The John Jay Homestead lies at the end of a long, rolling hill in Katonah, and is at the heart of New York's history. In 1703, John Jay's maternal grandfather, Jacobus Van Cortlandt, bought the property from the Indian chief, Katonah. John Jay, born in 1745, inherited the 900-acre working farm and at age 28, married Sarah Van Brugh Livingston, whose father was the first governor of New Jersey.
Not only did John Jay serve as the president of the second Continental Congress, he was also the principal author, along with Benjamin Franklin and John Adams, of the Treaty of Paris that ended the Revolutionary War. In addition to his service as New York's second governor, John Jay is probably best remembered as the first Chief Justice of the United States Supreme Court, appointed by President George Washington.
While John Jay's accomplishments are impressive, his country house is considered modest for a man of his class. Built as a homestead, it has a lived-in feel. Our guide explained that because mail delivery was unreliable, the Jays sometimes received unexpected guests. We then assumed the role of the guests and were shown the preparations made for our surprise arrival. Amongst the ornate, handcrafted wallpaper and rich woven rugs were our "bags". In the parlor, a child's fort was still laid out with dolls. In the bedrooms, goose down comforters had been pressed and placed on the beds and small mattresses awaited young ones. The guide also kept my child's interest by asking her questions, and by the end of the tour, she was asking questions herself.
Since the homestead was originally the family farm, outside there's lots of roaming and running room for kids. Two recent additions are the herb garden, maintained by the New York unit of the Herb Society of America and patterned after those of the 19th-century; and a child's playhouse behind the main building where children can play.
The homestead is open for tours from April 3 through November 30, Wednesday through Saturday from 10am-4pm and Sunday from noon-4pm. Admission is $3 adults and $1 children 5-12. Call beforehand to set up an appointment for your tour.
A special exhibition starting in June will commemorate the life of Sarah Livingston Jay, who died in 1802. Other summer events include Children's Day with the Jane Austen Society in June and the second year of History Camp for kids ages 8-11 in August. For more information, call (914) 232-5651.
Directions: Saw Mill Parkway north to Interstate 684 north to Exit 6 and go east (right) on Cross River Road. Take a right onto Jay Street (Route 22) and follow the winding road about two miles to the homestead on your left.