New York’s Wall Street and the Financial District are the site of the tiny village that became the United State’s biggest city and grew to be one of the most important economic centers in the world. In 1625, a small band of Dutch settlers set up home on Manhattan’s southern tip and established a company town, which they named New Amsterdam, for the Dutch West India Company. Ever since, trade and commerce have been the area’s most important activities, but there is more to the financial district than the capitalist fervor of Wall Street.
One of the oldest churches in America, Trinity Church was established in 1697 by a land grant from King William III. In the early years, the congregation paid an annual rent of one peppercorn to the crown. Its current chapel is in a neo-gothic style and opened in 1846 – the third on its site. When first built, Trinity Church’s 281 foot spire was the tallest structure in New York City. The cemetery surrounding the church contains the graves of several notable Americans such as Alexander Hamilton and Robert Fulton. In 1766, Trinity established St. Paul’s Chapel at what is today the north end of the financial district. As difficult as it is to imagine today, this marked Manhattan’s frontier at the time so St. Paul’s served as the congregation for those who lived in the countryside. Because of its proximity to the World Trade Center, rescue workers used St. Paul’s as a resting place during their heroic efforts at Ground Zero after the attacks of 9/11. An interactive exhibit in the chapel now honors the volunteers’ service.
Before there was Washington, D.C., New York was home to the nation’s first capitol. In Federal Hall, located on Wall Street, some of the most important legislative developments in our nation occurred including the establishment of the federal government and the adoption of the Bill of Rights to the Constitution. Outside the building, a statue of George Washington marks the spot of the first president’s inauguration in 1789. Fraunces Tavern was Washington’s favorite place to dine with friends in New York. You can still grab a drink or a meal at Fraunces Tavern, open since 1762. There is also a museum on the upper floors of the tavern.
Samuel Fraunces first met George Washington at a meeting of the provincial Congress of New York. The two became such friends that Fraunces was made Chief Steward in our first President’s household.
In the early 1800s, two Swiss brothers opened the first restaurant in America as an alternative to taverns like the Fraunces. Delmonico’s is still going strong today, serving delicious steaks to investment bankers who gather there for power lunches. The heart of the financial district has always been Wall Street. The street’s name derives from the 12-foot wall built in 1653 to protect the northern boundary of the area’s settlement.
Traders and speculators began to congregate under a buttonwood tree on Wall Street to conduct their business in the late 18th century. In 1792, their activity was formalized when twenty-four stockbrokers and merchants signed the Buttonwood Agreement which led to the establishment of the New York Stock Exchange. Today, its daily share volume exceeds $5 billion, making it the largest exchange group in the world.
The “Charging Bull” sculpture which faces up Broadway in NYC’s financial district has become the unofficial symbol of Wall Street and may be the most photographed work of public art in the city. The 7,000 pound bronze sculpture by Arturo Di Modica began life as “guerrilla art.” Arturo Di Modica created the piece with no commission or permission and installed it in front of the New York Stock Exchange on December 15, 1989. The illegal sculpture was seized and imponded till public outcry encouraged the New York City Department of Parks and Recreation to re-install it in the Plaza at Bowling Green. The sculpture is said to provide good financial luck to both stock traders and tourists who keep key parts of the artwork well polished with constant hand rubbing.