Personal museums

Meet some of the city's most notable characters at these six institutions.

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  • Photograph: Courtesy Louis Armstrong House

    Louis Armstrong and kids

  • Photograph: Lisa Kahane

    Louis Armstrong House Museum

  • Photograph: Lisa Kahane

    Louis Armstrong House Museum

  • Photograph: Courtesy National Parks Service

    Hamilton Grange

  • Photograph: Courtesy National Parks Service

    Hamilton Grange

  • Photograph: Courtesy National Parks Service

    Hamilton Grange

  • Photograph: David Rosenzweig

    The Merchant's House Museum

  • Photograph: Courtesy Noguchi Museum

    Isamu Noguchi

  • Photograph: Courtesy Noguchi Museum

    Noguchi Museum

  • Photograph: Courtesy Noguchi Museum

    Noguchi Museum

  • Photograph: Lindsay M Taylor

    Edgar Allan Poe Cottage

Photograph: Courtesy Louis Armstrong House

Louis Armstrong and kids

Louis Armstrong House Museum
Dedicated to the life of the jazz innovator, this Corona, Queens, institution is located in the red-brick residence where Armstrong lived—along with his wife, Lucille—from 1943 to his death in 1971. Its rooms, accessible by hourly tours, are arranged as if Pops just left them. Items in its permanent collection include instruments, photographs and correspondence with fans. Next year, the museum plans to begin construction on a visitors center across the street, which will display the jazz man's archives currently held at Queens Library.
Personal touch:
As a reel-to-reel tape enthusiast, Armstrong made numerous recordings. Today, those audio clips provide a soundtrack to house tours. Guests in the den hear Armstrong's jovial voice explaining the system he devised for indexing the recordings, as well as a tape of Satchmo playing along to a phonograph. 34-56 107th St between 34th and 37th Aves, Corona, Queens (718-478-8274, louisarmstronghouse.org). Tue--Fri 10am--5pm; Sat, Sun noon--5pm. Last tour at 4pm. $10; seniors, students and children $7; children under 4 free.

Hamilton Grange
Founding father Alexander Hamilton named the only property he's believed to have owned after his father's family house in Scotland. However, the younger Hamilton only lived in this Federalist-style home for two years before he was fatally wounded in his infamous duel with Aaron Burr in 1804. The building was moved twice: first in 1889 to make way for W 143rd Street and in 2008 to its current perch in St. Nicholas Park. The latter move allowed for an extensive renovation that was completed this fall; a lost front porch was reconstructed, and the building was restored to resemble its 19th-century state.
Personal touch: Take note of the pianoforte in the Grange's parlor. Hamilton tickled the ivories himself and would join his daughter Angelica in pieces for four hands. After Phillip, Hamilton's eldest son, was killed in a duel in 1801, Angelica was so devastated she was unable to care for herself again, but she found solace playing Phillip's favorite pieces on the piano. 414 W 141st St at Convent Ave (646-548-2310, nps.gov/hagr). Wed--Sun 9am--5pm; free.

The Merchant's House Museum
This 19th-century row house sheltered Seabury Tredwell and his children—plus a cadre of servants—for nearly 100 years before becoming a museum. The nine-person family was fairly representative of Manhattan's well-to-do merchant class when Seabury purchased the Federal style home with its Greek-revival interior in 1832. But as the years passed, the family's wealth diminished (as did the ritziness of its Greenwich Village locale). Perhaps due of the Tredwells' changing fortunes, they didn't purchase new trappings, so much of the original furniture, clothes and other possessions were still in the house when it became a museum in 1936.
Personal touch: The four-post mahogany bed in the master bedroom was the scene of several notable family events, including the deaths of Seabury in 1865 and his daughter Gertrude—the last family member to live in the house—in 1933. The ghosts of both are said to haunt the premises. 29 E 4th St between Bowery and Lafayette St (212-777-1089, merchantshouse.org). Thu--Mon noon--5pm. $10, seniors and students $5, members and children under 12 free.

Noguchi Museum
In the 1960s Japanese-American sculptor Isamu Noguchi became one of the earliest artists to head to Long Island City in search of a decent-size studio. In 1974, he bought a brick warehouse across the street from his workshop to use as storage. Seven years later, the artist began to convert the industrial space into an institution that would house a survey of his designs and protect his legacy. The building, with its ten galleries, classrooms and enclosed sculpture garden, opened in 1985 and is considered one of Noguchi's greatest artworks.
Personal touch: After the sculptor died in 1988, his remains were cremated and his ashes divided. Half were dispersed on the grounds of his studio in Mure, Japan, and the other half were scattered in a peaceful corner of the museum's sculpture garden. 9-01 33rd Rd, at Vernon Blvd, Long Island City, Queens (718-204-7088, noguchi.org). Wed--Fri 10am--5pm; Sat, Sun 11am--6pm. $10, seniors and students $5, children under 5 and NYC public high school students free.

Edgar Allan Poe Cottage
This quaint "country" home in the Bronx once housed one of America's darkest literary minds. Edgar Allan Poe moved into the cottage with his wife, Virginia, and mother-in-law Maria Clemm in 1846, where he lived until his death three years later. While there, Poe penned some of his best-known poetry, including "The Bells." At the end of the 19th century, the New York Shakespeare Society began to lobby the state to save the home, which had fallen into disrepair. The cottage was moved to newly built Poe Park and opened to the public in 1913. Today people can see the bed in which Virginia died and portraits and etchings of the author dating back to 1849.
Personal touch: Poe moved out of his urban farmhouse along W 84th Street to the then-rural Bronx because he thought the city air was worsening Virginia's tuberculosis. The bucolic surroundings suited the writer—he tended to the garden, while carousing with students five blocks away at St. John's College (now Fordham University). 2640 Grand Concourse at E 192nd St, Bronx (718 881-8900, bronxhistoricalsociety.org). Sat 10am--4pm, Sun 1--5pm; $5, seniors and students $3.

Nicholas Roerich Museum
This handsome Morningside Heights brownstone holds three floors of expressionistic paintings by the Russian-born artist. Never heard of him? The painter, philosopher and spiritual guru came to prominence by creating scenery for Serge Diaghilev's Ballet Russes, including the set and costumes for the 1913 premiere of The Rite of Spring. A 1920 New York exhibition of his work brought him to the city with many of his paintings and the hopes of starting a school. After running the Master Institute for United Arts for 11 years a rift with one of his disciples and funders precipitated its end. Roerich spent much of the rest of his life in India. However, his collectors and students purchased the current building in 1949 to display his art and store his archive.
Personal touch: Among his many roles, Roerich was a religious guide of sorts who practiced an inclusive faith that won him a small circle of practitioners. One of his followers, Henry A. Wallace, vice president under Franklin Roosevelt, even nominated Roerich for the Nobel Peace Prize. The museum, which holds 200 paintings containing iconography of Western saints, Madonnas and Eastern deities, has become as much of a religious pilgrimage as an artistic destination. 319 W 107th St between Broadway and Riverside Ave (212-864-7752, roerich.org); Tue--Sun 2--5pm; donations requested.

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