Before the 19th century, the Bronx was mostly forest and farmland sparsely populated by Native Americans and then the Dutch and English. In the 1800s, the local population grew as the land became a popular place for rich people to build their summer houses. The Bartow-Pell Mansion, located deep in the heart of Pelham Bay Park, is the last remnant of that era.
Thomas Pell, an English physician from Connecticut, purchased the land around Pelham Bay from the local Lenape tribe in 1654. The Pell family lived there until the Revolutionary War, when the original house on the property burned down. The land was sold off in 1813, but was later regained by a Pell descendent named Robert Bartow in 1836. He built a large Greek Revival mansion on the property in 1842, which the family sold to the city in 1888.
The mansion was one of many properties acquired by New York to build Pelham Bay Park, though the others were allowed to decay and were eventually demolished under the direction of Robert Moses. The Bartow-Pell house was only saved because it had been leased to the International Garden Club, which actively worked to restore the building and its grounds. In 1936, the mansion even served as Mayor LaGuardia’s summer office.
As a museum, the house has several period rooms decorated in 19th-century style, including a parlor and two bedrooms. Visitors can even head up to the attic to see how the servants would have lived, with several beds and other furniture—you can even ring the bells the Bartows would have used to summon help.
Outside is an elaborate flower garden with a fountain, an herb garden, and an intact carriage house that is still used as a stable today. Hidden in the brush behind the house is a small family cemetery and the Siwanoy Trail, a hiking path named for the native Lenape people.