featuring cantankerous vice presidents, festive cannonades, and burning plumage! (Part Two arrives in two weeks.)

FEATURING Washington, Adams, Madison, Livingston and, of course, HAMILTON!

To get this week’s episode, simply download it for FREE from iTunes or other podcasting services or get it straight from our satellite site.

You can also listen to the show on Google MusicStitcher streaming radio and TuneIn streaming radio from your mobile devices.

Or listen to it straight from here:
The Bowery Boys #220: NEW YORK AND THE INAUGURATION OF GEORGE WASHINGTON

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The Bowery Boys: New York City History podcast is brought to you …. by you!

We are now producing a new Bowery Boys podcast every two weeks.  We’re also looking to improve the show in other ways and expand in other ways as well — through publishing, social media, live events and other forms of media.  But we can only do this with your help!

We are now a member of Patreon, a patronage platform where you can support your favorite content creators for as little as a $1 a month.

Please visit our page on Patreon and watch a short video of us recording the show and talking about our expansion plans.  If you’d like to help out, there are five different pledge levels (and with clever names too — Mannahatta, New Amsterdam, Five Points, Gilded Age, Jazz Age and Empire State). Check them out and consider being a sponsor.

We greatly appreciate our listeners and readers and thank you for joining us on this journey so far. And the best is yet to come!

________________________________________________________________________

The signing of the Constitution, September 17, 1787.

George traveling to his inauguration, as depicted in the 1896 book “The Century book of famous Americans : the story of a young people’s pilgrimage to historic homes” 

Internet Archive Book Images

And from an 1889 illustration:

Courtesy NYPL

 

President-Elect Washington crosses floating bridge (Gray’s Ferry) — and through one of many triumphal arches — on his inaugural journey, Philadelphia, April 20, 1789

NYPL

 

Washington’s reception on the bridge of Trenton in 1789 on his way to be inaugurated 1st president of the U. S.

NYPL

 

An illustration from 1855 depicts Old City Hall before it was renovated to house the new federal government.

Another view, with Washington’s six-horse coach in the foreground.

NYPL

 

A depiction of Broad Street and Federal Hall as it looked in 1797, but you can easily picture how filled the streets would have been on Washington’s inauguration just eight years earlier.

NYPL

 

Here’s how it looked on the 2008 HBO mini-series John Adams:

From an 1899 oil painting (artist unknown)

 

The presidential mansion on Cherry Street:

NYPL

 

The lovely Richmond Hill, the vice presidential mansion home of John and Abigail Adams

 

St. Paul’s Chapel, where Washington worshipped in New York.  More information at Trinity’s website.

Hamilton Grange: New York’s Most Historic Mobile Home (NPS at 100)

This month America celebrates the 100th anniversary of the National Park Service, the organization which protects the great natural and historical treasures of the United States. There are a number of NPS locations in the five borough areas. Throughout the next few weeks, we will focus on a few of our favorites.   For more information, you can visit National Parks Centennial for a complete list of parks and monuments throughout the country.  For more blog posts in this series, click here.

 

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HAMILTON GRANGE
UPPER MANHATTAN. HAMILTON HEIGHTS. ST. NICHOLAS PARK.

I’m going to write a musical about Hamilton Grange.

This three-hour musical epic will be a complete survey of this historic home, which was built by Alexander Hamilton in an area of Manhattan a good hour and a half from town.

It will be a story of struggle, evolution, change, spirituality, love and melodrama.

And here’s the catch — this imagined musical would begin with the death of Hamilton in his duel with Aaron Burr. (Far from giving this scoundrel a Tony-winning sized role, Burr would not even make an appearance!)  Because in most ways, that’s when the story of Hamilton Grange really begins.

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It will be Hamilton’s home until the cows come home.

Last week I took a free tour of this charming  National Park Service location, newly energized by musical appreciations of Hamilton and his life. My tour of Hamilton’s home was completely booked, and at least two people in the tour wore Hamilton: The Musical shirts. (Two other musical fans were turned away to join a later tour. My advice: Call ahead. Get on the list.)

You will ultimately visit only a small number of decorated rooms and in fact may have a richer educational experience in the Grange’s excellent gallery about Hamilton’s life.  But while several historic homes in the New York City area are larger and more spectacular, few have such an extraordinary tale of survival as Hamilton’s pet project.

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Hamilton purchased a set of upper Manhattan lots in 1800 in order construct a fine home for his family. Its name would be inspired by an ancestral Scottish mansion as well as his childhood home in St. Croix.  Designed by John Macomb Jr, (who was also commissioned for fellow NPS landmark Castle Clinton, as well as New York City Hall), the Hamilton Grange was completed in 1802, accompanied on the peaceful landscape by duck ponds, barns and an orchard.

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The house feted an extraordinary roster of politicians and dignitaries who ate and drank to their hearts’ content in the Hamiltons’ mirrored dining room (which you get to peek in on during the tour). Indeed, a week before the duel, the Hamiltons threw a lavish dinner party with the likes of John Trumbull and Nicholas Fish.

And like every good piece of New York City real estate, the Grange plunged the family into deep debt.

D’oh!

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After Hamilton died in the summer of 1804, Hamilton’s widow Eliza Schuyler Hamilton struggled to maintain the family finances.  Eventually a group of supporters (led by good ole Gouverneur Morris) bought the home and sold it back to her for half price. She managed to stay there until 1833, at which point she moved into her son’s new home on St. Mark’s Place.

Below: The Grange, left adrift as the city moved up around it. Date of picture unknown,  but most likely early 1880s.

Courtesy NPS
Courtesy NPS

With the new grid plan eventually stretching up into upper Manhattan, farmhouses that were situated at all angles to maximize their glorious views now proved impossible to accommodate. Most were torn down with a few exceptions (such as the Dyckman Farmhouse, the oldest house in Manhattan).

The battered old Grange would certainly have been erased from history if not for the congregation of St. Luke’s Episcopal Church who found use for the structure as an uptown chapel. The catch — it needed to move to their lot a block and a half away, conforming to Convent Avenue. By 1888 the house then became Hamilton Grange Reformed Church.

By the following year, the Grange was joined by a larger church structure which practically enfolded itself around the old house.

Courtesy Museum of the City of New York
Courtesy Museum of the City of New York

Sadly other nostalgic components of the property which still remained — Hamilton’s thirteen famous elm trees, pictured below — were unceremoniously torn out in 1900.

Courtesy New York Historical Society
Courtesy New York Historical Society

Further aesthetic travesties beset the house when an apartment complex was built onto the other side. Have you ever ridden a really, really packed subway? Now imagine riding that subway for almost a century. Thus was the fate of Hamilton Grange, a house-sized collectable artifact now shoved onto a tight shelf.

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Almost immediately, concerned historians began discussing the rehabilitation of the house. “The Hamilton Grange is the oldest structure in this sector of the city, as it is assuredly the most historic,” observed the New York Times in a full-page spread in 1912. “In its present setting, hemmed in by rows of modern dwellings and apartments, its beautiful lines appear exceedingly incongruous.”  Daughters of the American Revolution beseeched the city to purchase the property.

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Curiously it was first proposed to move the Grange to St. Nicholas Park in 1915 as “it would not obstruct the landscape yet still stand on a portion of the Grange farm.” This prophesy would indeed come to pass almost 100 years later.

In the 1920s, plans were again picked up to transform the squished little house into a museum. Apparently there was some interest in moving the entire thing to Chicago when, in 1924, this glorious announcement was made:  “The rivalry of New York and Chicago to possess Alexander Hamilton’s historic home has been ended by preserving the stately old mansion as a public museum near its original position on Manhattan Island. Hamilton Grange, as it is generally known, has become the property of the American Scenic and Historic Preservation Society, after some twenty-five years of unremitting effort.”  In 1933 it finally reopened as a museum.

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But even with the church congregation gone, even with the house filled with artifacts that were once owned by the Hamilton, the house’s placement robbed it of any context.

In 1936 a statue of Alexander Hamilton was mounted in front of the building. It was officially dedicated on the very same day that a statue of General Philip Sheridan was dedicated in a ceremony in Christopher Park.  Today — thanks to Stonewall National Monument — the Sheridan statue now too stands on property operated by the National Park Service.

The statue remains in front of the church even as the house is now gone.

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The NPS would finally get its hands on Hamilton Grange after it was declared a National Historic Landmark in 1960 and Congress declared it a National Monument in 1962.  The house was to be moved to another location and fully restored.

But unfortunately the city’s financial upheaval of the 1960s and 70s threw off any serious work on the house. Or to quote a historic preservation graduate student from a New York Times 1988 article:  ”’If the Grange were anywhere else, this would be a fait accompli,’ said Michael Adams, a Columbia University graduate student in historic preservation. ‘The only reason it has fallen into this deplorable condition is because it is in Harlem.’ ”

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Finally in 2008, efforts were finally made to lift the house from its tucked-in spot near St. Luke’s to its new home in St. Nicholas Park. The newly revitalized house was opened to the public in 2011.

Here’s a dramatic video of its historic move:

Today the Hamilton Grange feels out of place — but in the right way. Another tall structure hovers over it to the east, but at least it doesn’t smother the house’s natural beauty, restored in a bright canary yellow.  Surrounded by the rocky terrain of the park, visitors can get a sense of the calm that Alexander and his family might have felt as they gazed out from the porches.

And almost 175 years after his family moved from the house, the Hamilton Grange has finally become a show-stopper.

WANT MORE INFORMATION? Visit the NPS Hamilton Grange National Memorial site for more information.

LISTEN TO OUR PODCAST! We have a podcast on the famous duel between Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr. It’s Episode #168. You can find it on iTunes at our show page.  Or download it from here.

 

St. Mark’s Place: It’s Party Time in the East Village!

PODCAST: The big, brash history of St. Mark’s Place, the East Village’s most interesting street.

St. Mark’s Place may be named for a saint but it’s been a street full of sinners for much of its history.

One of the most fascinating streets in the city, St. Mark’s traces its story back to Peter Stuyvesant, meets up with the wife of Alexander Hamilton in the 1830s, experiences the incredible influx of German and Polish immigrants in the late 19th century, then veers into the heart of counter-culture — from the political activism of Abbie Hoffman to the glamorously psychedelic parties of Andy Warhol.

And that’s when the party really gets started! St. Mark’s is known for music, fashion, rebellion and pandemonium. In the 1970s and 80s, clothing stores like Limbo and club nights like  Club 57 helped define its character — punk, new wave, alternative, raucous.

To get this week’s episode, simply download it for FREE from iTunes or other podcasting services or get it straight from our satellite site.

You can also listen to the show on Stitcher streaming radio and TuneIn streaming radio from your mobile devices.

Or listen to it straight from here:
The Bowery Boys #193: ST. MARK’S PLACE: PARTY IN THE EAST VILLAGE!

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The Bowery Boys: New York City History podcast is brought to you …. by you!

We are now producing a new Bowery Boys podcast every two weeks.  We’re also looking to improve the show in other ways and expand in other ways as well — through publishing, social media, live events and other forms of media.  But we can only do this with your help!

We are now a member of Patreon, a patronage platform where you can support your favorite content creators for as little as a $1 a month.

Please visit our page on Patreon and watch a short video of us recording the show and talking about our expansion plans.  If you’d like to help out, there are five different pledge levels (and with clever names too — Mannahatta, New Amsterdam, Five Points, Gilded Age, Jazz Age and Empire State). Check them out and consider being a sponsor.

We greatly appreciate our listeners and readers and thank you for joining us on this journey so far. And the best is yet to come!

________________________________________________________________________

 

Stuyvesant Street superimposed over the planned grid. Ultimately the street was allowed to remain, breaking the grid. By the way, see that green patch at the far right? That was also a cemetery.

Courtesy EV Transitions
Courtesy EV Transitions

 

The front of 22 St. Mark’s Place from a 1914 history book. (It looks almost identical to 20 St. Mark’s, the old Daniel LeRoy House, which is still there.).  “It had a tea room in the rear of the first floor, which [the tenant] altered into a library, constructing a bathroom in connection with it. A new bedroom was added above the library, and in the basement was installed a cook.” [source]

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Deutsch-Amerikanische-Schützen Gesellschaft (German-American Shooting Society) building, 12 St. Mark’s Place, pictured here in 1975 in a photograph by Edmund Gillon

Courtesy Museum of the City of New York
Courtesy Museum of the City of New York

 

St. Mark’s Place and Third Avenue in 1914, the same year as the shootout at Arlington Hall! The Third Avenue elevated train framed St. Mark’s on the west end, the Second Avenue elevated (which actually ran along First Avenue in the East Village) to the east.

Courtesy Museum of the City of New York
Courtesy Museum of the City of New York

 

The mugshot of Dopey Benny whose gang was involved in the shootout which killed a city official.

dopey

A photo by Victor George Macarol of the boutique Manic Panic (and a man in meditation), 1975

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The south side of St. Mark’s Place, 1975

EV Grieve
EV Grieve

 

Crowds waiting to get into the Electric Circus

courtesy Alex Ross
courtesy Alex Ross

 

A flyer for Trash and Vaudeville…

trash

 

Keith Haring performing at Club 57 in a themed evening called Acts of Live Art.  For more information on Club 57, you can read my earlier article about this extraordinary club here. Dazed has a pretty great article about the place here.

Photo by Joseph Szkodzinski
Photo by Joseph Szkodzinski

 

Coney Island High, a pivotal East Village venue during the 1990s.

Courtesy Buzzfeed
Courtesy Buzzfeed

 

 

Top photo — St. Mark’s Place in 1978, Photos by Leonard Freed / Magnum Photos, care of Vintage Everyday

Perilous Night: The Great Fire of 1776

PODCAST The circumstances surrounding the Great Fire of 1776, the events of the Revolutionary War leading up to the disaster, and the tragic tale of the American patriot Nathan Hale.

A little after midnight on September 21, 1776, the Fighting Cocks Tavern on Whitehall Street caught on fire. The drunken revelers inside the tavern were unable to stop the blaze, and it soon raged into a dangerous inferno, spreading up the west side of Manhattan.

Some reports state that the fire started accidentally in the tavern fireplace. But was it actually set on purpose – on the orders of George Washington?spy

To understand that damning speculation, we unfurl the events that lead up to that moment – from the first outrages against the British by American colonists to the first sparks of the Revolutionary War. Why did New York get caught up so early in the war and what were the circumstances that led to the city falling into British hands?

Underneath this expansive story is another, smaller story – that of a young man on a spy mission, sent by Washington into enemy territory.  His name was Nathan Hale, and his fate would intersect with the disastrous events of September 21, 1776.

PLUS:  The legacy of St. Paul’s Chapel, a lasting reminder not only of the Great Fire of 1776 but of an even greater disaster which occurred almost exactly 225 years later.

AND: Find out what Alexander Hamilton was up to in September 1776!

To get this week’s episode, simply download it for FREE from iTunes or other podcasting services or get it straight from our satellite site.

You can also listen to the show on Stitcher streaming radio and TuneIn streaming radio from your mobile devices.

Or listen to it straight from here:
The Bowery Boys #191: THE GREAT FIRE OF 1776

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The Bowery Boys: New York City History podcast is brought to you …. by you!

We are now producing a new Bowery Boys podcast every two weeks.  We’re also looking to improve the show in other ways and expand in other ways as well — through publishing, social media, live events and other forms of media.  But we can only do this with your help!

We are now a member of Patreon, a patronage platform where you can support your favorite content creators for as little as a $1 a month.

Please visit our page on Patreon and watch a short video of us recording the show and talking about our expansion plans.  If you’d like to help out, there are five different pledge levels (and with clever names too — Mannahatta, New Amsterdam, Five Points, Gilded Age, Jazz Age and Empire State). Check them out and consider being a sponsor.

We greatly appreciate our listeners and readers and thank you for joining us on this journey so far. And the best is yet to come!

________________________________________________________________________

The escape of the Continental Army from Long Island under cover of night. This illustration by Henry Alexander Ogden is from 1897.

Courtesy New York Public Library
Courtesy New York Public Library

 

The house of Roger Morris which George Washington took over as his headquarters after fleeing New York.

New York Public Library
New York Public Library

The Morris-Jumel Mansion, depicted in a postcard in 1965.

Museum of the City of New York
Museum of the City of New York

 

An imagining of young Alexander Hamilton in uniform in 1776

Courtesy the Department of Defense
Courtesy the Department of Defense

A Harpers Magazine illustration by Howard Pyle from 1880, depicting Nathan Hale receiving the details of his spy mission directly from General Washington.

Courtesy New York Public Library
Courtesy New York Public Library

A beautiful map from 1897 laying out the events of the Battle of Harlem Heights on September 16, 1776.

Courtesy Internet Archives Book Imaging
Courtesy Internet Archives Book Imaging

The Battle of Harlem Heights with a look into the valley called the Hollow Way.

harlem

 

This is New York is 1776, the city that was captured in September 1776.

British Library
British Library

A grave illustration showing the severity of the fire, looking at the burning buildings on the west side of Broadway.

New York Public Library
New York Public Library

A map delineating the path of the fire from Whitehall Street up the west side of the city.

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The ruins of Trinity Church stood for  years as evidenced by this image of people just strolling around it like nothing weird had happened.

Internet Archive Book Imaging
Internet Archive Book Imaging

Another illustration (from a 1902 history) showing the cemetery in relation to the ruins.

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ruin

Mount Pleasant, where the British general William Howe set up headquarters and where Nathan Hale was taken after he was captured.

New York Public LIbrary
New York Public LIbrary

 

A vintage trading-card depiction of Nathan Hale’s hanging.

card

 

An 1880 illustration by Howard Pyle of the same event.

Courtesy New York Public LIbrary
Courtesy New York Public LIbrary

 

St Paul’s Chapel (pictured below in 19160, a survivor of the Great Fire of 1776, opened its doors to parishioners the day after the fire.

1916
Courtesy Museum of the City of New York

 

The statue of Nathan Hale which stands in front of City Hall. He’s been moved around quite a bit since his installation here on November 25, 1893, the anniversary of Evacuation Day.

From 1900:

Courtesy Museum of the City of New York
Courtesy Museum of the City of New York

From 1911:

Museum of the City of New York
Museum of the City of New York

From 1913:

Library of Congress
Library of Congress

From 1920:

Courtesy Museum of the City of New York
Courtesy Museum of the City of New York

From 1939:

Courtesy Museum of City of New York
Courtesy Museum of City of New York

From 2006:

Courtesy Kris Long/Flickr
Courtesy Kris Long/Flickr

Ten facts about Alexander Hamilton on the $10 bill

Big news in the world of numismatics — the U.S. Treasury Department has announced that Alexander Hamilton, long the solitary face on the $10 bill, will be joined by a woman. But who? His wife Eliza Schuyler? Harriet Tubman? Eleanor Roosevelt? And how will she featured?

Thankfully he’s not leaving the bill which he has graced since 1928. Here’s a few other interesting tidbits about his appearance on currency:

1) Why is Hamilton, who was never a president, on money in the first place? He was America’s first treasury secretary, of course, from 1789 to 1795. But in many ways he’s also the inventor of American money!

According to Ron Chernow, Hamilton encouraged the use of the dollar bill as the basic unit of currency and called for a series of coins broken into smaller values, a new concept in an age when bartering was the preferred method of transaction.  To encourage the new American spirit, he recommended putting presidential faces on the money. Since there was only one president at that time, this meant the basic unit currency went to Hamilton’s good friend George Washington.

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2) Hamilton was the first Secretary of the Treasury, but he was NOT the first Treasurer of the United States. That honor went to Michael Hillegas, a wealthy Philadelphian who led the treasury through the duration of the American Revolution. His face was actually on an early version of the $10 well before Hamilton’s.

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3) Hamilton was never in charge of actually making money.  While Hamilton is partly responsible for the creation of the U.S. Mint (established in 1792), it was placed under the job of Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson.  Chernow: “Unfortunately, Jefferson ran the mint poorly.  Hamilton later tried, in vain, to arrange a swap whereby the post office would go to State in exchange for the mint coming under Treasury control, where it belonged.”

The first director of the U.S. Mint was David Rittenhouse, on which Philadelphia’s Rittenhouse Square is named.

Below: The first U.S. Mint building in Philadelphia

Courtesy 1794largecents.com
Courtesy 1794largecents.com

4) Hamilton is only one of only three non-Presidents to currently grace American paper money, the others being Benjamin Franklin ($100) and Salmon P. Chase ($10,000).  But non-presidents have lived upon paper money since its invention.  William Tecumseh Sherman, George Meade and Lewis and Clark have all been on U.S. printed currency.

5)  For decades, Alexander Hamilton was actually the face of the $1,000 bill.

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6) The current image of Hamilton on the $10 bill is based upon a portrait by John Trumbull which currently hangs in New York City Hall. That painting was completed posthumously in 1805; Hamilton had been shot and killed in a duel with Aaron Burr the year before.

7) Alexander faces left where the other members of the Faces On Money Club are turned right. There is a rarely used $100,000 bill with Woodrow Wilson which faces a similar direction but I doubt you will ever see that in your lifetime.

Hamilton Grange in 1895, courtesy Museum of the City of New York
Hamilton Grange in 1895, courtesy Museum of the City of New York

8) Having your face on money doesn’t mean that you had much. At the end of his life, Hamilton overspent on his new home in upper Manhattan (Hamilton Grange) and was nearly broke.  To William Cooper, he wrote, “I have been building a fine house and am very low in Cash; so that it will be amazingly convenient to me to touch your money as soon as possible”


car

9) The most interesting thing about the that 1928 $10 bill with Alexander Hamilton on the front is actually a small detail which appears on the back — a very small automobile. According to the blog US Dollar Bill: “The car parked outside of the Treasury Department building is based on a number of different cars manufactured at the time and was the creation of the Bureau designer who developed the artwork that served as a model for the engraving, because government agencies were prohibited from endorsing any specific manufacturer or product, according to a bureau of engraving and printing pamphlet.”

 

10) There is already a woman on the $10 bill, or at least, part of her. On the redesigned 2006 bill, Hamilton breaks free of the oval which has traditionally confined the portrait. He is looking left towards the hand and torch of the Statue of Liberty.  Lady Liberty’s torch once sat in Madison Square Park for several years as a way to drum up funds for the statue’s pedestal.  The park’s namesake, James Madison, wrote the Federalist Papers with Alexander Hamilton and John Jay.

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And a bonus fact — Aaron Burr has never been on the face of any currency. 

Below: Aaron Burr, to be found nowhere on money

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At top of this post — Alexander Hamilton’s first $10 bill, gold certificate edition, printed in 1928

 

 

History in the Making 1/9: Main Squeeze Forever Edition

The Lower East Side lost a great one this week. Walter Kühr, the owner of the Main Squeeze accordion store, died last weekend.  He completely succeeded at his strange but profound mission in life — to keep accordion music alive in the heart of a once-thriving immigrant neighborhood.  He formed the Main Squeeze Orchestra — an all-female accordion group — who performed throughout the city. His store Main Squeeze was a bright and welcome oddity situated among the Chinese and Orthodox Jewish businesses of Essex Street.

And he was also a friend of the Bowery Boys, somebody who made us feel welcome when we moved to his neighborhood in the late 1990s. Walter was a one of a kind guy, and my heart is broken that Essex Street will no longer have this friendly advocate for great music. Learn more about him in the video above and in his obituary here. [New York Times]

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Alexander Hamilton was born on January 11. That we do know. However the actual year is more uncertain. He was born on the island of Nevis in the Caribbean either in either 1755 or 1757.  To quote Ron Chernow: “The mass of evidence from the period of Hamilton’s arrival in North America does suggest 1757 as his birth year, but, preferring the integrity of contemporary over retrospective evidence, we will opt here for a birthday of January 11, 1755.”

Regardless you can celebrate his birthday this Saturday at Hamilton Grange for their big birthday celebration. Or save up your enthusiasm for the start of Lin-Manuel Miranda‘s Hamilton musical at the Public Theater, starting on January 20th. Or, to escape the cold, maybe you’d like to just go down to Nevis and visit the Alexander Hamilton birthplace?

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And some other links of interest:

Mega-City:  The completely batty plan to turn Manhattan into a landfill-created mega-island, expanding into the harbor and gobbling up islands to become, no joke, “Really Greater New York.” [Gothamist and Gizmodo]

Streit’s Matzo, an institution of Rivington Street and the Lower East Side, has decided to close its doors after 95 years. Sigh. [Bowery Boogie]

Parks and Recreation:  Photographer Jon Sobel is visiting every public park in New York City. Not an easy task in this place!  For his latest entry, he visits the lush Clove Lakes Park in Staten Island, once a 19th century estate and grist mill and a favored spot of Frederick Law Olsted. [Park Odyssey]

The Haunted Well:  You may remember the tale of the mysterious SoHo well from one of our past ghost story podcasts. Well, you can now go see the well as it’s been incorporated into the decor of the clothing store which now inhabits the spot at 129 Spring Street. WOW. [Scouting NY]

A Murderer’s Read:  My latest story for the 1981 website tie-in to A Most Violent Year focuses on Mark David Chapman — the killer of John Lennon — and his macabre crusade to promote the book The Catcher In The Rye. [1981.nyc]

Before Stonewall:  A brief look at a little gay and lesbian history along Christopher Street. [Off the Grid]

Aaron Burr vs. Alexander Hamilton: The terrible consequences of an ugly insult


PODCAST Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr met at a clearing in Weehawken, NJ, in the early morning on July 11, 1804, to mount the most famous duel in American history. But why did they do it?

This is the story of two New York lawyers — two Founding Fathers — that so detested each other that their vitriolic words (well, mostly Hamilton’s) led to these two grown men shooting each other out of honor and dignity, while robbing America of their brilliance, leadership and talent.

You may know the story of this duel from history class, but this podcast focuses on its proximity to New York City, to their homes Richmond Hill and Hamilton Grange and to the places they conducted their legal practices and political machinations.

Which side are you on?

ALSO: Find out the fates of sites that are associated with the duel, including the place Hamilton died and the rather disrespectful journey of the dueling grounds in Weehawken.

To get this week’s episode, simply download it for FREE from iTunes or other podcasting services, subscribe to our RSS feed or get it straight from our satellite site.

You can also listen to the show on Stitcher streaming radio and Player FM from your mobile devices.

Or listen to it straight from here:
The Bowery Boys #168 DUEL! Aaron Burr vs. Alexander Hamilton
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And we would like to thank a new sponsor Audible, the premier provider of digital audiobooks. Get a FREE audiobook download and 30 day free trial at www.audibletrial.com/boweryboys. Over 150,000 titles to choose from for your iPhone, Android, Kindle or mp3 player Audible titles play on iPhone, Kindle, Android and more than 500 devices for listening anytime, anywhere.
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CORRECTION: Alexander Hamilton had his fateful dinner as the house of Judge James Kent, not John Kent, as I state here.

SOURCES: Many of my research materials include the books on my Riffle list of 25 Great Books About the Founding Fathers (And Mothers).
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Alexander Hamilton, leader of the Federalists was a played out, stressed out, heavily in debt politician by June 1804. This is John Trumbull’s painting of Hamilton, completed almost over a year after the duel.

The Hamilton Grange, a beautiful home on the Hudson that Alexander only lived in for a couple years. (NYPL)

Aaron Burr, Vice President of the United States, was a played out, stressed out, heavily in debt politician by June 1804. This is John Vanderlyn’s portrait of Burr from 1802.

View of the Weekhawken dueling grounds in 1830s.  This area most likely still saw some duels at this period.  Note the small monument/obelisk marking the spot allegedly where Hamilton fell. (NYPL)

Thomas Addis Emmet’s quaint depiction of the dueling grounds was created in 1881, long after the actual grounds were destroyed by railroad construction. (NYPL)

From the New York Tribune, July 1904, a look at the Hamilton bust that once sat in Weehawken.  Several years later, vandals took the bust and hurled it off the cliff.

The William Bayard house in later years, with the lots surrounding it obviously sold and built up around it. (NYPL)

The Hamilton tomb at Trinity Church, picture taken in 1908, although it looks pretty much the same today! (Wurts Brothers, Courtesy MCNY)

Broadway and Wall Street. Tomb of Alexander Hamilton, Trinity churchyard.

 

Richmond Hill: West Village’s former Vice Presidential mansion and the lonely refuge of Aaron Burr

[Richmond Hill, residence of Aaron Burr.]

Richmond Hill, the spacious mansion and 26-acre estate on the outskirts of town that had once been George Washington‘s headquarters and later the home of John Adams, was also home to another vice president — Aaron Burr.  This was the place he lived on that fateful day, July 11, 1804, when he entered into a duel with Alexander Hamilton.

Here’s a lovely description of the home from an 1861 biography of Burr by author James Parton:

“[Burr’s] style of living kept pace with his increasing income.  In a few years we find him master of Richmond Hill, the mansion where Washington had lived in 1776, with grounds reaching to the Hudson, with ample gardens, and a considerable extent of grove and farm.  Here he maintained a liberal establishment and exercised the hospitality which was then in vogue.

The one particular in which Richmond Hill surpassed the other houses of equal pretensions, was its library.  From his college days, Colonel Burr had been a zealous buyer of books, and his stock had gone on increasing till, on attaining to the dignity of householder, he was able to give to his miscellaneous collection something of the completeness of a library.

It is evident enough, from his correspondence, that his favorite ethos were still those whom the ‘well-constituted minds’ of that day regarded with admiring horror.  The volumes of Gibbon’s History [The Decline And Fall of the Roman Empire] were appearing in those years, striking the orthodox world with wonder and dismay.  They had a very hearty welcome in the circle at Richmond Hill.”

—  the Life and Times of Aaron Burr, by James Parton, 1861

After the duel, Burr liquidated his assets, selling Richmond Hill to John Jacob Astor.  With the grounds heavily cut up and sold, he had the mansion rolled on logs to the newly carved street corner and turned into a theater and opera house.  At this time, he also moved the carriage house further north, where it was later re-purposed and today houses the romantic restaurant One If By Land, Two If By Sea.

It made for a very sumptuous opera house, it appears.  According to author Eric Homberger, “Boxes at the Richmond Hill were furnished as though they were an extension of the elegant parlors of St. John’s Park, with ‘light blue hangings, gilded panels and cornice, arm-chairs, and a sofa.'”

It was parallel in style, perhaps, to the Astor Place Opera House across town.   Eventually it deteriorated into a lowly roadhouse and saloon — but certainly, the most gorgeous one in town — called the Tivoli Saloon before being torn down in 1849.

Richmond Hill House or Theater.

Today the site of Richmond Hill and its former ground are occupied by this building, currently the home of WNYC, and the surrounding blocks of this area of the far West Village.

Top image courtesy the Museum of the City of New York

George Washington’s inauguration and the 1939 World’s Fair

James Earle Fraser’s colossal Washington statue out in Queens. (NYPL)

Tomorrow (April 30th) is the 225th anniversary of the inauguration of George Washington, sworn in at Federal Hall as the first President of the United States.  It is also the 75th anniversary of the 1939 New York World’s Fair.  That was not an accident.

The monumental events of America’s founding would be immortalized by the fair in some rather unusual ways 150 years later.  Both April 30th events were occasions of great patriotic ceremony (and both even slightly kitschy) in their own ways.

April 1789
 It took George seven entire days to get to New York from his home in Mount Vernon, as his procession was met every step of the way with throngs of patriotic crowds and flamboyant celebratory displays.

Washington’s vice president John Adams had already arrived in New York, on April 21st.  The building which greeted him, the former City Hall building on Wall Street, had been the center of city’s government since 1699, when the British used materials from the city’s demolished north defense wall to construct it.

The heavily remodeled building which now stood in its place, later to be called Federal Hall, was designed by successful city contractor and former Continental Army engineer Pierre Charles L’Enfant.  According to author David McCullough, “it was the first building in America designed to exalt the national spirit, in what would come to be known as the Federal style.” (Sadly, this building was ripped down in 1812; the ‘Federal Hall’ which stands in the same spot today was built as a customs house in 1842.)

L’Enfant would later work on the creation of Washington DC out of Maryland swampland.  He would ultimately be fired from that project — by George Washington.

George finally arrived in New York two days after Adams, April 23, via a barge from Elizabeth, New Jersey, and was met at the Wall Street pier by the current mayor of New York James Duane and the state’s governor George Clinton.

From there, he was taken to his new home on Cherry Street (long demolished, around near the Brooklyn Bridge anchorage today) and spent the day greeting dozens of well-wishers.  That night, Governor Clinton hosted an elaborate dinner in his honor; the pomp and extravagance by this time were probably getting tiresome to the stately Virginian farmer.

Meanwhile Adams spent the week at Federal Hall in Senate chambers, hashing out such things we take for granted — such as how to even address the new president — until at last they were ready for the ceremony to begin, on April 30.

According to Ron Chernow, “Washington rose early, sprinkled powder in his hair, and prepared for his great day.”  Like some detail from a fairy tale, Washington left his Cherry Street home at noon in a yellow carriage driven by white horses, legions of soldiers marching proudly behind him.

The streets of Manhattan were clogged with people, over ten thousand cramming Broad and Wall streets, as far as the eye could see both ways.  Sitting on the balcony of his own home on Wall Street was Washington’s closest confidante Alexander Hamilton, certainly reveling in the moment.

After greeting the Congress, Adams led Washington to the second floor balcony along with Robert Livingston, the Chancellor of New York (the highest judicial office in the state), who held out a bible owned by the St. John’s Lodge Freemasons and delivered the oath of office, probably not loud enough for anybody in the street to actually hear.

Washington, even less audibly than Livingston, swore to “faithfully execute the office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.”  He then possibly threw in a ‘so help me God’ for good measure (although there are many doubts that this occurred).

New Yorkers went crazy then, firing cannons, screaming and waving flags, playing music and dancing in the streets.  After returning inside to address the new Congress — by this time with tears in his eyes — Washington and his entourage went up Broadway to receive on invocation at St. Paul’s Church, the scrappy survivor of the great fire the destroyed much of the city in 1776.  Washington would be a regular here for his entire stay in New York; the pew where he planted himself for two years is still on display there (illustrated above).

Martha Washington would not arrive in town for another month, but that didn’t stop the parties.  The official inauguration ball took place a week later, on May 7th, at the Assembly Rooms at 115 Broadway.

Although a bit stiff and silent, George was still popular with the ladies and danced “two cotillions and a minuet,” often seen with Alexander Hamilton’s young bride Eliza. When Martha arrived on May 17, landing at Peck Slip, she was greeted with similarly grand fanfare, and yet another ball was held in her honor.

April 1939
One hundred and fifty years later, the 1939 World’s Fair opened in Flushing Meadows-Corona Park, the second largest American fair up to that time (only St. Louis’ 1904 event was larger).

This celebration of human advancement — as demonstrated through miles of utopian kitsch and strikingly bizarre architecture — was a reason for Robert Moses to turn the unsightly Corona Ash Dumps into a Queens super-park.  The fair was advertisement as entertainment, with hundreds of modern gadgets displayed as novelties and staples of the future.

But the celebration was planned with the past in mind as well.  It opened on April 30, 1939, coinciding with another great day in New York City history — Washington’s inauguration.  That’s how important the city thought the opening of the fair was.  (Life Magazine was a little more cynical; in 1939, they refer to Washington as “the excuse” for the fair.  The purpose, of course, was profits.)

A 61-foot-tall statue of Washington by James Earle Fraser stood mightily over the fair’s Constitution Mall, peering perhaps quizzically at Paul Manship’s massive sundial sculpture.  A cluster of buildings called the Court of States recalled the Colonial architecture of Washington’s day.  Even Federal Hall was recreated.

Below: The World’s Fair presented a recreation of Washington’s inauguration, except with lots of flag dancing. (NYPL)

A replica of Mount Vernon (sort of) called Washington Hall was the pet project of a New Yorker with presidential ties.

According to the New Yorker, “Mr. Messmore Kendall, is responsible for the Hall.  Mr. Kendall, president of Sons of the American Revolution and owner of the Capitol Theatre, [developed] plans for erecting, entirely at his own expense, a $28,000 building to house a collection of Washington relics. Before the Fair closes, he expects the whole thing will have cost him more than $50,000. He has given more than money to the project; he has given the family cook, so that whenever he wants a home-cooked meal, he has to go all the hell out to Flushing.”

The Hall received a host of reenactors who had made their way up from Mount Vernon in emulation of Washington’s own footsteps.  On May 6th, a child named Robert E, Lee Williamson opened Washington Hall in a grand ceremony, bringing “three consecutive weeks of neo-Federal quaintness to a close.” [source]

The president also sits (sometimes awkwardly) upon a variety of World’s Fair merchandise.  Light shows and fireworks unheard of in Washington’s time were dedicated in his honor throughout the fair.  He even starred in a popular musical pageant at the fair called American Jubilee, with books and lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein. 

It was another great president who kicked off the fair 75 years ago.  With 200,000 people in attendance, Franklin Delano Roosevelt gave an opening speech extolling the virtues of American ingenuity as he became the first president to be broadcast to television audiences.  Few had televisions in their homes at the time.  But NBC founder David Sarnoff helpfully scattered a few dozen of them throughout the city in a clever publicity stunt.

Roosevelt starts off his speech referencing Washington. “[T]here have been preserved for us many generations later, accounts of his taking of the oath of office on April thirtieth on the balcony of the old Federal Hall. ….. And so we, in New York, have a very personal connection with that thirtieth of April, one hundred and fifty years ago.” [Read the whole speech here.]

Defined by the odd Trylon and Perisphere buildings, the fair seems like something truly dreamlike.  The land where the fair once stood now contains the ruins of a New York’s other World’s Fair, the event from 1964-65.

For this article, I’ve re-purposed a couple pieces of writing I did on these events a few years ago.  The original pieces can be found here and here.

Aaron Burr’s cousin built the first bridge over the Hudson River – in the same year Burr shot Alexander Hamilton


Above: A wooden bridge in Kentucky using the Burr truss, invented by Theodore Burr and first used over the Hudson River’s first bridge span. (Courtesy LOC)

People has schemed to put a bridge over the Hudson River for over two hundred years.  That task would prove most difficult to those in Manhattan, given the distance between its shores and those of New Jersey. After several failed proposals, the two were linked with the Pennsylvania Railroad tunnels (1910), the Holland Tunnel (1927), and finally, the George Washington Bridge (1931).

But further upstate, industrious New Yorkers had an easier time of bridging the two sides, as the river became narrower in places and engineers could work upon sparsely populated lands.  The first bridge over the Hudson River rose at the village of Waterford (near Albany) in 1804, the work of inventor Theodore Burr, the cousin of Vice President Aaron Burr.

From an 1820 map of the Hudson River. You can see where Burr’s bridge was located, situated over the Hudson until the 20th century (courtesy NYPL):

While Aaron was engaging in a vituperative war of words with Alexander Hamilton, his cousin Theodore was crafting an extraordinary bridge, described in a later history by his ancestor as “four combined arch and truss spans, one of 154 feet, one of 161 feet, one of 176 feet, and a fourth at 180 feet.”  By this point, he was already a well-known, even adventurous builder, but the Waterford bridge was truly something unique.  He eventually patented his design, which became known as ‘a Burr Truss,’ used in the construction of covered bridges throughout the United States.

A sketch of the Waterford bridge, as illustrated by Thomas Cooper in 1889, and an excellent view of what became known as the Burr Truss:

The bridge was coming along nicely by the spring of 1804.  The local paper noted that “the erection is proceeding rapidly, the abutments, (on shore sides) and one of three piers are already near finished, and the frames of the arches are in a state of equal preparedness.  Concerning the abutments and piers, there is not the least doubt that they will render the bridge secure from ice in spring seasons.”

I’m not sure where Burr was in July, whether at the bridge site or back at his grist mill in Oxford.  The bridge was over one-third completed that month when Theodore got word that his esteemed cousin had met Hamilton in a duel at Weehawken, 150 miles down river, leading to the death of Hamilton.

But while Aaron’s reputation would quickly deteriorate, Theodore’s would briefly flower, becoming America’s most prolific bridge engineer in the early 19th century.  His most impressive span, the Susquehanna River Bridge in Pennsylvania, survived until 1857.

Strangely, however, Theodore’s eventual fate would eventually mirror his cousin’s.  Many of his bridges fell apart, and his finances were ruefully mismanaged.  He actually disappears from the historical record; according to author Donald E. Wolf, “[h]is heirs report that he died in 1822, but they have been unable to say what caused his death or to identify the place of his burial.”

The Union Bridge, as the Waterford-to-Lansingburgh crossing is sometimes called, was called “the greatest wooden span of its time.”  Originally exposed to the elements, the bridge was later sheathed in a covering.  It held sturdy over the Hudson River until it was destroyed in a gas fire in 1909.