Saturday 21 June 2014

Review: Merchant's House Museum, NYC

The house seen from the back garden
The Secret Victorianist was in New York City the other week and visited the Merchant’s House Museum – a detached house which has remained largely unchanged since it was home to the Tredwell family in the nineteenth century.

Built in 1832, the house (on East Fourth Street, between Layfayette Street and Bowery) was sold to Seabury Tredwell (an NYC merchant) in 1840. He and his wife lived there with their eight children (six girls and two boys), with the youngest daughter Gertrude maintaining the house in near original condition until her death in 1933.

You can still see the original décor and furniture – a dining table, with its extra leaves to extend when the Tredwells entertained, beds which family members were born and died in, bells rang to summon servants. And the museum even has a collection of the family’s clothes. While I was there, several of the family’s wedding dresses were on special display – from a plain empire line gown from the 1810s, to the more full-skirted and highly-decorated styles of the 1840s. Not that weddings were especially plentiful in the Tredwell family – only two daughter and one son of the eight ever married and no direct descendants remain.

Inside the Merchant's House Museum
This aids to the poignancy of the Merchant’s House Museum as a home stuck in a time warp. A recording of a piece from one of the family’s pianoforte exercise books plays on repeat in the front parlour and you feel throughout like you are intruding in somebody’s home. Unlike many of the grand National Trust properties you might visit in the UK, this building is very ordinary, and its former occupants’ lives understandable and relatable. It is all the more important and in some ways interesting for this – but its survival has relied on time, and this family, being unable to move on.

The museum’s continued survival however is not guaranteed. Wrangling over the development of an adjacent property which could affect the House’s structural integrity is ongoing and the staff are noticeably grateful when they see visitors. The Merchant’s House Museum is well worth a visit, giving a wonderful glimpse into the world of nineteenth-century New York for only $10. It’s a chance to duck off the busy streets and step back in time.

The Secret Victorianist is back in London, but will be returning to NYC come September. Do you know any other attractions she should visit? Let me know here, on Facebook or by tweeting @SVictorianist!

The Tredwells' kitchen

No comments:

Post a Comment