Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Federal Hall: Wall Street & Nassau Street

Federal Hall Entrance with Statue of George Washington
Located just across the street from the New York Stock Exchange, Federal Hall is a historic site that should not be missed by history buffs.  While the original building was demolished and the building that currently stands there (built in 1842) is not filled with as many artifacts from the early years of this nation's history as one would hope, the free 30 minute tour is definitely worth a look (tours are offered on the hour by national park rangers; see http://www.nps.gov/feha/planyourvisit/hours.htm for details on times).  The grand Greek revival architecture of the building was intentionally designed to suggest the great power of the new nation, with its Greek columns from single slabs of all domestic marble (excluding the capitals which are from Carrera Italy) (see left) and its 55' in diameter rotunda (see right).  The wrought iron balcony and the well-worn marble floors are also quite luxurious.

This was the site where (1) George Washington was inaugurated as the first President of the United States (see photo of original wrought iron balcony where George Washington took his oath at left and photo of George Washington's shoe buckle at right -- unfortunately the original bible on which he took is oath is currently out on loan), (2) where the Bill of Rights was drafted (originally 12, 10 were initially adopted), (3) where Congress passed the Judiciary Act that established the coexistence of state and federal courts and laws, and (4) later where the purchase of what later became the state of Alaska was executed. 

Between these historic moments, this was the site where over time: New York City Hall operated, the U.S. Customs House brought in moneys from trade to fund the operations of the young nation, and one of the U.S. Sub-Treasuries protected the wealth of the nation in gold and silver (vaults remain on the main level and the basement level, see right) -- gun turrets once lined the roof to protect the funds kept here!

There is also a room dedicated to the life story of Alexander Hamilton (first Secretary of Treasury of the United States), from birth to an unwed mother who died when he was 11, a father who abandoned them in the Caribbean island of Nevis when he was 10, to the death of his oldest son Philip in a duel defending his father's honor, and finally to the death of Alexander Hamilton himself in a duel with Aaron Burr, who was attempting to pull apart the nascent nation into independent states.  This small glimpse certainly made me more keen about the re-opening of the Hamilton Grange (Alexander Hamilton's home) later this summer at 414 W. 141st Street.  

As I mentioned above, there aren't a lot of artifacts here, but there is a lot of history to appreciate.  If you are in the area, I would recommend a visit in conjunction with any visit to St. Paul's Chapel and Trinity Church (both of which are just a few blocks away, please see my prior blog post on both sites).

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