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Van Cortlandt House
For its first 148 years, Van Cortlandt House was first and foremost a family home. Begun in 1748 by Frederick Van Cortlandt, the house was almost finished before his death in early 1750. Although Frederick did not live to see his elegant Georgian-style manor house completed, the house was home to his widow, children, nieces and nephews until the late 1880’s. Many factors, including the demand for more space in an ever-expanding New York City at the turn of the 20th century, led the Van Cortlandt family to accept an offer for their ancestral plantation from the City of New York. Sold with the understanding that the plantation would become park land in the newly enlarged borough of The Bronx, the Van Cortlandt family gifted their ancestral home to the city in hopes that it would be put to use for the public good. The National Society of Colonial Dames in the State of New York recognized, early on, the importance of the Van Cortlandt Family and their house to the history of Colonial New York. Under the leadership of the first Society President, Mrs. Howard Townsend, a license agreement with the City of New York was signed in May of 1896 granting permission to the New York Society to operate the house as a public museum. It was the first public-private partnership of its kind and firmly established the New York Society as pioneers in the field of historic preservation. One year later, on May 27th , 1897 after months of hard work collecting objects, painting and cleaning, Van Cortlandt House Museum was opened to the public and has remained so, continuously, ever since.
Throughout its rich and glorious past, Van Cortlandt House and the plantation upon which it holds pride of place has served as an eyewitness to history. The Van Cortlandt family helped to establish New York’s reputation as the breadbasket of the colonies producing numerous crops of wheat and barrels of flour on their plantation. In the tense months leading up to the occupation of Manhattan Island by the British during the Revolutionary War, the plantation became the hiding place for New York City’s valuable municipal records placed there by August Van Cortlandt after orders from the Continental Congress to secure their safety. Hidden on the top of Vault Hill overlooking Van Cortlandt House, the records remained safe throughout the war and were later returned to a grateful populace.
In addition to the unsung heroes who lived their everyday lives on the plantation, Van Cortlandt House was home of a family of wealth and social and political prominence. As such, the family welcomed luminaries and heroes such as General George Washington, the Marquise de Lafayette and General Rochambeau among others to their home.
In honor of these important contributions to Colonial New York’s and America’s history, Van Cortlandt House Museum was entered into the National Register of Historic Places in 1967 and became a National Historic Landmark in 1976. Honored as well by the Landmarks Preservation Commission of the City of New York, Van Cortlandt House has also been designated a New York City Landmark for both the interior and exterior.
Van Cortlandt House Museum, built by the Van Cortlandt family beginning in 1748, preserves, researches and promotes the history of the site and of the people who lived there in order to educate the public on the meaningful connections between Colonial New York and the present.
Our Mission:The National Society of The Colonial Dames of America actively promotes our national heritage through historic preservation, patriotic service, and educational projects.
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