12. The Book of the Freemasons
Washington looks somewhat askance at the New York Stock Exchange (built across the street in 1903). Photo by Greg Young
Federal Hall National Memorial, currently administered by the National Park Service, has always been a popular landmark with tourists, thanks to its position on one of the most photographed intersections in New York. Who can resist that noble statue of George Washington silently meditating on the financial juggernaut of the New York Stock Exchange? As he took his presidential oath on April 30, 1789, Washington looked down this very street, Broad Street, packed with residents witnessing the birth of their new nation.
He did not, however, take the oath in the building that stands there today. The original structure was built in 1699 by the British, who used materials from the city’s demolished defense wall—the “wall” of Wall Street—to construct it. The building became the center of most governmental functions, from city administration to the meeting place of Congress and the seat of the federal government from 1789 to 1790.
The present building, the Federal Hall National Memorial (originally the U.S. Custom House, opened in 1842), looks more like an ancient Roman temple. Throw a toga over Washington’s shoulders and you could call him Caesar. But a curious link to both the original structure and Washington’s inauguration can be found inside a dark room within the building: the Freemason’s Bible used for the swearing-in of the president. Both Washington and the man administering the oath, Robert Livingston, were loyal Masons. (Wall and Broad Streets)