The “counting houses” of Schermerhorn Row

At the very end of Fulton Street, just steps from where trading vessels departed and docked 200 years ago, stand these handsome Flemish bond brick and slate-roof buildings.

You wouldn’t know it from the retailers occupying the ground-floor storefront space, but they make up a slice of early New York history called Schermerhorn Row.

Schermerhornrow

The land beneath them isn’t much older than the buildings themselves.

Constructed¬†on fill between 1811 and 1812 (predating the steam-powered Fulton Ferry!) by merchant Peter Schermerhorn, they served as “counting houses,” or commercial offices, for the new shipping companies that powered the city’s 19th century economy.

Schermerhornrowcloseup“Built as a group like residential row houses, counting houses represent an early phase in the development of commercial architecture in New York when buildings had not yet acquired architectural individuality based on their function,” explains New York Architectural Images.

Like so much of old New York, they’ve changed significantly over the years.¬†“Dormer windows were added later and project from steeply pitched roofs,” the site adds. “Chimneys and party walls were built high to prevent the spread of fire across rooftops.”

After the Civil War, storefronts were carved out of the counting houses and businesses moved in, followed by hotels, then boarding houses.

Rescued from redevelopment by preservation-minded New Yorkers in the 1960s, Schermerhorn Row is now a centerpiece of the South Street Seaport and home to the South Street Seaport Museum.

I love that the chimneys of each building line up a little like smokestacks on an ocean liner.

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