Built in 1802-1803 in upper Manhattan, then scenic farmland, the Grange is the only home ever owned by Alexander Hamilton, one of the Founding Fathers. The Grange was designed by the famous American architect John McComb, Jr., and is of significance as a structural work of the Federal period. Hamilton spent nearly two years at the Grange, which he referred to as a garden refuge for a disappointed politician, before his life was cut short on July 11, 1804, by a mortal wound received in an infamous duel with Aaron Burr.
Hamilton Grange National Memorial
Superintendent, Manhattan Sites
26 Wall Street
New York, NY 10005
ph.: (212) 825-6990
Web sites: www.nps.gov/hagr/; www.national parks.org/guide/parks/hamilton-gra-1875 .htm
By the fall of 1799, Alexander Hamilton was searching for something he had always longed for–a home of his own. His life had been a series of continuous movements from rented house to rented house in the cramped quarters of lower Manhattan. Since his marriage to Elizabeth Scholar in 1780, he had moved seven times. In the process, Elizabeth had given birth to eight children. Alexander often made lengthy visits to his father-in-law’s mansion in Albany. General Philip Schuyler headed one of New York’s most distinguished families. He was more than happy to maintain at the mansion several of Alexander’s children for extended periods of time. The situation must have proven to be a bit embarrassing for the forty-four-year-old Hamilton, a well-known lawyer and Federalist Party leader with a famous military and political career behind him. Hamilton now felt the compulsion to settle down.
A thirty-acre tract of land in Harlem, near the home of a friend, Ebeneezer Stevens, was up for sale. Hamilton had been on this land once before. Following the Battle of Long Island, he had retreated from superior British forces on the Bloomington Road. The road bisected the thirty acres. On the eastern section was farmland, and on the west was a scenic knoll overlooking the Hudson and Harlem Rivers. The western section was an ideal place to build a house.
Within a year, Hamilton contracted one of the new nation’s foremost architects, John McComb, Jr., to design the Grange, named after Hamilton’s ancestral home in Ayshire, Scotland. McComb was noted for designing New York City Hall, Castle Clinton on the Battery, and the Old Queens building of Rutgers University. The builder of the house was Ezra Weeks, whose brother Hamilton defended in a murder trial shortly before construction was started on the Grange. The elegant but modest house took two years to complete and ran into major construction difficulties. Expenses for building the Grange amounted to far more than Hamilton imagined, or that his modest life savings could handle. Mortgaging the Grange’s farmland, and other land holdings, was necessary to complete construction.
The house was completed in February, 1803. It was a three-bay, two-story structure with elegant porches on all sides, designed in the symmetrical Federal style of architecture which was typical of the time. The upstairs area contained eight fireplaces, designed according to the new scientific principles of Count Rumford, to provide maximum heat and minimum smoke.
Though he had the debt of a nation, the first secretary of the Treasury was deeply in debt in 1803. Hamilton hoped his legal practice, over time, would help reduce his indebtedness. His rise to prominence was not accompanied by a great rise to riches.
Hamilton was born out of wedlock in 1755 in the West Indies to Rachel Laviern and James Hamilton. By the time Alexander was ten, his father had abandoned the family. At the age of eleven, Alexander began work as a shipping clerk on St. Croix. His abilities and hard work gained him advancement to manager by the age of sixteen. The young Hamilton’s business partners helped finance his formal education by sending him to school in New York City. After a year in preparatory school, he enrolled in Kings College (later renamed Columbia University) in 1773. Hamilton proved to be a brilliant student; however, his studies were interrupted by events leading to the American Revolution.
As a student, Hamilton publicly defended the Boston Tea Party, and he gained notice by writing three influential pamphlets attacking British mercantilist policies and upholding the boycott of British products by the Continental Congress. He cut short his education to join the Continental army in March, 1776, gaining a commission as a captain of artillery. His heroic role in the Battle of Trenton was rewarded by a promotion to colonel and a four-year position as George Washington’s aide-de-camp. A close lifelong relationship was forged. Hamilton’s fluid French and magnetic personality made him a good choice for a position as chief liaison officer with French forces. Hamilton rode beside Washington at the Battles of Brandywine, Germantown, and Monmouth. In the final battle of the Revolutionary War, Hamilton commanded an infantry battalion which attacked British strongholds at Yorktown.
Immediately after the war, Hamilton began a legal practice in New York City. He specialized in defending former Loyalists from discriminatory regulations. Yet national politics soon called. In 1786, Hamilton served as delegate to the Annapolis Convention, which discussed the pitiful economic plight of the new nation. At the Philadelphia Convention of 1787, he became a leading advocate of dissolving the Articles of Confederation, creating in its place a strong federal government separated into legislative, executive, and judicial branches. Although New York withdrew from further discussion of a federal constitution, Hamilton, as an individual, signed the document anyway. To continue the fight for a federal government Hamilton wrote numerous newspaper articles under the nom de plume “Caesar.” He also coauthored, with John Jay and James Madison, the famous eighty-five-essay collection urging states to ratify the Constitution, which became famous as The Federalist. For his tireless effort, Hamilton would forever be known as a Founding Father.
President Washington appointed Hamilton to be the first secretary of the Treasury, a position he held from September 11, 1789, to January 31, 1795. By assuming both domestic and foreign debt, Hamilton’s strong financial program helped restore national credit and create a national currency. Hamilton developed plans for the creation of the first National Bank of the United States. He also developed the Coast Guard and U.S. Navy to help protect national maritime trade, and he helped found the U.S. Naval Academy to train competent officers. To fill the national treasury, Hamilton instituted import duties and excise taxes. Such moves produced strong and hostile national reaction, leading to events such as the Whiskey Rebellion. Hamilton resigned from the Treasury in 1795 to return to his neglected legal practice. However, he remained close to Washington and continued to be a leader of Federalist Party politics. Above all else, Hamilton wanted to keep the new nation away from involvement in the wars following the French Revolution. To this end, Hamilton helped Washington write the “no entangling alliances” aspect of his farewell address.
In 1798, George Washington pressured a reluctant President John Adams to appoint Hamilton as Inspector General of the Army with the rank of major general. Hamilton resigned this position in June, 1800, having fallen into disfavor with Adams and a host of Federalist and Democratic-Republican politicians.
By 1800, while Hamilton was in the midst of finalizing plans for building his estate as an island of sanity, he was also working to undermine support for the reelection of Adams, a move that split the Federalists. Ultimately, the presidential election resulted in an electoral college tie between Thomas Jefferson and Aaron Burr. Although Hamilton disagreed with Jefferson’s political philosophy, he intensely disliked Burr. Hamilton threw his support to Jefferson. In a close House vote, Jefferson became the nation’s third president. Hamilton’s move made him even more unpopular in his already fragmented Federalist Party. Political animosity dealt him a harder blow on November 20, 1801, when Philip, his nineteen-year-old son and eldest child, died in a duel with George Eaker after a heated political exchange at a New York theater. Shortly afterward, his eldest daughter, seventeen-year-old Angelica, descended into permanent insanity due to grief. The tragedies caused Hamilton to become fixated on completing the Grange. He had the finest clay and compost brought in to transform the sandy loam soil. He designed flower garden and tree arrangements. The finest flowers, seeds, vines, and orchard trees were identified and obtained. Thirteen gum trees were planted to represent the original thirteen colonies. Numerous bird houses were constructed.
During the summer of 1802, as the Grange neared completion, Hamilton organized a large and gala open-air celebration. That he was already deeply in debt was a fact that escaped him at this joyous moment. He had lived at seven different addresses in lower Manhattan, and now he was about to have a home he loved. Visitors to the Grange after its completion late in 1802 found Hamilton content with his new life. He again practiced law, influenced opinion in a newspaper he founded called The New York Evening Post, and dabbled in politics. One political fact he could not ignore: Aaron Burr was running for the governorship of New York. Hamilton gave his support to Burr’s Democratic-Republican rival, who won the election in a close vote. Infuriated by Hamilton’s actions, Burr challenged Hamilton to a duel in June, 1804, using as a pretext a casual remark Hamilton had made at a dinner party two months before. Hamilton left his beloved Grange for the last time, heading for Weehawkin, New Jersey, the same place where his son Philip had died, to meet Burr’s challenge. On the morning of July 11, Hamilton received a mortal wound. By the following day, he left a family and nation in grief.
Following Hamilton’s death and until 1833, the Grange was occupied by Hamilton’s widow and children. Intervention by family and friends saved the estate from almost immediate foreclosure. Between 1833 and 1879, it was used as a summer home by a series of New York families. Purchased by a real estate investor in 1879, the Grange was divided into three hundred separate rectangular building lots. Manhattan was rapidly growing northward. With the building of 143d Street, Hamilton’s house was moved 350 feet in 1889 to its current site at 287 Convent Avenue. Soon it was sandwiched between St. Lukes Episcopal Church on one side and an apartment building on the other. In 1924, the Grange was purchased by a historic preservation society, which operated it as a museum until the National Park Service authorized it as a National Monument in 1962 “to commemorate the historic role played by Alexander Hamilton in the establishment of this nation.” The house, containing a visitors’ center and exhibits on the first floor, remained open until 1992, when concerns arose about the safety of the structure. Finally stabilized, the Grange reopened in 1998 for visitation Friday through Sunday.
Plans were soon underway to move the Grange one block away to St. Nicholas Park and place it on a nearly one-acre scenic lot. An easement demanded by the National Park Service was signed by the governor of New York in October, 1999. The Grange would be restored to its original appearance, with period furniture and a substantially improved museum depicting Hamilton’s career and accomplishments, and a film and education center would be established on the ground floor. The Grange would be open seven days a week and was expected to attract a far greater number of tourists.
Nearby visitor attractions include the General Grant National Memorial, City College, Columbia University, the Morris-Jummel Mansion, the Hispanic Museum, Riverside Church, the Cathedral of St. John the Divine, and the Studio Museum in Harlem.
Broadus, Mitchell. Alexander Hamilton: A Concise Biography. New York: Oxford University Press, 1976. A condensed version of the classic two-volume study of Hamilton. Brookhiser, Richard. Alexander Hamilton, American. New York: Free Press, 1999. A colorfully written, concise, and sympathetic treatment of Hamilton’s political life and personal adventures. Hecht, Marie B. Odd Destiny: The Life of Alexander Hamilton. New York: MacMillan, 1982. A well-researched and highly readable biographical treatment. Hendrickson, Robert A. The Rise and Fall of Alexander Hamilton. New York: Van Nostrand, 1981. A humanistic and thorough study of Hamilton’s life based on Hamilton’s papers, letters, and other documents. McDonald, Forrest. Alexander Hamilton: A Biography. New York: W. W. Norton, 1982. A balanced analysis of Hamilton’s political career, financial policies, and historic role that is considered by many to be the standard study. Rogow, Arnold A. A Fatal Friendship: Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr. New York: Hill & Wang, 1999. A highly readable and detailed account of the lives of the duelists, which also captures aspects of life in the early republic.