Federal Hall National Memorial
Federal Hall National Memorial in 2006
|Location||26 Wall Street, Financial District, Manhattan, New York City|
|Area||0.45 acres (1,800 m2)|
|Built||May 26, 1842|
|Architect||Town and Davis; John Frazee (Interior Rotunda)|
|Architectural style||Greek Revival|
|Website||Federal Hall National Memorial|
|NRHP reference #||66000095|
|Added to NRHP||October 15, 1966|
|Designated NMEM||August 11, 1955|
|Designated NYCL||December 21, 1965|
Federal Hall is the name given to the first of two historic buildings located at 26 Wall Street, New York City. The original, a Greek Revival structure completed in 1703, served as New York's first City Hall. It was the site where the colonial Stamp Act Congress met to draft its message to King George III claiming entitlement to the same rights as the residents of Britain and protesting "taxation without representation".
After the American Revolution, in 1785, the building served as meeting place for the Congress of the Confederation, the nation's first central government under the Articles of Confederation. With the establishment of the United States federal government in 1789, it was renamed Federal Hall, as it hosted the 1st Congress and was the place where George Washington was sworn in as the nation's first president. It was demolished in 1812.
The current structure, completed in 1842 and one of the best surviving examples of neoclassical architecture in New York, was built as the U.S. Custom House for the Port of New York. Later it served as a sub-Treasury building. Though never referred to as "Federal Hall", today it is operated by the National Park Service as a national memorial and designated the Federal Hall National Memorial to commemorate the historic events that occurred at the previous structure.
The original structure on the site was built as New York's second City Hall in 1699 - 1703, on Wall Street, in what is today the Financial District of Lower Manhattan. In 1735, John Peter Zenger, an American newspaper publisher, was arrested for committing libel against the British royal governor and was imprisoned and tried there. His acquittal on the grounds that the material he had printed was true established freedom of the press as it was later defined in the Bill of Rights.
In October 1765, delegates from nine of the 13 colonies met as the Stamp Act Congress in response to the levying of the Stamp Act by the Parliament of Great Britain. Drawn together for the first time in organized opposition to British policy, the attendees drafted a message to King George III, the House of Lords, and the House of Commons, claiming entitlement to the same rights as the residents of Britain and protesting the colonies' "taxation without representation".
After the American Revolution, the City Hall served as the meeting place for the Congress of the Confederation of the United States under the Articles of Confederation from 1785 until 1789. Acts adopted here included the Northwest Ordinance, which set up what would later become the states of Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Michigan and Wisconsin, but more fundamentally prohibited slavery in these future states.
In 1788, the building was remodeled and enlarged under the direction of Pierre Charles L'Enfant, who was later selected by President George Washington to design the capital city on the Potomac River. This was the first example of Federal Style architecture in the United States.
The building was renamed Federal Hall when it became the nation's first seat of government under the Constitution in 1789. The 1st Congress met there beginning on March 4, 1789, and George Washington was inaugurated as the first President of the United States on the balcony of the building on April 30, 1789.
Many of the most important legislative actions in the United States occurred with the 1st Congress at Federal Hall. Foremost was the proposal and initial ratification of the Bill of Rights to the U.S. Constitution; twelve amendments to the Constitution were initially drafted (ten were later adopted), and on September 25, 1789, the United States Bill of Rights was proposed in Federal Hall, establishing the freedoms claimed by the Stamp Act Congress on the same site 24 years earlier. In 1992 an eleventh of the initial 12 proposed amendments was adopted as the 27th Amendment. Also, the Judiciary Act of 1789 was enacted in the building, which set up the United States federal court system that is still in use today.
In 1790, the United States capital was moved to Philadelphia, and what had been Federal Hall once again housed the government of New York City until 1812, when the building was razed with the opening of the current New York City Hall. Part of the original railing and balcony floor where Washington was inaugurated are on display in the memorial. The current structure, one of the best surviving examples of classical architecture in New York, was built as the first purpose-built U.S. Custom House for the Port of New York. Designed by architects Ithiel Town and Alexander Jackson Davis with a domed rotunda designed by the sculptor John Frazee, it was constructed of Tuckahoe marble and took more than a decade to complete. It opened in 1842.
In 1862, Customs moved to 55 Wall Street and the building served as one of six United States Sub-Treasury locations. Millions of dollars of gold and silver were kept in the basement vaults until the Federal Reserve Bank replaced the Sub-Treasury system in 1920.
In 1920, a bomb was detonated across the street from Federal Hall at 23 Wall Street, in what became known as the Wall Street bombing. Thirty-eight people were killed and 400 injured, and 23 Wall Street was visibly damaged, but Federal Hall received no damage. A famous photograph of the event shows the destruction and effects of the bombing with the statue of President Washington standing stoically in the face of chaos (see below).
The building was designated as Federal Hall Memorial National Historic Site on May 26, 1939, and redesignated a national memorial on August 11, 1955. Administered by the National Park Service, it was listed on the National Register of Historic Places on October 15, 1966. Federal Hall was designated a landmark by the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission on December 21, 1965.
On September 6, 2002, approximately 300 members of the United States Congress traveled from Washington, D.C. to New York to convene in Federal Hall National Memorial as a symbolic show of support for the city, still recovering from the September 11, 2001 attacks. Held just four blocks from the former World Trade Center's Twin Towers, the meeting was the first by Congress in New York since 1790.
The site closed on December 3, 2004, for extensive renovations. In 2006, Federal Hall National Memorial reopened after a $16 million renovation, mostly to its foundation, after cracks threatening the structure were greatly aggravated by the collapse of the Towers.
It was reported on June 8, 2008, that New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and ABC News invited 2008 United States presidential candidates John McCain and Barack Obama to a town hall forum at Federal Hall. Both candidates declined the offer "because they do not want it limited to one television network."
The National Park Service operates Federal Hall as a national memorial. As a national memorial, the site is open free to the public from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on weekdays. It has tourist information about the New York Harbor area's federal monuments and parks, and a New York City tourism information center. The gift shop has colonial and early American items for sale. Normally its exhibit galleries are open free to the public daily, except national holidays, and guided tours of the site are offered throughout the day. Exhibits include George Washington's Inauguration Gallery, including the Bible used to swear his oath of office; Freedom of the Press, the imprisonment and trial of John Peter Zenger; and New York: An American Capital, preview exhibit created by the National Archives and Records Administration.
Two prominent American ideals are reflected in the current building's Greek Revival architecture: The Doric columns of the facade, designed by Ithiel Town and Alexander Jackson Davis, resemble those of the Parthenon and serve as a tribute to the democracy of the Greeks; the domed ceiling inside, designed by John Frazee, echoes the Pantheon and is evocative of the republican ideals of the ancient Romans.
The current structure is often overshadowed among downtown landmarks by the New York Stock Exchange, which is located diagonally across Wall and Broad Streets, but the site is one of the most important in the history of the United States and, particularly, the foundation of the United States government and its democratic institutions.
Engraved renditions of Federal Hall appear twice on U.S. postage stamps. The first stamp showing Federal Hall was issued on April 30, 1939, the 150th anniversary of President Washington's inauguration, where he is depicted on the balcony of Federal Hall taking the oath of office.
The George Washington Inaugural Bible, on which Washington took his inaugural oath in 1789
The 1920 Wall Street bombing, with the sub-treasury building in the background at right