Thursday, September 20, 2012

A cup of tea with Washington?

If you're of a certain age, you might recall that certain older houses had signs which declared that George Washington had slept in them. Travelers were led to believe that any given old cottage might have hosted the Father of Our Country during the Revolutionary War, and while many of the stories were apocryphal, others had their basis in fact.

One of those places was the Hermitage in Ho Ho Kus. A few months ago, we reported the home's notable place in American history as a momentary headquarters for General George Washington and as the site where future Vice President Aaron Burr and his first wife Theodosia Prevost were married. Those events took place relatively early in the home's history. For most of the structure's existence, it was owned by the Rosencrantz family, members of which lived there until 1970.

The Hermitage was originally a small part of a large holding of land, buildings and business concerns. Over the years, however, various family members divested mills and a great deal of acreage. By 1915, the last male Rosencrantz to live in the house had died, leaving behind his 62 year-old unmarried sister Bess and his 32 year-old daughter Mary Elizabeth. No provisions to pay for operation of the house had been made in his will, and the other men in the family urged the women to sell the property and move someplace more economical.

Bess and Mary Elizabeth, however, wouldn't consider leaving their historic home. Instead, they took a facet of what makes it remarkable and used it to their advantage. They opened the parlor of the Hermitage as a tea room in 1917, capitalizing on its place in history to attract business. While sipping on tea and enjoying sandwiches, patrons would be treated to Revolutionary-era stories that might or might not have been completely true. Did Continental soldiers or Hessians travel the property through hidden tunnels? Did Washington and his fellow Freemasons conduct secret ritual in one of the house's original rooms? The one thing we can be assured of is that visitors were well entertained.

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