Federal Hall National Memorial
New York City Landmark No. 0047, 0887
|Location||26 Wall Street, Financial District, Manhattan, New York City|
|Area||0.45 acres (0.18 ha)|
|Built||May 26, 1842|
|Architect||Town and Davis; John Frazee (Interior Rotunda)|
|Architectural style||Greek Revival|
|Website||Federal Hall National Memorial|
|Part of||Wall Street Historic District (ID07000063)|
|NRHP reference No.||66000095|
|NYCL No.||0047, 0887|
|Added to NRHP||October 15, 1966|
|Designated NMEM||August 11, 1955|
|Designated NYCL||December 21, 1965 (exterior)|
May 27, 1975 (interior)
Federal Hall is a historic building at 26 Wall Street in the Financial District of Manhattan, New York City. The name refers to two structures on the site: a Federal style building completed in 1703, and the current Greek Revival–style building completed in 1842. While only the first building was officially called "Federal Hall", the current structure is operated by the National Park Service as a national memorial called the Federal Hall National Memorial.
The original building served as New York's first City Hall. It was the site where the colonial Stamp Act Congress met to draft its message to King George III claiming entitlement to the same rights as the residents of Britain and protesting "taxation without representation". After the American Revolution, in 1785, the building served as meeting place for the Congress of the Confederation, the nation's first central government under the Articles of Confederation. With the establishment of the United States federal government in 1789, it was renamed Federal Hall, as it hosted the 1st Congress and was the place where George Washington was sworn in as the nation’s first president. It was demolished in 1812.
The current structure, one of the best surviving examples of Greek Revival architecture in New York City, was built as the U.S. Custom House for the Port of New York. Later it served as a sub-Treasury building. The current national memorial commemorates the historic events that occurred at the previous structure. The building was designated a city landmark by the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission in 1965 and was added to the National Register of Historic Places (NRHP) in 1966. It is also a contributing property to the Wall Street Historic District, a NRHP district created in 2007.
In the 17th century, the area north of Wall Street was occupied by John Damen's farm. Damen sold the land in 1685 to captain John Knight, an officer of Thomas Dongan's administration. Knight resold the land to Dongan, and Dongan resold it in 1689 to Abraham de Peyster and Nicholas Bayard. Both de Peyster and Bayard served as Mayors of New York.
The original structure on the site was built as New York's second City Hall from 1699 to 1703, on Wall Street, in what is today the Financial District of Lower Manhattan. The stones from Wall Street's old fortifications were used for City Hall. In 1735, John Peter Zenger, an American newspaper publisher, was arrested for committing libel against the British royal governor and was imprisoned and tried there. His acquittal on the grounds that the material he had printed was true established freedom of the press as it was later defined in the Bill of Rights.
In October 1765, delegates from nine of the 13 colonies met as the Stamp Act Congress in response to the levying of the Stamp Act by the Parliament of Great Britain. Drawn together for the first time in organized opposition to British policy, the attendees drafted a message to King George III, the House of Lords, and the House of Commons, claiming entitlement to the same rights as the residents of Britain and protesting the colonies' "taxation without representation".
After the American Revolution, the City Hall served as the meeting place for the Congress of the Confederation of the United States under the Articles of Confederation from 1785 until 1789. Acts adopted here included the Northwest Ordinance, which set up what would later become the states of Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Michigan and Wisconsin, but more fundamentally prohibited slavery in these future states.
In 1788, the building was remodeled and enlarged in the Federal Style under the direction of Pierre Charles L'Enfant, who was later selected by President George Washington to design the capital city on the Potomac River. An arched promenade was built through the street-level basement, with four heavy Tuscan columns supporting a balcony. On balcony level, four high Doric columns were installed, supporting a pediment that depicted an American eagle with thirteen arrows.
The building was renamed Federal Hall in 1789 when New York was chosen as the nation’s first seat of government under the Constitution. The 1st Congress met there beginning on March 4, 1789. The first inauguration of George Washington, the first-ever inauguration of a President of the United States, occurred on the balcony of the building on April 30, 1789. Many of the most important legislative actions in the United States occurred with the 1st Congress at Federal Hall. Foremost was the proposal and initial ratification of the Bill of Rights to the U.S. Constitution; twelve amendments to the Constitution were initially drafted (ten were later adopted), and on September 25, 1789, the United States Bill of Rights was proposed in Federal Hall, establishing the freedoms claimed by the 1765 Stamp Act Congress. The Judiciary Act of 1789 was also enacted in the building, setting up the United States federal court system.
In 1790, the United States capital was moved to Philadelphia. What had been Federal Hall was turned into quarters for the state assembly and courts. In 1812 or 1813, the building was razed with the opening of the current New York City Hall. Part of the original railing and balcony floor where Washington was inaugurated are on display in the memorial. Nassau Street, which historically curved around City Hall, was straightened after the demolition of the second City Hall.
The current Greek Revival structure was built as the first purpose-built U.S. Custom House for the Port of New York. The Custom House's previous location was described as "ordinary and inconvenient"; in 1831, overcrowding had necessitated that the federal government lease additional space. Samuel Swartwout, the Customs Collector for the Port of New York, advocated in 1832 for "spacious, safe, secure" accommodations.
The firm of Town and Davis, composed of Ithiel Town and Alexander Jackson Davis, won an architectural design competition for the new Custom House building and was awarded the contract for the building's design in August 1833. Town estimated that the plans would cost $250,000 if the Custom House building was made of granite, or $320,000 to $350,000 if it was of masonry, brick, and marble. The original design called for a colonnade of eight columns facing Wall and Pine Streets, square pilasters on Nassau Street, a massive coffered dome protruding above the roof, and a cruciform floor plan. Town suggested that Samuel Thomson, architect of the Administration Building at Sailors' Snug Harbor, be named the construction superintendent. Thomson made numerous changes to the plans before he resigned in 1835, taking the plans with him. Sculptor John Frazee was named the superintendent in Thomson's stead; he worked to piece together Town and Davis's original plans. Frazee got into a dispute with building commissioner Walter Bowne and was dismissed in 1840, although he was rehired in 1841.
The Custom House building opened in 1842 at a cost of $928,312 (equivalent to $20 million in 2019). Importers would perform their business at a counter in the building's central rotunda. The building came to be associated with political patronage. "The Seven Stages of the Office Seeker", an 1852 print by Edward Williams Clay, satirized how Democratic Party patronage under New York governor Martin Van Buren was centered around the Custom House.
By 1861, the structure had become too small to accommodate all of the customs duties of the U.S. Custom House for the Port of New York. The custom house decided to move one block to 55 Wall Street, then occupied by the Merchants' Exchange. The federal government of the United States signed a lease with the Merchants' Exchange in February 1862, intending to move into the building that May. The custom house moved to 55 Wall Street starting in August 1862.
After the relocation of the Custom House, 26 Wall Street was transformed into a building for the United States Sub-Treasury. The Sub-Treasury desks were arranged around the rotunda of the building. Gold and coin storage vaults were placed along a passage near the north side of the rotunda. Bars were stored to the west, or left, and gold certificates and coins were stored to the east, or right. A vault for small change was also provided. A coin division was on the east side of the building, on the floor of the rotunda, toward Pine Street. Silver was stored in the northwest corner of the building, in the basement. An armory was placed on the upper stories, and various fortifications were mounted at the top of the building to protect the money. Adjoining the Sub-Treasury to the east was the United States Assay Office, a branch of the United States Mint that performed all Mint functions except creating the coinage. At its peak, the Sub-Treasury building held seventy percent of the federal government's money.
In 1883, John Quincy Adams Ward‘s bronze statue of George Washington was put up on the Sub-Treasury’s ceremonial front steps. The statue "mark[ed] the exact height Washington stood when taking the oath of office on the balcony” of the eighteenth-century edifice, overlooking the crowds filling Broad Street up to Wall Street. In the Wall Street bombing of 1920, a bomb was detonated across from Federal Hall at 23 Wall Street, in what became known as The Corner. Thirty-eight people were killed and 400 injured, and 23 Wall Street was visibly damaged, but Federal Hall received no damage.
By 1917, the Sub-Treasury building held $519 million worth of gold and several million dollars more in coins. The Federal Reserve Bank replaced the Sub-Treasury system in 1920, and the Sub-Treasury office closed on December 7 of that year. The old Sub-Treasury was used as a passport office for a short time afterward.
Federal Hall National Memorial
By the late 1930s, the Sub-Treasury building was planned to be torn down. Consequently, a group called Federal Hall Memorial Associates was formed in 1939, raising money to prevent the building's demolition. The building was designated as Federal Hall Memorial National Historic Site on May 26, 1939. The monument commemorated the first building on the site, rather than the extant Sub-Treasury building. After several months of negotiations, Federal Hall Memorial Associates was allowed to operate the interior as a museum.
Federal Hall was re-designated a national memorial on August 11, 1955, and the National Park Service started to administer the national memorial. The following year, the federal government drafted a $1.621 million plan for restoration of Federal Hall. At the time, the interior had become dilapidated. A memorial to the Bill of Rights was dedicated in 1964 at Federal Hall. The building was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in its own right on October 15, 1966, and designated a landmark by the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission on December 21, 1965. The building opened to the public in 1972 as a museum.
During the mid-1980s, Richard Jenrette—the chairman of banking house Donaldson, Lufkin & Jenrette, which was headquartered nearby—started soliciting $500,000 in private donations to renovate Federal Hall, in conjunction with Federal Hall Memorial Associates. Although the group planned to make the rotunda into a reception area with contemporary furnishings, by 1985, only $73.000 had been raised and no contemporary furnishings had been acquired. Federal officials announced in 1986 that Federal Hall would be renovated; the spaces would be cleaned and painted, and mechanical systems would be replaced. As part of the project, an exhibit to the Constitution of the United States would be opened.
Federal Hall was closed for one month following the September 11, 2001, attacks, which caused the nearby collapse of the World Trade Center's Twin Towers. On September 6, 2002, approximately 300 members of the United States Congress traveled from Washington, D.C. to New York to convene in Federal Hall National Memorial as a symbolic show of support for the city, still recovering from the September 11 attacks. The meeting was the first by Congress in New York since 1790.
The site closed on December 3, 2004, for an extensive $16 million renovation, mostly to its foundation, after cracks threatening the structure were greatly aggravated by the collapse of the World Trade Center. Federal Hall National Memorial reopened two years later. In 2007, the building was designated as a contributing property to the Wall Street Historic District, a NRHP district. It was reported on June 8, 2008, that New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and ABC News invited 2008 United States presidential candidates John McCain and Barack Obama to a town hall forum at Federal Hall. Both candidates declined the offer "because they do not want it limited to one television network."
Designed by architects Ithiel Town and Alexander Jackson Davis of Town and Davis, with a domed rotunda designed by the sculptor John Frazee, it was constructed of Tuckahoe marble. Two prominent American ideals are reflected in the current building's Greek Revival architecture. Town and Davis's Doric columns on the facade resemble those of the Parthenon and serve as a tribute to the democracy of the Greeks. Frazee's domed rotunda echoes the Pantheon and is evocative of the republican ideals of the ancient Romans.
The main rotunda of Federal Hall is 60 feet (18 m) in diameter. It is topped by a self-supporting masonry saucer dome with a skylight at its center. The dome contains narrow panels with curved bottoms, as well as anthemia motifs at their top and bottom ends. The skylight is surrounded by raised rosettes. The floor of the rotunda contains gray and cream marble blocks in concentric circles. At the center of the floor is a stone slab, where George Washington once stood.
The wall of the rotunda contains four sections of colonnade, each containing four columns. The southern colonnade leads to the main entrance, while the northern colonnade leads to the primary hallway of the building. The outer walls of the eastern and western colonnades contain plainly designed windows. There are gilded-iron balconies behind each colonnade. Between the colonnades are short sections of flat wall, situated between flat pilasters. Above the balconies are barrel vaulted ceilings.
The National Park Service operates Federal Hall as a national memorial. As a national memorial, the site is open free to the public from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on weekdays. It has tourist information about the New York Harbor area's federal monuments and parks, and a New York City tourism information center. The gift shop has colonial and early American items for sale. Normally its exhibit galleries are open free to the public daily, except national holidays, and guided tours of the site are offered throughout the day. Exhibits include George Washington’s Inauguration Gallery, including the Bible used to swear his oath of office; Freedom of the Press, the imprisonment and trial of John Peter Zenger; and New York: An American Capital, preview exhibit created by the National Archives and Records Administration.
Federal Hall is open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Mondays through Fridays, and is closed on Sundays and Saturdays. The monument is compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 via a ramp at its rear. The M55 bus stops nearby on Broadway, while the M15 and M15 SBS stop nearby on Water Street. In addition, the Broad Street station of the New York City Subway, serving the J and Z trains, is directly under Federal Hall.
On U.S. postage
Engraved renditions of Federal Hall appear twice on U.S. postage stamps. The first stamp showing Federal Hall was issued on April 30, 1939, the 150th anniversary of President Washington's inauguration, where he is depicted on the balcony of Federal Hall taking the oath of office.
The George Washington Inaugural Bible, on which Washington took his inaugural oath in 1789
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|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Federal Hall.|
- Official website, National Park Service
- Federal Hall
- Federal Hall Visitor Information, National Parks of NY Harbor Conservancy
- Library of Congress - The New Capital City
- U. S. Custom House, 28 Wall Street, New York, New York, NY, Historic American Buildings Survey
- Engraving: Federal Hall, The Seat of Congress
- Lithograph: A View of the Federal Hall, 1797