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Low Finance: 1905

Low Finance: 1905

New York circa 1905. "U.S. Sub-Treasury (Federal Hall), Wall Street." 8x10 inch dry plate glass negative, Detroit Publishing Company. View full size.

 

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Washington to NY

Ron Chernow writes that our first POTUS had to take a bank loan for travel expenses from Mount Vernon to NYC for his inauguration.

ASHING and UBTREAS

Both would be familiar to anyone who read "By the Waters of Babylon" (1943) by Stephen Vincent Benet. Benet also gifted us with "John Brown's Body," "The Devil and Daniel Webster," "The King of the Cats," and a raft of other prose and poetry from a gentler era when even middlebrow entertainment was pretty highbrow.

UBTREAS

I dimly recall reading a sci-fi short story or novelette back in the '50s in which an Earthling space voyager lands on an unknown world, apparently uninhabited. While examining some ruins, he spies a fallen portico on which is engraved the puzzling name UBTREAS. The story's dénouement reveals that he has experienced some time-warp effect and has landed on a future Earth in which humans no longer signify, and has been examining the ruins of the building featured here.

I can almost hear a studio exec saying a few years later, "Add some monkeys and I'll green-light it right now!"

More History

Note the gouges in the stone beneath the GW statue in the +106 photo, these are likely caused by the shrapnel of the Wall Street anarchist bombing that occurred at 12:01 pm on September 16, 1920.

Tracks #3

The tracks could possibly be for a wheeled car or cart that runs on the tracks to transport heavy sacks of coins, bundles of currency or maybe even bars of gold in or out of the building. Hopefully surrounded by armed guards as it exits the gate.

Tracks

I'd go one more on those tracks: Gold bullion was stored here. That's not light stuff.

Re: Tracks?

My guess would be coal delivery. Perhaps the coal chute was located on the side or back of the building and it was easier to dump it that way than by using a wheelbarrow or some other means. I would also imagine it was less messy, or at least you didn't have to worry about some of it spilling on the ground.

A Site with a Lot of History

This handsome Greek Revival structure, built as the United States Custom House serving the Port of New York, was completed in 1842. Its designers, Ithiel Town and Alexander Jackson Davis, constituted America's first architectural firm. It was intended as a copy of the most famous Greek building of them all, the Parthenon in Athens. And it is, at least in terms of the facade shown here. The rest of the building was a much more creative exercise in architectural design, much of which was changed (and not for the better) by the contractor. The Custom House replaced an earlier structure known by several names. It was originally built as New York's City Hall c. 1700; then it was was remodeled in 1788 to serve as Federal Hall, the "Capitol Building" during New York's brief tenure as our nation's capital. This is the place where George Washington was inaugurated as President in 1789 (hence the statue). The federal government left for Philadelphia in 1790, and the municipal government moved to its new City Hall (the one still in use in City Hall Park) in 1812. It seems that the Custom House facility did not remain here for long, either; it was moved a few blocks east to 55 Wall Street (a building built as the Merchants' Exchange) in 1862.

Tracks?

That's interesting - Looks like railroad or streetcar tracks in the alleyway alongside the building. Wondering for what purpose -- what were they connected to?

GW on Wall Street (+106)

A photo of the text beneath the statue, plus a close-up of POTUS 1. (Both from November 2011.)

A nod to the infirm

In the era of handicap access, we may see the beginnings of it here in the form of sturdy handrails and what look to be non-skid treads installed above the stone steps to the building. Its appearance may skew the aesthetic looks of the steps but the idea is a very good one.

Precursor

The sub-treasuries were predecessors of the federal reserve banks, and among the activities in which they engaged was the distribution of coins and paper money throughout the nation. When the FRBs went "online" at the end of 1914, the sub-treasuries were phased out over the next several years, leaving a trail of handsome structures.

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