One tricky truth about Manhattan’s very oldest buildings, is that today most of them are entirely gone. However, some have stood the test of time, not in spite of all the frenzied growth, violence, and evolution this city has survived over the years, but because they are often the very center of all that activity. One of these revered Revolutionary Era restorations, and claimed by some as New York City’s oldest building, is the famed Fraunces Tavern.
“Under the Queen’s Head” –
This building in NYC’s Financial District, 54 Pearl Street, now known as Fraunces Tavern, was erected in 1719 as a private home for Stephen DeLancey, a French exile escaping Louis XIV, and it was eventually sold by his heirs to Samuel Fraunces in 1762. He converted the house into what would become NYC’s oldest functioning tavern to this day. The Queen Charlotte Tavern (Yes, Queen to George III, King of England… that Queen Charlotte…and loosely and largely the basis for the fantastic Netflix series of the same name) was not a name which caught on with the Colonials at the time. However, as her popularity with the population was waning in advance of America’s ultimate revolt, most opted simply to title it “Fraunces Tavern.” In addition to its Revolutionary Era historical importance, the original construction of the house was partially done with imported Dutch yellow brick, the same prized material used and imported from Holland, brought over by the first Dutch colonists to what they had called “New Amsterdam” and is now New York City.
The Room Where “The Room Where It Happens” Happened – and it’s a MUSEUM!
Lin-Manuel Miranda’s brilliant Broadway hit HAMILTON has revitalized international esteem for the American Revolution. One of the show’s most notable numbers is the raucous “The Room Where It Happens.” While the song is actually about a room at Thomas Jefferson’s house, a few blocks away, the place where Aaron Burr and others would have sung the song, were life a musical, is right upstairs at Fraunces Tavern, in what’s known as the Long Room. Thanks to the dedication of its owners and caretakers, an organization named The Sons of the Revolution, you can visit it today, and be in the room where “The Room Where It Happens”…er…happened. The building would go on to serve a huge role in the planning and executing of the American Revolution, as well as the location for various important events and governmental offices following the Revolution. It would even “survive” several horrible fires, and a bomb blast in 1970, which killed 4, and left a large crack in one wall, where a mural painted there still reflects the damage from that day. Fraunces Tavern narrowly escaped being transformed into a parking lot, when in 1903, it was seized handily by the City as using eminent domain laws, by designating the tavern as…a park. And it’s been safely “parked” there, ever since.
A Founding Father’s Famous Farewell –
December 4th, 1783, in the Long Room at this favored gathering place, newly-elected-and-not-yet-President George Washington gave a “turtle feast” to celebrate and say farewell to his officers from the War, as he moved to his new role, leading and creating this brand new nation. However, his men had NOT BEEN PAID IN YEARS, and had been petitioning Congress for their desperately-needed personal pay, the nation was broke, and Congress seemed to intend never to pay. They were violently angry, and being the new leader, Washington now represented this terrific financial hardship they all suffered. Aloud to his men, he began to read from a letter assuring them that Congress would get them their money soon, but his eyes, becoming bleary, he had to suddenly stop. “Gentlemen,” he said. “You will permit me to put on my spectacles, for I have not only grown grey, but almost blind in the service of my country.” Later, he toasted, “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,” as a tearful Washington watched his men register his deep regret for having been unable to properly procure for them what he knew they were truly worth. They had risked their lives, and had been promised the appreciation afforded through their earned pensions, with Washington speaking on their behalf, from a nation which owed them its newfound freedom. They saw all this in his tears, and immediately their anger melted into mutual mourning for all that they had been through, and lost…together, and everyone cried there, united in love and sacrifice. And from then on, each man’s devotion to their beloved leader was unquestionable, as he went on to become the first President of the United States of America.
Go Explore the Museum, and then Grab a Delicious Bite and a Drink Downstairs!
It is very easy to access Fraunces Tavern from the Financial District, and you can find and follow directions here. (Insert blue hyperlink to the Fraunces directions page on the word “here”.) Feel free to check the museum’s and tavern’s websites for the most up-to-date info about hours of operation, terrific menu offerings, additional history, and incredibly enriching special events. And you’ll even find out some very real facts about George Washinton’s teeth, as well as seeing many precious Colonial-Era artifacts associated with the house, tavern, and the rich history that surrounds it. Take a tour today!
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