|photo by City Hall Photo Unit|
|George Bancker's May 1774 drawing of Belview "Seat of Jacob Walton, Esqr, at Horn's Hook near the City of New York in North America" - NYPL Collection|
The Gracies would have esteemed neighbors. Not far away was the country seat of John Jacob Astor, as well as the homes of the Rhinelanders, the Lawrences, Nathaniel Prime, Commodore Chauncey and Richard Riker.
While the AIA Guide to New York attributes the design to architect Ezra Weeks, some historians feel it may have been the work of John McComb, Jr. who designed City Hall and whose Hamilton Grange, the home of Alexander Hamilton, is strikingly similar to Gracie’s.
Completed in 1799, the elegant home was surrounded by commodious porch on both levels that caught the refreshing river breezes. Chinese Chippendale-style railings ran along the upper porch and around the roofline. The Gracies used the mansion as a summer residence and hosted lavish entertainments. The tall windows of the first floor slid ingeniously into the walls creating additional doorways so guests could easily mingle inside and out and cool night air could circulate throughout the home.
Gracie’s guest lists included the likes of Josiah Quincy, James Fenimore Cooper, John Quincy Adams, and DeWitt Clinton. Josian Quincy was entertained at dinner in 1805, along with Judge Pendleton, Oliver Wolcott (whose daughter William Gracie, the eldest son, would marry) and Dr. Hosack. Quincy wrote of the evening, “The shores of Long Island, full of cultivated prospects and interspersed with elegant country seats, bound the distant view. The mansion is elegant in the modern style and the grounds laid out in taste with gardens.”
|The foyar as it appears today with exquisite faux-marble painted floors. Photo The Gracie Mansion Conservancy|
In 1810 or 1811 an architecturally compatible addition was added to the house.
Unfortunately, the War of 1812 dealt a crippling blow to Gracie’s finances and in 1823 he was forced to sell his estate to Joseph Foulke for $17,000; although at one time it had been valued at $60,000. Foulke, originally from New Jersey, had amassed a fortune through his successful shipping commission business.
The Foulkes lived in the mansion until 1857 when it was sold to Noah Wheaton and, after Wheaton’s death in 1896, it was appropriated by the City of New York which used the surrounding 11 acres as East River Park; renamed Carl Schurz Park in 1910.
|photo NYPL Collection|
Mrs. Van Rensselaer told The New York Times, “our intention is not only to preserve the mansion for future years, but to make it a museum of early New York household conditions. During its best days the Gracie house was one of the finest and best known country residences in the city.”
The museum, which opened in 1924, was the beginning of the Museum of the City of New York and when new facilities were built for it on 5th Avenue1936, the Park Department ran the Gracie House as a house museum.
|Gracie Mansion as a house museum 1939 - NYPL Collection|
Since then the elegant Federal mansion has functioned as home to mayors and entertainment venue for visiting dignitaries. When Susan E. Wagner, wife of Mayor Robert Wagner, suggested an addition to the mansion in 1964 to better accommodate state functions, critics were alarmed. Architect Mott B. Schmidt (who, born in 1899, had designed homes for the Vanderbilts, Morgans and Rockefellers) submitted his first proposal that year, The New York Times said it “had all the charm and suitability of a suburban garage.”
|Early 20th Century aerial photo showing the high location near the river that attracted Archibald Gracie - NYPL Collection|
A major, three-year restoration was begun in 1881 and another restoration in 2002.