Hamilton Grange

With the ongoing smash success of the Broadway musical “Hamilton,” there has certainly been an increased interest in learning about Alexander Hamilton (see my past blog post about this here) and the areas in NYC associated with him. What many may not realize is that the home that Hamilton built in what is now known as Hamilton Heights is now a National Park Service site. On a recent day, I decided to head up to Hamilton Heights and tour Hamilton’s home, The Grange.

Before heading to the Grange, my companion and I had lunch at a cool spot nearby called The Grange (just to set the mood!). The food and atmosphere were both really enjoyable.

Walking from The Grange to the actual Grange, we passed plenty of reminders that this is Alexander’s part of town.

Hamilton Heights is gorgeous, and these townhouses are still relative bargains compared to a similar home on the Upper West Side, for instance. Right now (end of March, 2018) there is a 4 bedroom/3.5 bath townhouse in Hamilton Heights for sale asking $2,700,000. Larger and more recently renovated townhouses in the area generally sell for between $3-4M.

The Grange is currently at 414 West 141st Street, within St. Nicholas Park. It has been moved twice before but still lies within the property that Hamilton owned. The home was built in an early Federalist style (very appropriate!) in 1802 (just two years before Hamilton’s unfortunate duel with Aaron Burr). Entrance to the Grange is free. There is a section of the Grange that functions as a museum, and you can also sign up for ranger-led tours of the upstairs rooms. Check out their website for details of hours, as they vary throughout the year. In less busy times of the year and during the week, the ranger-led tours can likely be joined close to time, but in busier seasons and weekend days, it is best to be there at least 30 minutes before the tour you wish to join to get added to the list.

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In the museum section, there is a short film about Hamilton’s life.

Of course there is also a gift shop with plenty of Hamilton swag for purchase.

My favorite item in the gift shop was a small book of George Washington’s “Rules of Civility and Decent Behavior.” Some of these seemed self-evident to me (“In visiting the sick, do not presently play the physician if you do not know therein.”) and others amusing (“Show nothing to your friend that may affright him.”). If you want to have a little fun, you can read them allĀ  here.

Heading out for the ranger-led tour, it was wonderful to see this exquisite home beautifully renovated.

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By “ranger,” I mean a real National Park ranger, complete with uniform, which seems a little incongruous in NYC.

This room was Hamilton’s study. The traveling desk he used was the portable laptop of the time, allowing him to write important messages on the go.

The living room featured a portrait of George Washington, and tables for card games.

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The formal dining room was splendid. Because there was no electric light in that time, windows were as large as possible to capture daylight, and mirrors on the walls and on the table were used to reflect candlelight at night.

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Toward the end of the ranger-led tour, there was a very entertaining film about moving the Grange. It was moved the first time because city streets were being built in the area, but the second place it sat was overdeveloped and it became hard to see the house properly. It was moved to St. Nicholas Park by literally being rolled down the street in the summer of 2008.

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The Grange never directly references the popularity of Hamilton due to the Broadway musical. It cannot be escaped, however. While on the ranger-led tour, a young boy (perhaps 6 or 7) raised his hand and exclaimed, “I can name four of Hamilton’s friends – Aaron Burr, John Laurens, Lafayette, and Hercules Mulligan!” The ranger never cracked a smile, and continued his description of the room we were in. I could not stop smiling however, so delighted that a work of art that is so pleasurable can also inspire an interest in history.

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Celebrating the Year of the Dog in Chinatown

Several years ago I posted a walk around Chinatown, ending by expressing delight in how a walk of a few blocks in New York City can lead to an environment just as new as you might get by taking a lengthy plane ride. However, in all my time in the city, I had somehow never managed to make it to the Lunar New Year celebration until recently when I went to Chinatown to celebrate the the beginning of the Year of the Dog. My daughter and I arrived about an hour ahead of the parade start on a cold and drizzly day, and were able to be right up against the barricade. By the time the parade started, though, the crowd was packed for at least a block, so I do recommend getting there early if you choose to go.

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Traditions for the Lunar New Year include the color red (symbolizing joy as well as virtue, prosperity, and truth), giving money or presents in small envelopes, and making noise to scare off evil spirits. Dragon or lion dances also represent a way to scare off bad things and welcome in a safe and prosperous new year. All of these are represented at Chinatown’s parade. Being at the front of the crowd, my pockets were stuffed by the end with small envelopes filled with tea or candy, fortune cookies, and even a red folding reusable shopping bag with the year of the dog on it. People watching the parade had bought small popping firecrackers that were set off by throwing them against the ground, and huge tubes that shot confetti for 10 or 20 feet.

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The parade started out with the NYC police and fire departments, including (incongruously, to me at least) firefighters in kilts with bagpipes playing “76 Trombones.” The rest of the parade was much more what I had expected, however.

The Dragon/Lion dances were my favorite parts of the parade. My daughter pointed out that at times the dance seemed to be very similar to twerking!

 

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The Year of the Dog was prominently celebrated, including a few actual dogs. People born in the Year of the Dog are said to share characteristics with dogs, such as loyalty and exuberance.

 

I loved this dog made up entirely of balloons.

 

 

 

This group held a series of cut outs of various breeds of dogs.

 

 

Another dog, this time a person in costume.

I was interested to find out that this Year of the Dog (a Brown Earth Dog year) is predicted to be a good year, but an exhausting one. The antidote to a stressful year is apparently to wear at least some red every day. I tend to do that already, so here’s to a good Year of the Dog!