History Tour of NYC
April 2, 2018 6:24 AM   Subscribe

My oldest friend recently asked, "do you want to go with me on a history tour of New York City?" and I said "YES." Before our trip next weekend we each have the assignment of identifying historical things to do on three days: Brooklyn Day, Downtown Day, Uptown Day.

We have both been to New York many times. I've been to the major art and history museums (including Tenement Museum, Museum of the City of New York, Morgan Library, Cooper Hewitt).

We're really looking for off the beaten path type things that are interesting and history-focused. (History means any time period, up to and including the last several years; no restrictions here). The sights don't have to be an hours-long endeavor; quick stops are fine. We are both least familiar with Brooklyn so ideas there would be especially welcome. Any suggestions?
posted by something something to Travel & Transportation around New York, NY (26 answers total) 27 users marked this as a favorite
Brooklyn's Green-Wood Cemetery is huge, beautiful, and full of historically interesting dead people. The Morbid Anatomy Museum has an exhibit there!
posted by moonmilk at 6:32 AM on April 2, 2018 [3 favorites]

Coney Island Museum!
posted by moonmilk at 6:37 AM on April 2, 2018 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Governor's Island
posted by exogenous at 6:50 AM on April 2, 2018

Governors' Island won't be open next weekend, just FYI (which is a pity, as it'd be perfect).

The Transit Museum in Brooklyn was surprisingly fascinating, and is also quick and cheap (and is very close to the Brooklyn Historical Society as well).

The Brooklyn Museum has either a restored farmhouse from Colonial Brooklyn (or a recreation, I can't remember), and the musuem has free hours on the first Saturday night of every month - just in time for your weekend.

In Prospect Park, there is a historic house that's been turned into a kid-friendly hands-on living-history kind of place. There's a tour that grants you access to the second floor, as well.

If you REALLY want to go far afield, there is a cool historic house/landmark at the extreme southwest end of Staten Island, that was the site of an early attempt at a peace conference to end the Revolutionary War (at terms that would have negatively impacted the Colonies). It's a free guided tour, but the volunteer I got was seriously fun and lively and I learned a lot.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 7:03 AM on April 2, 2018 [4 favorites]

Thank you for this!

I'm going for my birthday and our 10th wedding anniversary in October. Aside from Museum of Moving Image and a broadway thing, we're wide open and still trying to figure out where to stay, how long to stay and generally trying to not overplan. This is gonna be a treasure trove o' idears.
posted by DigDoug at 7:21 AM on April 2, 2018

If you're willing to spend some money (about $60 I think) for a really good, 3-hour small group walking tour with tons of fun and interesting historical detail and context, I had a great experience with Context Travel's Walking the Brooklyn Bridge tour. Highly recommended.
posted by Miko at 7:23 AM on April 2, 2018

Oh, the Museum of the Moving Image would be way fun. There is something of an NYC historic element, but mostly it's more focused on filmmaking - and there are historic elements for that as well, but I had more fun with the hands-on technical exhibit (there is a booth where you can try automatic dialogue replacement, where they have a selection of clips from classic movies and you can dub in your own voice over the actor's, and they also have another booth with more clips and a bunch of music samples for you to try scoring clips with other music, stuff like that).
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 7:35 AM on April 2, 2018 [1 favorite]

The High Bridge is a destination for Uptown Day and you can stop for a drink at nearby Coogan's before it becomes history at the end of May. Walking Off the Big Apple blog is a great resource for theme and area self-guided tours.
posted by jointhedance at 7:45 AM on April 2, 2018

Kevin Nash's book Forgotten New York is packed with just these kind of sites, and can be had used for less than $5.
posted by ryanshepard at 7:49 AM on April 2, 2018 [1 favorite]

I love a good historic house, and the Historic House Trust says there are 23 historic houses open to the public in NYC, sprinkled over the 5 boroughs.
posted by Liesl at 7:52 AM on April 2, 2018 [1 favorite]

Weird midtown gem: The General Society of Mechanics & Tradesmen library and lock collection. The historical library isn’t usually open to the public, but I think you can arrange appointments, and if you’re there to see the lock collection or one of the many small historical society offices in that building the guards may give you an impromptu tour. (They have an irresistible slogan too: “By Hammer and Hand All Arts Do Stand!”)

Heartily seconding Green-Wood Cemetery., which has good & offbeat programming. Also, not at all off the beaten path, and not a quick trip, but worth mentioning: Ellis Island is just great.

Sadly, you can’t take a tour of the Atlantic Avenue subway tunnel anymore, but apparently a barrrel-vaulted room off it has been turned into a bar. (Never been there myself.)

If you’re someone who goes to Quaker meeting, the meeting house in Flushing is of some historical interest--it's been in use for 300+ years.

The Museum at the Eldridge Street Synagogue is terrific. Lots of Lower East Side history, not just the history of the (amazing) building itself.
posted by miles per flower at 8:28 AM on April 2, 2018 [2 favorites]

If you have any interest is seeing places that have appeared in innumerable movies, I think Grand Central Terminal, Washington Square Park, and the United Nations lead the list.
posted by SemiSalt at 8:44 AM on April 2, 2018

Best answer: Lets talk Uptown!

You can see Alexander Hamilton's grave in the Trinity Church Cemetery at 155 & Broadway. Saunter down Broadway to City College. Walk though Columbia University on 116th street then see the stunning view of Harlem on Morningside Heights (keep walking east on 116 until you see a 100ft drop. Stop there). Finally, take in the world's largest Gothic Cathedral, St. John the Divine. (if you do this on Sunday you can end with a sung vespers and organ mediation in the early evening)
posted by shothotbot at 9:37 AM on April 2, 2018 [2 favorites]

Best answer: If you want some pre-trip entertainment, you could check out the Bowery Boys podcast. Their podcast covers the history of New York's buildings, neighborhoods, people, and the stories that surround them.
posted by golden at 9:48 AM on April 2, 2018 [1 favorite]

(psst shothotbot, A.Ham is buried at Trinity Churchyard at the intersection of Broadway and Wall St. downstown. Lots of other fine people buried at the expansion site at 155 and Broadway, though.)
posted by Liesl at 9:53 AM on April 2, 2018

You can see Alexander Hamilton's grave in the Trinity Church Cemetery

Wrong Trinity Church Cemetery--A.Ham. is buried downtown, on Broadway.
posted by praemunire at 10:47 AM on April 2, 2018

If you have time, the Weeksville Society in Crown Heights, Brooklyn offers $8 tours of historic homes owned by members of a free Black community founded before the Civil War.

Also, Speed Levitch (who you may know from Waking Life or The Cruise) offers walking tours in Manhattan. His Greenwich Village tour is excellent and I've heard great things about his Rush Hour tour too. His tours are pricey, but if you can swing it, they're wonderful.
posted by juliaem at 1:05 PM on April 2, 2018 [2 favorites]

I recommend the Tenement Museum on the Lower East side of Manhattan.
edit: I missed the read more, sorry
posted by Warmdarksky at 3:48 PM on April 2, 2018

The Morris Jumel Mansion is lovely and has a great tour, but is sadly closed for repairs at the moment. But I figured it was still worth a mention depending on when your trip is - hopefully it'll open up soon!
posted by Neely O'Hara at 3:58 PM on April 2, 2018

Best answer: Downtown: check out the site of the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire.
posted by lunasol at 4:14 PM on April 2, 2018

While you can't see Alexander Hamilton's grave in Hamilton Heights uptown, you can visit Hamilton Grange in St. Nicholas Park at 141st Street. Keep walking down Convent Ave for the lovely arched entrance to the City College quad.
posted by siouxsiesmith at 4:33 PM on April 2, 2018

Downtown: check out the site of the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire.

It's just an NYU classroom building now. I don't think there's anything there but a plaque.
posted by praemunire at 9:53 AM on April 3, 2018 [1 favorite]

If you’re visiting Trinity Church downtown, you’re just a block or so from Federal Hall, which is worth a look.
posted by LizardBreath at 10:41 AM on April 3, 2018

The High Bridge is a destination for Uptown Day and you can stop for a drink at nearby Coogan's before it becomes history at the end of May. Walking Off the Big Apple blog is a great resource for theme and area self-guided tours.

HighBridge and the adjacent Brush Stairs are still great especially if you like MLB history, but Coogan's isn't closing.
posted by TravellingCari at 9:12 AM on April 5, 2018

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