Thursday, February 24, 2011

Merchant's House: East 4th Street btwn Bowery and Lafayette

The Merchant's House was built in the Greek Revival style in 1832 as New York City's affluent was moving north (away from the masses and commercial downtown) to the fashionable Bond Street area in what is now the area between Bleeker and Astor Place.  Seabury Tredwell, who made his fortune importing hardware from England, and his wife, Eliza, moved their seven children, two boys and five girls, into the red-brick and white-marble row house (see right) in 1835.  In 1840, the eighth child, Gertrude, was born in the house.  After Seabury passed away in 1865, the four unmarried daughters stayed in the house with their mother, Eliza.  Gertrude Tredwell (the last surviving member of the immediate family) passed away in the street-facing 2nd floor bedroom in 1933 at the age of 93.  In 1936, the house was made into a museum and restored to the way it was when Seabury Tredwell was alive. 

It is quite amazing that this home has been preserved virtually intact, with all of the furnishings and personal belongings (the museum has 39 Tredwell ladies' dresses, although none are currently on display due to restoration projects) of the Tredwells.  Folks can visit the house and see the authentic antiques for a mere $10 ($5 for seniors or students) (  When you enter the foyer, a docent greets you and offers you a binder filled with detailed descriptions of the artifacts and history of the home so that you can enjoy a self-guided tour. 

You are instructed to go to the lower level to visit the more private family sitting/dining room and kitchen of the home.  The binder information describes the furnishings, cooking, and the work of the 4 Irish maids that lived in the attic level of the house (not normally open to visitors, but will be on certain days; check the website).  You get an intimate view of what life might have been like in the 19th century in NYC.  Then after a short side visit to the garden, you are guided back to the main floor.  From the front main floor parlor with the rosewood pianoforte (between the harpsichord and the piano in history) (see above left) that signaled the Tredwell's gentility and probably provided hours of entertainment for the Tredwells and their guests, to the original chandeliers in both parlors with their ornate plaster surrounds (see right), just walking around the house takes you back in time. 

Then you can walk up to the 2nd level of the house where you see Eliza Tredwell's back bedroom room with her original bed (see left), the metal bathtub and sick bed (for children who might be ill) (see right), and the porcelain wash basin and pitcher for "sponge baths."  There is also a writing desk with what looks like original correspondence on top and examples of commodes in the pass through to Seabury Tredwell's bedroom (it was customary back then for husbands and wives to have separate bedrooms). 

Unfortunately, the home's upper level children's bedrooms and the top floor maid's quarters are not open to visitors, except on select days (e.g., the week of St. Patricks Day the Irish maid's quarters will be opened).  However, even with the limited access, the authenticity and completeness of the home's furnishings make this house worth a visit.  This house is NYC's only 19th century home preserved virtually in tact, and just having the opportunity to be see the whole house in its historic splendor is really special.

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