Hamilton Heights and Sugar Hill: Alexander Hamilton’s Old Harlem Neighborhood Through the Centuries

Empire State Editions: Fordham Univ. Apr. 2024. 432p. ISBN 9781531506148. $34.95. HIST
James (The South Africa of His Heart) has long wanted to write a detailed history of the Upper Manhattan neighborhoods of Hamilton Heights and Sugar Hill, inspired by her childhood and teenage experiences visiting and living there (plus the renewed interest in the area, thanks to the Broadway musical Hamilton). The resulting book documents these Harlem neighborhoods in great detail. Her story of the geography, history, architecture, and cultural life of the area covers its origins as the land of the Lenape people, colonization by the Dutch and British, the construction of Alexander Hamilton’s country estate, the Harlem Renaissance, 20th-century decline and gentrification, and the present day. The heyday of these neighborhoods was the Harlem Renaissance, when in the 1920s and 1930s, talented Black musicians, artists, writers, poets, journalists, and educators lived, worked, and socialized in Sugar Hill’s stately homes and apartment buildings. James describes the social connections between Harlem residents while supplying readers with context for each person she discusses, expertly capturing a sense of life in Harlem. The book includes notes and a bibliography.
VERDICT A fascinating record of the history and culture of influential neighborhoods in Harlem.
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