New York City abounds in its wealth of iconic museums, obscure museums and more. Which museum takes the prize for aging gracefully against the test of time? Discover the ten oldest museums in New York City in our list below.
1. The New-York Historical Society (1804)
The New-York Historical Society Museum and Library, founded in 1804, takes the title of oldest museum in New York City. The Society changed locations eight times until 1902, when construction began on its present building on 170 Central Park West. The photo above shows the Society’s building in 1908. See past exhibits and events at the NYHS.
2. National Academy Museum (1825)
Photo from Library of Congress
The National Academy Museum was founded in 1825 by a group of artists and architects, including Thomas Cole, Rembrandt Peale, and Samuel F.B. Morse, to create a school and exhibition space created by and for artists where “art could flourish outside of the aristocratic patronage system.” The Museum had various locations until 1942 when it found its home in a Beaux Arts-style mansion on Fifth Avenue and 89th Street, in the former home of millionaire Archer Milton Huntington, who is also the founder of the Hispanic Society. Above is a picture of one of the museum’s past buildings on 4th Avenue and 23rd Street, where the Museum lived between 1860 and 1899, when the building was bought by Metropolitan Life Insurance Company.
3. The Brooklyn Historical Society (1863)
Founded in 1863 as the Long Island Historical Society, second place goes to the Brooklyn Historical Society. The name change took place in 1985, as part of an effort by the Society to focus in on its surrounding community of Brooklyn Heights. Above is a picture of the Society in 1966 at its current location at 128 Pierrepont Street.
4. The American Museum of Natural History (1869)
The AMNH opened in 1869 by Harvard zoologist Albert Smith Bickmore. The Museum’s first home was the Arsenal in Central Park. In 1877 the Museum moved into its current building at 79th Street and Central Park West. Go behind-the-scenes in the artist studios that make the exhibits and read more about the museum here.
5. The Metropolitan Museum of Art (1870)
The museum’s original 5th Avenue incarnation in 1880. Photo from Library of Congress.
The Metropolitan Museum of Art opened in 1870 in a brownstone at 681 Fifth Avenue, then in a mansion at 128 West 14th Street. All were temporary locations until 1880, when the Museum opened its current location at Fifth Avenue and 82nd Street. The photo above shows the Museum’s original Victorian gothic facade, which still exists within the Museum. To learn more, check out The Top 10 Secrets of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
6. Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum (1896)
The Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum was founded in 1896 by The Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art. Originally located on the fourth floor of Cooper Union’s Foundation Building in the East Village, the museum provided a place where students and teachers could study decorative arts. Due to financial reasons, Cooper Union transferred ownership of the Museum to the Smithsonian Institution. In 1970, the Museum moved to its present location, the Andrew Carnegie Mansion at 2 East 91st Street, shown above circa 1930.
Step inside the renovation of the Cooper Hewitt with this video from Treasures of New York.
7. The Brooklyn Museum (1897)
The Brooklyn Museum opened in 1897 by the Brooklyn Institute, an organization dedicated to providing education in fine arts and natural sciences. The architecture firm McKim, Mead, & White provided the design for the building, which was never completed in its entirety. In 1934, Philip Youtz became the Museum’s director and removed the Museum’s grand staircase. The staircase would have been twice the height of the staircase at the Metropolitan Museum in Manhattan.Architect James Polshek would later modernize the entrance. To see pictures of the original design, check out The New York City that Never Was: What The Brooklyn Museum Could Have Been.
8. The Hispanic Society of America (1904)
Founded in 1904 by philanthropist Archer Milton Huntington, The Hispanic Society of America houses an extensive collection of art from Spain, Portugal, and Latin America in Audubon Terrace in Washington Heights. The Society contains the largest collection of 19th century Spanish art and manuscripts outside of Spain. Take a look inside this stunning museum here.
9. The Jewish Museum (1904)
The Jewish Museum was founded in 1904, in the library of The Jewish Theological Seminary. In 1944, the museum moved to the Warburg family mansion at 1109 Fifth Avenue at 92nd Street, a French chateau-style home designed by C.P.H. Gilbert
10. The National Museum of the American Indian (1922)
The National Museum of the American Indian was founded by George Gustav Heye in 1922 to house his collection of artifacts from his travels in North and South America. Also located at Audubon Terrace, it sat right across from The Hispanic Society of America. The Audubon Terrace location closed in 1994, and the collection was moved to the former Alexander Hamilton Customs House in the Financial District.
11. The Museum of the City of New York (1923)
Henry Collins Brown, a Scottish-born author and historian, founded the Museum of the City of New York in 1923. Originally housed in the Gracie Mansion, the Museum moved in 1932 to its permanent location on Fifth Avenue between 103rd and 104th Streets. Read our archive on the urban architecture and culture exhibits at MCNY.
12. The Museum of Modern Art (1929)
The Museum of Modern Art opened in 1929 in a rented six-room suite of galleries and offices on the twelfth floor of the Heckscher Building in Midtown. Its location changed 3 times before finally finding its home at its current location in Midtown Manhattan, along with the PS1 extension in Long Island City. It is in the midst of expansion down its block on 53rd Street, a controversial plan that included the demolition of the Folk Art Museum.
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Do you have any museum secrets to share? Get in touch with Anna Brown at her Twitter handle @brooklynbonanza.