The Roarbots’ series of NPS Adventures takes a big-picture view of one location within the National Park Service and highlights some of the best activities that site has to offer. This is usually done through a kid-friendly lens and almost always includes activities and suggestions we can recommend from personal experience. And pictures. There are lots and lots of pictures. Glad to have you aboard!
Welcome to Federal Hall National Memorial!
- Federal Hall National Memorial
- Location: New York
- Established: 1955
- Admission: Free
- Social Sites: Facebook, Twitter
The Capitol Building in Washington, DC, might be the most well-known location of presidential inaugurations. Indeed, it’s been the site for almost every inauguration in our country’s history. But the very first presidential inauguration – George Washington’s, on April 30, 1789 – took place at Federal Hall in lower Manhattan.
The original Federal Hall (previously New York City’s city hall) was not only the site of Washington’s inauguration, it was also the home of the first Supreme Court and U.S. Congress and was where the Bill of Rights was proposed, debated, and ratified.
The original structure was destroyed in 1812, and what stands today was built in 1842 as the U.S. Customs House. Nevertheless, the site retains the Federal Hall name and stands as a memorial to the most famous event to take place on the site.
(Click on all pictures to embiggen.)
Museum and Galleries
The Visitor’s Center has a sizable exhibit called The Gateway to America: Discover New York Harbor. Surprisingly, it doesn’t focus on the history of Federal Hall but on the larger history of Manhattan, New York Harbor, and the other NPS sites in the area.
There are two main draws inside the building: the rotunda and the George Washington inaugural Bible. The Rotunda is an impressive space and well worth spending some time just gazing around. There are a few small galleries and exhibits off the rotunda that explore the building and its history in a bit more depth.
One of those galleries is also home to the original Bible on which George Washington took the oath of office. The same Bible was also used in the inaugurations of Presidents Warren G. Harding, Dwight D. Eisenhower, Jimmy Carter, and George H.W. Bush.
Unfortunately, the Bible wasn’t on display during our visit, as it was temporarily removed by its owner, the Masonic St. John’s Lodge. Bummer.
The building itself is rather impressive, and the statue of George Washington that dominates the front is certainly a great photo op. It’s also immediately opposite the New York Stock Exchange and in the heart of Wall Street.
Even though there’s not much to do immediately outside the building, this part of New York is fun to explore and full of narrow streets and historic buildings. It’s also one block away from Trinity Church, which is well worth a visit if you’re in the neighborhood (and also final resting place for Alexander Hamilton).
Federal Hall is a must-stop in Manhattan if you’re interested in American history, and it doesn’t take much time. Just know that it’s closed on weekends, so if you want to go inside and check it out, you’ll need to visit on a weekday. It’s open on Saturdays during the summer, though.
As always, the Junior Ranger program is one of the highlights of any NPS visit for the little Roarbots. It wouldn’t be a visit without a passport stamp and a Junior Ranger badge/pin!
Federal Hall offers a Junior Ranger booklet that requires kids to roam around the museum exhibits for answers (and occasionally poke outside to check out the statue of George Washington). In addition to the historical significance of the building itself, the activities also focus on the history of lower Manhattan and other structures that stood on the site before Federal Hall was built.