History a Day Trip from NYC

Coming to election season is a good time to visit a historical landmark that hosted George Washington during the Revolutionary War. In addition to history, this easy day trip from New York City has a wide stretch of park space.

Although not every historical guide makes her or his own clothing, ours did. He told us that he has stitched together more than 200 different costumes. That zest for making clothing, however, did not diminish Michael Grillo’s passion for explaining the history of the Van Cortlandt House Museum. As the educator at Van Cortlandt, he is equally enthusiastic and competent in this area.

One side of the Van Cortlandt House Museum (top) and Michael Grillo, the museum educator in front of Van Cortlandt House Museum (bottom).

The Van Cortlandt house was built by Frederick Van Cortlandt for his family in 1748 and continued in their possession for 140 years. Not only is it the oldest documented structure in the Bronx, but it is further distinguished by gaining importance during the revolutionary war. George Washington stayed there as did French general, Comte de Rochambeau and French military officer the Marquis de Lafayette.

The upstairs room in which George Washington slept.

In the first room to the left of the front door (the West Parlor) Dutch Delft tiles line the fireplace that is painted blue in the surrounding area. The cupboards are coated in orange. Our guide referred to this combination of blue and orange as Dutch decoration.

It is plausible that the orange comes from William III of Orange (1650-1702) who governed portions of the Dutch republic including Zeeland, Utrecht, Gelderland, and Overijssel from 1672. In 1689, he became ruler of England and Ireland, again as William III. The blue may originate from the Dutch Delft tiles.

Blue and orange in the West parlor.

In 1889 the house and its grounds were sold to the City of New York. It was open to the public as early as 1897 and is operated by the National Society of Colonial Dames. The period of the house is 1748 to 1823. Van Cortlandt family materials remain as well as those from other sources appropriate to the time.

The beams under the roof of the house give away its age.

The house is immediately next to the Van Cortlandt Nature Center, which is part of the Van Cortlandt Park, a 1,146-acre stretch of greenery. It is NYC’s fourth largest park. The area includes athletic fields, playgrounds, a forest and a public golf course plus the nature center.

The Van Cortlandt Nature Center building. The bathrooms are to its left.

There are trails too, which might be attractive to a family visiting the Van Cortlandt House that desires some relaxing exercise too. Restrooms that are provided by the park can be utilized by visitors to the Van Cortlandt House Museum. They are immediately next to the nature center and appear to be cleaned regularly.

The house is easy to get to on public transportation. The 242nd Street stop on the 1 subway line is within easy walking distance and several buses from Manhattan have stops immediately next to the park driveway leading to the museum. The time that it takes to tour the museum is about 45 minutes to an hour.

As a word of caution, I did not see any food for sale though the gift shop was not open when we visited. It is almost certainly best to bring snacks along if needed. Also, as with any similar public place, I would not visit the park except in broad daylight.