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The Van Cortlandt House Museum is a private, non-profit institution founded in 1896 by The National Society of Colonial Dames in the State of New York, a licensee of the City of New York. Van Cortlandt House was built in 1748 for Frederick Van Cortlandt and was the focal point of an expansive and prosperous wheat plantation. The interpretive period of the Museum House is from 1748 - 1823 when Frederick and his two eldest sons, James and Augustus, owned the property. The Museum collection contains Van Cortlandt family materials and furnishings appropriate to this interpretive period.Van Cortlandt House Museum strives to be a vital member of The Bronx Cultural community and the larger region by preserving, researching and interpreting the Van Cortlandt House, its grounds, and historical collection for a wide audience for the purpose of growing meaningful connections between the past and the present. The Museum's research and interpretation focuses on the Van Cortlandt family; the social history of those who lived and worked on the property; the study of decorative arts; and the impact of the American Colonial Revival on the development of the Van Cortlandt House as a public museum.
The story of the Van Cortlandt family in American begins in 1638 when Oloff Stevense Van Cortlandt landed in New Amsterdam. Fifty years later, Oloff was considered the fourth wealthiest man in New York having made his money as a merchant involved in trading, brewing, manufacturing wampum, money lending, and shipping. At the close of the 17th century, Jacobus, the youngest of Oloff's seven children, purchased the first piece of land of what would eventually become a large and profitable wheat plantation.
Present -day Van Cortlandt House was built in 1748 by Jacobus' only son Frederick. He chose for his house an English style of architecture adding details to remind him of his forefather's Dutch heritage. The carved grotesque masks set over the windows on the front of the house were added to protect the residents from evil spirits. Sadly, Frederick did not live to see his house completed. After his death, the plantation and milling operations were inherited by his eldest son James and later his brother Augustus.
It is the story of these three Van Cortlandt men and the history that unfolded during their lives which are portrayed in the interpretation of Van Cortlandt House. The Museum collection includes family heirlooms as well as furnishings carefully chosen to represent those which the Van Cortlandt family might have owned. Van Cortlandt House Museum has been recognized both nationally and locally for the important history that happened here. It is listed on The National Register of Historic Places and has been declared a New York City and National Historic Landmark.
- Laura Carpenter
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