Lower Manhattan Historical Tour – Federal Hall & New York Stock Exchange

Hi friends, welcome back to my Lower Manhattan historical tour. In case you missed part one, you can check it out here. Heading north from Fraunces Tavern we’ll turn onto Wall Street. Currently 55 Wall Street is an event venue, hotel, and residences owned by Cipriani, but it was originally built in 1841 as a Merchants Exchange (there were two other buildings here before, but they burned down in a fire). It then became home to the Customs House before the one near Bowling Green was built, and even housed the New York Stock Exchange.  The fourth and fifth floors were added from 1907-1910 and it became home to National City Bank (predecessor of Citibank) from 1908-1961.

Across Wall Street from the NYSE sits the majestic, but under construction, Federal Hall at 26 Wall Street. As you can see it is undergoing an up to 10-year renovation project to restore the exterior marble, but luckily I have pictures from before the scaffolding went up. (It wouldn’t be an authentic NYC tour without some scaffolding) There is a statue of George Washington outside because this location is where he was inaugurated on April 30, 1789. It is wild to think that I live one block away from such a historic event!

The original building was built between 1699 and 1703 and was the seat of government for the British Colony of New York. In 1735 this was the site where John Peter Zenger was tried, jailed, and acquitted of libel for exposing the corruption of the British Governor in his newspaper. This was the first major victory for freedom of press.

In 1765 delegates met here to protest the stamp tax and created The Stamp Act Congress. In 1788 the building was remodeled and became the nation’s capital. It is also where the First Congress met and where the Bill of Rights was ratified. When the capitol moved to Philadelphia in 1790, it became a city government building before being demolished in 1812.

The current building was built as a Customs House in 1842. In 1862 the Customs House moved a block to 55 Wall Street and Federal Hall became a sub-treasury holding 80% of the nation’s gold and silver in basement vaults. In 1920 the gold and silver were moved to the Federal Reserve two blocks north.

Now Federal Hall is a museum and memorial honoring George Washington and the history of America. It’s open Monday through Friday from 9am – 5pm and free to visit. If you time your visit right you can join ranger lead tours at 10am and 2pm. Our favorite part of the museum is the rotunda, it’s really something. You can go upstairs and walk around the full circle. We spent about forty-five minutes inside and I definitely recommend stopping by, even to just marvel at the rotunda for five minutes.

The New York Stock Exchange was formed in 1817 and was originally located on 40 Wall Street. It then moved into the Merchants Exchange on 55 Wall Street in 1827, moved around a bit, and then moved to Broad Street in 1865. They eventually needed more space and held a competition for a new design. George B. Post won and after two years of construction the iconic New York Stock Exchange was complete in 1903. From 1920-1922 a twenty-story annex building was added behind the NYSE to accommodate the demand. It was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1978 and is a very popular spot to visit.

Hope you enjoyed part two, stay tuned for part three of the series!

38 thoughts on “Lower Manhattan Historical Tour – Federal Hall & New York Stock Exchange

  1. I’m learning so much about US history that I probably should have learned in school. I don’t even think I knew that NYC was the capital for a time.

    1. Haha I never thought people would be learning history from me! But I feel like everyone learned more about Philly and Boston, or at least they get more historical attention it seems.

      1. Honestly I didn’t learn much about any of them, having grown up on the opposite side of the country. Most of our US history was focused on Native Americans.

  2. Federal Hall is so gorgeous Lyssy. You captured it well. Kind of fitting that the NYSE is under renovation, just like our economies. Thanks for another great tour. Happy Wednesday. Allan

    1. It is a gorgeous building, years of living so close and I finally made it in. It is quite symbolic ha. Glad you’re enjoying the tour!

    1. Thank you! There is a lot to see here and it’s got just about every subway so very convenient too.

  3. I’m learning so much! We rarely hear anything about NY and it’s part in our democracy. It seems like all our history books focus on Boston and Philadelphia.

    1. Totally agree! I feel like I retained more about NYC from seeing Hamilton than I was taught in school. I never thought people would be learning history from me haha

  4. I absolutely enjoyed this post, Lyssy! I’m going to have to make at least a month-long itinerary for visiting NYC and the state of New York someday. The history is so fascinating, and I am soaking up your posts like a sponge. I would go all “fan girl” over standing in the place where George Washington was inaugurated probably like I would if I got to see Justin Bieber in concert – LOL! But I’m not kidding – I would love to see Justin Bieber in concert. Have a great Easter weekend!

    1. Yay I’m so glad! Yes a month long would be awesome, there is so much to see and upstate NY is beautiful too. It is pretty crazy I live so close to such historic things and walked the same steps as George Washington. Justin Bieber would be a great concert! I feel that way about the Jonas Brothers ha! Hope you guys have a great Easter weekend too!

  5. Great tour! I love the rotunda. The lighting makes it seem almost purple. I didn’t know NY was the first capital of the US, I learned something new today, Maggie

    1. Thank you! It was an interesting color, I was surprised to see it look so blueish/purple when I looked back at my pictures. It was the capital until Hamilton traded it to Jefferson for his support in his financial plan. I learned that from seeing Hamilton.

  6. I realise that I have never entered Federal Hall, although from its steps I have photographed the Stock Exchange several times. Great tour.

    1. Thank you! Hopefully you can go in next time, although only being open during the week is a bit tough. The steps were a nice place to sit, although they didn’t always smell great.

  7. Great post! I really enjoyed your pictures. Thanks for sharing these experiences, as I’d love to explore NYC a bit more and this is exactly The sort of experience that I enjoy.

    1. Thank you! I know there are a lot of walking tours on Wall Street, but it’s nice to explore at my own pace and take all the pictures from all the angles.

  8. It’s kind of neat to see some of the historic buildings like Federal Hall surrounded by modern skyscrapers. I can see why you enjoyed the rotunda. It’s very beautiful.

    1. It is a really cool contrast! I love seeing the old paintings of NYC, it looked so different.

  9. The Merchants Exchange looks fortified enough to be the last building standing if NYC ever implodes. Federal Hall’s design looks straight out of Ancient Greece, and I’m surprised the architect didn’t take a few liberties to make it more “American”. I can see why you recommend seeing the rotunda. You don’t always get to go behind the columns nor “upstairs” with rotundas (though you must find a way to climb to the top of the double-shelled Duomo in Florence for the spectacular outside view of the city in all directions). Once again your post shames my knowledge of early American history. Inauguration? Capitol city? I’m sure I was taught these facts in grade school but darned if I can remember them.

    1. Haha it does! After a few fires they learned their lesson. That is a good point, it’s very different from its predecessors. I thought you would enjoy the rotunda, it’s very cool. We do have tickets to climb the to the top of the Duomo, although I’m a little nervous about getting claustrophobic up. You can learn a lot easily by watching Hamilton and the songs will be stuck in your head for years.

      1. Ah, you’re going to the top of Santa Maria del Fiore! Well done, Lyssy – it will be a highlight of your trip. In the 1980s the climb could only be made by special request (which we received as architecture students). We were as interested in the Duomo’s structural design as the views from the top. If your time in Florence permits, visit Santa Croce as well, where Michelangelo and Galileo are buried. It’s a much smaller church but the views of the city from the fronting piazza are spectacular. I could see one of your selfies there.

  10. I have a clear memory of being outside Federal Hall watching in fascination as some loony end-of-the-world preacher did his thing, bellowing out some proper fire and brimstone shtick to everyone who walked by. Love the architecture and history Lyssy, which you have presented well.

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