Before the United States was even a country, our founding fathers were constructing some of its most iconic properties. Here, in honor of Independence Day, we take you through some of the stories behind these remarkable houses.
John Hancock’s Boston home
John Hancock, who may be best remembered for his signature, owned a home in Boston’s famed Beacon Hill neighborhood while he served as governor of Massachusetts from 1780-1785 and again from 1787-1793. Originally built by Hancock’s uncle in 1737, it was constructed on what was then still pasture land and featured granite, sandstone, and imported glass and wallpaper. Hancock apparently intended to leave the house to the state, but since he never expressed this in writing, his heirs decided to sell it to Massachusetts for $100,000 in 1859. The state government couldn’t agree on how to go about the deal, though, and the home was eventually sold at auction for $230 in 1863 and dismantled. The sale sparked great public outcry from Bostonians who wanted it preserved, and to this day, Boston is one of the few states without a governor’s mansion.
Alexander Hamilton’s Manhattan estate
After arriving in New York in 1772 at the age of 17, Hamilton quickly rose through the ranks of the Army to serve as George Washington’s aide-de-camp, and the rest, as they say, is history. When Hamilton retired from government, he commissioned the architect John McComb, Jr. to build a house on a 32-acre estate in what is now Harlem. When it was completed in 1802, Hamilton named the house The Grange, after his father’s ancestral home in Scotland. The Grange is believed to have been the only house Hamilton ever owned, and is one of the earliest examples of federal-style architecture. Unfortunately, he only got to enjoy it for two years before being shot in the infamous dual with Aaron Burr. The house was moved twice—in 1889 and 2008, and underwent a $14.5 million renovation in the early 2000s.
Benjamin Franklin’s London home
The only remaining residence of Benjamin Franklin is not even in the United States. At 36 Craven Street in London, you can visit the house that Franklin occupied off and on during his visits to England from 1757 through 1775. It retains many of its original 18th century features, including the staircase, floorboards, wall paneling and fireplaces. The house was in the news in 1998 when conservation workers uncovered a pit of human remains that were determined to be linked to a 18th century anatomy school on the premises.
Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello
The famed estate of the author of the Declaration of Independence is one of the best-known presidential homes. It also functioned as a working plantation and an experimental garden where Jefferson planted 330 varieties of vegetables and 170 varieties of fruit, trying out imported species such as Egyptian onion, red globe artichoke and Sugarloaf cabbage. Jefferson constructed the home over four decades, adjusting the design and changing it to reflect influences from his travels in Europe. Monticello has about 11,000 square feet of living space and in 1800, Jefferson estimated its value for insurance purposes to be $6,300.
George Washington’s Mount Vernon
Our first president’s house also boasts about 11,000 square feet and has 21 rooms over two- and-a-half stories. Washington’s father, Augustine, built the original home in 1735 and his half-brother, Lawrence gave it its name. Mount Vernon was continually expanded over a period of 45 years, and Washington was even sending design instructions home while leading the Revolutionary War. Mount Vernon includes design features such as the aptly-named Chintz Room. This bedroom also features a modern-style clothes closet, a rarity in the 18th century since most folks didn’t own that many clothes. On the immaculately kept grounds, some of the original trees Washington planted are still alive today.