American Academy of Arts and Letters

Edification value 3/5
Entertainment value 3/5
Should you go? 3/5
Time spent 37 minutes
Best thing I saw or learned This 2015 tapestry by Michael Smith, titled “Excuse Me I am looking for the Fountain of Youth!” delighted me. Who makes tapestries? But this one was full of wonderful narrative details including skinny dipping bunnies, errant knights, and a TSA metal detector. Michael Smith Tapestry

A Hall of Fame for Great Artists

Imagine the 250 greatest living creators of art and literature had a club, and you could only join it if one of them nominated you. Once you’re in, you’re in for life, and you and the other 249 greatest creators would get together and, I don’t even know what. Hob-nob, soiree, cotillion, give prizes to one another and possibly to other artists who aren’t quite 250-worthy, but hey, you keep trying there.

That’s the American Academy of Arts and Letters, founded in 1898. Except that in 2020 it graciously upped its ranks (or, from another point of view, lowered its standards) to 300. 

It somewhat reminds me of the Hall of Fame for Great Americans, except the Academy’s 250 (or 300) don’t have bronze busts. They do, however, have a neat clubhouse up in Harlem, part of the Audubon Terrace complex that also houses the Hispanic Society.

American Academy of Arts and Letters
Pavilion Number One


A Space on Audubon Terrace

Mere mortals mostly don’t get to visit the Academy. However, periodically, the place does open up for special exhibitions. I have always managed to miss them, right up until this year, when I finally made a visit.

The Academy’s gallery spaces are lovely, in a slightly-gone-to-seed way. They comprise two mirror-image Beaux-Arts pavilions facing one another across the brick plaza of the Terrace.

American Academy of Arts and Letters
Pavilion Number Two
Trinity Church Cemetery
A view to die for

Their interiors range from darkened rooms for video installations to spaces bright with skylights or windows (overlooking the atmospheric Trinity Cemetery and Mausoleum, no less).

I tend to think contemporary art works best in older spaces. The contrast of old and new works better for me than, say, an austere, whitewashed concrete box.  So the slightly shabby pavilions held great appeal. Moreover, I appreciated how thoughtfully the curators used the variety of spaces at their disposal.

American Academy of Arts and Letters

Invitational Only

I saw the Academy’s 2022 Invitational Exhibition of Visual Arts, a sort of mini-Whitney-biennial of contemporary artists that the Academy’s members like. Future member recruitment? 

American Academy
Carl D’Alvia, Loveseat, 2021

The description said that although there was no intentional theme, nonetheless, “[i]n many cases, the finished works destabilize, even disregard, old disciplinary questions rooted in hierarchy—is it a painting or a sculpture; art or craft? Instead, they opt for plenitude, for and, and, and. ” Indeed, the show included nearly three dozen artists working in eclectic materials: ceramics and glass, sculpture and video, the aforementioned tapestry, and even upholstery (see Loveseat)

These kinds of exhibits are always hit-or-miss, and so I was pleasantly surprised at how much of the show was a hit for me. It helped that most pieces in this show were lighthearted, clever, and often quite beautiful. For example, I loved Judy Fox’s slightly creepy, biomorphic,  technicolor terra cotta pieces that looked like something out of a Jeff VanderMeer book.

Should You Visit the American Academy of Arts and Letters?

The Academy’s raison d’être is unfashionable these days. Elitism and exclusivity aren’t really a good look. However, I think elitism, after a fashion, is due for a comeback, and so I am very happy that the Academy still exists, and seems to be going strong. 

ThAmerican Academy Bronze Doorse entrance to one of the two Academy pavilions features a pair of handsome, old-school bronze doors, with naked cherubim and the personifications of Inspiration (girl) and Drama (guy), along with the sentiment, “By the gates of art we enter the temple of happiness.” However, the pediment of the same building bears a different perspective: “All passes, art alone untiring stays to us.”

While art isn’t always (and shouldn’t always be) about making people happy, positioning museums as temples of untiring happiness is no bad thing, especially in an era when happiness feels in especially short supply.

The Academy boasts great old spaces for viewing new art, and Audubon Terrace is an unexpected architectural gem. I’d definitely recommend visiting the next time the Academy opens its doors.

For Reference:

Address 633 West 155th Street, Manhattan
Cost  General Admission:  Free
Other Relevant Links


Hispanic Society of America

Edification value 2/5
Entertainment value 2/5
Should you go? 2/5
Time spent 33 minutes
Best thing I saw or learned It’s a predictable choice but Hispanic Society’s Goya, “The Duchess of Alba,” from 1797, is a fantastic portrait.  I especially love that Goya inscribed his signature on the sandy shore where she’s standing. The Duchess unsubtly points a bejeweled finger toward his name. 

Goya's Duchess of Alba, Detail
The Duchess gives Goya the finger


Iberian Dreams…

Like many other institutions around New York City, the Hispanic Society of America was founded by a rich guy who became obsessed with something. Think Gustav Heye and what is now the New York branch of the Smithsonian’s Museum of the American Indian, or Mr. Frick’s collection or Mr. Morgan’s library… Occasionally it was an obsessed rich woman, like Jacques Marchais’s thing for Tibetan Art or the artistic passions of Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney

In the case of the Hispanic Society, the rich dude was Archer Milton Huntington. And the obsession was the art of the Iberian peninsula. Archer Milton Huntington opened his Spanish Museum in 1908, though he’d dreamed of having a museum of some kind since he was a boy. Born very rich, the story goes that as a young man Huntington fell in love with Hispanic art on a visit to Mexico, which sparked many trips to Spain, learning Spanish as well as Arabic, and becoming both a connoisseur of and an expert in the art and culture.

The Hispanic Society is located in a splendid Beaux-Arts building in Harlem, part of the Audubon Terrace campus. It’s an interesting quirk of fate that Spanish is much more likely to be spoken in the museum’s neighborhood today than when it opened there a century ago. The beautiful old building is a blessing and a curse: the museum closed for a massive renovation shortly before I started my museum project back in 2017, and remained closed right up until 2022.

Today, happily, it is in the first stages of reopening its doors. When I visited back in March, I saw a “best-of” selection of the museum’s collection, curated to demonstrate how its mission has evolved and expanded.

Nuestra casa es su casa

The exhibit on view when I visited was titled Nuestra casa, and split a small basement space into two sections. The first half focused on Archer Huntington’s dream for the museum, travels in Spain, and the foundations of the collection. The second half was titled “A collection without borders” and focused on the museum’s mission since the 1990s, when it started to greatly increase its holdings from Latin America.

The Hispanic Society argues that this is justified because of the huge cultural influences back and forth between Iberia and its colonial (or former colonial) holdings – the Spanish and Portuguese speaking worlds. And of course it wants to stay relevant in a cultural landscape much-changed since Huntington’s time.

I’m not convinced the exhibit really supported the “one big world of influences” argument. It was easy to see Spain and Portugal influencing art in their overseas territories; however, cultural influences in the other direction were much less clear. I think that’s a fault of the bifurcated curation; it didn’t let the Society’s classic collection and its more recent acquisitions really talk to one another.

The space was a let-down as well: a small, windowless room, interrupted by a row of six large columns, with walls painted in shades of ochre that play off the collection’s Goya.

Hispanic Society Interior

That said, the Hispanic Society’s greatest hits are indeed quite great, including a dynamite Velázquez and the aforementioned showstopping Goya portrait, along with El Greco, Zurbarán, and even a dark and murky Sargent. I had a less strong reaction to the art from the New World, though some small devotional sculptures from Equador, depicting what awaits after death, were almost Tibetan in their macabre exuberance.

Four Fates of Man
Manuel Chili, “The Four Fates of Man,” Ecuador, ca 1775

Should You Visit the Hispanic Society Museum?

I’m excited that the Hispanic Society seems to be (slowly) returning to life as a museum. Its important collection and beautiful building are valuable restorations to the cultural fabric of the city. 

However, the tiny current space doesn’t merit a trip. Having seen photos of what the building’s interiors look like I’m confident that will change when more of the place opens back up. I just hope it won’t be another five years before that happens. 

Hispanic Society Interior View

The Hispanic Society is worth a quick stop if you happen to be in that part of Harlem. It might make a good combination with the splendid Morris-Jumel Mansion, both historic buildings. It is also close to the Sugar Hill Children’s Museum of Art and Storytelling, and while kids may not enjoy the Hispanic Society, at least the small size means they won’t get too impatient. 

On a nice day it would be pleasant to just hang out in the piazza of Audubon Terrace and contemplate Don Quixote (yay), the conquistadors (boo), and El Cid (yay? boo? I don’t know…), all of whom are immortalized there. The Society once shared the terrace with the aforementioned American Indian Museum, as well as the American Numismatic Society. A mini Lincoln Center of museums and cultural institutions, now scattered across the City. The American Academy of Arts and Letters is still there, and occasionally opens for exhibitions.

Audubon Terrace Plaza
El Cid, by Anna Hyatt Huntington

Finally, those with an interest in modern or contemporary Hispanic art should also consider El Museo del Barrio, which didn’t impress me much but for the moment has far more to see than the Hispanic Society.

For Reference:

Address 613 W 155th Street, Manhattan
Cost  General Admission:  Free


Sugar Hill Children’s Museum of Art and Storytelling

Sugar Hill Children's Museum of Art and Storytelling
Edification value 3/5
Entertainment value 4/5
Should you go? 3/5
Time spent 79 minutes
Best thing I saw or learned Yuken Teruya’s complex, captivating, thought-provoking constructions made from and contained within shopping bags. My very favorite were “Constellation,” a series of intricate night skies — a universe in a discarded Barney’s bag.

Even before you get to it, the Sugar Hill Children’s Museum of Art and Storytelling makes a strong and unexpected impression. It occupies an airy, light-filled, below-ground space in a distinctive building — an utterly modern, 2014 low-income apartment house that looks like anything but low-income housing. The building was designed by Sir David Adjaye, who also designed Washington, DC’s National Museum of African American History.

Sugar Hill Children's Museum of Art and Storytelling

The Sugar Hill Museum, which refreshingly does not have a “SHCMo…” acronym, was a key programmatic element of the building, along with a preschool and a community art gallery.

The place knows its audience. I appreciated its kid’s-eye-level sign that explains not a list of “don’ts,” but “rules for being cool” while visiting.  I don’t know if that works, but I appreciate the gesture.

Sugar Hill Children's Museum of Art and Storytelling


Art To Make

Sugar Hill Children's Museum of Art and StorytellingThe Sugar Hill Museum, knowing its audience, splits its programming very evenly between art to look at (in several gallery spaces and a studio) and art to make in a main multipurpose space and what I’ll call a sort of art lab.  There’s blocks to stack, a wall you can paint (with water — it’s kind of fun to watch your graffiti disappear slowly as it dries), leaves to color and other things to make.

Sugar Hill Children's Museum of Art and Storytelling

The museum also has an artist-in-residence program.  Currently the artist is Damian Davis, who makes layered collages bolted together out of shapes cut from plastic. Playing off his work, a group activity during my visit involved letting young visitors assemble their own layered creations with a variety of precut shapes, in soft foam. It was clever, and when we visited Mr. Davis in the studio the kids I was with were excited to talk with him about their creations.

Sugar Hill Children's Museum of Art and Storytelling

Art to See

Sugar Hill Children's Museum of Art and Storytelling
Fernando Tamburini, “The Flying Town,” 2016

The first piece of art a visitor sees at the Sugar Hill Children’s Museum of Art and Storytelling is a charming array of floating houses that animates the light well that makes the subterranean space feel, well, above ground.

In addition to the artist-in-residence’s studio, two rooms hold temporary exhibitions. The museum curates those to reflect themes of the neighborhood, as well as subject matter suited to the target audience. When I visited one gallery hosted the works of Faith Ringgold, an activist, but also a children’s book author and illustrator. Her work does a great job of raising issues of cultural and political history in a kid-friendly way. 

Sugar Hill Children's Museum of Art and Storytelling
Faith Ringgold at the Sugar Hill Children’s Museum

The other gallery, a narrow space well suited to small shows and short attention spans, is where the museum showed Yuken Teruya’s work. Obsessively, beautifully cut and folded trees made from paper bags comment eloquently on consumerism and the environment, while being beautiful at the same time. The kids I was with were as fascinated by these pieces as I was.

Sugar Hill Children's Museum of Art and Storytelling
Yuken Teruya at the Sugar Hill Children’s Museum

Should You Visit the Sugar Hill Children’s Museum of Art and Storytelling?

The Sugar Hill Museum designs its programming primarily for children ages 3-8. But I think even a slightly older kid, if they like art, would enjoy it, at least for a while. It’s not overwhelming, which is great. You can go, spend an hour or two, make something neat, see some art, talk to an artist, hear a fortuitous jazz concert, and be done.

It’s an unexpected space, in a noteworthy building. And the curators do a good job keeping grown-ups engaged along with the young ones.

Most importantly, I think the museum is — rarity in today’s New York — something of a hidden gem as well. My borrowed kids and their mom and I went for the museum’s free third-Sunday day and yet while there were a healthy number of kids and caregivers there, it was not at all overrun.

Sugar Hill Children's Museum of Art and Storytelling
Unexpected Jazz Concert

I came away completely impressed at how well the museum executes its mandate. It could just be a smaller clone of the Children’s Museum of the Arts, but instead it’s distinctive, vibrant, and really, just a lovely, welcoming space in which to see and create art.  I recommend it for anyone with kids.

For Reference:

Address 898 St. Nicholas Avenue (at 155th Street), Manhattan
Cost  General Admission:  $7
Other Relevant Links


National Track and Field Hall of Fame


Edification value  4/5
Entertainment value  3/5
Should you go?  3/5
Time spent 75 minutes
Best thing I saw or learned
National Track and Field Hall of Fame, Armory
The black and red bars near the ceiling are the world’s highest pole vaults…

The curators integrated visual depictions of track and field world records into the exhibition.  Bars mark heights of high jumps, lines on the floor show long jumps and shot puts and such.  It’s one thing to read a record, a much more viscerally impressive thing to see one in the flesh. 

This is my second hall of fame  (after the Hall of Fame for Great Americans), and the second museum in one of New York’s antique armory buildings (after the Park Avenue Armory).  However, it is my first museum devoted to a sport.  New York doesn’t have, say, a museum to baseball or football.  Or soccer.

Metropolitan Museum of Art
Baseball cards at The Met

There are sports legends waxified at Madame Tussaud’s. The Jackie Robinson Museum hopefully exists in New York’s future.  And the Met has its baseball card collection, which I suspect it keeps mainly to show it’s even more encyclopedic than the Louvre.  But in general sports are an underserved museum topic in New York City.

The National Track and Field Hall of Fame resides in the 1909 22nd Core of Engineers Armory in Harlem.  The entire building is now a track-and-field complex, with a running track in the vast former drill hall.  Like most of New York’s armories the architecture is cool and castle-like.

National Track and Field Hall of Fame, Armory Continue reading “National Track and Field Hall of Fame”

Studio Museum in Harlem

Edification value  4/5
Entertainment value  3/5
Should you go?  3/5
Time spent 72 minutes
Best thing I saw or learned Lawdy Mama, 1969, Studio Museum in HarlemBarkley L. Hendricks, Lawdy Mama, 1969, from the portraits show. Arresting today, must’ve been even more so when new.  To quote the wall text, “Hendricks uses the master’s tools to dismantle his house.”

UPDATE APRIL 2021: The Studio Museum in Harlem is closed as it builds a new home for itself. I’m looking forward to visiting it in its new building. It opened a small temporary gallery space, but that is closed due to the pandemic.

Studio Museum in Harlem, New YorkThe Studio Museum in Harlem harbors no small ambitions, despite its smallish space. It prints its mission statement outside its front door:

The Studio Museum in Harlem is the nexus for artists of African descent, locally, nationally and internationally and for work that has been inspired and influenced by black culture. It is a site for the dynamic exchange of ideas about art and society.

As Chief Brody says in Jaws, “You’re gonna need a bigger boat.”

And yet, I left the Studio Museum reflecting that they do a  masterful job with the boat they’ve got. Continue reading “Studio Museum in Harlem”

National Jazz Museum in Harlem

Edification value 2/5 
Entertainment value  2/5
Should you go?  
Time spent 13 minutes
Best thing I saw or learned

A poster of the famous Esquire Magazine jazz family portrait, taken on the stoop of a Harlem brownstone.  The museum doesn’t  say much about the creation of the picture, but the 1995 documentary “A Great Day in Harlem” covers it well.

Hey there, daddy-o, if you’re a swingin’ hep cat and you dig the syncopated sounds of America’s native musical form, have I got a museum for you!

Actually, I don’t.  I went to the Jazz Museum skeptical but hopeful, and ultimately I can’t recommend it.

Skeptical because how do you put jazz in a museum?  Music of any sort is a tricky thing to museum-ify. But jazz in particular, with its energy and improvisation…  you could have a Hall of Fame for jazz.  But a museum?

Hopeful because, hey, you never know.  The right combination of stories, artifacts, and interactive listening kiosks might be able to do justice to the vast sweep of traditions that comprise jazz and its influence across the whole of music.

In the event, the Jazz Museum is at best a proto-museum.  An aspirational museum. A sketch or an outline for an institution in the future. It occupies a small ground floor space on a side street in Harlem, and seems largely to exist as a shrine to one of Duke Ellington’s pianos.  They have a couple of other instruments from less famous instrumentalists, and a chunk of a living room emphasizing the importance of music in homes in Harlem. But really there wasn’t much to see.

Duke Ellington's Piano, Jazz Museum Harlem
Duke Ellington’s Piano

They had Ella playing in the background, but even that proved a mixed blessing.  There were a couple of touchscreens where visitors can listen to jazz, but the background music, while good, interfered with listening to the headphones.

Interactive Screen The Jazz Museum, Harlem
Also, their interactive jazz bios are in some cases tragically out of date.

On the other hand, their space includes a tiny, informal performance area in the back, and while I was there an older gent stopped in and just started playing the piano.  Really well. As a musically untalented person, I hate people who can do that. But deeply appreciated it in that space.

National Jazz Museum in HarlemVisiting the National Jazz Museum made me think about the regular reports of the death of jazz, which may even be deader than opera at this point.  I wondered if having a museum to it serves as yet another piece of evidence for the demise of the form? They have a display with photos of young jazz musicians, and sorta reach toward hip-hop, kinda. But really nothing I saw there suggests anything innovative or interesting has happened in jazz since the 1970s.

I firmly believe that museums for specific groups or cultures can emphasize the aliveness of the cultures they represent.  Both the Museum of Chinese in America and the National Museum of the American Indian do that in different ways and at different scales. But I don’t think the National Jazz Museum succeeds.  If jazz isn’t dead yet, maybe the museum will kill it.

If you are in New York City and are curious about or interested in jazz, here are an assortment of things I’d suggest you do rather than visit the Jazz Museum:

  • Hear a show at Smoke, Jazz Standard, Village Vanguard, Minton’s or any of a dozen or so other clubs.
  • Go to Jazz at Lincoln Center.  A bit more stuffy and formalized — more like a museum for jazz if you will, but Wynton Marsalis is the reigning king of the art form.  And the Allen Room has the best view of any music venue in New York City.
  • Check out art from the Jazz Age–either the exemplary show currently at the Cooper-Hewitt, or any time at the Whitney.
  • Make a pilgrimage to the final resting places of Duke Ellington and Miles Davis in Woodlawn Cemetery.
  • Rent or stream Ken Burns’s PBS jazz series
  • Visit Louis Armstrong’s house in Corona, Queens

As for the Jazz Museum, maybe, possibly go to a performance there. But skip it otherwise.

For Reference:

Address 58 West 129th Street, Manhattan
Cost Free
Other Relevant Links

Morris-Jumel Mansion

Edification value  3/5
Entertainment value  3/5
Should you go?  3/5
Time spent 77 minutes
Best thing I saw or learned Sconce With Wallpaper, Morris Jumel Mansion

The mansion has recently undergone a major wall upgrade, installing recreations of historic wallpaper based on Mme. Jumel’s descriptions. The Octagonal Drawing Room features an amazing pattern of clouds against a blue sky.  I must remember that for the next time I renovate MY octagonal drawing room.

Sylvan Terrace, Harlem

The way to the Morris-Jumel Mansion takes you up the gentle slope of Sylvan Terrace, a single block long and one of the most unlikely streets in all of Manhattan.  Paved with perfect cobblestones, both sides of the street consist of a matched set of beautiful, seemingly mint condition, wooden townhouses from the 19th century, all period charm and lovingly preserved detail.  It’s a miracle that it survived, though the big white house on the hill at the end of the terrace is more miraculous still:  the Morris-Jumel Mansion has lasted longer than any other home on the island, dating to 1765.  That makes it about 30 years older than the Dyckman farmhouse, just a bit to the north.  And instead of the Dyckman’s rustic, humble charm, Colonel Roger Morris built to his “summer villa” to impress.

Morris Jumel Mansion

Three stories (four if you include the basement), the grand house featured a columned portico and the first octagonal room in the country.  Col. Morris and his wife, loyal to the British, abandoned the place during the revolution, leading to its moment in the spotlight of history.  More on that later.  In 1810, Stephen Jumel, an immigrant from France, bought the mansion.  His wife, the smart and colorful Eliza Jumel (nee Bowen), has the strongest personality in the house today.

Madame Jumel

Eliza Jumel
Portrait of Eliza Jumel, Artist Unknown, 1832-1833

Eliza Bowen came from a poor family in Rhode Island.  Not only did she find in M. Jumel a successful businessman to marry, but she turned out to be something of a real estate tycoon herself.  The Jumels may not have been welcome in high society (being nouveau riche and from the wrong backgrounds), but they lived well.  They spent time in France, and Madame Jumel (always “Madame,” it seems, never “Missus”) returned with (so she claimed) Napoleon’s bedroom set, and strong ideas about decorating her summer villa.  No one’s quite sure if it really is Napoleon’s bedroom set, but just the fact that she’d tell people that brings her to life.  She lived in the house until she died in 1865, apparently becoming quite eccentric over time.

Hamilton and History

As with all buildings of that vintage, my first question related to my favorite Founding Father.  A.Ham indeed spent time there at least twice. Once during the period from September to October 1776 when Washington made the mansion his headquarters, before the British drove him and the Continental Army out of Manhattan.  And again in 1790 when Washington held a cabinet dinner meeting there.

Also, the notorious A.Burr actually lived here–Madame Jumel married him in 1832, just a year after M. Jumel’s death. Briefly. It seems she got along with him no better than Hamilton did, though at least he didn’t shoot her.  Rather, she divorced him.  Practically unthinkable in that time, it confirms that he really must’ve been a colossal jerk.

ALSO also, Lin-Manuel Miranda asked if he could spend some time in the mansion while he wrote “Hamilton,” the better to immerse himself in the period vibe.  So some portion of the musical came into the world in Aaron Burr’s bedroom at the Morris-Jumel Mansion.

That’s about as Hamiltonian as it gets.

The House Today

Morris-Jumel Mansion Display
Odds and ends, Morris-Jumel Mansion

In addition to Napoleon’s alleged bedstead, the house has some original furniture, with about six rooms fully decorated, and another couple currently undergoing restoration.  The kitchen space in the basement is open, but without much to see. As a fan of old kitchens, I hope they do something with it eventually.  It does contain an odd display of a toaster, a chamberpot, a bedwarmer, and a teacup.  Trying to figure out what those things have in common started to give me a headache.

Morris-Jumel Mansion
Dining Room, Morris-Jumel Mansion
iPad Holder, Morris Jumel Mansion
Insert Tablet Here

Each room has a rather handsome piece of modern wood furniture–a stand or a railing–designed to cradle an iPad.  But no tablets in sight. I asked about that–whether it was an attempt at deploying technology that had failed.  Turns out it’s still a work in progress.  The tablets, when installed, will provide deep dives on individual pieces of furniture, paintings, and other objects.  My skepticism of technology for technology’s sake in this sort of setting remains strong, but I like the idea of using screens to tailor descriptions to the needs and interests of visitors, enabling them to engage more deeply.

Trish, who was working the admission desk/gift shop that day, kindly answered my myriad questions, about technology and about history as well.  She told me that it opened to the public in 1906, like the Van Cortlandt House a project of the Colonial Dames of New York.  I asked how it survived, and she said Washington gets the credit:  although only for a month, the fact that the mansion served as his headquarters earned its preservation. Indeed, when it first opened, the place served as a sort of shrine to Washington and the Revolution. 

Only more recently has the story pivoted to focus on Madame Jumel, who after all lived there a lot longer, and about whose occupancy there’s a lot more historical information and documentation.  And Napoleon’s bedroom set.

Morris Jumel Mansion, Harlem, from Sunken GardenThe mansion’s vast land holdings at one point stretched the (albeit pretty narrow that far north) width of Manhattan.  All that land is now Washington Heights, of course. And yet, its commanding hilltop location, surrounded by tiny, lovely Roger Morris Park, offers a taste of the country to this day.  The grounds burst with rosebushes and even include a small sunken garden. I could easily see going back just to sit there and read a book.

Tea roses at Morris Jumel Mansion
Tea roses at Morris Jumel Mansion

Who should visit the Morris-Jumel Mansion?  Hamiltonians, for sure.  Fans of old wallpaper, and fans of rich eccentric 19th century madames.  Those into colonial architecture and house museums.  The three house museums of upper Manhattan (Dyckman Farmhouse, here, and the Hamilton Grange) provide a  varied look at life in the 18th and early 19th centuries.  Visiting all three of them would make for a highly edifying afternoon. 

For Reference:

Address Roger Morris Park, 65 Jumel Terrace, Manhattan
Cost  General Admission:  $10
Other Relevant Links

Dyckman Farmhouse

Edification value
Entertainment value
Should you go?
Time spent 55 minutes
Best thing I saw or learned Jacob Dyckman was the first in his family to go to college, earning a degree from Columbia in 1806.  They have his diploma on display in the parlor.  Always nice to meet a fellow Columbia man.

The Dyckman Farmhouse is the least fancy historic home I’ve been to so far on this project.  Owned by the Dyckman family, who had a large farm at the northern tip of Manhattan, the house is reckoned to have been built around 1783, so it’s also the oldest historic house I’ve been to yet.

The Dyckmans owned it for over 100 years, though they didn’t always live there; for a while they rented it, and it served as an inn for a bit too. As the subway was rolling north and Inwood was urbanizing, descendants of the Dyckmans decided the house should be preserved as a museum.  It opened to the public in 1916.  

It’s totally different from the fancy, symmetrical, Federal style of the other historic houses I’ve seen so far.  Rather it is very basic, 2 stories plus a cellar, simple, small, cozy, and a little threadbare.  And like all old houses, seemingly quite crowded and uncomfortable back in the day.

It’s hard to imagine the original surroundings of the house. They built it deliberately close to what was then the Kingsbridge Road (now Broadway).  But mentally erasing the apartment buildings, cars, and buses and putting in rolling fields and outbuildings is hard.  There’s a tiny plot of green in back and on the sides of the house, with a reconstructed Hessian hut, but it barely begins to evoke the original agrarian setting.

This would be a great opportunity for some augmented reality, though I get the sense that the Dyckman Farmhouse budget probably wouldn’t allow for anything that high tech.

The view from the Dyckmans’ front porch today

I didn’t go on a tour, just walked around the house on my own, and I definitely missed the value of a good guide, who I think would’ve conveyed a better sense of the people who lived there than I got from the room descriptions alone.








The winter kitchen, in the cellar. In the summer they would’ve cooked in a kitchen in a separate building.

I asked about Hamilton, of course, and to my surprise the answer was they’re not aware of any connections with the great man.  However, George Washington likely visited the farm at some point. That said, it would be easy and instructive to combine a visit to Dyckman Farm with the Hamilton Grange, providing a contrast of styles between a working farm and a stately country retreat.

For Reference:

Address 4881 Broadway, Manhattan (at 204th St.)
Cost Free/Donation


Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture

Edification value
Entertainment value
Should you go?
Time spent 45 minutes
Best thing I saw or learned Schomburg’s Media Center was showing a selection of Blaxploitation films as a complement to the Black Power exhibition. I stopped for longer than I expected to to watch Pam Grier refuse to take crap from anybody.  I feel a little guilty, as the history of Black Power is incredibly important, now more than ever.  But Pam Grier was the best thing I saw there.

The Schomburg Center is the New York Public Library’s research branch focused on the African American experience. It’s a complex of three buildings in Harlem, hosting a ton of talks, events, and exhibitions. Much of the Schomburg Center is currently undergoing a thorough renovation, so I couldn’t visit anything beyond the exhibition space.

This is the first of at least three library branches that I’ll be visiting and writing about in the course of this project. If there’s one thing the NYPL does really well, it’s bring documents to life. 

The current show at the Schomburg Center is on the Black Power movement of the late 60s and 70s.  (2016 marked its fiftieth anniversary) Well chosen quotes highlighted the establishment reaction to the Black Power movement, actual newspapers, magazines, flyers, photographs, pins and other key documents made an exhibit that involved a great deal of reading much more immediate and interesting.  Music from the era helped convey the emotion of the time. And some well chosen videos on a couple of screens added variety.

The show covers a large amount of ground, reflecting on the political and organizational tactics of the Black Power leadership, as well as on the movement’s impact on fashion, the arts, and popular culture. I confess I always wondered about the berets that were such a signature part of the Black Power look.  The show suggests they came from the influence of Che Guevara and Fidel Castro.

The Schomburg’s exhibition space itself is beautiful, light and airy, with big windows.  It’s not large, but it was the right size for the show it contained. 

Should you go?  For both the Schomburg in general and this show in particular, I’d say yes.  The NYPL knows how to pull off focused exhibits leveraging documents as the main things that tell the story.  I’m not sure everything they program there will be as relevant or important as Black Power!, but I feel confident it’ll be interesting.

For Reference:

Address 515 Malcolm X Blvd (Malcolm X and 135th)
Cost Free
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Hamilton Grange National Memorial

Edification value  
Entertainment value  
Should you go?  
Time spent 61 minutes
Best thing I saw or learned Hamilton placed a marble bust of himself styled as a slightly smirking, handsome, Roman senator, in the entryway of the Grange. Looking at it now it’s like he’s thinking, “Hey, Jefferson, you may get to be president, but see if anyone composes the biggest musical in Broadway history about YOU someday.”

How do you kick off a project like this?  I decided to stick fairly close to home, and what better way to start in this Hamiltonian era than with the Harlem summer, country home of Alexander, Eliza, and family?  Hamilton went into serious debt to buy the land (32 acres) and have the Grange designed and built.  It’s a beautiful, Federal style home dating to 1802. Lots of symmetry, including two faux chimneys just to create balance.

Hamilton Grange National Memorial Continue reading “Hamilton Grange National Memorial”