New York’s Windows to the Past

Tuesday, 1st December 2009 by

Ah, New York City… it can easily be thought of as one of the busiest, most congested places on the planet. Its miles and miles of blacktop are usually covered with thousands of people shuffling furiously from one place to the next. On GSS’s last visit, we came across this poor kid who seemed to buckle under the pressure!

However, nestled deep inside New York’s concrete canyons you can still find a few places that take you back to the past. These buildings were built in a simpler time when things weren’t quite as hectic, and yet they survived as the big city grew up around them.

The oldest building in New York City is the Pieter Claesen Wyckoff House. It’s believed to have been built in 1652. Today it sits in Milton Fidler Park, right between a junkyard and a McDonald’s!

Our next stop is the John Bowne House located in Queens. It was built around 1661 and was the site of a Quaker meeting in 16621. The Bowne family lived in the house until 1945, when they turned it over to the Bowne Historical Society2. Today, the building sits right under the approach path for busy LaGuardia airport, which is less than 2 miles to the west.

The Frederick Van Cortlandt House in the Bronx was built in 1748. The family used the land around the house to establish a grain plantation. The house was also used during the American Revolutionary War. Today, the land has been preserved and converted to a public park, and the house has been a museum since 1897.

Right across the street from Ground Zero sits St. Paul’s Chapel. The chapel was built in 1766 and is the oldest surviving church building in the city of New York3. While recovery efforts were underway after the September 11, 2001 attacks, the chapel served as a place of rest and refuge for recovery workers.

Finally, to give you an idea of how much times have changed over the years, we visit the Mount Vernon Hotel Museum. It was completed in 1799 and was built as a means of “escape” from busy city life. At the time New York City only extended down to 14th street, so this location was actually considered “out in the country” for the city’s residents. Over time, the city grew and the building became a museum in 1933 1939. Today the building sits in New York’s Lenox Hill community, right down the street from the south end of Central Park.

Check Wikipedia for more information about these structures and a full list of the oldest buildings in New York City.

Thanks to Terri.

  1. The house’s owner, John Bowne, was actually arrested at that meeting. 

  2. The house is also said to have been used on the Underground Railroad before the Civil War. 

  3. The chapel survived the Great New York City Fire of 1776. A quarter of NYC burned in the event, including nearby Wall Street.