Old homes aren't just for old folks anymore.
Tue Jul 21 2009
Alice Austen House
Nineteenth-century photographer Alice Austen, known for her images of immigrants and street culture, spent nearly her whole life at this waterfront cottage in Staten Island. The home-turned-museum is dedicated to her life and works, and frequently hosts public outings and concerts on the lawn.
Bartow-Pell Mansion Museum
A grand formal garden, complete with picturesque fountain and wrought-iron benches, is the draw here. Spend the afternoon picnicking on the grounds, then tour the mansion, former home to a 19th-century merchant family.
Ben Franklin headed up a meeting between King George III’s representative and the American independents at this stone house on September 11, 1776. The website’s virtual tour is thorough and could save you a trip.
Dyckman Farmhouse Museum
Built around 1784, the Dyckman spread is the oldest Dutch colonial farmhouse in the city. The museum focuses on rural life in that era, as well as the encroachment of the city starting around 1915.
Edgar Allan Poe Cottage
Poe moved here in 1846, hoping that the country air and quiet would help his ailing wife recover from TB. It didn’t. The cottage ended up being his last home, too. Now it’s outfitted with furniture thought to belong to the family.
Fraunces Tavern Museum
At the end of the Revolutionary War, George Washington raised a glass of wine and said so long to his troops at this colonial-era saloon.
Italian hero Giuseppe Garibaldi (his unification of Italy earned him a statue in Washington Square Park) stayed here with inventor Antonio Meucci for a short time in the 1850s. Exhibits celebrate their history, as well as Italian heritage and culture. In October, you can tour the supposedly haunted house. 420 Tompkins Ave at Chestnut Ave, Staten Island (718-442-1608, garibaldimeuccimuseum.org)
The house was built by a shipping merchant named Gracie in 1799, and every mayor since La Guardia has lived here—except Bloomberg. These days, visiting dignitaries stay upstairs, and the public can tour the joint on Wednesdays.
Hendrick I. Lott House
A possible stop on the Underground Railroad, this farmhouse was lived in by generations of Lotts from 1800 till 1989, bringing history right up into the present. You can’t see it, though—the house is currently under renovation.
Historic Richmond Town
Staten Island’s mini version of Colonial Williamsburg features costumed interpreters portraying characters in more than 15 historical buildings (representing the 17th through 20th centuries) that were found throughout the area and making for one awesomely corny afternoon. Depending on the day’s events, you can taste colonial food, play colonial games or see colonial skills in action.
King Manor Museum
After signing the Constitution, once and future New York Senator Rufus King moved into this little cottage in 1805 and went on to become quite the shit-stirrer—adamantly slamming slavery, even to the extent of opposing Missouri’s admission to the union because it was a slave state. The museum focuses on his abolitionist work and that of his son.
The Queens Historical Society mounts exhibitions in this house, built around 1785 for the son of a wealthy Quaker.
Lewis H. Latimer House
African-American inventor Latimer lived in this Queen Anne--style number from 1903 to 1928. The self-taught genius worked with both Alexander Graham Bell and Thomas Edison, and the exhibits focus on his electrical work and other inventions.
Lefferts Historic House
Outfitted as a Prospect Park destination for kids, Lefferts House depicts Brooklyn family life in the 1820s to the present.
Little Red Lighthouse
The arrival of the George Washington Bridge made Manhattan’s only remaining lighthouse obsolete and targeted it for demolition. Thank goodness for the publishing world, though. Hildegarde H. Swift’s 1942 children’s book, The Little Red Lighthouse and the Great Gray Bridge, inspired a campaign to save the structure, and now everyone can still climb the stairs to the working (though for strictly sentimental purposes) tower.
Louis Armstrong House Museum
Satchmo and his wife, Lucille, spent their golden years at this little slice of heaven in Corona, Queens. Now you can visit via guided tours that include clips of his famous trumpet blasts.
Merchant’s House Museum
The only historical house in the city with all of the family’s original furniture, the Merchants’ House recalls the life and times of the Tredwells, a 19th-century merchant clan whose last member, Gertrude, died there. Beware the ghosts.
Mount Vernon Hotel Museum & Garden
Built in 1799 as a carriage house for a 23-acre estate, this stone home became a short-lived country resort from 1826 to 1833 (the city ended at 14th Street back then). Through period re-creations, the museum revisits the hotel era. Don’t miss the backyard garden, which occasionally hosts events. 421 E 61st St between First and York Aves (212-838-6878, mvhm.org). Closed in August.
After the British-loving Morrises abandoned the place during the Revolutionary War, the country mansion (in what would later become a jazz-mecca neighborhood) was acquired by French merchant Jumel and his wife, Eliza. She developed something of a reputation for romance after he died, and eventually married a postduel Aaron Burr. Look for etchings by her offspring on the windows.
Old Bethpage Village Restoration
More than 50 historic buildings constitute this completely made-up mid-19th-century-style farm village. It never actually existed here, but that doesn’t make the costumed Civil War reenactments any less awesome. Some of the Village’s big hits: an old-timey baseball tournament in the summer, the Long Island Fair in September, and regular brass band concerts and contra dancing days. 1303 Round Swamp Rd between Locust Rd and Morrison Dr, Old Bethpage, L.I. (516-572-8400, nassaucountyny.gov)
Old Stone House
Summer brings films, plays and music to the grounds of this small cottage, easy to miss in a vest-pocket Park Slope playground. An important spot during the 1776 Battle of Brooklyn, the original house was later the summer HQ of the precursors to the Brooklyn Dodgers.
Queens County Farm Museum
The oldest continually farmed land in NYC, the now-47-acre stretch offers a petting zoo for the kids and school groups, who do most of the visiting. But a 2008 expansion of the growing fields means everyone can benefit from the vegetables, wine and meat that the farm cultivates, sold on site and on Fridays at the Union Square Greenmarket. In the fall, pick your own pumpkins here, and test your navigation skills in the corn maze.
Open only for scheduled tours led by the Urban Park Rangers, this Greek Revival mansion shows off the wealth of a 19th-century oyster-harvesting family.
One of the coolest historical experiences in the city, guided tours of this tenement reveal reimagined apartments of actual tenants from the 19th and early 20th centuries.
Theodore Roosevelt Birthplace
This brownstone is actually a complete reconstruction of Teddy’s boyhood home; the real one was torn down and turned into a commercial building in 1916. Tour the re-creation with National Park Rangers. 28 E 20th St between Broadway and Park Ave South (212-260-1616, nps.gov/thrb)
The Bronx County Historical Society runs the Museum of Bronx History out of this Georgian home, built by blacksmith and farmer Isaac Valentine in 1758, out of stones found on the property.
Van Cortlandt House Museum
This house is the reason Van Cortlandt Park has the name it does. Built by a rich merchant-farmer family in 1748, the structure housed both British and American armies during the Revolutionary War and gave George Washington a place to rest his head. This place has the distinction of being the city’s first historic house museum, opened in 1896.
Wyckoff Farmhouse Museum
Pieter Claesen Wyckoff was an illiterate farmworker who made good, eventually building this little casa in 1652 and becoming a successful farmer in his own right. A pocket of history in today’s East Flatbush, the museum hosts colonial-themed celebrations in the summer and an apple festival in September.