Must-See Washington Heights
by Laura Kusnyer, 07/31/2013
Morris-Jumel Mansion. Photo: Julienne Schaer
Washington Heights History
Named for George Washington, who led troops into an unsuccessful battle here against the British in 1776, Washington Heights waves a flag of contemporary American diversity from atop Manhattan's highest ground. At its heart is a story of immigration, which began in the 1900s following a century of idyllic living by a few wealthy owners of sprawling villas, among them John James Audubon. Irish immigrants arrived in the early 20th century, followed by Jewish Europeans escaping Nazism. The neighborhood was referred to as the "Astoria of Manhattan" in the '50s and '60s, when large populations of Greek immigrants arrived. The 1970s onward brought Cubans, Puerto Ricans, Dominicans and, most recently, Ecuadoran populations. Somewhat ironically, The Hispanic Society of America was founded in the Heights in 1904—long before Spanish-speaking immigrants moved here en masse.
Dominican culture is so prevalent in the neighborhood, it has been memorialized by MTV in the reality show Washington Heights. But the sounds of Dominican beats from local delis fade as you head east on 162nd Street toward the Morris-Jumel Mansion, where General Washington bunked during the Revolutionary War. Stately brownstones line a serene path to this aristocratic white house that was built in 1765. Many claim that the ghost of Eliza Jumel, who allegedly murdered her husband here to take up with Aaron Burr, haunts the mansion. Burr's spirit currently lives on at Morris-Jumel in the exhibition The Loves of Aaron Burr: Portraits in Corsetry and Binding.