In 1812 Eliza and Stephen Jumel purchased a plot of land on the northeast corner of Broadway and Liberty Street. Here is what their onetime property looks like today. I suspect it is worth a trifle more than the $14,700 they paid for it.
The octagonal drawing room at the Morris-Jumel Mansion is hosting distinguished guests: Greek and Buddhist goddesses and women of the Old Testament, painted by artist Andrea Arroyo. The shaped canvases take the form of panels from medieval altarpieces, honoring a range of women in a way traditionally restricted to saints and other holy figures in Christian iconography. The paintings, on display until August 21, are part of Arroyo's exhibit Boundless—The Women of the Mansion.
Arroyo has crafted outdoor, site-specific pieces as well, but the latter will only be on view until this Sunday, July 31, 2016. All are invited to attend a free closing reception and performance on the 31st at the Morris-Jumel Mansion (1 to 2:30 PM), which will include live art by Arroyo and piano accompaniment by jazz musician Marjorie Eliot.
Today is the 151st anniversary of the death of Madame Eliza B. Jumel (April 2, 1775–July 16, 2016). Her house, the Morris-Jumel Mansion, preserves her memory—as do I. Requiescat in pace, dearest Madame.
The Manhattan end of the High Bridge was built on land purchased from Eliza Jumel. She also owned the land bordering the Harlem River all the way south to what is now 159th Street. These two pictures show what the area looked like in the 1840s and today.
Margaret Oppenheimer, View of High Bridge and the Harlem River, 2016. Dredging and landfill in the late-nineteenth and twentieth centuries altered the irregular contours of the river. Five of the stone piers of the High Bridge were replaced by a steel arch in 1923 to allow larger ships to navigate the waterway.
Many relics of Eliza and Stephen Jumel survive, from personal letters to the wallpaper that decorated their home. The fact that the letters and wall hangings were made from rag paper—used in Europe and and the United States until the mid-nineteenth century—was a big key to their longevity. Richard Campbell, writing in 1747, provides a very clear description of how paper was made during the centuries when it was manufactured from cotton or linen rags rather than wood pulp:
"The Rags are picked, separated into Parcels, according to their Fineness, washed and whited; then they are carried to the Paper-Mill, where they are pounded amongst Water till they are reduced to a Pulp. When they are beat to a due Consistence, they are poured into a Working-Tub, where there is a Frame of Wire, commonly called the Paper-Mould, which is composed of so many Wires laid close to one another, equal to the Dimensions of the Sheet of Paper designed to be made; and some of them disposed in the Shape of the Figure which is discovered in the Paper, when you hold it up betwixt you and the Light. [Campbell's "Figure . . . discovered in the Paper" is what we call a watermark today.]
History buffs, don't miss a summer exhibit at the Morris-Jumel Mansion that has slipped in under the radar screen. It explores the subject of slavery in eighteenth- and early nineteenth-century New York through the lens of documents from the house's archives. One of the most interesting items is a paper promising freedom to a slave named Jack. His owner was a free black man, William Waldron—son of a Dutch-American father and enslaved mother. Waldron, like his father, became a farmer in Harlem who depended on slave labor—as did so many New York landowners in the eighteenth century. The document is a reminder that New York slaveholders were a more diverse group than we might think.
The exhibit, titled Cuffee Philipse: A Legacy in Documents, was organized by former Morris-Jumel Mansion archivist Emilie Lauren Gruchow.
Those who have visited Eliza Jumel's home, the Morris-Jumel Mansion, may have noticed the delicate gauze curtains that hang in the front parlor. On a recent visit to the Kelton House Museum & Garden in Columbus, Ohio—a wonderful historic house restored to the Victorian era—I learned that such curtains had more than a decorative purpose. Before window screens were widely available, curtains of gauze or lace were used to let air in, but keep mosquitoes out. They would have been hung in a way that allowed them to be drawn completely over the window opening.
I was bicycling past Silver Lake Golf Course on the way to Historic Richmond Town when I did a double take and came to a screeching halt. Grape vines? On a Staten Island golf course? Had Stephen and Eliza Jumel, who planted and tended one of New York City's earliest vineyards in Washington Heights, come to haunt Staten Island in an unusually constructive way?
I have been immersed lately in all things wallpaper—specifically, in researching the wallpapers that once hung in the Morris-Jumel Mansion. Those who read my online article about the wallpaper that hung in the octagon room of the mansion in Eliza Jumel's day may be interested in this two-and-a-half-minute video from the Victoria & Albert Museum. It shows how wallpaper was hand-printed in the nineteenth century using carved wooden blocks. Inspiration for a craft project, anyone?