Merchant’s House Museum
For visitors to Manhattan, a quiet museum well worth a visit is the Merchant’s House Museum. Located on East Fourth Street on a street filled with a garden center, lounges and cafes, this museum gives visitors an idea of what life would have been like in a 19th century home in New York City. Amazingly, this home has survived virtually intact, complete with family memorabilia and furniture.
The home was originally built between 1831 and 1832 by Joseph Brewster and became the home of Seabury Tredwell and his descendants in 1835 for close to 100 years. This museum opened to the public in 1936 and has been a fixture in NoHo ever since.
Offering both self-guided and guided tours, this house gives guests a perspective of what life for a family with four servants was like from 1835 to 1865. I had to think what was going on in history as particularly with the Civil War in this period, life must have been hard.
Visits will start on the ground floor where family activities occurred and servants worked. This floor has lower ceilings and because of this, the ground floor was warmer in winter. Being below ground, this floor was also coolest in the summer. The servant bells are still in place and be sure to stop in the pantry where a bucket of coal is on display. Visitors can lift the bucket (which isn’t easy!) and work must have been backbreaking for the servants who had to supply seven fireplaces on four floors.
The ground floor also leads to a fantastic enclosed garden in the back which almost reminds me of a secret garden in New York. It seems strange that modern buildings surround the enclosure as I almost felt that I was standing between two centuries.
The next floor of the house is the parlor floor which is split into a front and back parlor. Parlors were where visitors would wait while calling cards were presented to the servants. I especially noticed the vibrant red silky curtains as well as the 1850s gas chandeliers.
The third floor is the bedroom floor which has separate husband and wife bedrooms which was common in the 19th century. It was also interesting to see a china display from the Tredwell family on this floor, including a teacup from Eliza Tredwell just prior to the Civil War, dated 1860. With the various remnants of china, visitors can almost imagine what a dinner party in the Tredwell home would have been like.
The top floor of the house is the servants’ quarters and I immediately noticed rougher floors, no carpet in the stairways and much simpler furniture.
Admission to the museum is $10.00 and during the Christmas season, the house is decorated for the holiday with an exhibit called “Christmas Comes to Old New York”. Signs explain what was common for a 19th century Christmas and enthusiastic volunteers are happy to answer questions.
Sadly, I also found out that this museum is currently in dispute with a developer who wants to build a nine story hotel behind the house. This hotel could potentially damage the home’s plaster or possibly the entire building. The city has yet to make a decision about what will happen and I think it would be a travesty to lose something so historic.
I have been coming to New York for years and somehow missed this museum in the past. I won’t make this mistake again as the Merchant’s House Museum is a great example of Americana and what life would have been like for the merchant class in the 1800s.
Merchant’s House Museum
29 East Fourth Street
New York, New York 10003
(Take the Lex line—6 Train—to Bleecker Street)
Museum hours are Thursday to Monday, 12 p.m. to 5 p.m. with guided tours at 2 p.m.
Gasoline Alley Coffee
In December, it’s cold in Manhattan and I happened to get to the Merchant’s House Museum too early. Walking around NoHo, I happened on Gasoline Alley Coffee which is a good place for a cup of coffee or creamy (and tasty!) hot chocolate. Pastries, like donuts and cookies, are also available.
With friendly staff, exposed brick walls and beams, a hanging bicycle, as well as alternative music, this shop is a nice stop to refuel. Coffees include espresso, cappuccino, latte, and mocha and prices between $2.75 to $5.00 are about standard for coffee shops in Manhattan.
There is limited seating, but this is a great location to “watch the world go by”. I happened on Gasoline Alley’s blackboard inviting visitors to “Warm up with a Chai Latte or Hot Cocoa”. I couldn’t resist.
Gasoline Alley Coffee
331 Lafayette Street
New York, New York 10012