FORT AMSTERDAM; BATTERY PARK; THE CUSTOM HOUSE.
Coming out of the Subway you will find the great Federal Custom House where the Fort used to be. Among other things in the old Fort was a small but somewhat pretentious building called the "Governor's House," and a very small church, used by the Dutch in the morning and the English in the afternoon, called the Church of St. Nicholas, or "Church in the Fort." It was the mother of all the Collegiate Dutch Churches in New York, and its direct descendant today is located at Fifth Avenue and 29th Street, which is very proud of its ancestry and calls attention to it by a large sign. When the Fort was finally demolished (in 1790), the city erected a handsome building on this site, in which to provide a residence for the President, as New York was then the Capitol of the United States. But New York suffered a grievous disappointment; the Government moved to Philadelphia and the "Government House," as it was called, was used as a Custom House. In 1812 it was demolished and the ground sold by the city to private persons for three hundred thousand dollars. Handsome houses then were built, and Bowling Green (its new name,) became a very fashionable street.
These splendid houses were the wonder of their day. In point of grandeur they far exceeded anything that had yet appeared. They were occupied by families of the first social importance. Stephen Whitney, inventor of the famous cotton gin and counted the richest man of his day, lived in the second house from Broadway; Peter Remsen, John Guion, David Austin, Elisha Riggs and Ferdinand Suydam completed the sextette. At a later date, Commodore Vanderbilt lived in the house at the State Street corner. In spite of all their magnificence, however, these houses for the greater part of their existence were without running water, gas or steam heat. Open fireplaces furnished all the warmth obtainable. The pump that supplied the water was still standing late in the seventies on the southwest corner. Smoke from the great fire of 1835 which prostrated the city, ruined the draperies in these houses and tarnished the silver.
The magnificent statuary on the Custom House is the work of the noted sculptor Daniel Chester French. They represent the great trading nations of the world. During the late war the statue of Germania was changed to represent Belgium, so that no honor would be done to a state guilty of sinking helpless merchant ships and drowning women and children. The allegorical figures represent the four great continents; Europe, Africa, Asia and America. Inside the building are ten decorative paintings of great excellence, depicting the old maritime parts of the Seventeenth Century, including New Amsterdam (New York) and Fort Orange (Albany).
During the Civil War the Battery was naturally the scene of bustle and confusion early and late; and when the park was used as a detention camp for Southern prisoners the combination effectually destroyed the quiet dignity of the neighborhood and its fall from social grace was rapid and complete. In the late '60's, the great Cunard Line moved its offices into one of these abandoned houses, to be followed soon afterward by all the other foreign steamship companies—the White Star, Anchor, Inman, Guion, Transatlantique, Holland and others, and the street became known the world over as "Steamship Row." About 1900 the Government finally decided to buy back the old location for the
THE CUSTOM HOUSE
Custom House, which it did, paying three million dollars for what had been sold for a tenth of that sum. Nevertheless the land which belonged to the Government in its very earliest days, three hundred years ago, has now reverted to its original owner and probably will never again be permitted to go out of its possession.
These foreign companies evidently liked this part of town and clung to it even after the demolition of the "Row." The various offices filtered into the nearby streets, where they are today—State Street, Battery Place and lower Broadway. With the purchase of the Washington Building at No. 1 Broadway by the International Mercantile Marine Co. and the completion of site at No. 25, to be largely occupied by the Cunard Line, this vicinity may be safely regarded as the headquarters of the Transatlantic trade for some years to come.
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