History is in this city’s DNA. How could it not be? In the late-18th century, New York was chosen as the first capital of the newly formed United States of America. And in the years that have followed, NYC has maintained its place as a major player in the political, economic, social and cultural life of the nation. Visit these sites and attractions, and you will not only witness the past but also experience how the past informs the present and points to the future. In New York, history is made very day.
A beyond-lifesize bronze statue of George Washington stands in front of the Doric columns that grace the facade of this structure, which is situated on the site where Washington took the oath of office as the first president of the United States on April 30, 1789. On permanent display inside is the bible used by Washington on that day.
Eighteenth-century New York comes alive in the museum’s period rooms, one of which, the Long Room, is renowned for its association with General George Washington, who said farewell to his officers here on Dec. 4, 1783, at the end of the Revolutionary War. A restaurant/bar on the ground floor shares the museum’s Colonial-era ambience.
The park is the sprawling backyard of Greenwich Village. The stately 19th-century town houses on Washington Square North typify the rarefied world of author Henry James, while the tragic 1911 Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire raged a block away. The fountain has long been a rallying place for beatniks, hippies, musicians and the young.
Ulysses S. Grant, commanding general of the victorious Union army during the Civil War and later 18th president of the United States, lived in NYC during the last years of his life and chose to be buried here. Grant’s Tomb is what locals call the most imposing mausoleum in the nation. “Let us have peace” is carved above the entrance.
NYC’s serene and moving tribute to the 32nd president of the United States (and 44th governor of New York state) occupies the southernmost tip of FDR’s namesake Roosevelt Island. If your itinerary permits, a day trip to the FDR Presidential Library and Museum in upstate Hyde Park is worthwhile; trains depart from Grand Central Terminal.
Founding Father Alexander Hamilton is in fashion, thanks to the hit Broadway musical currently at the Richard Rodgers Theatre. But nothing defines a man more than the place where he chooses to live, and The Grange gives firsthand insight into not only what the supreme 18th-century politician’s ambitions were but also his achievements.
History is often like a soap opera. And this house, cited as the oldest in NYC, was a hotbed of intrigue during the Revolutionary War and after. One of the owners, widow Eliza Jumel, married Aaron Burr, who, when he was vice president of the U.S., killed his archrival, Alexander Hamilton, in 1804 in a duel in nearby Weehawken, New Jersey.
Brooklyn’s 478-acre necropolis, founded in 1838, is the final resting place for a Who’s Who of New York movers and shakers. In the 19th century, Green-Wood’s hills and ponds were popular for family outings. Today, visitors can explore the monuments on their own (there’s a trolley tour on Wednesday) and even take in “live” theater.
This Theater District eatery and hangout proudly wears its Broadway history on its red walls. Row upon row of caricatures of thespians who have lit up the Great White Way for 90 years delight diners as they tuck into shrimp Sardi. You may be sitting under the likeness of Lucille Ball, but isn’t that Daniel Radcliffe who just walked in?
Sept. 11, 2001: the most momentous day in New York and American history. Who can/will forget it? Respectful silence reigns in the outdoor memorial, broken only by the nonstop rush of twin waterfalls cascading into twin pools. Surviving objects from the fateful day fill the museum, and, like the city itself, are battered but never beaten.
The history of fine dining in NYC began in 1825 with the opening of Delmonico’s. And after nearly 200 years, the restaurant is still serving in Lower Manhattan, though not in its original location. Mark Twain, Charles Dickens, Jenny Lind and others were fans. Abraham Lincoln, it is said, liked the potatoes; they’re still on the menu.
American history and culture would be poorer had not songwriter Irving Berlin, jurist Felix Frankfurter, movie producer Samuel Goldwyn, comedian Bob Hope and a host of other immigrants entered the United States through Ellis Island. Did your family’s slice of American history began here? Find out at the Family History Center.
After an immigrant passed through Ellis Island, where did he go? Many new arrivals to the U.S. in the 19th and early 20th centuries ventured no farther than NYC’s Lower East Side, where the Tenement Museum’s meticulously preserved apartments give an accurate and compelling picture of life as it was then. A guided tour is a must.
Once covered by landfill and buildings, the Lower Manhattan archeological site was discovered and unearthed as recently as two decades ago and is now a testament to the city’s African inhabitants in the 17th and 18th centuries, both free and enslaved. The National Monument includes an interactive visitor center and an outdoor memorial.
Money makes NYC go ’round, and this attraction on Wall Street takes visitors through the history of U.S. currency, from the Colonial era to the present. A room is devoted to Alexander Hamilton, first Secretary of the Treasury and founder of the Bank of New York, which conducted business on this site between 1784 and 1998.
Permanent holdings offer a panorama of America and New York City from the 17th century to the present. Special collections devoted to the Hudson River School painters and Audubon’s “Birds of America” are as beautiful as they are outstanding. There is a children’s museum within the museum, and the gift shop is one of the best of its kind.
What’s to know about New York? A lot. Photographs, oil portraits, designer fashions from Worth to Norman Norell, furniture by Duncan Phyfe, and an extensive theater collection lift a curtain on the past. But since history is a living, breathing organism, recent exhibitions on graffiti and hip-hop have been both popular and enlightening.