Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Mount Vernon Hotel Museum & Garden: 61st St & 1st Ave/York

The Mount Vernon Hotel Museum & Garden presents the period of the Mount Vernon Hotel which operated from 1826 until 1833. Constructed in 1799 as a carriage house (animals like pigs and cows downstairs who warm the horses upstairs with their body heat), and converted into the Mount Vernon Hotel in 1826, this stone building sits on land originally owned by Colonel William Stephens Smith, and his wife Abigail Adams Smith (daughter of John Adams). The Smiths had wanted to build a stately home there, but ran into financial trouble and had to give up their 23 acre estate.

After the main structure (where the Bed Bath & Beyond is now) burned, a man by the name of Joseph Hart converted the carriage house (the current location of the museum) into a "country resort."  The "day hotel" was popular among New Yorkers who wanted to escape the hustle and bustle of the city, which at that time extended only as far north as 14th Street.  In those days, one could take a stagecoach or steamboat up and spend the day at the hotel sipping lemonade in the ladies parlor or drinking and playing cards in the gentlemen’s tavern (see photo of reproduction card tables and bar at right--note the area enclosed by "bars" to secure the liquor and cash). 
In 1833, the house finally becomes the stately home of the Towle family, who made their money in the China trade. In 1905, as the area became more industrialized, Towle's daughters sold the building to the Standard Gas Light Company (today’s Con Edison).  Later it becomes an antiques shop and then The Colonial Dames of America (the same patriotic woman’s society that operates the Van Courtlandt House in the Bronx), purchased the building in 1924. After extensive restoration, the Colonial Dames opened the site to the public in 1939.  

The hotel is set up with card tables mid-game, a dining table set for lunch, and upper halls with Greek revival furniture lining the walls as they would have been during a party.  The garden is small but lovely as well, and if you go up the stairs on the west side, you can see part of the original shale Olde Post Road that connected NYC with Boston.  

If you go, expect a very personalized guided tour by a young, very affable, and well-informed docent.  It is well worth the $8 admission fee.  Also check their website for concerts, free events, and site rental opportunities (Mount Vernon Hotel Museum & Garden).  This really is a nice little historic gem in NYC.

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