NPS Adventures: Hamilton Grange National Memorial

The Roarbots’ series of NPS Adventures takes a big-picture view of one location within the National Park Service and highlights some of the best activities that site has to offer. This is usually done through a kid-friendly lens and almost always includes activities and suggestions we can recommend from personal experience. And pictures. There are lots and lots of pictures. Glad to have you aboard!

Welcome to Hamilton Grange National Memorial!

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It might just be the understatement of the year if I were to simply say that my kids are fans of the Hamilton musical. They’re full on obsessed. We’ve listened to the soundtrack (and the mixtape) hundreds of times, and practically every time we get into car, we hear a request for Hamilton from the back seat.

My 7-year-old daughter can sing along to practically the entire show. She’s memorized the lyrics to every song.

So it was inevitable that we made a bit of a Hamilton pilgrimage during a recent trip into New York City. Part of that trip was a jaunt up to Harlem to visit his home: Hamilton Grange.

(Click on all pictures to embiggen.)

Hamilton had the house built on his 32-acre country estate in upper Manhattan, and it was finished in 1802 – a mere two years before his death. Still, it was the only house he ever owned, and his wife, Elizabeth, lived there for nearly 30 years. In 1833, the house was sold, and Eliza moved to Washington, DC.

In the years that followed, the house changed hands a few times and was actually moved twice. In 1889, when the Manhattan city streets finally extended that far north, the house was lifted off its foundation and drawn by horses to a new site on Convent Avenue, near West 141st Street.

In 2008, the house was moved again – this time through a computerized system of hydraulic dollies – to St. Nicholas Park on West 141st Street, which is where it sits today.

House Tour

The house isn’t very big, and the staircase leading from the visitor’s center in the basement to the original house above is very narrow. Guided tours are generally about 30-45 minutes long and are offered only a few times each day. They also cap each tour at 15 people, so it’s highly recommended that you arrive early if you’re interested in a guided tour.

We visited during one of two windows during the day when the house is open for self-guided exploration. Visitors are able to view the rooms at their own pace, but a park ranger is available to answer questions. Right now, the open-house times are 12-1 and 3-4.

Only a few rooms are open on the main floor are open to view, and even though they’re fully furnished, most of the furniture and decorations are period specific. This means that they are historically accurate to the time when Hamilton lived in the house, but they didn’t belong to Hamilton himself.

Museum and Grounds

The museum is small, but it’s packed full of information about Hamilton’s life, the Revolutionary War, and the early United States. The film is also well worth watching, especially if your only knowledge of Hamilton the man comes from Hamilton the musical.

The area immediately surrounding the house is National Park Service property, but it’s located in St. Nicholas Park, which is a fairly sizable urban park. It’s a nice little oasis in this part of the city, and Shepard Hall (part of the City College of New York campus) looms over the northern end of the park and Hamilton Grange.

Junior Ranger

As always, the Junior Ranger program is one of the highlights of any NPS visit for the little Roarbots. It wouldn’t be a visit without a passport stamp and a Junior Ranger badge/pin!

Hamilton Grange offers a Junior Ranger booklet that, obviously, focuses on Alexander Hamilton’s life. Most of the answers and information can be found in either the museum or the house. We had some difficulty with a few questions, which even stumped the ranger on duty, so we didn’t feel too bad.

A special surprise is that the Hamilton Grange pin is made of wood (rather than the standard plastic). So the kids were extra thrilled with this adventure.

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