Wednesday, September 16, 2009

What's around the corner?

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When I was a teenager, my friend Carolyn and I “discovered” the fountain that sits in front of the Plaza Hotel on Fifth Avenue. I learned years later it was called the Pulitzer Fountain but to us at the time it was a charming place we’d found accidentally.

Yesterday, I discovered something else I hadn’t known of before. As I meandered my way from the Upper East Side to Port Authority and turned west from York Avenue onto East 61st Street, I noticed a small “sandwich” sign advertising a museum shop. A museum? Here? I looked up, past the wrought iron fence and saw the Mount Vernon Hotel Museum.

With time to spare before my bus, I decided to find out more about the Mount Vernon Hotel. I walked up the steps and rang the bell. The docent on duty gave me a 45-minute historical perspective and tour of what had been a 1799 carriage house for a 23-acre estate originally owned by Colonel William Stephens Smith and his wife Abigail Adams Smith, daughter of John Adams.

In 1826, years after the manor house burned to the ground, the carriage house was converted into a hotel. Situated in the countryside, four miles from New York, it was a 19th century resort for New Yorkers who wanted to escape the crowded city below 14th Street. Today, concerts are held in the back garden, an oasis surrounded by tall buildings.

The Colonial Dames of America, a woman’s patriotic society, purchased the building in 1924. After extensive restoration to the structure, the Colonial Dames opened the site to the public in 1939. To find out much more about the Mount Vernon Hotel and Museum and Garden, visit