The Dutch established the first European settlements in Manhattan, which were located at the lower end of the island. The first fort was built at the Battery on the shore at the southern tip of the island. The original settlement stretched only a few hundred yards to the north to present day Wall Street, where the settlers had indeed built a wall to protect themselves from Indians, pirates, and other dangers. The path had become a bustling commercial thoroughfare because it joined the banks of the East River with those of the Hudson River on the west. The path was named Wall Street. Early merchants built their warehouses and shops on this dirt traverse, along with a city hall and a church. 

In 1771, Bear Market was established along the Hudson shore on land donated by Trinity Church, and replaced by Washington Market in 1813. In March, 1792, twenty-four of New York City’s leading merchants met secretly at Corre’s Hotel to discuss ways to bring order to the securities business and to wrest it from their competitors, the auctioneers. Two months later, on May 17, 1792, these merchants signed a document they called the Buttonwood Agreement, named after their traditional gathering spot, a buttonwood tree. The agreement called for the signers to trade securities only among themselves, to set trading fees, and not to participate in other auctions of securities. These twenty-four men had founded what was to become the New York Stock Exchange. The Exchange would later be located at 11 Wall Street.

New York was the nation’s capitol from 1785 until 1790 and George Washington was inaugurated as the first President on the steps of the one-time city hall now called Federal Hall. In 1817 with their stock exchange in decline over Revolutionary War bonds the New York merchant group sent an observer to Philadelphia, where the nation’s first stock exchange was organized in 1790. Upon his return, bearing news of the thriving Philadelphia exchange, the New York Stock and Exchange Board was formally organized on March 8, 1817.   

The money men leased a room at 40 Wall Street and every morning the president, Anthony Stockholm, read the stocks to be traded. Back then a seat on the exchange cost $25; in 1827 the price increased to $100, and in 1848 the price skipped up to $400. Members conducted their business in top hats and swallowtail coats. The Financial District of Lower Manhattan has come a long way since then. To see what the princes of commerce have wrought, this walking tour will begin where the Dutch began back in 1623, Battery Park...

Battery Park
State Street and Battery Place

The Battery is one of New York City’s oldest public open spaces. Located at the confluence of the Hudson and East rivers, the first Dutch settlers anchored here in 1623, and the first “battery” of cannons was erected to defend the young city of New Amsterdam. Encompassing 25 acres of waterfront parkland where you can look into New York Harbor across to the Statue of Liberty, the Battery is the largest public open space in Lower Manhattan. The Sphere, a sculpture representing world peace, was salvaged from the debris of the World Trade Center. 

Castle Clinton National Monument
Battery Park

Castle Clinton was built in anticipation of the War of 1812 during the reign of Governor DeWitt Clinton. A decade later it was renamed Castle Garden and was transformed into the town’s premier cultural center. By 1855, successive landfills had enlarged the Park to encompass Castle Garden and the structure became America’s first immigrant receiving center, welcoming 8.5 million people before the establishment of Ellis Island. In 1896, the Castle was transformed into the much-loved New York Aquarium, one of the nation’s first public fish museums. The wrecking ball started swinging here in 1941, touching off a major preservation battle that got the original fort walls declared a National Monument by an Act of Congress in 1946. Restored to its fortification appearance by the National Park Service in 1975, the Castle currently houses a small interpretive display and the ticket office for the Statue of Liberty – Ellis Island ferry.


Alexander Hamilton U.S. Custom House/National Museum of the American Indian
One Bowling Green, opposite Battery Park

Minnesota architect Cass Gilbert, who went on to design the Supreme Court building in Washington and three state capitols, gave New York one of its most spectacular Beaux Arts buildings in 1902. Before this major government building projects were almost exclusively the province of the Supervising Architect of the United States Treasury. Daniel Chester French, of Lincoln Memorial fame, contributed the monumental sculptures. The building, now the home of the Museum of the American Indian, sits on the site of Fort Amsterdam, the fortification constructed by the Dutch West India Company to defend their operations in the Hudson Valley.


Charging Bull
Broadway and State streets at Bowling Green

At Christmastime 1989, sculptor Arturo Di Modica and friends drove a flatbed truck to the 60-foot tall Christmas tree in front of the New York Stock Exchange, and, unannounced, offloaded this three-and-a-half ton, 16-foot-long bronze bull, head down, nostrils flaring, poised to charge. Di Modica stated that he created the sculpture after the stock market crash of 1987 as a symbol of the “strength, power and hope of the American people for the future.” Unmoved, city authorities hauled the Bull away before the closing bell rung that day. But in its short stay the Bull made such an impression that it was given a temporary stomping ground at Bowling Green. Despite the fact that the City has refused to purchase the sculpture and give the Bull permanent street status it remains on display and is one of the iconic sights of the Financial District.

Cunard Building
25 Broadway on Bowling Green

Samuel Cunard, a Nova Scotian who was awarded the first British transatlantic steamship mail contract in 1839 and on July 4, 1840 he launched service with a route from Boston to Liverpool, England. Cunard Line would grow into the largest Atlantic passenger line in the world and when headquarters moved to New York in 1919 this suitably grand Renaissance Revival tower designed by architect Thomas Hastings was constructed to greet the shipping giant. The grand interior of the Great Hall is awash in things marine: starfish, seahorses, shells, sirens, an albatross, and the vessels of Columbus and other sea-faring explorers. Today we cross the oceans by jet, Cunard downsized and abandoned 25 Broadway three decades back. In 1976 the United States Post Office leased the ornate first floor. Although outfitted for a less romantic endeavor, the nautical decorations remain on display.

Standard Oil Building
26 Broadway

Built as the headquarters for John D. Rockefeller’s Standard Oil Company when it moved from Cleveland to New York in 1885, the original Beaux Arts creation traces the curve of Broadway with its nine-story base of Indiana limestone. Following the breakup of the company in 1911 due to anti-trust laws (which only made Rockefeller richer), Thomas Hastings overhauled the classically-inspired building in the 1920s and added a massive 480-foot tower sporting a pyramidal crown with a Corinthian colonnade; it was the tallest structure on the southern tip of Manhattan so an enormous oil lamp was placed in the pyramid to serve as a beacon. Standard Oil’s Esso, now Exxon, shuffled over to Rockefeller Plaza in 1946 and Mobil moved uptown in 1954; Standard Oil disposed of its original New York home in 1954. 

American Express Building
65 Broadway

The pioneers in the express mail business - Henry Wells, William Fargo and John Warren Butterfield - started American Express in Buffalo in 1850. The company’s first stables in New York City were set up in 1854 and the company set up shop in two five-story brownstones here in 1874. The old landmarks were sacrificed for this 21-story Neoclassical headquarters dressed in white brick and terra-cotta, in 1917, from the pen of James L. Aspinwall. American Express surrendered its headquarters in 1975 but the company’s famous Eagle still guards the entrance.

Trinity Church
Broadway at the head of Wall Street

Founded in 1697, Trinity Church is the oldest Episcopal congregation in a city where Episcopalianism was once the official religion. By royal charter of King William III of England, the Parish of Trinity Church once owned most of the land that is today among the most valuable in the world. When the present Trinity Church was consecrated on Ascension Day May 1, 1846, its soaring 280-foot Neo-Gothic spire, surmounted by a gilded cross, was the tallest structure in Manhattan. Trinity was a welcoming beacon for ships sailing into New York Harbor. There have been three Trinity Church buildings at Broadway and Wall Street; the present house of worship, designed by Richard Upjohn is considered a pure example of Gothic Revival architecture and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The original burial ground at Trinity Church includes the graves and memorials of such iconic historic figures as Alexander Hamilton, William Bradford, Robert Fulton, and Albert Gallatin. 

American Surety Building
100 Broadway

Completed in 1896 as the second tallest office tower in New York City, architect Bruce Price’s American Surety Building set a new standard for early steel-framed office buildings. The 21-story, 312-foot Maine granite-clad skyscraper was erected with a footprint of only 85 square feet. Price followed the convention of early skyscraper building by designing his Renaissance Revival tower in the manner of a classical column with a defined base (the oversized ground floors), a shaft (the relatively unadorned central stories) and a capital (the ornate upper regions). Price also broke from convention by providing a finished facade on all four sides rather than simply confining his efforts only to the elevation facing the street.


Irving Trust Building/One Wall Street
southeast corner of Broadway

The Irving Bank of New York City took its first deposits in 1851 in New York’s Washington Market area to serve the needs of local merchants and food distributors. The bank took the name of one of the era’s most famous and trusted New Yorkers - author Washington Irving. In an era when there was no standard national currency and each bank issued its own notes, a portrait of the creator of Rip Van Winkle appeared on the Irving Bank money.  This lot at the intersection of Wall Street and Broadway was considered the “most expensive real estate in New York” in 1929 when Irving Trust hired Ralph T. Walker, a pioneer in building Art Deco skyscrapers, to build a new headquarters. Walker delivered an influential zig-zag Deco design for this 50-story, limestone-faced skyscraper. 

Bankers Trust Building
14 Wall Street, northwest corner of Nassau Street

This skyscraper was the tallest bank building in the world when it was completed in 1912; it came at the expense of the 20-story Gillender Building, said to be the first skyscraper demolished to make way for a taller skyscraper. The distinctive pyramid on the top of the 37-story tower is modeled on the tomb of Mausolus at Halicarnassus, one of the Seven Wonders of the ancient world. The 31st floor was once an apartment belonging to J.P. Morgan. 


New York Stock Exchange
8 Broad Street

As the 20th century dawned, the New York Stock Exchange was experiencing a spirited bump in trading volume. Trading in listed stocks had tripled between 1896 and 1899; it would nearly double again by 1901. To beef up the trading floor the Exchange invited eight of New York City’s leading architects to join in a competition to design a grand new building. George B. Post, whose resume included the New York World Building that was the world’s tallest in 1890, emerged the winner with a Neoclassical design fronted by a parade of imposing Corinthian columns. With a price tag of $4 million, it is considered Post’s masterwork and unfortunately one of his few to survive. 


Morgan Guaranty Trust Building
23 Wall Street, southeast corner of Broad Street

J. Pierpont Morgan began dealing in financial instruments around 1860, and in 1871 he joined forces with Drexel & Company. They soon built a white marble headquarters with a mansard roof at the southeast corner of Wall and Broad Streets. The firm emerged as J. P. Morgan & Company in the 1890s and Morgan became widely known as the top financial figure in the United States. Near the end of his career in 1910, taking more and more time off to travel and concentrate on his art collection, Morgan decided to demolish the old building at Wall and Broad and, according to The New York Times in 1912, ‘’fall in line with the big modern improvements all around him.’’ Finished in 1914 after Morgan had passed, the new pink marble bank was described by the Real Estate Record and Guide as ‘’a rival to the Parthenon.’’ On Sept. 16, 1920, Wall Street was rocked by an explosion - a wagon filled with explosives and shrapnel detonated, killing at least 36 people. The wagon was parked on the Wall Street side of the Morgan bank, and the main floor was instantly in a shambles, the windows blown in, the skylight severely damaged, the grill-work of the banking cages destroyed. The marble facade was pitted with marks still visible today. 

Federal Hall National Memorial
28 Wall Street

Appreciation of America’s heritage was slow to take hold - for instance, the nation’s first capitol building, where George Washington took the oath of office and the Bill of Rights was adopted, was located right here but it was torn down in 1812. This building, erected in 1842 as a Customs House, is not architectural slouch in its own right - it is one of the town’s best Greek Revival structures. The depiction of Washington out front is John Quincy Adams Ward’s rendition in bronze from 1883. 

Bank of Manhattan Trust /Trump Building
40 Wall Street

In 1929 the Bank of Manhattan Trust architect H. Craig Severance engaged in a race to build the world’s tallest building with his former parter William Van Alen who was helming the Chrysler Building. This building was to tower 135 feet above Cass Gilbert’s gothic Woolworth Building, which was completed a decade earlier. More importantly, Severance’s plans edged the projected 925-foot height of Van Alen’s Chrysler Building by an all important two feet. It took less than a year to erect the world’s tallest building but the celebration was short-lived. After construction wound up at 40 Wall Street, Van Alen raised a 185-foot spire that had been secretly assembled in his building’s crown and hoisted it into place, fulfilling tycoon Walter Chrysler’s dream of owning the tallest building on Earth. Despite losing the status of world’s tallest building, 40 Wall Street, dubbed “The Crown Jewel of Wall Street,” would long dominate the skyline of lower Manhattan with its ornate pyramidal crown and gothic spire.

Bank of New York Building
48 Wall Street, northeast corner of William Street

The Bank of New York was founded in 1784 by Alexander Hamilton, shortly after occupying British forces sailed out of the city following the Revolutionary War. That makes it the oldest bank in the United States. The bank has been here since 1797 and this building since 1928. The architect was Portland, Oregon native Benjamin Wistar Morris who topped his confection with a Federal-style cupola as a nod to the Colonial origins of the bank.

Morgan Bank Headquarters  
60 Wall Street

This brawny 1988 office building boasts 1.7 million square feet of financial workspace in its fifty-five stories. The tower features alternating bands of dark glass and white stone. The 300-foot long, four-story granite colonnade at its base is a tip of the architectural hat to the Greek Revival Citibank across the street, whose air rights made the Morgan building possible.

Merchants’ Exchange  
55 Wall Street

When the Merchants’ Exchange burned down in the Great Fire of 1835, Boston architect Isaiah Rogers was called down to create a bigger and better exchange. One way he did that was to give his Greek Revival building a parade of massive fluted Ionic columns, each carved from a single block of blue Quincy granite. The Exchange went belly up after a decade of so and the United States Customs House moved here in 1862 and stayed until 1907. The National City Bank purchased the Neoclassical tour-de force and hired the architectural firm of McKim, Meade and White to outfit their new home with a second matching colonnade and the banking hall was centered under a 60-foot high dome. In 1998 the bank became a hotel and most recently has done duty as condominiums; the grand banking hall now a ballroom.


City Bank-Farmers Trust Building /20 Exchange Place
between William Street and Hanover Square

This 59-story Art Deco tower was planned in 1929 to reach 846 feet and become the world’s tallest office building but the stock market crash scuttled those plans and the Alabama limestone-clad tower topped out at 741 feet. Finished in 1931, the building by brothers John Walter Cross and Eliot Cross became the fourth tallest member of the New York skyline.  

56 Beaver Street, southwest corner of South William Street

For almost a century, the standard-bearer of grand dining establishments in New York City was Delmonico’s. Opened on William Street as a confectioner’s shop in 1827, Delmonico’s was New York’s (and the country’s) first real restaurant and also a gathering place for high society. When the William Street building was opened on a grand scale in August 1837, after the Great Fire of New York, New Yorkers were told that the columns by the entrance had been imported from the ruins of Pompei. The current Beaux Arts building dates to 1891. 

New York Cotton Exchange /India House
1 Hanover Square

India House was built by Richard Carman in the flurry of building activity that followed the Great Fire in 1835. The Hanover Bank acquired the property in 1851 and occupied half of it for banking purposes. The other part of the Italian Renaissance building was used by the firm of Robert L. Maitland & Company, tobacco importers. Beginning in 1870 America’s first commodity market, the New York Cotton Exchange commenced business here. The social club India House took possession in 1914, when a group of business men headed by James A. Farrell and Willard Straight, decided to found a meeting place on the interests of foreign trade.

Banca Commerciale Italiana
1 William Street, southeast corner of Hanover Square

This Anglicized Baroque office building dates to 1907 and was the headquarters for Lehman Brothers for fifty years, beginning in 1928. The rusticated flatiron structure is a Francis Kimball creation; the client was the 61-year old investment bank of German brothers Joseph and James Seligman.


Fraunces Tavern Museum
54 Pearl Street at Broad Street

Etienne de Lancey, a wealthy merchant, built an elegant townhouse here in 1719. The family moved on in 1737 and used the building as a warehouse. Samuel Fraunces, a West Indian of African and French extraction, bought the property in 1762 for about $260. “Black Sam” converted the space into the Queen’s Head Tavern, which he leased, and devoted himself to operating a wax museum.The Queen’s Head, with a spacious meeting room known as the Long Room, was a popular gathering place and it was here, on December 4, 1783, that George Washington bade an emotional farewell to his senior officers in the Continental Army. Fraunces was rewarded by Congress for his kindness to Patriot prisoners entombed in the city’s notorious jails during the long British occupation and he became Washington’s steward when he returned to New York as president in 1789. He followed the chief executive to Philadelphia, where he died in 1795.


55 Water Street

When opened in 1972, 55 Water Street was the largest privately owned office building in the world; today, only the Pentagon and Sears Tower surpass it in rentable floor space. The building’s massive bulk stems from a 1959 urban renewal plan to create a superblock large enough to accommodate a new home for the New York Stock Exchange. During Hurricane Sandy on October 29, 2012 some 32 million gallons of water poured into the building, flooding three underground levels and filling the lobby with several feet of storm water, 


The New York City Police Museum
100 Old Slip, between Water and South streets

The museum is housed in the historic building that formerly was the New York Police Department’s 1st Precinct. Richard Howland Hunt and his brother Joseph Howland Hunt, sons of the celebrated architect, Richard Morris Hunt, provided the Florentine Renaissance design. Displays of vintage vehicles, weapons and uniforms offer an insider’s look at the world’s largest police force. 


Battery Maritime Building
10 South Street; northeast of Staten Island Ferry Terminal

This Beaux-Arts landmark building was completed in 1909 for ferries to dock traveling to 39th Street in Brooklyn. It was birthed with a twin, the Whitehall Terminal before that building was destroyed by fire in 1991. Architects Richard Walker and Charles Morris employed a boatload of building materials including cast iron, copper, rolled steel, stamped zinc and ceramic tiles to create the festive derry port. The Brooklyn ferry service shut down in 1938, and since then the building has seen various city tenants. Since 1956 this is where you catch the free ferry to Governor’s Island.

Staten Island Ferry Terminal - Whitehall
between William Street and Hanover Square

Ferry service between lower Manhattan and Staten Island began with private individuals in the 1700s. In 1817 the Richmond Turnpike Company started motorized ferry service. This new Whitehall Ferry Terminal came online after a fire crippled its predecessor in 1991. It boasts a 19,000-square-foot waiting room to take care of over 21 million passengers that board the ferries each year - free of charge. Percent for Art installed 28 Ming Fay-designed granite benches entitled Whitehall Crossing that mimic Indian canoes crossing New York Bay.