Facade of Federal Hall

photo by: Amanda Kirkpatrick

May 16, 2016

7 Things You Didn’t Know About Federal Hall

On April 29, we unveiled the “This Place Matters” makeover of Federal Hall National Memorial in New York. Located on Wall Street and just around the corner from Trinity Church, this National Treasure is best known for its commanding facade and statue of George Washington.

But what most people stopping to take selfies with George don't realize is that the interior of the building and its history are just as amazing. We recently held an Instameet to give a small group a look at what makes Federal Hall a national treasure and uncovered a few things you probably didn't know about the site.

1) The current Federal Hall building is not the original.

The original building, built between 1699-1703, was the old New York City Hall which housed the seat of British government in the colony of New York. After the ratification of the Constitution in 1788, Pierre L'Enfant remodeled the existing building for the new federal government. It was then renamed Federal Hall. In 1812, the building was demolished and the current Federal Hall opened in 1842.

2) The current building is a mashup of architectural styles.

Architects Ithiel Town and Alexander Davis modeled the exterior on the Parthenon in Athens and the interior rotunda on the Pantheon in Rome. The building reflects the ideals that the young United States government was built upon. And that beautiful dome in the rotunda? You wont find it on any blueprints of the building.

3) The Bill of Rights was born here.

Not only was the Bill of Rights passed here, but Federal Hall was the site of John Peter Zenger’s acquittal on charges of seditious libel in 1735, which set the precedent for freedom of the press. It was also here that the Stamp Act Congress protested “taxation without representation” in 1765.

4) It has been home to both state and federal government, as well as a couple other organizations.

Federal Hall was the first capitol building of our new nation, but returned to serving as City Hall when the capital moved to Philadelphia in 1790. The second Federal Hall was a Customs House for two decades before becoming a U.S. Sub-Treasury from 1862 until 1920.

5) It was built like a fortress.

It took more than a million dollars to build Federal Hall out of marble. In addition to heavy doors, the recessed windows have fittings for protective shutters on both the exterior and interior. The interior vault doors, some of which are visible in the rotunda, are masterpieces in security.

6) Fortress or not, time has taken a bit of a toll on the structure.

Marble or not, decades of use as a customs house and sub-treasury will ensure some wear and tear (check out the grooves in the rotunda from bags of coin currency being dragged across the floor). The attack on September 11, 2001, caused half of Federal Hall to crack. Why only half? Because half of the building is built over sandy landfill and the other half over stone.

7) Federal Hall is now a museum and contains three artifacts from the 1789 inauguration of George Washington.

Under the stewardship of the National Park Service, Federal Hall National Memorial serves as a museum and memorial to George Washington and the beginnings of the United States of America. Throughout the ground floor you will find many displays dedicated to this history and three artifacts from Washington’s 1789 inauguration: a slab of the balcony he was standing on, a piece of the balcony’s ornate railing, and the Inaugural Bible.

Kirsten Hower

Kirsten Hower is a former member of the National Trust’s social media team. When she’s not helping save places, you’ll find her reading, wandering around art museums, or hiking along the Potomac River with her dog.

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