A country estate, a hidden hotel, a tucked away museum on the Upper East Side. All of these descriptions can be attributed to one building in New York City, The Mount Vernon Hotel Museum.
Built in 1799 as the carriage house for the 23 acre estate of Colonel William Stephens Smith, and his wife Abigail Adams Smith, daughter of President John Adams, Mount Vernon has seen over 200 years of New York history pass right before its doorstep. Named after George Washington’s home in Virginia, the home that accompanied the carriage house, originally located close the the corner of First Avenue and E60th St., burned down in 1826, leaving the carriage house to be bought by entrepreneur Joseph Hart.
Joseph Hart converted the building into the Mount Vernon Hotel, a country day resort for wealthier New Yorkers who lived in the crowded southern tip of the island. At the time, the city did not extend beyond 14th St., leaving the land beyond as an idyllic oasis. Families would often come to the hotel for the day to wade in the East River, whose shore was only a few yards from the house, and eat the oysters which were plentiful in the river at the time. Though overnight stays were rare in the “hotel,” a small room was kept aside for travellers who came from the Post Road, America’s first highway connecting New York City and Boston, which ran along what is now Second Avenue.
In 1833, the building changed hands again when Jeremiah Towle bought the building for his family, who lived there for over 70 years. After spending time then as the headquarters for the Standard Gas Light Company (or today’s Con Edison), the home was sold to The Colonial Dames of America who took to restoring the building as a museum. Today, visitors can come and see the home turned back into the way it once was as the Mount Vernon Hotel. A once hidden place of respite, today, despite it being one of the seven oldest buildings in Manhattan, it is still hidden from most New Yorkers but well worth seeking out.
The Mount Vernon Hotel Museum
421 East 61st Street, New York, NY 10065-8736 – (212) 838-6878
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