Federalist Architecture is one of New York City’s oldest styles and was America’s quintessential architecture from 1785-1830. The style was a throwback to Roman architecture and Greek democracy and it was named after Alexander Hamilton’s political party, The Federalists. Even after Federalist Architecture fell out of popular style, it remained common in government building design. The architecture was inspired by Great Britain’s Georgian style (known as Colonial style on this side of the pond). Federalist architecture is known for its symmetry, square or rectangular shape, brick façades, and is typically 2-3 stories high and 2 rooms deep. The interiors of Federalist buildings used round and oval spaces, a breakthrough for the time. Bald eagles and ellipses were a common decoration on these buildings, a few of which we’re still lucky to have in New York City. We hope you will enjoy our downtown tour below where you’ll see some of New York City’s oldest buildings for yourselves!
James Watson House
7 State Street between Pearl and Water Streets
New York, NY 10004
This house dates back to 1793, a time when the entire street would have been covered in Federalist townhouses. It has all the essential features of Federalist Architecture with its brick façade, tall stoop, and subtle trim. Though the original architect is unknown, famous designer John McComb, Jr. renovated the house in 1806, adding a circular porch and Ionic columns carved out of a ship’s masts.
New York City Hall
City Hall Park at Broadway
New York, NY 10007
Famous Federalist architects Joseph François Mangin and John McComb, Jr. collaborated on this iconic building which was constructed from 1803-1812. They designed it in the Federalist style with hints of French Renaissance influence. Note its simple, symmetrical façade, elongated proportions, impressive cupola, and delicate decorations.
New York, NY 10013
The 8 townhouses on Harrison Street were built between 1804 and 1828, but only 31 Harrison Street and 33 Harrison Street are standing where they were originally built. The other 6 homes were moved there in the 1960s from a stretch of Washington Street that no longer exists. The city put the buildings up for sale in the 1970s for between $35,000 – $75,000 (the equivalent of $155,000-$333,000 today) and 27A Harrison Street is currently in contract with an asking price of $5,995,000.
St. John’s Lutheran Church
81 Christopher Street
New York, NY 10014
One of the oldest religious institutions in Greenwich Village, this Federal-style church has its original elegant detailing and domed cupola, as well as the uncanny symmetry common to the time. Built in 1821-1822 for the Eighth Presbyterian Church by an unknown architect, this building is known for its arched windows, decorated frieze, and stone stairs. In 1886, the architects Berg and Clark added Victorian features to the design.
James Brown House
326 Spring Street at Greenwich Street
New York, NY 10013
The modest James Brown House was built by an unknown architect in 1817 to embody the qualities of classic Federalist architecture. It was valued at $2,000, quite a high sum of money at the time. It has a high gambrel roof, brick façade arranged in a Flemish bond, and three windows with accompanying stone sills. The house has seen its share of history, serving as a brewery in the 19th century, a speakeasy with a smuggler’s den during prohibition, and a sailor’s bar. Today, it’s The Ear Inn is a casual bar with a formal place in history. You can learn more about this local institution in our guide to old school businesses that are still thriving.
Bonus: Gracie Mansion
East End Ave & E 88th St
New York, NY 10128
After your tour, jump on the train and head uptown to Gracie Mansion. Built in 1799, the mansion is a two-story, five-bedroom Federalist-style house with three-chimneys. It was meticulously restored during a $7M renovation in 2002. It’s perfect symmetry on the exterior is mirrored in its interior design. Designed either by its builder, Ezra Weeks, or John McComb, Jr. of City Hall, the house was the first home to the Museum of the City of New York and serves as the New York City mayor’s home.