Holidays in New York circa 1830, by Candlelight

December 13th, 2010 by Bianca Seidman

In the middle of the Upper East Side’s bustle, under the long shadow of the Queensboro Bridge, sits one of the oldest houses in New York City.  The sturdy stone structure is similar to the Huguenot houses on the oldest street in America, but this isn’t quaint New Paltz, New York.  It’s almost Midtown Manhattan, where the mega watt lights flood the streets, day  and night.  On one corner of East 61st Street, steps from the East River, the Mount Vernon Hotel Museum still celebrates the holidays by candlelight and the date is 1830.

When it was built in 1799, there was no East 61st Street, in fact there wasn’t much at all in the farmlands above New York City, which only extended as far as 14th Street.  The building was a carriage house on the property of Abigail Adams Smith, the daughter of President John Adams, housing farm animals and stables until the main house burned down.  Several years later, in 1826, the building was still standing and was converted to a day hotel, not for overnight lodging.

Though the museum celebrates by candlelight this month in a building restored to its historic hotel status, the structure was owned until 1924 by electricity giant Con-Edison.

The little stone house that’s survived since the 19th century has been owned and maintained since then by the Colonial Dames of America, who hope to sustain it through tours and exhibitions that carry a generous admissions price.  Visitors who attended this weekend’s candlelight tour, where the rooms are in veritable darkness save for a few strategically placed candles, seemed to appreciate stepping back into a historic New York holiday, though  cameras don’t seem to have the same appreciation for the dark.

Holidays by Candlelight at Mt. Vernon Hotel Museum from Bianca Seidman on Vimeo.

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