Washington, D.C. is the seat of the U.S. national government, but it doesn’t have a monopoly on the country’s presidential history. Believe it or not, New York City is quite presidential if you look beyond the rats and the shoebox apartments. Keep reading and I’ll prove it to you!
New York City was the first capital of the United States.
For one glorious year (1789 – 1790), NYC was the country’s government headquarters. That was until Alexander Hamilton allowed that honor to be traded away to Philadelphia and then to DC in exchange for the creation of a national bank (or at least, that’s how the story goes in Hamilton: An American Musical). There’s not much around NYC to commemorate our short stint as the capital, but if you visit City Hall, you might catch a few references to that honorable time.
So far, only two presidents have been born in NYC (Theodore Roosevelt and Donald Trump), but several presidents have lived here at some point in their lives.
The list is quite long, so brace yourself: George Washington, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, Ulysses S. Grant, Chester A. Arthur, Herbert Hoover, Franklin D. Roosevelt, John F. Kennedy, Dwight D. Eisenhower, Richard Nixon, George H.W. Bush, and Barack Obama have all called NYC home.
Every president from Herbert Hoover to Barack Obama has stayed at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel.
For a $10,000-a-night price tag, the president gets a floor with three bedrooms and three bathrooms, all decked out in Georgian furniture. Add historical memorabilia like JFK’s rocking chair and General MacArthur’s desk and it’s like they’ve never left the White House.
If you think it’s hard for you to find a place to live in NYC, some former presidents have had it even harder.
After resigning from office, disgraced president Richard Nixon submitted an application to buy a penthouse in a co-op at 19 East 72nd Street and was promptly rejected. (No brainer why.) He then exiled himself to a townhouse at 142 East 65th Street. Not too shabby.
Many presidents have rested their heads in NYC but only one has made the city his final resting place.
Although Ulysses S. Grant lived in Manhattan after his presidency, it wasn’t a no-brainer that the city would forever host his remains. You would think the Ohio-born Civil War hero would be buried at Arlington Cemetery or at least in his hometown of Point Pleasant, but Grant explicitly wanted to be buried with his wife, a request that military cemeteries can’t honor. New York City, on the other hand, was more than willing to accommodate Grant’s wish, and constructed the most presidential of mausoleums on land that is today part of Riverside Park.
Here are presidential places in NYC that you can still visit (not accounting for pandemic restrictions):
- Federal Hall where Washington took the oath of office
- St. Paul’s Chapel where Washington has a pew
- Fraunces Tavern where Washington ordered takeout
- Cooper Union’s Great Hall where Abraham Lincoln won over New York with a speech
- This grocery store that used to be Chester Arthur’s home and where he took the oath of office
- Teddy Roosevelt’s home in Gramercy Park
- The Roosevelt Institute where FDR lived with his mother and his wife
- Grant’s Tomb
- Four Freedoms Park on Roosevelt Island
- Brooklyn’s Grand Army Plaza where you can gaze at sculptures that honor Abe Lincoln, Ulysses S. Grant, and JFK all within a few hundred feet
- Trump Tower or any of the number of buildings he’s put his name on (if you’re into that ¯\_(ツ)_/¯)
So now that you’ve got an intro to NYC’s presidential history, which presidential site will you explore first? Let me know in the comment section.
But before you go, if you like what I do here at Shiloh in the City and want to continue getting to know New York’s history, culture, and things to do with me, sign up for my email list and follow me on social media. Thanks for reading!