Staycation: Merchant’s House

Editor’s note: An updated version of this post can be viewed here.

For many of us, staycations are this year’s vacations. Instead of the cottages and castles of the Continent, visit one of New York’s fascinating house museums. Each week, for the entire summer, we’ll alternate between a site in New York City, or one in greater New York State. Many of these houses are in danger of closing if we don’t patronize them. Check them out, and go visit! If you’ve been, please leave comments and suggestions, including dining or any other amenities.

Name: Merchant’s House Museum (Seabury Tredwell House)
Location: NoHo, Manhattan
Address: 29 East Fourth Street, between Lafayette and the Bowery
Hours: Thursday through Monday, 12-5.
Admission: $10 adults, $5 seniors and students, Members: free
Children: Free, when accompanied by paying adult. Special children’s programs available
Directions: Subway N or R to Eighth Street, #6 to Astor Place, or F, B to Broadway/Lafayette

Details: The Merchant’s House is the only 19th century family home in NYC preserved intact, inside and out. The Late Federal/Greek Revival brick building was designed by Minard Lefever in 1832, and was bought by a wealthy merchant, Seabury Tredwell, in 1835. He, his wife, their eight children, and four Irish servants, and a revolving host of relatives lived here, in what once was the very affluent and posh Bond St. area. When the neighborhood became less fashionable, and their neighbors moved uptown, the Tredwell’s remained. Only two daughters and one son ever married, quite unusual at the time, and the last Tredwell, Gertrude, the youngest daughter, was born in the house in 1840, and lived here her entire life, never marrying, and dying in an upstairs bedroom in 1933 at the age of 93. She managed to hold onto the house through good times and bad, and saw the neighborhood change into a manufacturing area with rooming houses and flophouses. After her death, a distant relative bought the house to save it from seizure, and it became a museum in 1936.

Since no one but the Tredwell’s ever lived here, the house is a perfect time capsule. The house is important for its outstanding collection of original Greek Revival era furnishings, decorative objects, period clothing and other effects of the Tredwell family. Seabury Tredwell became a rich merchant as New York was becoming a major seaport, and his house reflects the life led by someone of his class and standing. Among the furnishings are pieces by Duncan Phyfe and Joseph Meeks, with gas lighting fixtures, ornate ceiling medallions and expensive crystal and other decorative objects. The museum is very active in children’s programs teaching kids how people lived in the past, as well as the fundamentals of historic preservation. In 1965, the house was one of the first 20 landmarks designated after the new Landmarks Law, and that year was also designated as a National Trust Historic Landmark. In 1981, the house’s interior was designated a NYC landmark, one of very few buildings to have that distinction, and the house is also listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Today the house is run by a joint effort of the Historic House Trust and the NYC Parks Service. The Merchant’s House is very easy to get to by public transportation, and should not be missed.

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