by Kevin Walsh

ONE of the oldest buildings in the Queensboro Bridge area is the Abigail Adams Museum, alternately the Mount Vernon Hotel. The stone building with the two-level white porch on East 61st Street west of York Avenue doesn’t quite parallel the street it’s on, and seems to carry an air of faded dignity and separatedness from the surrounding structures. It is the remnant of an estate purchased in 1796 by William Stephen Smith and his wife Abigail, the daughter of President John Adams. The main mansion was lost in an 1826 fire, while the carriage house, the building that remains today, was employed as lodging for northerly travelers and people wishing a day in the country between 1826 and 1833. The hotel closed that year after only about seven years of operation.

The house remained in private hands until 1924, when it was purchased by the Colonial Dames of America, refitted with historical effects and rechristened as a museum in 1939. Presently, the house is open to the public and offers a fascinating look at when its surrounding area was considered a respite from the madding crowd. On display you will find a tea set owned by John Adams, a Louis Philippe crystal chandelier, playing cards (without numbers, in an era when just a small percentage of the population could read) and kids’ toys from the 19th Century, a French barrel organ, quill pens and spittoons. There is a quiet outdoor patio out back. Right now the Museum is locked up as it probably has been since the COVID-19 outbreak, and who knows when it will reopen.

The museum is overshadowed on the right by the gargantuan Brutalist Weill-Cornell Obstetrics building, a branch of New York Presbyterian. Behind it is an equally gargantuan storage building on East 62nd Street that actually includes a dine-in movie theater, Cinebistro, that is also shuttered during Virus Time.

Seen from the tram en route to Roosevelt Island, the Mount Vernon Hotel is dwarfed by its neighbors.

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1 comment

Andrew Porter October 28, 2021 - 12:20 pm

In “The Columbia Historical Portrait of New York: An Essay in Graphic History” by John A. Kouwenhoven (1953, trpb 1972) it’s shown in 1951 with two towering gas holders next to its back and side on page 472.


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