The only home Alexander Hamilton ever owned was moved to a new location in St. Nicholas Park, in Harlem on Saturday. Like Hamilton himself, it seems this house has had a hard time staying in one spot. But it is good to see that this house also has some of his staying power. This is the home’s third location but it was part of Hamilton’s original 32 acre estate (as was its previous, second, location). It seems the National Park Service intends to give the house (and, we hope, Hamilton) some needed and serious attention. If only we could get Congress to do the same . . .
I hope Hamilton's home has had SOME attention over the years. More than thirty years ago, my husband was a student at City College. He came back to our York Ave. walk-up and said he had visited Hamilton's house, which was (and is) right near his college. He said there was just a guard in attendance and the place looked pretty shabby from the outside.
There was a sign at the front desk that said tours were available. My husband requested a tour. "Just a moment," said the guard. He went through a door and came back out with a different jacket on. This gentleman was also the tour guide.
The tour began, "This was the home of Alexander Hamilton. He lived here for a long time, before he died." In the next room the guard said, "This was the desk where Mr. Hamilton wrote things." Pointing to a portrait, he said, "This was someone that Mr. Hamilton loved very much."
The whole tour was like that. The roof leaked and there were buckets to catch the drips. Of course, this was 1975, and our expectations were different. But even in the day, this was not up to standard. This sort of place was supported by volunteers and donations and apparently Hamilton got short shrift in those. The area was distinctly un-gentrified back then and perhaps too risky for the sorts of genteel old ladies who used to keep those places going.
I know they liked their marble busts and Gilbert Stuart did a good business. Still, I wonder if our Founders would have liked being memorialized in this way, as if the stuff they left behind were more important than their ideas or the republic.
Thanks for sharing that, Kate. The tale of the tour you describe would be horrifying if it were not so amusingly told!
You raise an interesting question, however, when you ask whether the Founders would have liked people pouring over their artifacts instead of their ideas in the way we tend to do. I think they certainly would have preferred to see us discussing their ideas (as some certainly do) but would have expected things to be more or less as they are. And the romantic in me always enjoys a sensory experience with the past. To be sure, I prefer to have a guide who is more knowledgeable than the gentleman who showed you around Hamilton's abode, but I am less annoyed by it now than I was when I was younger and expected more from grown-ups.
Grown-ups are human, too.