Intimate Secrets of a Harlem Heights Mansion

By Marina Rybak


My summer meanderings in Harlem, the hippest destination of savvy globetrotters, were long overdue. My stars were lining up. An enticing underpinnings exhibit lured me into the oldest New York residence just above Sugar Hill, The Morris-Jumel Mansion.


Sylvan-TerraceI always wanted to teleport myself into another place and time in an instant.  I had my lucky break. I felt like Alice in Wonderland when I took a left turn from St. Nicholas Avenue up the stone steps to Sylvan Terrace on the edge of Washington Heights. For a split second I thought I was in the Artist’s Village of Alésia in Montparnasse. A few steps up the original cobblestones along 19th century raw houses, I was approaching Colonial America.


George Washington’s bedchambers in the historic Morris-Jumel Mansion

The historic Morris-Jumel Mansion was George Washington’s headquarters during the autumn of 1776. On the eve of Independence Day my timing could not be better. And as bonus George Washington did sleep here, really.

In front of me emerged a mid-18th century marvel in The Palladian style, nestled on the pastoral grounds with breathtaking, inviting views. The past residents and the visitors alike infused this landmark house with richly diverse, haunting history, intimately linked with the revolutionary beginnings of our nation.


The current exhibit is by Camilla Huey, a local resident, an artist and a couturier. She was fascinated with the Mansion’s mysteries for almost a decade and especially was drawn to one of its notorious residents – a shadowy revolutionary hero and the first feminist, Aaron Burr.  “The Loves of Aaron Burr: Portraits in Corsetry and Binding” is a unique, artistically beautiful and intellectually stimulating, literary exhibit.  Through custom made corsetry and bookbinding it reflects on Burr’s relationship with the women in his life. It is on view until September 12.

“The Arts of Beauty”
 installations are accompanying the main showcase and are the most exquisite, rare examples from the permanent collection – laces, delicate accessories and the objects of beauty from 18th and 19th century.  There is very little to add, except what a perfect excursion!

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