Fraunces Tavern is a landmarked museum and restaurant in the Financial District, located on Pearl Street at the corner of Broad Street. The location served as a headquarters for George Washington, and served a prominent role during the Revolutionary War and beyond as a venue for peace negotiations with the British and housing federal offices in the Early Republic. It has been owned by Sons of the Revolution since 1904, who claim it is Manhattan's oldest surviving building.
The first building at the future site of the Tavern was commissioned in 1671 by New York Mayor Stephanus van Cortlandt, but when he retired to his manor on the Hudson River in 1700, he gave the property to his son-in-law, Etienne "Stephen" DeLancey, a French Huguenot who had married Van Cortlandt's daughter, Anne. DeLancey built the current building as a house in 1719. The small yellow bricks used in its construction were imported from the Dutch Republic and the sizable mansion ranked highly in the province for its quality. His heirs sold the building in 1762 to Samuel Fraunces who converted the home into the popular tavern, first named the Queen's Head.
Before the American Revolution, the building was one of the meeting places of the secret society, the Sons of Liberty. In 1768, the New York Chamber of Commerce was founded by a meeting in the building. When the war was all but won, the building was also the site of "British-American Board of Inquiry" meetings, which negotiated to ensure to American leaders that no "American property" be allowed to leave with British troops. After British troops evacuated New York on Nov. 25th, 1783 the tavern hosted an elaborate "turtle feast" dinner two weeks later, in the building's Long Room for U.S. Gen. George Washington where he bade farewell to his officers of the Continental Army.
In January 1785, New York City became the seat of the Confederation Congress, the nation's central government under the "Articles of Confederation and Perpetual Union." The departments of Foreign Affairs, Finance and War had their offices at Fraunces Tavern.
However, with the ratification of the United States Constitution in March 1789, the Confederation Congress's departments became federal departments, and New York City became the first official national capital. The inauguration of George Washington as first President of the United States took place in April 1789. Under the July 1789 Residence Act, Congress moved the national capital to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania for a 10-year period, while the permanent national capital was under construction in what is now Washington, D.C. The federal departments vacated their offices in the Tavern and moved to Philadelphia in 1790.
The building operated throughout much of the 19th century, but suffered several serious fires beginning in 1832. Having been rebuilt several times, the structure's appearance was changed to the extent that the original building design is not known. In 1900, the tavern was slated for demolition by its owners, who wanted to use the land for a parking lot. A number of organizations, most notably the Daughters of the American Revolution, worked to preserve it, and convinced New York state government leaders to use their power of eminent domain and designate the building as a park (which was the only clause of the municipal ordinances that could be used for protection, as the city's laws were not envisioned at the time for the subject of "historic preservation", then in its infancy).
The temporary designation was later rescinded when the property was acquired in 1904 by the Sons of the Revolution In the State of New York Inc., primarily with funds willed by Frederick Samuel Tallmadge, the grandson of Benjamin Tallmadge, George Washington's chief of intelligence during the Revolution (a plaque depicting Tallmadge remains affixed to the building today). An extensive reconstruction was completed in 1907 under the supervision of early historic preservation architect, William Mersereau.
The building was officially declared a landmark in 1965 by New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission, and the building's block bounded by Pearl Street, Water Street, Broad Street and Coenties Slip was included on November 14, 1978.
Throughout the 20th century, the tavern remained in use by locals, and served as a pub for bankers, financiers, and other professionals that worked in the nearby glass towers of FIDI. However, in 1975 a bomb planted there killed four people and injured more than 50 others. The Puerto Rican extremist nationalist group (FALN) claimed responsibility. As of December 2012 a memorial plaque with some victims' names is hung in the Tavern's large dining room.
After its final restoration, the Tavern is again fully operational. The first floor is home to the restaurant, and the second and third floors house a museum containing nine galleries that focus on art and artifacts relevant to early American and Revolutionary history.