Lower Manhattan Historical Tour – City Hall

Hi friends, welcome back! I’ve got the conclusion of my Lower Manhattan historical tour today ending with City Hall. I recently joined a tour provided by the city and I would highly recommend joining one if you’re visiting. The tours are the only way to go inside, City Hall is not open to the public. They are free and led by a City Hall employee with a passion for history and along with personal anecdotes. To join a tour you can check out more information here. I believe about twenty people can join a tour, but we only had ten in our group from Boston, the UK, and Spain.

Before City Hall was built in 1802 and completed in 1812, this area used to be a pasture and a commons area. It was also where George Washington gathered his troops to read them a copy of the Declaration of Independence. His reading fired up the troops so much that they marched down Broadway and tore down the statue of King George III at Bowling Green.

This is the oldest City Hall in the United States that still performs government functions. In 1858 a transatlantic wire was laid connecting the US to the UK by telegraph. To celebrate this technological achievement, New Yorkers set off a huge fireworks display. A rogue firework caught the roof on fire and caused extensive damage. The front entrance is under construction and they are fixing the thirteen steps leading up to the building, representative of the thirteen colonies. Presently, City Hall is where the mayor’s office is and home to the chambers of City Council. The large building on the right is the Manhattan Municipal Building, one of the largest government buildings in the world.

Inside the main entrance there is a sculpture of George Washington. Make sure you touch his toe for good luck.

The rotunda was my favorite part of City Hall and it was designed after the Pantheon. Abe Lincoln stood at the top of these stairs and shook everyone’s hand that stopped by after he won the election. Our guide joked it was very efficient because people could come up one side and easily go down the other.

There is a third floor that used to house an apartment for the custodian and his family, but is now used as offices.

The Governor’s room is very grand and houses Washington’s original presidential desk. You may recall that Federal Hall had a duplicate. Per City Hall’s website, “Many distinguished guests have visited the Governor’s Room, including President James Monroe, President Andrew Jackson, Marquis de Lafayette, Albert Einstein, and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. The room hosted President-elect Abraham Lincoln in 1861, and served as the backdrop for his coffin in 1865 as he lay in state.” I wonder if they will update the website to say Lyssy in the City was in there too 😉

City Council Chamber was recently renovated from 2012-2015, but half of the mural is still being repaired. “The mahogany paneling and historic furniture was refinished, the walls repainted, and the balcony seating restored”. In 2003 an assassination took place in here when a political rival shot City Councilman James E. Davis from the balcony. Now everyone must pass through a metal detector before entering the grounds.

The tour lasted about two hours and it was one of my favorites I’ve taken. I enjoyed the smaller sized group, the privateness of the tour, and our guide did a great job keeping us entertained while also learning a lot. The tours are limited while the building is under construction, but I’d highly recommend joining a tour if you can! This is also only a few blocks from all the sights in my previous Lower Manhattan Tours so you could spend an afternoon in Lower Manhattan with plenty to see. I hope you’ve enjoyed this series! I had a great time learning about my neighborhood and sharing it all with you!

24 thoughts on “Lower Manhattan Historical Tour – City Hall

  1. A beautiful building and a fitting way to end your tour Lyssy. Such a beautiful interior and exterior. We wondered what this building was when we visited NYC and now we know. Have a great Wednesday. Allan

    1. Glad I could solve the mystery! It is a beautiful building. I tried to end the tour with the New York Surrogate’s Court, but they said I couldn’t take pictures. It looks very similar to the inside of the Paris Opera House.

    1. There really are so few free tours! We weren’t allowed to tip either because I think it would be technically considered bribing a city official.

      1. I like those places that have donation boxes as I like to think that they share out the donations and fund a Christmas party for the staff! 😉

    1. The staircase was so cool! Our guide said people were afraid to go up it because it was unsupported underneath, a new feature for that time period.

  2. This is a great idea, it is so frustrating to stay behind the security barriers when approaching City Hall. The pictures of the rotunda show well the elegance of the lines.

    1. I agree, it’s hard to get a good picture unless your’e inside the police boundary. The rotunda is magnificent.

  3. What a grand building, Lyssy! Mike and I have seen state capitol buildings that weren’t as “stately” as your city hall. Yes, they definitely should include you on the list of dignitaries who have visited! Thanks for sharing your beautiful neighborhood with us!

    1. It is a very grand City Hall! I’m glad that I signed myself up for a tour so I could get a peek inside. If you’re ever in Philly their city hall is massive, I don’t think they were offering tours while we visited, but it’s on my list for next time.

  4. The City Hall is very impressive, and I love the staircases in it. It is good to know about booking a tour ahead of time to visit this historical place, thank you for sharing this information!

    1. It’s a beautifully done building, especially the staircase! Hope you can join a tour one day 🙂

  5. I’m surprised your tour group wasn’t full considering it’s free. What a beautiful building, especially the rotunda. Did you end up touching the toe for good luck??

    1. I am too, it was supposed to be full. Maybe people got busy seeing other things and though oh it’s fine if I don’t show up, I’m not losing any money. I did touch the toe, can never have enough good luck 🙂

  6. I was about to comment: “Really? Dr. King was the last noteworthy visitor to the Governor’s Room?”, but you beat me to it. Now that person is Lyssy, ha. I approve of the coffered dome, even if it’s ripped off from Rome (as you’ll see in person!) I also think the building’s exterior is unusually elegant for a City Hall. Finally, i they need to take the woman with the sunglasses out of the lobby. She simply doesn’t fit.

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