F is for Federal

Located at 26 Wall Street, New York, NY 10005
Memorial Website: https://www.nps.gov/feha/index.htm

Federal Hall National Memorial

This is where the history of the United States as a brand new young country began, where its first president was inaugurated. After that momentous event, Federal Hall took on many roles, always playing a significant part in the development of the US.

History of the site

City Hall

The original building at 26 Wall Street served as New York’s first City Hall. When City Hall opened its doors in 1703, it stood at New York’s northern edge. But as the years passed, and the city grew up around it, City Hall became the physical, political, and cultural center of the municipality and every kind of public assembly in colonial New York took place at City Hall.

This is where the Stamp Act Congress (October 7 – 25, 1765), also known as the Continental Congress of 1765, consisting of representatives from the British colonies in North America, held its meeting to draft its message to King George III demanding ‘taxation without representation’ come to an end. 

In 1785, when New York became the capital of the United States under the Articles of Confederation, Congress convened at City Hall.

Federal Hall

To welcome the first truly national government, the city remodeled and renamed City Hall as Federal Hall and it became home to the entire U.S. Government during its first year of its operations under the Constitution. Here on April 30, 1789, George Washington was inaugurated as the first president of the United States. 

The first amendment to the constitution, which came to be known as the Bill of Rights, was passed here.

As the United States capital moved to Philadelphia in 1790 the building was turned into quarters for the state assembly and courts. (The capital moved in 1800 to newly built Washington, D.C.)

State and local government used Federal Hall until 1811. With the opening of the current New York City Hall in 1812, there was further need for the structure and the Federal Hall building was demolished.

U.S. Custom House (1842 to 1862)

In 1833, the firm of Town and Davis was awarded the contract to build a new Custom House building on the site after they won a design competition. The architectural style of the building borrowed from the Parthenon in Athens and the Pantheon in Rome, thus symbolically representing the ideals of Greek and Roman civilizations.

This vault displays a variety of imported goods from the mid-1800’s, when this building served as the Custom House.

The new Custom House opened in 1842. Customs duties collected here on imported goods provided most of the government’s operating income.

US Sub-Treasury (1862-1920)

In 1862, when the Custom House moved to larger quarters, the building became a Sub-Treasury. From this financial stronghold flowed the capital for railroads, telegraph lines, and the development of the American West.

In 1883, John Quincy Adams Ward‘s bronze statue of George Washington was put up on the Subtreasury’s ceremonial front steps.

The Federal Reserve Bank replaced the Subtreasury system in 1920, and the Subtreasury office closed on December 7 of that year. 

Historic Site

After that many government agencies, including the FBI, the Passport Office and other government agencies, used the building as their offices on a temporary basis. In 1939, after the government announced plans to demolish the Subtreasury building, a group called Federal Hall Memorial Associates raised money to prevent the building’s demolition. On April 29, 1939, it was announced that the Subtreasury would become a historic site. The building was designated as Federal Hall Memorial National Historic Site on May 26, 1939.

In 1955 it was designated ‘Federal Hall National Memorial,’ part of the National Park System. And in 2015, Federal Hall was designated a ‘National Treasure’ by the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

In addition to detailed information about the New York Harbor area’s federal monuments and parks, the memorial has information on the marine environment as well.

The memorial has several other exhibits.

A parade led by military troops and followed by dignitaries and officials in carriages escorted Washington to Federal Hall for the Inauguration. 

George Washington’s Inauguration Gallery, including scenes from the inauguration

History of the Federal Hall building, tracing it through the many iterations

Freedom of the Press, the imprisonment and trial of John Peter Zenger

New York: An American Capital, preview exhibit created by the National Archives and Records Administration. Among the items displayed as part of this exhibit is the balcony slab upon which Washington stood during his first inauguration.

A Portrait Gallery featuring paintings of George Washington and Alexander Hamilton as well as a display showing the restoration of Hamilton Grange National Memorial on its new site in St. Nicholas Park in Harlem.

Comments (4)

  1. Ria (Post author)

    Remember, New York was the first capital of the country!


  2. Molly of Molly's Canopy

    I’d forgotten about those side rooms with goods and money stored in them. Well done post that captures all that Federal Hall has to offer

    1. Ria (Post author)

      Federal Hall is a real treasure trove of information; there is so much information just to be read on each of the displayed items.


  3. Kristin

    I wonder if I learned this in school. I must have, but I just always thought of George Washington being in DC.


Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *