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Field School at Morris-Jumel Mansion

WMF partnered with Historic House Trust of New York City and Williamsburg High School for Architecture and Design to host a field school at Morris-Jumel Mansion, November 11, 2011.

Morris-Jumel Mansion is the oldest surviving house in Manhattan, dating to 1765. Just behind the mansion is a sunken garden with traces of a cruciform walkway. On a brisk Veteran’s day, six students from Williamsburg High School for Architecture and Design participated in the restoration of the sunken garden by hand laying blue stone slabs to recreate the final section of the walkway. The field school was led by Rebecca Brainard of Historic House Trust of New York City and Jim Diaz, master gardener and designer at Morris-Jumel, who gave instructions and then assisted the students in implementing them.

On the second highest hilltop in Manhattan, the students began the breezy morning with the careful removal of grass clusters, keeping them intact for future use between the stones slabs. They then tilled the soil and prepared the earth for the placement of the walkway. Hefty rectangular stone slabs were scattered around the garden, and the students learned how to roll and maneuver them appropriately, without injuring themselves. They placed the first large stone at the center of the garden where the walkways intersect. These stone slabs are of varying thickness, and the students assessed when to backfill the earth in order to ensure an even plane. Once they placed the first one, they moved on to the next one until they had laid ten stones, completing more than half of the walkway. While some were setting stones, others were backfilling soil, and planting the tufts of grass they had set aside earlier, in the spaces between the stones. The students then cleaned up the site, put away the tools, and headed to the basement of the mansion for lunch and a tour of the mansion, where they learned about British Colonel Roger Morris, George Washington, and Eliza Jumel. The labor-intensive morning was followed by an afternoon at the Edgar Allan Poe Cottage in the Bronx and its Toshiko Mori visitor center.

This is WMF’s second New York-based field school with Historic House Trust and Williamsburg High School, where students have flexed their muscles and minds in a hands-on experience in historic preservation. WMF will continue to implement these field schools and encourage organizations in NYC to take on summer interns from Williamsburg High School. Have you ever participated in a field school? Have you visited Morris-Jumel Mansion recently?