Stepping Back in Time at the Merchant’s House Museum

The Merchant's House Museum

A few friends and I were looking to spend a budget day in city last weekend. For less than forty bucks we had a decent Italian lunch, a glass of wine and pleasant trip the Merchant’s House Museum at 29 East 4th Street.

New York’s only fully preserved mid-19th century townhouse, the Merchant’s House Museum gives visitors a peak into the life of New York’s upper-class more than 150 years ago.

Home to merchant Seabury Tredwell, his wife Eliza and their eight children from 1832-1933, the four-story home displays a selection of the family’s nearly 3,000 personal items in the museums collection.  The family’s original furniture, appliances, decor and personal items create a time warp as you step off the street, enter the vestibule and traverse each lavish room just as family and friends. 

The family had an uncanny affection — nearing obsession — for the home. When built, the neighborhood was the pinnacle of class. The family once counted the Astors, Delanos and Van Cortlandts as neighbors. But over time, as the wealthy set moved uptown, the opulent homes were replaced with tenements and factories. Yet the Tredwell’s stayed. Several of the children lived in the home most of their life, including Gertrude, the last surviving sibling.

The Merchant's House Parlor

The home’s Greek revival double parlors

The headline says it all...

The headline says it all…

1906 New York Times article paints a pictures of the home’s last residents: the three remaining unwed Tredwell sisters. 29 East 4th Street was clearly that house in the neighborhood. It’s mysterious, rich inhabitants sparked idle school children and shopgirls to tell stories of the three women who lived their nearly seventy years, “yet no one had ever seen a man enter the old house.”

The home was repurposed as a museum in 1936 by a family cousin, just three years after Gertrude’s death. Certainly Gertrude’s ideal wish for the house, as in her old age she had become fixated on preserving the home “just as Papa wanted.” Her ghost is even said to still lurk through the house.*

Museum volunteer Anthony Bellov’s presents a rich account of the family’s history in his entry in “Old Merchant’s House & Museum Newsletter.”

*Side Note: the House does offer Halloween ghost tours, but I’m hoping they run others throughout the year. I’ll keep an eye on the events calendar and keep you posted.

A Few Recommendations:

  1. Make it time for a guided tour. We arrived too late and were handed a thick binder with descriptions of each room, their purpose and house rituals. Very informative, but a lot to digest, especially if you have kids in your group.
  2. If you do end up doing the self-guided tour give yourself around 90 minutes to get the full effect.
  3. Don’t skip the garden or the servants quarters on the fourth floor!
  4. If you have a student ID, use it. Admission for only 5 dollars.

Getting There:

29 East Fourth Street, between Lafayette Street and the Bowery

Open 12-5pm Thursday-Monday (Group tour available Tuesday & Wednesday)
Guided tour daily at 2pm

$10 General
$5 Students & Seniors (over 65)
Free for Members & Children under 12.