Fraunces Tavern celebrated its 300th Anniversary (1719-2019) on October 1st of this year. It commemorated the construction of one of the oldest historic sites in New York City ~ a place where General George Washington once stood. Let’s take a look inside.
The Fraunces Tavern Block Historic District, bound by Pearl, Broad, and Water Streets, and Counties Slip, stands today as a visual reminder of the early colonial history and development of lower Manhattan. Five buildings make up the Fraunces Tavern Museum complex: 54 & 58 Pearl Street, 101 Broad Street, and 24 & 26 Water Street.
The entire block was under water until around 1689. Created by a landfill, it was the first extension of the Manhattan shoreline for commercial purposes, and its development involved some of New York’s most prominent families. As the 18th century progressed, the character of the area became focused on commercial interests. The block became less prosperous when the block to the south was created on a newer landfill.
The opening of the Erie Canal in 1825 made New York City the premier port on the Eastern seaboard and business boomed again. Eleven of the present sixteen buildings were constructed between 1827 and 1833 to house freight forwarders, shipping agents and wholesale merchants.
Built around 1719, the building that would become Fraunces Tavern was an elegant residence for merchant Stephan De Lancey. In 1762, Samuel Fraunces bought the building and transformed it into one of the most popular meeting places in a city that was a political hotbed of thought and action.
The photographs on the left (above) tell the story of how Jacob Etzel ran the tavern and boarding house from 1881 to 1895, offering to board by the week. This picture shows Etzel to the left of the lamp standing with the people who were boarding at the time. His wife and child are in one of the second-floor windows. The Etzel family lived in the boarding house alongside its tenants, serving communal meals in the Long Room. Etzel advertised “the best selected Stock of Imported Wines, Liquors and Segars” on small business cards for the tavern in the image below.
The photographs on the right (above) show that in July 1890, the whole first story of the tavern was removed in order to lower the first floor a few steps to ground level. New iron columns and plate glass windows were inserted in place of the walls. Along with awning signs for the hotel and tavern, you can see advertisements for George Ehret, a local brewer. Ehret ran Hell Gate Brewery, which supplied all of New York State with its immensely popular Munich lager.
The Fraunces Tavern Museum takes visitors on a historic tour from 1524 when the island of Manhattan was originally inhabited by the Lenape people, to present day.
One of the current exhibitions, A Monument to Memory: 300 Years of Living History, celebrates the anniversary of the building, and will be on view through 2021. The exhibition explores the many roles 54 Pearl Street has played in the public life of Lower Manhattan, inviting visitors to discover how the stories we tell through historic preservation and inquiry shape our memories of the past. The 300th Birthday celebration will take place on October 1st, 2019. Tickets on sale now.
On December 4, 1783, nine days after the last British soldiers left American soil, George Washington invited the officers of the Continental Army to join him in the Long Room of Fraunces Tavern to bid them farewell. The best known account of this emotional parting comes from the Memoirs of Colonel Benjamin Tallmadge, written in 1830 and now in the collection of Fraunces Tavern Museum.
As Tallmadge recalled,
“The time now drew near when General Washington intended to leave this part of the country for his beloved retreat at Mt. Vernon. On Tuesday the 4th of December it was made known to the officers then in New York that General Washington intended to commence his journey on that day.
At 12 o’clock the officers repaired to Fraunces Tavern in Pearl Street where General Washington had appointed to meet them and to take his final leave of them. We had been assembled but a few moments when his excellency entered the room. His emotions were too strong to be concealed which seemed to be reciprocated by every officer present. After partaking of a slight refreshment in almost breathless silence the General filled his glass with wine and turning to the officers said, ‘With a heart full of love and gratitude I now take leave of you. I most devoutly wish that your latter days may be as prosperous and happy as your former ones have been glorious and honorable.’
After the officers had taken a glass of wine General Washington said ‘I cannot come to each of you but shall feel obliged if each of you will come and take me by the hand.’ General Knox being nearest to him turned to the Commander-in-chief who, suffused in tears, was incapable of utterance but grasped his hand when they embraced each other in silence. In the same affectionate manner every officer in the room marched up and parted with his general in chief. Such a scene of sorrow and weeping I had never before witnessed and fondly hope I may never be called to witness again.”
The officers escorted Washington from the Tavern to the Whitehall wharf, where he boarded a barge that took him to Paulus Hook, (now Jersey City) New Jersey. Washington continued to Annapolis, where the Continental Congress was meeting, and resigned his commission.
In early 1785, Fraunces agreed to lease the Tavern to the Continental Congress for use as office space for the Department of Foreign Affairs ~ and two weeks later, Sam Fraunces sold the Tavern to Brooklyn butcher, George Powers.
In 1788, Powers leased the Tavern to John Francis, who returned it to its tavern function. However in 1795, Powers sold 54 Pearl Street to Dr. Nicholas Romaine and it was soon run by a Mrs. Orcet, a widow, who ran the building as a boarding house until 1800. During Orcet’s management, there was an alleged murder. Ballerina Anna Gardie, who was living with her husband at the 54 Pearl Street boarding house was murdered in 1798. Her husband was also found dead from stab wounds; the coroner ruled it a murder/suicide.
While you’re there, take time for lunch, brunch or dinner in either the charming restaurant or bar. Below is a wonderful vintage Bill of Fare we found on the wall of the Museum, where you could once get a prime rib dinner for under $1.50.
The Museum charges a nominal fee of $7 for adults, $4 for seniors and students. Its mission is to preserve and interpret the history of the American Revolutionary era through public education, and the preservation of the Museum’s permanent collections.
In addition, the Museum has a plethora of activities on the calendar including Flag Day, Spy Week, Book Club, a Lecture Series, Walking Tours and more.
Current exhibitions, Fear and Force: New York City’s Sons of Liberty; ‘Confidential’: The American Revolution’s Agents of Espionage; A Stoic Countenance: Portraits of George Washington + the permanent exhibitions, explain the history of the organization that saved Fraunces Tavern. Visitors can learn about the Sons of the Revolution in the State of New York (SRNY) and its community involvement through the displays of artifacts, images, and plaques, which are kept in original early 20th century museum cases built by Tiffany & Company.
Fraunces Tavern Museum welcomes involvement of volunteers and internships.
The Clinton Room (below) is a recreation of a federalist style dining room, named for George Clinton, New York State’s first American Governor, who hosted a dinner party for General George Washington at Fraunces Tavern to celebrate the evacuation of British troops from New York on November 25, 1783.
The most stunning feature of the Clinton Dining room (above) is the wallpaper. Printed in 1838 by the firm of Jean Zuber et Cie in France, it is one of only eleven remaining sets of its kind left today. Zuber’s artists painted backgrounds of scenic North America and let their customers choose what they wished for the foreground.
The room boasts many pieces of Chippendale furnishings, as well as original Chinese export porcelain. Clinton’s portrait hangs above the fireplace along with his sword.
During the American Revolution, Regiments were identified by their colors on the battlefield. Each regiment created their own colors, which they carried into battle. There were certain symbols which pertained to many regiments, like the pine tree and snake, but each regimental flag was unique.
The Sons of the Revolution began amassing an impressive collection of early American and Revolutionary War artifacts before the Fraunces Tavern Museum was even in existence. Artifacts such as (below) the displayed early American flag and 18th Century muskets were passed down through their families, and are preserved to this day by the Museum. Thanks to the Sons, the Museum is able to utilize a vast collection of artifacts in order to follow its mission of educating the public and encouraging the exploration of Colonial, Revolutionary War and Early Republic American history.
The image below shows a plaque where the water line rose inside the historic Tavern during Hurricane Sandy, on October 29, 2012.
Thanks to the preservation efforts of the Sons of the Revolution in the State of New York, the New York Landmarks Conservancy, and others, this block has retained its historic character. Fraunces Tavern was designated a New York City Landmark in 1966, and the entire block, a New York City Historic District, listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Fraunces Tavern Museum & Restaurant is located at 54 Pearl Street, NYC.