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Thursday, July 3, 2014

Postcard Thursday: The Van Cortlandt House

If you are an avid reader of this blog, then you know that yesterday, July 2, holds as much claim -- if not more -- to be America's birthday as tomorrow, July 4. And, in fact, since New York City didn't vote to ratify the Declaration of Independence until July 9, maybe the holiday should actually be a week long.

So, welcome to Independence Week.

Today's postcard is from ca. 1908, and shows a black-and-white view of the parlor in the Van Cortlandt House Museum in the Bronx. As we write in Footprints in New York about our visit to the house:
Considering how easy the house is to reach—it sits less than a ten-minute walk from the northern terminus of the IRT No. 1 train, the city’s oldest subway line—it’s surprisingly empty. In fact, when I visit, the only other person there is a Dutch woman, who is very concerned with carefully examining every souvenir in the tiny gift shop. It is a recurring theme that the city’s more off-the-beaten-path historic sites are either empty or, if they do have visitors, they are schoolchildren or foreigners. Where are the American tourists? Safely ensconced on Manhattan, I presume. 
Soon, I discover that the Dutch woman and I won’t have the place to ourselves. A costumed interpreter—I’ll call his garb late-Colonial/early-Revolution—is leading a group of two-dozen fourth graders down the house’s main staircase. 
“Everybody likes to play!” he admonishes to no one in particular. “There’s a time for play. But there’s a time to be serious!” I will hear this advice reverberate through the house a few more times during my visit, though I will never see him or the children again. 
As the children’s footfalls fade, I am left staring into the house’s formal parlor at a portrait of Frederick’s son Augustus van Cortlandt. In the years leading up to the American Revolution, Augustus—a Patriot—was New York City Clerk; in 1775, he spirited the city’s records out of Lower Manhattan to this farm, hiding them from the British in his father’s burial chamber on nearby Vault Hill. 
Tremendous care has gone into furnishing this home, from the seventeenth-century Dutch room on the second floor to the “best” bed- chamber used by George Washington on his visits to the house. That room features a beautiful mahogany dressing table and an English chest of drawers from 1725, both of which descend from family members. They’ve draped a blue coat and a tri-cornered hat on one chair, as if General Washington has just stepped out for a moment.
The Van Cortlandt house is open for visitors every day but Mondays. More details can be found at

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Read more about the Van Cortlandt House and 18th-century New York in

If you haven't had a chance to pick up a copy of Footprints yet,
you can order it from independent bookstores across the country.

And, of course, Inside the Apple is available at fine bookstores everywhere.

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