Federal Hall, located at 26 Wall Street in Manhattan, was built to be New York’s City Hall and later became the United States’ first capitol building under the newly minted Constitution. Since then, the hall has undergone multiple renovations, and has amassed a great deal of secrets and stories concerning everyone from George Washington to Patrick Swayze.
Federal Hall—then known as City Hall—was built in 1699, when most of the city was still a land of forests and streams, and the aftereffects of the Salem Witch Trials were still reverberating through Massachusetts. The building was the home to the Governor’s Council, the New York Assembly, the Supreme Court, and the city jail.
Many legendary events have occurred since then. The building went through three iterations; it was first redone by Pierre Charles L’Enfant, and was later demolished and replaced by a new building created by the architects Ithiel Town, Alexander Davis, and John Frazee. The Stamp Act Congress met on its steps to protest taxation without representation in October 1765. Meetings that led to the completion of the Articles of Confederation were held inside from 1785-1789. In fact, many of the most instrumental documents in U.S. history were signed here, including the Northwest Ordinance, which set up the states that would become Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Michigan, and Wisconsin—and, critically, prohibited slavery in these new territories.
Today, Federal Hall stands in a crowded section of Lower Manhattan where it is often overlooked, partly due to the fact that it stands in the middle of the chaos of Wall Street. During its various lifetimes, it has been instrumental to some of the most pivotal moments in history, and has also been the site of lesser-known but equally fascinating events. Read on to discover more about this important landmark, which is a stop on our 400 Years of History in 1 Mile walking tour:
Make sure to join us for our next event, where you’ll hear stories of heroes and rogues that have shaped our history as a country and as a city:
1. Federal Hall is Currently Home to Relics from George Washington’s Inauguration
George Washington was famously inaugurated at City Hall in 1789. Standing on the balcony, Washington appeared in a dark brown suit and white silk stockings and proceeded to accept his position as the first president of the United States. The Bible passage read during the ceremony was opened at random, to a passage from Genesis 49:13 (“Zebulun shall dwell at the haven of the sea; and he shall be for a haven of ships; and his border shall be unto Zidon”).
In his inaugural address, Washington addressed the crowd with his characteristic humility and respect, stating: “… I was summoned by my Country, whose voice I can never hear but with veneration and love, from a retreat which I had chosen with the fondest predilection… On the other hand, the magnitude and difficulty of the trust to which the voice of my Country called me, being sufficient to awaken in the wisest and most experienced of her citizens, a distrustful scrutiny into his qualifications, could not but overwhelm with despondence, one, who, inheriting inferior endowments from nature and unpracticed in the duties of civil administration, ought to be peculiarly conscious of his own deficiencies.”
Today, the Bible used in the ceremony can be found at Federal Hall, as well as a few pieces of the original railing balcony on which Washington stood.