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Friday, November 18, 2011

St. Nicholas Park and Hamilton Grange

St. Nicholas Park is notable for among other things its steep terrain, but since Alexander Hamilton's 210-year-old house moved in, there's more reason to visit. Though perhaps that's not entirely fair to the park, which does have its own society and website describing it as "[f]orged by nature in rugged masses of rock."

Those masses of good old New York City rock are on extravagant display in the park's north end:

St. Nicholas of Myra, patron saint of the original Dutch colony of New Amsterdam, gift-bringer, and inspiration for Santa Claus, lent his name to several streets in this part of Harlem as well as to the park. In an interesting twist for the Great Recession era, he's also the patron saint of pawnbrokers and repentant thieves, as well as – according to the Parks Department website – bankers.

If that's true, how appropriate that the house Alexander Hamilton built for his family in 1800-1802 has ended up here (after not one but two local moves). As President George Washington's Treasury Secretary, Hamilton established the system of national credit under which the U.S. has operated since the post-Revolutionary period.

The city originally acquired some of the land that's now St. Nicholas Park for the Croton Aqueduct. That land ended up part of a long 23-acre "ribbon park" that also features a dog run, a playground, sports facilities, and some Revolutionary War history. These photos are from the park's quiet north end.

The National Park Service moved, partially restored, re-opened to the public, and runs Hamilton Grange, giving tours of the house's interior. Among the period furnishings are some of Hamilton's own items. He and his family had a few happy years here at the beginning of the 19th century, before he was killed in the famous duel with Aaron Burr, across the river in New Jersey. This is Alexander Hamilton's desk.

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