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Federal Hall National Memorial

May 16, 2011

I’ve concentrated on local sites my last few posts but I feel it is time to go international. And where better for my first international post than New York, a city with so much rich and fascinating history.

The Federal Hall National Memorial is what I will be writing on this time. Located on Wall Street at the southern tip of Manhattan it has strong connections to the beginnings of New York and the United States.

The current Federal Hall building stands on the site of the New York’s second city hall, which was constructed in 1700. John Peter Zenger, an American newspaper publisher, was arrested for committing libel against the British royal governor and was imprisoned and tried there in 1735. His acquital laid the foundations for freedom of the press as it was defined later by the Bill of Rights.

Respresentatives of the then thirteen colonies met as the Stamp Act Congress here in 1765. This was in opposition to the recent Stamp Act passed by the Parliament of Great Britain without any representation from the colonies.

With the end of the Revolutionary War and the establishment of the United States of America, the Continental Congress met at City Hall in 1787. This was to adopt the Northwest Ordinance, establishing procedures for creating new states. Out of this came Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Michigan, and Wisconsin. It also prohibited slavery in these new states. When New York became the first capital of the United States under the new constitution in 1789, City Hall was renamed as Federal Hall.

A view of Federal Hall from 1798

Federal Hall 1798

This bronze statue of George Washington dates from 1882 and was designed by John Quincy Adams Ward

The First Congress met in the now Federal Hall and wrote the Bill of Rights. George Washington was also inaugurated here as the first President of the United States on April 30, 1789.

When the capital of the US was moved back to Philadelphia in 1790, the building once again became the headquarters for city government until the building was demolished in 1812. A new City Hall was built at 260 Broadway. The current building to occupy the site was constructed as the Customs House in 1842. In 1862 Customs moved to 55 Wall Street and the building was taken over by the US Sub-Treasury.  Eventually the Federal Reserve Bank replaced the Sub-Treasury system in 1920. That same year a bomb was detonated across the street, in what became known as the Wall Street Bombing. Luckily the building escaped damage. In 1939 it was designated as the Federal Hall Memorial National Historic Site. Since then it has functioned as a free museum under the management of the National Park Services.

A picture of the aftermath of the 1920 bombing

Wall Street Bomb

Some shots of the interior rotunda hall of the memorial

An example of a period printing press. This would have been used for the printing of pamphlets and newspapers. I have already mentioned the case of John Peter Zenger and there is also an exhibit based on the trial and freedom of the press.

The Bill Of Rights, one of the most important documents in American history

Items commemorating George Washington

There is also an exhibition of artefacts belonging to Washington, including the Bible used during his inauguration.

This Bible was printed in London in 1765 and was loaned to Washington by a local Masonic Lodge, St. John’s Lodge No. 1, Ancient York Masons. The Bible has also been used in the inaugurations of Presidents Warren G. Harding, Dwight D. Eisenhower, Jimmy Carter, and George H.W. Bush (whose 1989 inauguration was in the bicentennial year of George Washington’s). During the inauguration of Barack Obama as the 44th president on January 20, 2009, members of the St. John’s Lodge and the Washington Bible took part in a special ceremony in front of the statue of George Washington on the steps of Federal Hall to honor the momentous occasion.

A portrait of Alexander Hamilton.

Alexander Hamilton served as the first United States Secretary of the Treasury and was also aide-de-camp to Washington during the Revolutionary War. He is credited for having a significant impact on the design of the new American government and it’s constitution.

This is a fragment of the balcony on which George Washington stood during his inauguration.

When the original Federal Hall was demolished a few fragments were preserved. This large brownstone section of the balcony floor upon which George Washington stood was removed to the grounds of Bellevue Hospital, where it was on exhibition for many years. In 1889, the stone was returned to its original site and displayed at what was then the U. S. Subtreasury building (now Federal Hall National Memorial) for the commemoration of the centennial of Washington’s inauguration. It was also covered with a thin skim of cement in order for the inscription to be applied. Although currently on display in the rotunda, it has been moved around Federal Hall several times. This is where the crack came from, which allows the visitor to get a glimpse of the original stone underneath the layer of cement.

The Federal Hall National Memorial is free for members of the public and open all year around from 9am to 5pm. If you are in Lower Manhattan it is definitely worth checking out, especially if you are on Wall Street. It is a fantastic insight into American history.

More information is available here:

One Comment leave one →
  1. kris permalink
    May 17, 2011 3:18 pm

    You’re missing from the Geo Washington photo 😉 Good post.

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