Lower Manhattan was once an ancient place of exchange among Indian tribes such as the Algonquins, who trace their roots back over 9000 years. Although still a financial Mecca today, the district is more of a concrete jungle than a cultural marketplace. Nevertheless, you can still find traces of its importance in American history if you know where to go and what to look for.
The building’s historical significance and its beauty inside are reason enough to visit this museum. A stellar example of Beaux Arts architecture, the building was once the Alexander Hamilton Custom’s House. Completed in 1907, it covers 3 city blocks and its grand entrance pedestals are four large sculptures representing America, Asia, Europe, and Africa. Its creator, Daniel Chester French, also made the statue of Lincoln at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington D.C.
Visitors will notice the Native Indian figure peeking out over the shoulder of the American seated Statue of Liberty to represent the areas importance in Native Indian history and the vanishing of its culture to Europeans in this area. Inside, the museum is also beautifully designed and has one of the most extensive collections of Native American art and artifacts in the world in addition to works by modern artists. Admission to this museum is free.
2. Bowling Green Fence and Park
This little public park, located in front of the National Museum of the American Indian, is big on history. The locale was the center of Indian culture until the Dutch and the British took over and featured prominently in the American Revolution. Built in 1771, it is the oldest park in NYC that once included an actual bowling green. This park was a hub of revolutionary activity and after George Washington read the Declaration of Independence to his troops on July 9, 1776, a crowd marched down to topple the statue of King George which was located south west of the park. The slab of the statue can be viewed at the New York Historical Society.
The fence surrounding the park is the 18th century original. It is reported that revolutionaries cut off the decorative finials and melted them down for ammunition.
It is also at this site that the Dutchman, Peter Minuit, was alleged to have purchased the island of Manhattan from the native Indians for 60 guilders the equivalent of $1000 today.
Since much of downtown Manhattan was either destroyed in the fire of 1835 or underwent demolition to make way for modern architecture, it is pretty cool that this fence is still standing.
3. Stone Street Historic District
Reputed to be the first paved street in NYC, Stone Street has been around since the 1600’s and has undergone its share of change. Sandwiched between South William and Pearl streets, the slender cobblestone alley transports visitors back in time to an era of horse drawn carriages and old time taverns (if you block out the burger joint on the corner).
Once the hub of maritime business, today you can take a break from the crush of the crowds in the financial district to visit the shops, restaurants and historic themed taverns. The district also hosts an annual Oyster Festival in September.
4. Archaeological Site of Lovelace Tavern
At the base of Stone Street is the old Goldman Sachs building at 85 Broad Street. The site is thought to be the location of the first Stadt Huys (City Hall) that existed when New York was New Amsterdam and dominated by the Dutch in the 17th century. This area was excavated in 1979 and although no evidence of the Stadt Huys remained, they found remnants of the Lovelace Tavern from 1670 along with thousands of pieces of clay pipes, glass bottles and wine glasses. The tavern was owned by the British governor of New York, Francis Lovelace. A section of the sidewalk is blocked off with brass railings and a glass top where you can see down to the buildings foundation. After viewing the remains you might be in the mood for refreshments yourself and can head over to an existing historical watering hole called Frances Tavern, a short distance away at the corner of Broad and Pearl St. The Tavern also has its own museum, which is free for diners.