Merchants' Exchange

 

The first structure known as "the Exchange" in New York was built the 17th century. It was a covered marketplace located near the foot of Broad Street. The Royal Exchange was built near the same place in 1752.

A project of erecting a merchants’ exchange in New York City was brought before a committee in the Chamber of Commerce on July 3, 1821, which was approved. The Merchants’ Exchange Company was incorporated on January 27, 1823.

By April 1824, the directors of the Merchants’ Exchange Co. purchased the Thomas Buchanan property in Wall Street, between Hanover and William streets, for the construction of the building. It had a frontage of 114 feet and extended back to Sloat Lane (see Major Holland 1776 map), renamed Exchange Street, in 1825, and Exchange Place in 1827.

Continue below...

 

Merchants' Exchange

 

 

1827 - 1835

 

Old City New York

 

Copyright © Geographic Guide - NYC 19th Century,  Images and History.

 

19th century Wall Street

Merchants' Exchange in the distance.

 

Wall Street 19th century

 

Merchants Room

 

Wall Street fire

 

Wall Street in 19th Century

 

 

Royal Exchange NY

 

Exchange First Building

 

 

Original Merchants' Exchange

The constructed building.

 

The projected Merchants' Exchange, designed by Josiah R. Brady, watercolor by Alexander Jackson Davis, probably 1826. Source: Metropolitan Museum of Art.

 

 

In 1824, the trustees of the Merchants' Exchange decided on illuminating the building with gas and a large light would be placed on the top of the dome to serve as a beacon for ships arriving at the port. H. I. Wyckoff, was the Chairman of the Building Committee.

In April, 1825, carpenters and masons were engaged in tearing down and clearing away the buildings in Wall Street, to make way for the Merchants' Exchange building. The foundation stone was laid in the same month.

Wall Street NYOn December 23, 1825, the Street Committee of the Common Council resolved that the name Slote Lane [Sloat Lane is also used in this petition] be changed to Exchange Street (after the Merchants Exchange Building). This resolution originated from a petition of the owners of properties on Sloat Lane "praying that its name may be changed to that of Exchange Street and that the same be regulated and paved". On May 21, 1827, a petition to change the name of Garden Street, between William St. and Pearl St., to Exchange Place was approved by the Common Council. On September 22, 1828, the Common Council resolved to take measures for opening Exchange Place and continuing it to Wall Street along the south-easterly side of the “Merchants Exchange Buildings.”

On May 1, 1827, the Merchants' Exchange was open for business and the building was completed in July. It was one of the largest edifices in New York City at the time.

The Merchants' Exchange building was designed by Martin Euclid Thompson (1786–1877) with contribution of Josiah R. Brady (ca. 1760–1832) and drawings by the young artist Alexander Jackson Davis (1803-1892), later also a renowned architect. Thompson was a carpenter and builder before becoming a student of New York City architect Joseph R. Brady, an early adopter of the Greek Revival style.

Public RoomThe Merchants' Exchange building stood on the south side of Wall Street with 115 ft of the block front between William and Hanover streets. It had two stories and attic above an elevated basement, and extended 150 ft south to Exchange St., where there was a frontage of 114 ft. The main front on Wall St. was of Westchester marble. The first and second floors were of the Ionic order, from the temple of Minerva Polios, at Priene, in Ionia. A recessed elliptical portico, 40 feet wide, was in front in Wall Street. A screen of four columns and two antae, each 27 feet high and 3 feet 4 inches in diameter above the base, composed of a single block of marble, extended across the foot of the portico, supporting an entablature of six feet in height, on which rested the third floor, making a height of 60 feet from the ground. The principal entrance to the rotunda and exchange room was by a flight of ten or nine marble steps, with a pedestal at each end. On ascending to the portico three doors opened to offices. The vestibule was of the Ionic order, from the little Ionic Temple of Illyssus. The exchange room, which was the rotunda, was 75 ft. long, 55 ft. wide, and 45 ft. high, to which were attached four principal rooms, including the reading-room, in which could be found most of the political and commercial journals of the United States. In the rear of the rotunda, another room was used for auction sales of real estate, shipping, and stocks. To the right of this, after ascending a flight of stairs, the saloon, in which the Board of Brokers assembled daily, presented itself to the spectator. The cupola was 24 feet in diameter. From its most elevated part the entire city could be seen.

The façade on Wall Street projected by the architects, before construction, can be seen above in the drawing by A. J. Davis. The façade of the erected building was slightly different as can be verified in a later drawing by Davis, published in 1828 by A. T. Goodrich.

In June 1826, with the Merchants' Exchange under construction, the post office already occupied a portion of the basement. It also occupied two-thirds of the southeast portion of the building on Exchange Place. Beneath, on each side of the portico, was a passage through the basement story to the post office and Exchange Place. By 1830, the cupola of the of the Merchants' Exchange building was used for a telegraph station, where signals were exchanged with the signal-poles on Staten Island (see wired cityscapes). For that purpose, a pointed structure was added to the cupola.

The Chamber of Commerce held its first meeting, in May, 1827, in its new offices, in the Merchants’ Exchange. Its headquarters remained there until the fire of 1835.

Wall Street 1835The home of the “New York Stock and Exchange Board” was in the Merchants’ Exchange since it ready for occupancy in 1827, until the building burned in 1835.

In February 1829, the architectural firm of Ithiel Town (1784-1844), former partner of Martin Euclid Thompson, and Alexander Jackson Davis (1803-1892) was formed with offices in the Merchants’ Exchange.

Alexander HamiltonThe Merchants' Exchange hired the English sculptor Robert Ball Hughes (1804-1868) to carve a statue of Alexander Hamilton (1755-1804), one of the Founding Fathers of the United States. Hughes arrived in New York in 1829 and began sculpting the marble statue in late 1831, after the single block of Carrara marble arrived. A fund was raised by subscription among merchants.

The intention to install a statue of Hamilton at the Merchants' Exchange existed before the building opened in 1827. By May 1826, a model in miniature of a statue of Hamilton by sculptor N. Gevelot was exhibited in Philadelphia, intended to be submitted to the committee of merchants of the New-York Exchange. On May 20, 1826, the U.S. Congress approved an act authorizing the importation of statues of George Washington and Alexander Hamilton, free of duty.

The Hughes' statue was installed near the center of the rotunda and unveiled by April 1835, with the inscription: Erected to the Memory of Alexander Hamilton, by the Merchants of the City of New York, in the Exchange, in Wall-Street. It was about 15 feet high, including the base. He was represented holding a scroll with hair in the style of the ancient Greeks. The monument was lost eight months later in the fire of December 1835. The illustration on the right from the NYPL, was drawn and engraved by Adams, who claimed it was the correct representation of the statue. It was published on the front page of the New-York Mirror, on October 24, 1835. An article about the statue was published in the New York Commercial Advertiser, on April 20, 1835, which fits the characteristics of the statue of the Adams' drawing.

Great Fire 1835On the night of December 16, 1835, about nine o'clock pm, a fire started in a large warehouse at 25 Merchant Street (now Beaver Street). One hour later, several buildings were engulfed in flames. The fire reached the dome of the Exchange about half-past one o'clock, after having raged in the vicinity for five hours. The basement and the rotunda were covered with goods, which had been carried there for safety, no one imagining that the fire could spread so long. About four o'clock, the dome fell, crashing all beneath it, including the statue of Hamilton.

Wall Street fire 1835On December 21, 1835, the New York Commercial Advertiser reported: "A gallant effort was made to save the statue of Hamilton by a young officer from the navy yard with a party of four or five sailors. They had actually succeeded in removing it from the pedestal, when the danger from the approaching fall of the roof, compelled them to seek safety in flight."

On December 17, 1835, the members of the N. Y. Stock and Exchange Board, which had held its sessions in the Merchants’ Exchange, met at John Warren’s office, and voted to suspend all operations for the week, and appointed a committee to secure rooms. On December 19, the Merchants’ Exchange was held at the Mechanics’ Exchange in Broad Street. The post-office was removed to the Rotunda in Chambers Street.

By 1841, a new Merchants' Exchange building was completed on the same site.

 

Merchants' Exchange