Monday, August 15, 2016

The Hermitage

You may have heard that my girl is a bit Hamilton Obsessed. I have often taken her to visit historic sites, but now if you mention an Alexander Hamilton connection she is the first one in the car.

For a few years now I have wanted to visit The Hermitage in Ho-Ho-Kus, NJ, at least since my Aunt Barbara donated her grandmother's wedding dress to the museum (a great example of trying to find the right home for things rather than throwing them out because it is easier). The dress has yet to be put on display, and probably won't ever go on display, but when I found the Hamilton connection, I knew Ashley would jump at the chance for a road trip.

The connection: Aaron Burr and Theodosia were married in the house. The home belonged to Theodosia Prevost's first husband (sing it with me: "She is married to a British officer, Sir") who died in battle in Georgia (I believe, don't quote me on that). 

Until a bit over a year ago the tour of this Gothic Revival House probably only mentioned Hamilton and Burr in passing. The real history of the house is that for 163 years (from 1807-1970) the house was owned by the Rosencrantz family who made their fortune in the mills. 

The original house, where Burr and Theodosia lived, was quite small. It had a huge addition put on it in 1847. The house was built with central heating. Our tour started in the dining room, a room that did not really exist in the 18th century. No pictures allowed inside, but this was taken from the outside of the inside before I knew the rules.

Theodosia married Captain Prevost in 1762 and had five children in six years. Captain Prevost moved his wife and two surviving children to Ho-Ho-Kus (gotta smile when you say the name of the town) in 1767. Her mother moved in with them with four or five of her own children. That's quite a family! They built a second house near the railroad tracks for them.

The captain dies from war wounds. The state of New Jersey keeps trying to take it away from the poor widow. She makes friends with some pretty famous people (Alexander Hamilton, George Washington, William Paterson, James Monroe, and we presume Aaron Burr). By 1782 she and Burr marry in the house in a room that no longer really exists. He gets involved with New York politics and they move to Albany where they live happily ever after (I don't really know what happens once they move away from New Jersey, but it sounds nice).

Back to the house. the Elijah Rosencrantz buys it. His son, also named Elijah, but I was left with the impression he was the namesake, but not the first born son. In the 1800 they add a kitchen. No one knows what happened to the original kitchen. The office has a separate door so business people can come and go without being greeted by the butler or treated like guests. This office serves as the Ho-Ho-Kus post office for a time being.

One neat fact about the house, electricity was installed around 1900, but taken out again until 1969 when the board of health stepped in. Many reading this were alive in 1969, did any of you grow up without electricity? I know Aunt Elva did, but she was born in 1916 and lived in the countryside of upstate New York.

The tour included seeing the dollhouse Mary Elizabeth's father made for her. Mary Elizabeth was the last of the Rosencrantz family. She lived to the age of 85.

After a while the family sold the mill, then sold off property as they needed money. They ran a tea parlor in the front room until the Great Depression hit and no one could afford the luxury of a cup of tea in a fancy room. The house deteriorated. It was given to the state upon Mary Elizabeth's death. The state didn't know what to do with it. After a couple of years a board was created to oversea the maintenance of it, and to  fix it up.

Had we "wait(ed) for it" and gone in October, we would have seen "A Revolutionary Love Story" exhibit. Love that old sites are seeing new life all thanks to Lin-Manuel Miranda and his Tony award winning show.

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