The Greek Revival building now known as the Old Merchant's House or the Merchant's House Museum was constructed as a row house in 1831-1832 by Joseph Brewster. The brick and marble home stood in New York City's exclusive and fashionable Bond Street area, and was purchased by wealthy hardware merchant Seabury Tredwell in 1835. The Tredwell family lived in the house for 98 years, until Gertrude Tredwell died in 1933, leaving behind the only intact 19th-century Manhattan family home complete with original furniture and family possessions. It has been a museum since 1936 and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and as a National Historic, New York State, and New York City Landmark.
of the Tredwell Family and Household
paternal ancestor, Edward Tredwell, arrived in Massachusetts from Kent County,
England, circa 1637. About ten years later, Edward settled thirty miles east of
New York City in a village on Long Island. Seabury's maternal ancestors were
Mayflower passengers John Alden and Priscilla Mullins, the subjects of Henry Wadsworth
Longfellow's The Courtship of Miles Standish.” The family was loyal to
England during the American Revolution.
Seabury Tredwell moved
to New York City in 1798 at the age of 18 and owned a hardware business by 1814.
He married Eliza Parker, his landlady's daughter, in 1820, and the couple had
eight children: Elizabeth, Horace, Mary, Samuel, Phoebe, Julia, Sarah, and
Gertrude. Seabury worked in the South Street Seaport, commuting between home
and work via horse-drawn omnibus. In 1832 and 1833, he purchased 850 acres of
land in Rumson, New Jersey, as a summer home, and purchased the family home at
29 East 4th Street upon his retirement at the age of 55. The family generally
kept four Irish servant women at a time: a cook/laundress, her assistant, a parlor
maid, and a chambermaid. Wages for such servants were between three and four
dollars per month, much less than factory wages; but domestic servants had the
provisions of lodging and medical care. Four of the Tredwell's servants are
listed in an 1855 New York State census: Ann Clark, Bridget Murphy (emigrated
in 1852 at age 16), Mary James, and Mary Smith (emigrated in 1851 at age 14).
After the deaths of
Seabury (1865) and Eliza (1882), the house was occupied by Phoebe, Julia, and
Gertrude Tredwell for the rest of their lives. The Bond Street neighborhood
became known as the Athenian Quarter for its collection of cultural and
intellectual institutions, including the National Academy of Design and the New
York Historical Society. However, the neighborhood became increasingly
commercial and less elite, with shops, workrooms, and the Tomkins public market
taking the place of many of the residences along Broadway. Upon Gertrude's
death in 1933 at the age of 93, the house was the only intact 19th-century family
home in the city of New York complete with original furniture, decor, and
personal belongings. Gertrude died in poverty, the house surrounded by saloons
and manufacturing lofts. Her niece and heir, Lillie Nichols, sold the house to
her cousin, George Chapman, who established a non-profit organization for the
founding of the museum.
History of the Museum
succeeded in establishing the Merchant's House Museum, which officially opened
in 1936. In 1959, Chapman's death led to a three-year stretch of temporary
caretakers for the house, which began to fall into disrepair. It was taken over
by the Decorators Club of New York City in 1962. Three years later, the Old
Merchants House became the first Manhattan building designated as a New York Landmark
after the passage of the Landmarks Preservation Law in April of 1965. The
following year, it was listed as a National Historic Landmark and included in
the National Register of Historic Places. The Decorators Club called on Joseph
Roberto, New York University architect, to advise them on restoration after
extensive water damage was discovered in 1968. A nine-year, $284,000 structural
restoration was completed with funding from the Federal and state governments,
private foundations and donors, and corporations. The museum re-opened in
November of 1979, and hired its first professional staff in 1988. A $1 million
grant from the Vincent Astor Foundation (1997) and inclusion in the Historic
House Trust of New York City (1999) have provided long-term security for the
preservation of the house museum. It is now owned by the New York City
Department of Parks and Recreation and operated by the Old Merchants House,
Museum Collection and
The Merchant House
Museum's collection of the Tredwells' original possession includes around 3,000
objects: furnishings, decorations, lighting, household and personal items,
family photographs, books, art, clothing, and textiles. Over 100 pieces of
furniture and 40 dresses dating between 1815 and 1890 are included in the
collection, which is arranged in the preserved period interior of the house.
The museum offers guided tours on Monday, Thursday, and Friday; walking tours
the second Sunday of each month; and monthly candlelight ghost tours (Gertrude
Tredwell and some of the Irish servants supposedly haunt the upstairs).
Educational programs on 19th-century life and culture are also offered for both
adults and schoolchildren. Museum events include lectures, readings, concerts,
special exhibitions, performances, and summer evenings in the garden.
Old Merchants House of
Built in 1831-32 by
Joseph Brewster as a row house. Purchased in 1835 by Seabury Tredwell, a
merchant, and occupied by his family until 1933. This house is the only 19th
Century house in Manhattan to survive intact with its original furniture and
family memorabilia. The parlors are historic examples of Greek Revival
Architecture. Restored in 1979, the house has been a museum since 1935.
Erected by New York
City Historical Society.