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Alexander Hamilton and the Village

The hyped musical “Hamilton” opened on Broadway last weekend to rave reviews. The excitement surrounding the musical and the legacy of Alexander Hamilton, one of the United States’ Founding Fathers, has us reflecting back on Village history and preservation related to the famed New Yorker (and his rival, Aaron Burr).

54 MacDougal Street, pre-demolition
54 MacDougal Street, pre-demolition

54 MacDougal Street
Located in the South Village Historic District, this nearly 200 year old three-story house and one-story backhouse was built in 1820, making it one of the oldest extant structures in this part of Manhattan when GVSHP and our supporters fought unsuccessfully to save it in 2013. Until it was demolished, the structure maintained basic elements of an early 19th century lower Manhattan house and served as one of many recognizable gateways to the South Village. 54 MacDougal Street began as a residence, and over the years has housed model railroad supply companies, art galleries, and antique stores.

American politician Aaron Burr (1756 - 1836) fatally wounds Alexander Hamilton (1757 - 1804) with a shot from his pistol during a duel in Weehawken, New Jersey, July 11, 1804.  (Photo by Kean Collection/Getty Images)
American politician Aaron Burr (1756 – 1836) fatally wounds Alexander Hamilton (1757 – 1804) with a shot from his pistol during a duel in Weehawken, New Jersey, July 11, 1804. (Photo by Kean Collection/Getty Images)

In 1814, Aaron Burr, who had mortally wounded Hamilton (Vice President at the time) in the famed duel ten years prior, sold the land upon which 54 MacDougal Street was built. Ezra Weeks, one of early New York’s most prominent builders, who was involved in the construction of Alexander Hamilton’s uptown estate as well as Gracie Mansion, purchased the land from Burr. Hamilton’s duel partner also had a strong connection to Weeks; Weeks’ brother Levi was the defendant in the infamous and precedent-setting Manhattan Well Murder Trial of 1800, the first recorded murder trial in the United States. Ezra used his wealth and influence to get both Hamilton and Burr to defend his brother against the charge of murdering his fiancé, Elma Sands. Read more about the famous trial and the other prominent Americans who have lived at 54 MacDougal Street HERE.

It is unfortunate that in spite of ample evidence GVSHP provided on the historic significance of the house at 54 MacDougal Street, the City refused to landmark it or the surrounding section of the South Village south of Houston Street. Click HERE to read more about the site. You can find more information on the proposed Hudson Square rezoning here and here.

The borders of the Charlton-King-Vandam Historic District include MacDougal Street to the east and runs mid-block on the three streets to the west. Map via the NYC Landmarks Preservation Commission.
The borders of the Charlton-King-Vandam Historic District include MacDougal Street to the east and runs mid-block on the three streets to the west. Map via the NYC Landmarks Preservation Commission.

 

A sketch of the Richmond Hill Mansion, published in 1847
A sketch of the Richmond Hill Mansion, published in 1847

The King-Charlton-VanDam Historic District
This distinct and neighborhood—separate from Greenwich Village—started in the early 19th Century as a piece of, “’instant city’ developed from one large country estate, by the great real estate operator of the day, John Jacob Astor.” It was the site of one of the most beautiful mansions in Manhattan’s history, the famous “Richmond Hill,” a great Georgian house built in 1767 for Major Mortier, in New York “on the King’s business.” During the Revolution, George Washington used the mansion as his headquarters. Later, the house was bought by Aaron Burr, who utilized it for lavish entertainment as a brilliant background for furthering his ambitions. After the famed duel between Hamilton and Burr, the latter was forced to leave the City, and his estate was taken over by Astor. However, Burr retained the right to buy back the house and part of the land anytime he wanted to within the next twenty years, and in 1817 Burr sold it back to Astor, who promptly developed the property. Read the King-Charlton-VanDam Designation Report for more information on this charming and important preserved district.

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