I remember a day. I can’t recall whether it was fall or spring, but I remember it was a beautiful sunny day — the perfect weather to play in. I was on a class field trip and all I kept thinking was, “When are we going to go to the park?”
I was probably in the third or fourth grade and didn’t comprehend the importance of history. Certainly not of the old house we were standing in. I wasn’t aware that it was the second oldest house in the Bronx. A house that was part of one of the greatest wars in American history — the Valentine-Varian House.
According to the Historic House Trust, Valentine-Varian House was built in 1758 and was the last of the farmhouses along the original Boston Post Road, now Van Courtlandt Avenue East. Isaac Valentine, a blacksmith and farmer from Yonkers, built the two-story, 18th century Georgian house out of the native stone on his land. Its prime location gave Valentine access to crop markets in New York, and with plenty of business as a blacksmith as carts and carriages constantly passed his door on their way to King’s Bridge and Manhattan.
The house faced a number of challenges due to the American Revolutionary War. According to my Bronx bible — Lloyd Ultan and Shelley Olson’s The Bronx: The Ultimate Guide to New York City’s Beautiful Borough — the house has seen some important faces during this tumultuous time. Paul Revere, engraver, early industrialist, and one of the most famous Patriot soldiers in the war, often passed by the house with letters from the Massachusetts Committee of Correspondence to the Patriots in New York City. One of our founding fathers, George Washington, who was the newly appointed general in 1775, passed by the house on his way to Boston to take command of the troops besieging the British. The book also explains that the house was taken over in the Fall of 1776 by the British Army, German Hessian mercenaries, and Tories (Americans fighting for the British). Also, the head of the French Army, Jean-Baptiste Donatien de Vimeur (or Comte de Rochambeau) and his soldiers also encamped in the farmhouse in July of 1781. The house was in the middle of six battles. And, through all of this, Valentine remained in the house.
After the war in 1789, John Adams visited the house en route to New York City to be inaugurated as the nation’s first vice president. President George Washington once again went by the house for a second time on his way to visit the New England states.
Due to the effects of the war, farmers in the area were faced with great hardships in repairing the wreckage of their homes and lands. Valentine was impoverished and in deep debt. According to the New York City Parks Department, he was forced to sell the property in 1972 to Isaac Varian, a butcher and farmer. The Varians kept the house for three generations. One of his grandsons, Isaac Leggett Varian, served as mayor of New York City from 1839 to 1841. Due to increasing urbanization, rising property values, and real estate taxes, it was no longer profitable to operate a farm in the area by 1905. The house had to be sold again and was passed through another family ownership before being donated it to the Bronx County Historical Society in 1965.
The house was then moved diagonally on Bainbridge Avenue, between Van Courtlandt Avenue East and 208th Street, from its original location. The move took two days. The house retains the original floorboards, hand-forged nails, and homemade mortar. There’s one room that displays a section of the interior wall structure protected by glass. The house operates as the Museum of Bronx History.
The Valentine-Varian House is a true window of how people lived during the colonial period. But more importantly, it is a symbol of how the Bronx played a role in one of the important wars that formed our great nation. As a Norwood resident of over 20 years, I am proud to see this house in my borough.
According to The Bronx County Historical Society, William F. Beller, an official in the New York Customs House, acquired the house in 1905 and his son William C. Beller donated it to the Bronx County Historical Society in 1965. With Beller’s financial help, the house was then moved diagonally on Bainbridge Avenue, between Van Courtlandt Avenue East and 208th Street, from its original location. The house retains the original floorboards, hand-forged nails, and homemade mortar. There’s one room that displays a section of the interior wall structure protected by glass. The house now operates as the Museum of Bronx History.
Visitors will notice a stone statue known as The Bronx River Solider, located on the north lawn. Lloyd and Olson state that after the Civil War, John Grignola was hired to carve a statue of a Civil War soldier for the Oliver Tilden Post of the Grand Army of the Republic to mark the dead that were being buried in Woodlawn Cemetery. It was rejected by the GAR post because it was marred by a chip. Grignola then gifted the statue to John B. Lazzeri, an official at Woodlawn Cemetery. In 1898, it was placed on a granite pier in the Bronx River behind his house south of Gun Hill Road. Over six decades, the L-bolts that were holding the statue in place began to loosen and the statue fell over in the Bronx River. The Bronx County Historical Society found the statue after The New York City Parks Department stored it in a warehouse. Arrangements were made to restore the statue and place it on the lawn of the Valentine-Varian House for safekeeping.
The house is a true window of how people lived during the colonial period but more importantly how the Bronx played a role in one of the important wars that formed our great nation. As a Norwood resident of over 20 years, I am proud to see this house as I walk home.
The Valentine-Varian House also known as the Museum of Bronx History is located at 3266 Bainbridge Avenue in the Bronx, NY. It costs $5 for adults, and $3 for students, children, or seniors. For more information, please visit The Bronx County Historical Society.