Posts Tagged ‘South Street Seaport Museum’

The “counting houses” of Schermerhorn Row

April 24, 2013

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.


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.

“View at New Amsterdam,” 1665

September 5, 2009

If you were sailing up the East River in the mid-1660s and catching your first glimpse of New Amsterdam, this is what you could expect to see. 

Painter Johannes Vingboon depicts the colony as a tidy little Dutch hamlet, complete with row houses, a windmill, and, eerily enough, a gallows right on the shoreline. 

In the 1660s, Peter Stuyvesant was Director-General of New Amsterdam. Life wasn’t easy for the 1,500 souls living here: There were just a handful of muddy main streets and constant skirmishes with the Lenape Indians. But the City Tavern, built in the 1640s, probably made things bearable.

This painting is part of the National Archives of the Netherlands. It’ll be on display—along with other New Amsterdam artwork, maps, and plans—at the South Street Seaport Museum starting September 12.

It’s all part of NY400, a celebration of the 400th anniversary of Henry Hudson’s voyage along the river that now bears his name.