Conference House Museum (also called Billipp House) offers a treasure trove for history lovers. Its parlor set stage for a Revolutionary War treaty that Ben Franklin and John Adams both attended. But even with this impressive cast of characters, the curtain fell fast. This optimistic treaty failed. Still, you gotta visit this historic home. It’s got the loveliest tour guides and holds stories galore.
Treaty at Conference House
The idyllic setting at Conference House feels historic. Before even entering the stone house landmark, it resonates old world tones. That’s because it sits at the southernmost tip of New York City. The lush lawn seems to drift right into the waterfront, far off on the blue horizon. It’s so peaceful and quiet. You can hear a squirrel scurry across the grass and up an ancient tree trunk. This isn’t the NYC you’re accustomed to.
It’s the perfect place to soak up rich historical stories – no distractions. In fact, the tour guides are the greatest. They held guest attentions hostage with vivid stories. A history-loving couple serve as entertaining guides through the house. Married more than fifty years, they share a profound love of early American History. It’s the teachers in love with the material themselves that keep classrooms invigorated. No better example of this at work than a Conference House tour.
Tea Time at Conference House
The picture above shows the parlor where the historic treaty likely happened. It’s not a certainty. But a painting of the event does seem most like this particular room. Check out the painting when you visit and come to your own conclusions. It’s just one of many thinkers you’ll encounter on this thoughtful tour. The fantastic tour guides share personal touches too. A particular favorite is the tactile experience of tea at Conference House.
Back in the 1700s, when the colonies depended on shipments of tea from England, it wasn’t bagged like today. Rather, it traveled across the sea in large blocks. You can see and touch it for yourself as part of this tour. Given the symbolic significance of tea, this helps bring the era’s history to life. Some tours do it with costumes and lectures. Conference House has this more down-to-earth approach. Anything that invigorates the senses helps us remember things. That’s why a smell or a song can sometimes awaken a long forgotten memory. It’s also why this aspect of the tour works. You experience history in a sensory way. So, it stays with you.
Conference House also hosts an annual tea event with yummy foods. They celebrate it in the kitchen where there’s an enormous fireplace that served as a stove of yore. Come drink tea with me there next Fall. The house tour’s included in the celebration. Plus you’ll get to meet lots of fellow history buffs and heartfelt storytellers.
September 11th 1776 – Conference House Treaty Day
The house made an ideal setting for the Revolutionary War treaty for many reasons. First of all, the homeowner, Christopher Billop, was a Tory. In fact, he stayed loyal to the British throughout the war. So, given that the treaty took place in the colonies, this was closest to neutral ground. Also, forests, meadows, and the Arthur Kill River encircle the Conference House.
Everywhere you look is a glorious view, including Lower Raritan Bay and nearby New Jersey. It’s easy to see how a peace accord might happen here, even among the most warring of factions. The spacious and iconoclastic colonial feels perfect for a polite meeting among fellows.
It’s a wonder that peace wasn’t reached that day. But fact is, the war was inevitable. That’s because King George III’s representative, Lord Howe couldn’t consider independence an option. The crown knew about a secret document The Declaration of Independence. They’d heard it was in the works and were thus frightened at the prospect. Conflict was a foregone conclusion. At this point, Benjamin Franklin and John Adams had already formed the Sons of Liberty. They were ready to die for Independence at this point. This is a recipe for war, not reconciliation.
Luckily, we have the Conference House to commemorate this worthwhile attempt, though. It was a historic meeting and the beginning of the whole shebang. Come see for yourself. It’s much more than a gorgeous, antique building. The stories enrapture you. It feels like a real walk through a historic event with all that transpired. What a wonderful way to spend an afternoon at the southernmost point of New York City.
Historic Houses Trust Rocks
Thanks to my partnership with Historic House Trust of NYC, I get to see living history up close and personal. The Conference House is just one of their 23 historic home sites across NYC’s 5 boroughs. Travel 367 years of history right along with me! Check ‘em out on Instagram and at their website – https://historichousetrust.org. I’d love to see you at one of their fantastic sites. Each visit brings new experiences and gripping stories that stay with you. I’m so grateful to HHTC for all the incredible work they do keeping history alive. They make it such fun!