The Van Cortlandt House Museum, like many of the historical buildings in The Bronx, is a hidden gem. Its history isn’t well known to many Bronx residents, and especially not those from out of the borough. It is the Bronx’s oldest building that transformed from a residential property to a museum where anyone can visit and learn more about the Bronx’s rich history. So rich that it is not a only a New York City landmark, but a National Historical Landmark. The museum is frequented by many students and is an attraction for tourists all around the world.
The Van Cortlandt House Museum sits in the Southwestern region of Van Cortlandt Park, near the cross street of 246th and Broadway. The Georgian style house dates back to the late 1600s. It was originally built - with fieldstone and brick - by Frederick Van Cortlandt as a family home for his wife and two daughters (1). The house was built on a wheat plantation, where the current Van Cortlandt Park sits, that had been in the Van Cortlandt family since 1691. Frederick unfortunately passed in 1759 before the completion of the home. In his will, he left the property to his son, James, and gave permanent residency to his wife, Frances Jay (2). The land in which the house sits was owned by Frederick’s father, Jacobus Van Cortlandt, who was New York’s Mayor in 1791 (3). The property was home to a thriving wheat plantation that shipped products across New York State and even to the South.
The house was also instrumental during the Revolutionary War. Though the property was still under British rule, Augustus Van Cortlandt, a city clerk, hid the property’s files from The British. George Washington is said to have inhabited the house on several occasions. It is rumoured that Washington used the house as one of the headquarters for his operations during the Revolutionary War. The house was a site of a decoy where Washington’s troops staged bonfires so that they could evade British Capture (4).
The Van Cortlandt Family owned the home until 1888. The property was then purchased by the City when it purchased the entire park property. The city’s Parks Department then renovated the park, adding new trees and swamps to the area surrounding the house. In 1897, the house was acquired by National Society of Colonial Dames in the State of New York and was transformed into a museum. It is one of the 19 houses under the Parks and the Historical House Trust of New York City. Almost one hundred years later, the house was declared a New York City Landmark (5).
Now a museum, the Van Cortlandt house attracts historical seekers from across the globe. One of its notable attractions is the home’s interior that has preserved its original aesthetic. The house is filled with furniture and art reminiscent of the era in which the house was first built. The staircases and walls throughout the home hold the spirit of its past residents. You can feel energies of the past in the home. As an emblem of the Bronx’s history, I believe it is well deserving of it praise. I strongly suggest taking the time to visit this magnificent structure and taking in its history with your own eyes.
Find out more information on how to visit the Van Cortlandt House Museum on their website.
1. "The History of Van Cortlandt House and Museum." Van Cortlandt House Museum. N.p., n.d. Web. 18 May 2016.
2. "The History of Van Cortlandt House and Museum." Van Cortlandt House Museum. N.p., n.d. Web. 18 May 2016.
3. "Van Cortlandt Park." Van Cortlandt Mansion and Museum. NYC Parks Department, n.d. Web. 19 May 2016.
4. "Van Cortlandt Park." Van Cortlandt Mansion and Museum. NYC Parks Department, n.d. Web. 19 May 2016.
5. "The History of Van Cortlandt House and Museum." Van Cortlandt House Museum. N.p., n.d. Web. 18 May 2016.