Recently, Manhattan's oldest house has inspired a burst of creativity. Most famous among the artists, performers and chefs who have been inspired by the building is Lin-Manuel Miranda who used the Morris-Jumel Mansion while writing his smash-hit musical "Hamilton."
Built in 1765 for Robert Morris who returned to England when the American Revolution broke out, it served as a headquarters for General George Washington during the battle of Harlem Heights. After years of neglect, the "old Morris home" was purchased by Stephen and Eliza Jumel who wanted to move far away from the city into the bucolic countryside of northern Manhattan.
Today, Eliza's ghost is widely believed to haunt the Mansion, now part of the Historic House Trust. Located near the under-appreciated Hispanic Society of America, the Mansion has a wide array of dynamic programming to augment the rooms and gardens. Contemporary art mixes with immersive theater performances as well as concerts, lectures and even yoga classes.
Lin-Manuel Miranda wrote music for the show while sitting in Aaron Burr's bedroom. Burr, America's third vice president under Thomas Jefferson married Eliza Jumel when he was 77-years old. (The marriage was not a happy one.) I first saw Miranda perform the show-stopping "Wait for It" on the steps of the Morris-Jumel Mansion during their annual family festival. With keyboard accompaniment by Alex Lacamoire, Miranda asked us not to record it on our phones as he had just recently finished writing the song which was still rough.
Later that day, he was back in Burr's bedroom, recording his thoughts and ideas.
After reading letters in the Mansion's archives, artist and couturier Camilla Huey created "The Loves of Aaron Burr." A series of nine corsets, each one personifies a colonial era woman who was in some way connected to the former vice president. The exhibition debuted at the Mansion and Eliza Jumel's corset was portrayed in her own bedroom.
Shortly after the film version of Solomon Northup's autobiography "12 Years a Slave" debuted, it was discovered that his wife, Ann Northup, had been a cook at the Morris-Jumel Mansion during the years of her husbands capture. Food scholar Tonya Hopkins and chef Heather Jones researched, prepared and served a meal at the Mansion, inspired by dishes Ann would have certainly known and served.
To visit the Morris-Jumel Mansion, take the C train to 163rd Street and walk two blocks east to Jumel Terrace. It's impossible to miss the Palladian house perched on a hill, surrounded by Victorian brownstones. Be sure to check the calendar of events, especially on Saturdays when there is an active roster of activities and you might run into someone from the cast of "Hamilton". You may also meet ghost hunters who often come to record sounds and search for signs of the paranormal.
If you visit on a Sunday, be sure to include a visit a block away at Marjorie Eliot's apartment at 555 Edgecombe Avenue. For nearly 30 years, Eliot has hosted a jazz salon in her parlor every Sunday afternoon at 4pm. Guests who include neighbors and plenty of French and Italian tourists sit on folding chairs and throw a few dollars in the donation bucket. The performers are world-class and the setting harkens back to the days when the building was called the "Triple Nickel" and home to Harlem Renaissance luminaries who frequently held informal jazz salons at home.
And don't miss the nearby Hispanic Society of America, a trove of art treasures from Spain on Audubon Terrace. Have lunch or dinner at one of the Dominican restaurants on Broadway or try the wood-fired oven pizza at Bono Trattoria.