Lower Manhattan Historical Tour – Battery Park, Bowling Green, & Fraunces Tavern

Hi friends, welcome back! Jon and I have been living in the Financial District for four and a half years, but we haven’t truly explored the historical sights we walk by almost every day. Before Times Square, Fifth Avenue, and Central Park, Lower Manhattan was where all the action happened and the north of City Hall was primarily undeveloped land. Originally I planned to visit Federal Hall and do a post on that, but I found a George Washington’s America walking tour online and realized this should be a multi-part series. Hope you enjoy this virtual tour of my neighborhood and the interesting historical tidbits I learned.

The first stop is Castle Clinton and Battery Park. This area used to be the harbor until the land was extended multiple times in the 19th century by landfill. Castle Clinton was built 200 feet offshore in 1811 to keep the harbor safe during the War of 1812. They never had to fire a canon here, but they were ready with 37 canons that could shoot up to 1.5 miles. At the time it was on an island connected by a long bridge. In 1823 the fort was given to NYC and the land was extended about ten acres further by landfill. The fort served a few different purposes first becoming a restaurant and opera house. If you’ve seen The Greatest Showman the opera singer Jenny Lind made her American Debut at Castle Clinton.

From 1855-1890 it served as the official immigration processing center of America, and over 8 million immigrants passed through here. During this time another landfill project was completed. In 1896 it opened as an aquarium complete with a Beluga whale before the aquarium moved to Coney Island. In 1946 NPS took over and restored the castle back to its original use and opened it to the public as Castle Clinton National Monument in 1975. It is currently the ticket office for the Statue of Liberty and an estimated three million people visit a year. The Castle is open from 8am – 5pm daily except for Thanksgiving and Christmas Day and free to visit. As you can see, there’s not much to see inside Castle Clinton, but the surrounding Battery Park is definitely worth a visit, especially in the spring.

Moving north, Bowling Green is NYC’s oldest park and is thought to be where the Native American tribes allegedly sold Manhattan to dutchman Peter Minuit in 1626 (per the dutch). This park was originally the water’s edge before Battery Park was filled in. It got its name because people used to bowl here, very original I know. The streets were lined with wealthy homes, but a fire went up Broadway in 1776 and demolished 10-25% of NYC. There was a statue of King George III here, but after the Declaration of Independence was read a mob tore down the statue and it was melted down to make musket balls for the army. The fence is the original and guarded by the Charging Bull. It is usually swarmed with people, but I captured the pic in April 2020.

President George Washington resided at the Macomb Mansion, the second Presidential Mansion on the north end of the park at 39-41 Broadway which is now home to my dentist. His original mansion was on Cherry Street, now Pearl and Dover in the Seaport, but it was also demolished. There is a small plaque there under the Brooklyn Bridge, but I couldn’t find it due to construction.

The Alexander Hamilton U.S. Customs House was built in 1907 and now houses The American Indian Museum, US Bankruptcy Court, and offices for the National Archives. This is a new spot relative to the others on the tour, but I thought it should be included because it’s beautiful and worth taking a look inside if you have time. The museum is run by the Smithsonian so it’s free to visit and you can see everything in about an hour. I enjoyed learning the history of New York from the American Indian perspective and seeing what Manhattan looked like before it became a concrete jungle.


Wall Street got its name for the wall on the right side of the picture guarding New Amsterdam from the North.

Stone Street is one of the city’s oldest streets and the first paved street in New Amsterdam (the Dutch settlement of NYC). The street was paved in 1658 and is now a go-to spot for great dining and nightlife. Our favorite place is Adrienne’s Pizza Bar, but we haven’t checked out many of the spots.

Faunces Tavern was a popular spot for both British forces and the Sons of Liberty (Alexander Hamilton’s squad). The owner, Samuel Fraunces, would eavesdrop on the British officers and relay their plans to George Washington. The tavern has been restored and is still a restaurant with a museum upstairs. Fraunces Tavern prides itself on being the oldest and most historic bar and restaurant in New York.

The museum is open Wednesday through Sunday 12-5pm and tickets are $7 for adults, free if you have a NYPL library card. Jon and I went on a Sunday afternoon and it was very empty. We started in the Long Room, the room famous for being where George Washington gave his farewell speech to his officers after the Revolutionary War in 1783.

While City Hall was being remodeled a few blocks away, the offices of the Department of Foreign Affairs, War, and the Treasury were in Fraunces Tavern. This room is a re-creation of what that looked like.

This building was set for demolition in 1900, but luckily The Sons of the Revolution bought the building to preserve it and convert it into a museum. The museum is pretty small and takes about 30-45 minutes to view. I wouldn’t say this is a top thing to do in NYC, but Jon and I had an enjoyable afternoon touring the Fraunces Tavern Museum.

Stay tuned for more of this Lower Manhattan neighborhood tour 🙂

40 thoughts on “Lower Manhattan Historical Tour – Battery Park, Bowling Green, & Fraunces Tavern

  1. Fabulous tour Lyssy. Some places we have been on our two visits. Others, where we would like to go. Guess we will just have to come back. That is one huge pizza. That is the size I make with my Levain dough. Have a great Monday. Allan

    1. Glad you enjoyed! The nice thing about the spots is they’re all within fifteen minutes of each other by foot. I think you will have to come back one day. Sounds delicious!

    1. I always forget that everything started in NYC, some days I wish I was more interested in my history classes in school.

  2. This is such a neat post (and going to make a really neat series). We’ve done a few historical walking tours of Boston and Newport and I do find them fascinating now that I’m a bit older and able to appreciate those stories and the history much more.

    1. So glad you enjoyed this! I agree, I think it is a great way to learn and retain the information. In school I just memorized whatever I needed to know to get by, but now I think I’d enjoy relearning things.

  3. Bravo, Lyssy! I loved this post because there are eleven national park sites on my NY to-do list and you covered several of them. As you know I love learning about the places I want to visit and seeing them, even in photos, just makes the history come alive. I can’t wait for your next post.

    1. Thank you! You’ll have to move your trip to NYC up in your list 🙂 I’m not a big history buff, but I enjoy learning about the things I see, and this blog gives me more reason to do so.

  4. A great tour especially with all those gorgeous spring flowers. On our week long visit we stayed at a hotel in the Financial District so we explored most of these sights apart from Stone Street and Francis Tavern. Seven years ago now so we need to think about a return visit.

    1. So glad you enjoyed! The Financial District is a neat area. I agree that you will have to come back soon 🙂

  5. Wow, there is so much history there!!! We will definitely have to make a trip up to New York sometime soon, and check out these amazing museums. Also, the New York pizza looks pretty epic!

    1. There is so much to see, and if you get hungry, endless delicious places to eat!

  6. Fantastic tour and what a great place to call your home. I have traversed this area on my NYC trips, but have definitely learned some new details from your post. That pizza is fabulous!

    1. It’s a great place to walk around, there’s so much to see if you know where to look. This is like a spark notes history tour haha. There is no shortage of pizza in our neighborhood 🙂

  7. To your earlier comment to Diana, I need to brush up on my early American history as well because I can’t claim to know George Washington ever set foot in NYC. Great idea to make this a series because this is a side of NYC almost all of us don’t appreciate (overlooked by its more popular attractions). I can’t imagine being an immigrant in Clinton Castle and being turned away… so close yet so far. Frauncis Tavern looks perfectly preserved. I’d love to have a drink in that back room and soak in all of the history around me, almost hearing the voices of those early patriots. Finally, all the comments about the pizza made me smile. You load this post with eye-catching photos and interesting details, but what catches our eyes the most? The pizza. Typical Americans 🙂

    1. I am not a huge history buff, so to know people are learning from this series is pretty neat! I agree that most people know more about Philly or Boston and not all about the history starting in NY. That would be devastating to be turned back, especially because the ships weren’t serving biscoff cookies once they reached cruising speed. The tavern dining looked really cool, I was wondering if it was more of a gimmick, but it looked pretty good. Haha very true, that is some eye catching pizza.

      1. Biscoff cookies – HA! They served them on the Boston-LA flight, making the trip slightly more tolerable 🙂

  8. Great post! This tour seemed so interesting and it shows how little I know about the US history and more specifically the history of NY! Thanks for sharing!! 😊

  9. I didn’t know that Customs House and Fraunces Tavern could be visited, I had the chance to enter the stock exchange but not these museums. Thank you for bringing this to my attention.

    1. You’ll have to add them to your return trip one day. They are both nice museums and don’t take up much time or overload with information. I’d love to enter the stock exchange one day.

  10. Lovely tour – we really liked this area of NY when we visited and we spent a day here which wasn’t nearly enough to see everything. I have no idea how you managed a picture of the bull without people in it though, I couldn’t even get near him.

    1. That picture was in April 2020 when nobody was out, I walked by yesterday and there must’ve been about 30 people in line. I took a picture for my Battery Park spring tour haha

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