In the second act of Lin Manuel Miranda’s Revolutionary (ha ha ha) musical, ‘Hamilton,’ the title character and his wife, grieving from the loss of their son, move to uptown Manhattan to learn to deal with their pain. The song itself, “It’s Quiet Uptown,” gives us a snapshot of this grief, set to the backdrop of Manhattan in the early 1800s, when everything north of Canal Street was still farmland.
It’s strange to picture Manhattan being anything but skyscrapers and brownstones, yet beneath the concrete of the city’s present lies hints to its past—one most relevant in the Hamilton Grange National Memorial, the preserved home of our favorite founding father, Alexander Hamilton.
This house, located now on the northern edge of St. Nicolas Park at 141st Street in Hamilton Heights, is the only home Hamilton owned during his lifetime. It was designed by architect John McComb Jr. and completed in 1802, just two years before Hamilton died in a duel against then Vice President, Aaron Burr.
Over the last 200 plus years, the historic memorial has moved twice, once in 1889 when it was acquired by nearby St. Luke’s Episcopal Church, who moved the house next to the church on Convent Ave. The house was moved a second time in 2008 to its current location, where historic preservationists and the U.S. National Parks Service restored the home based on original design blueprints. It now stands as a museum commemorating the life and legacy of Hamilton.
I’ve already written about my love (obsession?) for Manuel’s musical depiction of Hamilton’s story, so I won’t repeat myself. But what really brought me up to the Grange this past weekend was a craving for a little exploration. My timing was a little too perfect—Hamilton’s birthday is today (January 11), and because of the rain yesterday, the usual crowds that have flocked to the memorial since the show’s success all decided to stay indoors for the day, leaving me with a chance to have a private, intimate experience with the former home of my historic crush.
In terms of historic preservation and replication, the Hamilton Grange National Memorial transports you right back to the 1800s, when farmland would surround the home, and the commute to downtown took an hour and half by horse and carriage (today, you can get to the Financial District in roughly the same time, just by subway instead of carriage). Original pieces once owned by Hamilton mingle with replicas—Philip Hamilton’s original piano, where he and his younger sister, Angelica, would play duets together still rests in the sitting room, while Alexander’s office captures that energy you would expect from a man who played such a vital role in the creation of our country.
Still, the most interesting part of the tour is the story of moving this building. As it was handed over to the care of the National Parks Service, they carefully planned to raise the entire house in one piece over the church, and then onto the hill. That alone, is terrifying to execute—one slip and you could lose this historic landmark. And yet, with careful maneuvering, and very strong equipment, the move was successful and we now have the ability to experience a piece of history (and maybe drop a few song lyrics during the guided tour).
For my fellow urban hikers, this is a great way to spend a day—Hamilton Heights in itself is a gorgeous area, with plenty of sights to see. I’d suggest starting at the Grange and poking around there first, then moving on to some simple wandering around the neighborhood until you stumble upon a cute café for lunch.
And for my fellow Hamilton Heads—indulge yourself in an hour of historic obsessing over the fact that you are standing on the same foundation where that young, scrappy, and hungry man once lived.