Merchant's House Museum

Merchant's House Museum, known formerly as Old Merchant's House and as the Seabury Tredwell House, is the only nineteenth-century family home in New York City preserved intact -- both inside and out. Built "on spec" in 1832 by Joseph Brewster, a hatter by trade, it is located at 29 East Fourth Street, between Lafayette Street and the Bowery, Manhattan, New York City. It became a museum in 1936, founded by George Chapman, a cousin of the family who once lived there. The building underwent a major restoration in 1971 by Joseph Roberto (architect) and Carolyn Roberto (interior design).

History

Brewster sold the house to Seabury Tredwell Tredwell for $18,000., a wealthy New York merchant. Tredwell's daughter, Gertrude, was born in 1840 in the house, and lived there until her death in an upstairs bedroom in 1933. Three years later, the perfectly preserved house opened to the public as a museum. The house was declared a National Historic Landmark in 1965.

Exterior and interior

The building's facade is reminiscent of earlier Federal-style homes, but the interior, especially the formal double parlors, represent New York's finest example of Greek revival architecture. The interior also contains the Tredwell family's original furnishings, including pieces from prominent New York cabinetmakers, like Duncan Phyfe and Joseph Meeks.

Considered one of the finest surviving Greek Revival rowhouses in America, the house is a miraculous survivor of old New York. The house is important for its outstanding collection of original furnishings, decorative objects, magnificently preserved 19th century clothing and other personal effects of the Tredwell family. Stepping through the front portal is stepping into a time when New York City was becoming the most important seaport in North America and the house reflects these fortunate circumstances.

The family

Gertrude and her seven siblings, two brothers and five sisters, all lived here together with their parents, four servants, and an ever-changing assortment of nieces, nephews, cousins, aunts and other relatives. Only two daughters and one son ever married, which was unusual for that era and for an affluent family with social position.

Seabury died in 1865 and the remaining family lived at the home into old age. Gertrude, the youngest member of the immediate family, lived here alone for 24 years after her sister Julia died in 1909. As she grew older and more eccentric she became obsessed with holding on to the elegant home in a neighborhood that had become, by the early 20th century, a run-down, semi-industrial, and disreputable part of town. Burdened with severe financial hardship in her last years, she somehow managed to keep this beautiful home in nearly original condition, long after all the neighboring private homes had been demolished or converted into rooming houses, tenements, or commercial structures.

After her death, a distant cousin, George Chapman, purchased the building, saving it from foreclosure and demolition. In 1936, after needed repair and renovation, the house opened as a museum and has remained such ever since. The Merchant’s House Museum remains a unique time capsule of the lives of a typical affluent New York merchant family of the 19th Century complete with the original possessions of the family. Gertrude haunts the house Several doors east of the museum at 37 East 4th Street is the Samuel Tredwell Skidmore House, a Greek Revival house built for a cousin of Samuel Tredwell. That building is also a New York City Landmark (designated 1970), but is in disrepair and in need of restoration.

The museum

In addition to its magnificent period rooms, the Museum presents many performances, presentations, lectures, exhibits and special events throughout the year. Ongoing research and state-of-the-art documentation and conservation techniques assure that more is constantly being learned about the House, its furnishings and outstanding textile collections, and “what life was really like” for a 19th century New York family.

In 1991, in a joint effort with the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation, the Merchant’s House Museum launched the educational program, “Greenwich Village: History and Historic Preservation.” The program was designed to teach students local history, architectural vocabulary, and the fundamentals of historic preservation. The program ran through the end of the 1990s at the Museum, but eventually shifted its focus into the West Village, where it continues to reach out to students in the five boroughs.

Landmark designations

Due to its architectural and historic importance, the Merchant's House has been recognized by the following landmark designations:

  • 1936 - Documented by the Historic American Buildings Survey
  • 1965 - Designated by the Landmarks Preservation Commission as one of the first 20 New York City landmarks
  • 1965 - Designated as a National Historic Landmark and part of the National Historic Trust in New York
  • 1966 - Listed on the National Register of Historic Places
  • 1981 - Designated as a New York City interior landmark

Building Activity

  • Georgi Sokolov
    Georgi Sokolov activity.buildings_person.create
    about 5 years ago via OpenBuildings.com