Walls So Thick, So Hairy, but Ghosts Still Get In
The Valentine-Varian House, a solid brick farmhouse on Bainbridge Avenue, has walls 21″ thick.
Walls insulated with a homemade recipe of horse hair, pig hair and mud.
Walls so thick and so sturdy, that when it was dragged from the corner of Bainbridge and Van Cortlandt catercorner across the street, then turned 90 degrees to its current location, nothing was used to brace it nor to belt it.
Walls so thick and so well insulated, that the day we visited I had to take my coat off to keep from passing out.
And I was further comforted to learn that the heat wasn’t even on.
Tour guide and Caretaker Marcus Hickman lead us to the cut-a-way in the wall exposing the home’s layers of hairy insulation.
What else is so special about the Valentine-Varian House?
It survived the American Revolution for one.
Built in 1758, it is the second oldest home in the Bronx. (The oldest is the Van Cortlandt House built in 1748).
And it has all its original wood plank flooring and nails (probably forged right there in the blacksmith shop).
It is the Museum of Bronx History.
Isaac Valentine, the original owner, was a blacksmith and owned the surrounding 300 acres with slaves to help run the farm.
The blacksmith shop is gone, but the original door leading to it from the house is still in place.
Valentine was a neutralist during the Revolution and the house was occupied by American, British and Hessian soldiers.
The road running in front of the house was a major thoroughfare (Van Cortlandt Avenue) which led to Boston.
The Varian family bought the farm in 1792 and kept it in their family until 1905.
Issac Varian, the 63rd mayor of New York City, was a grandson of the original Varian owner.
The house is not furnished (they are working to change this) and the current featured exhibit is a tribute to Yankee Stadium.
As The Museum of Bronx History, the permanent collection has photographs and objects of the Bronx early years. We’d come at the tail end of the Black History Month exhibit on the history of Bronxites of African descent. Many of the early Bronx landowning families had black slaves working on their estates (the first enlaved blacks arriving to the Bronx were from Barbados) and African Burial sites were situated nearby. The exhibit displayed historical maps to show the location of those burial sites–long since built over with no marker to indicate their existence.
I believe that exhibit should be absorbed into the museum’s permanent collection. Not much light is given to the early history of blacks in the Bronx.
The Valentine-Varian house itself has a feeling that evokes a different period. It actually has a lot of rooms on the ground floor. It was not considered a luxurious residence, in comparison to the Van Cortlandt House for example, but it is clearly the size home of a farmer with some means.
Marcus, as caretaker, has the Valentine-Varian House as his home address. He reminded us that historic homes often have a full time resident. I do remember hearing a baby crying from the upper floors of the Bartow-Pell Mansion the day we visited.
And yes, Marcus did confirm the house has ghosts.
“Friendly, ones. If you live in an historic home, you have to respect that they’ll be here.
Afterward, we went around the back of the house to the Williamsbridge Oval. What a great park! With tennis courts, soccer fields, a running track and playgrounds. And all along I thought it was a fenced in reservoir.