photo by: Victor Jolyot/Flickr/CC BY-NC 2.0

December 2, 2015

Introducing Federal Hall, Our Newest National Treasure

New York’s Federal Hall has been a city landmark since the days of George Washington. Although the original eighteenth-century building—which served as the nation’s original capitol building and was the site of Washington’s inauguration as the first president of the United States in 1789—was demolished in 1812 and replaced with the current Greek Revival structure in 1842, Federal Hall still stands as a landmark to some of our country’s earliest and most renowned history.

The more recent Federal Hall structure was used as a U.S. Custom House, and later served as part of the U.S. Sub-Treasury. As a designated National Memorial, it currently houses a museum dedicated to George Washington and the origins of the United States.

Federal Hall has also served as a gathering place for events like the stock market crash of 1929, Armistice Day rallies, and Occupy Wall Street protests. Today, it remains a touchstone to the founding ideals of American democracy and capitalism. It currently receives about 200,000 visitors annually, but up to 15 million pass by the site each year.

This is why we’re excited to announce Federal Hall as the newest National Treasure of the National Trust. Thanks to a $300,000 grant from the American Express Foundation and a partnership with the National Park Service and the New York Harbor Conservancy, a restoration and rehabilitation of the building’s façade is set to begin in the spring of 2016.

Work will include restoring marble and bronze elements on the building’s exterior, repairing deteriorating front steps that have been trod upon by generations of tourists, and adding architectural lighting to highlight the building’s best features at night.

A Federal Hall launch event took place in the building's rotunda on Wednesday, December 2. It was attended by over 100 guests and media and featured remarks from the leadership of partner organizations and Oskar Eustis, the artistic director of The Public Theater, which produced the off-Broadway performance of the musical Hamilton. Superintendents of the New York area National Park Service sites and former NPS Director Bob Stanton attended as well. At the event's closing, guests held up This Place Matters signs to celebrate the National Treasure designation.

These photos, drawn from a 1937 Historic American Buildings Survey study on Federal Hall, help illustrate the structure's rich history and indelible place in the New York cityscape.

photo by: Library of Congress

A 1937 image of the interior rotunda while the building served as a U.S. Custom House.

Katherine Flynn is a former assistant editor at Preservation magazine. She enjoys coffee, record stores, and uncovering the stories behind historic places.


We believe all Americans deserve to see their history in the places that surround us. As a nation, we have work to do to fill in the gaps of our cultural heritage.

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