Monday, July 23, 2012

MERCHANTS HOUSE MUSEUM: A Bygone Era (c) By Polly Guerin

If the elegant red brick homes that once paved a handsome picture on East Fourth Street could talk today, what tales of Victorian splendor would they reveal? In 1832 those were the days when the street was part of the most fashionable residential section of New York City, the Bond Street area, far uptown one might have said, as old New York settlement was way downtown by the waterfront. Just around the corner, Lafayette Place was lined with the homes of millionaires; the Astors, Delanos, van Warts, Landons and Brevoorts all lived there. In 1859 the celebrated industrialist Peter Cooper would erect his free college, Cooper Union.
SOCIAL MOBILITY Eventually in the wake of social mobility the houses and the socially elite, who had lived there, disappeared and later the area gave way to boutiques, artists’ lofts and galleries. However, one old grand red brick lady, the Merchant’s House Museum, nearly 200 years old stands alone today waiting for visitors to discover the only nineteenth century family home in New York City preserved intact.
THE TREDWELL HOUSE Considered one of the finest surviving Greek Revival row houses in America, it is a wonder that the house survived. For one thing, the Tredwell family who lived there never changed the interior or furnishings and the last descendant Gertrude Tredwell remained there in decaying splendor until her death in 1933. The house became a museum in 1936, founded by George Chapman, a cousin of the family.        
THE TREDWELL Merchant Seabury Tredwell, a partner in Tredwell and Kissam, prosperous importers of English marine hardware, after years of successful trade retired to live off his interest and investments. He paid the builder/owner, Joseph Brewster $18,000 for the house and moved in with his wife Eliza in 1835. With them came their seven children and four English and Irish servants to run the house at top form. Tredwell furnished the house with the finest and costliest of furnishings including pieces by the celebrated cabinetmaker, Duncan Phyfe. Tredwell patronized several workshops and may even have purchased pieces by the English cabinetmaker, John Hewitt who was Phyfe’s rival at the time. 
FASHIONABLE FURNISHINGS The house was decorated in the latest fashion befitting the Tredwell’s financial and social status and it seems no money was spared in creating their elegant home. The house is a treasure trove, important today for its outstanding collection of original furnishings and decorative objects. I especially appreciated the charming 19th century clothing, gowns, bonnets and accessories that the Tredwell women wore in their daily and social engagements which were on display. 
THE MUSEUM’S ENTERTAINMENTS The home must have been a lively house and the formal double parlors, the finest example of Greek revival architecture, were the scene of holiday celebrations, wedding receptions and musical socials. In addition to the magnificent period rooms, like the Tredwell’s, the Museum presents many theatrical performances, musicals, lectures, holiday parties and special events throughout the year. Visiting the museum is almost like stepping back into a time capsule where we can see what it was really like to live in a grand red brick brownstone, a genuine 19th Century New York family home.
THE MERCHANT’S HOUSE MUSEUM is located at 29 East Fourth Street, between Lafayette and the Bowery in New York City. While fashion changed during Tredwell’s lifetime he did not and there were no alterations made to the East 4th Street house. After his death, the family updated the parlor with the addition of a few up-to-date Victorian upholstered pieces. Otherwise as his daughter, Gertrude would say, it was left “as papa wanted it.” This rare museum treasure deserves to be put on your sightseeing agenda.

1 comment:

  1. Very effective stylization of the attractive woman, absorbed in her sewing. Nice flowing purple cloth leading into the
    distance. Quite different, and somehow the same, as this woman resting from her sewing in a sunny garden, painted
    by American impressionist artist Frederick Carl Frieseke, The painting can be seen at, and ordered as a canvas print.



About Me

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Polly Guerin is an author/poet with four textbooks and 2 video productions as credentials as well as 4 books ready to be published. All my blogs are intended to become the basis for books to be published. PollyTalk From New York (c) is a current events blog about happenings in New York City. I have been PollyTalk columnist on the Internet, Big Apple News Network. AmazingArtDecoDivas blog features amazing women of notable character. I am on the board of the Art Deco Society of New York. The Fashion Historian blog gives pertinent insight into Polly's consummate knowledge about fashion history. Former professor at the Fashion Institute of Technology. Awaken Your Sleeping Beauty blog gives you pertinent information about holistic remedies for health, beauty, mind, body and spirit. I am on the board of the Edgar Cayce New York Center. I sing with the St. George's Choral Society and also serve on their Board. My little dog Colby is a rescue dog and I support animal charities. I hope you enjoy my blogs, please keep in touch.