As part of our special edition programming to celebrate Fraunces Tavern’s 300th birthday, Communications & Marketing Intern, Allie Delyanis, is undertaking an ambitious project: combing the Museum’s archives and conducting her own research from sources outside our walls to catalog every image she can find of the building that houses Fraunces Tavern® Museum at 54 Pearl Street. Since February 2019, Allie has sifted through dozens of photographs, drawings, and newspaper clippings to create a growing digital testament to the building’s history.
In addition to being the Communications & Marketing Intern, Allie is also a working journalist. Inherently curious and trained in the art of research, Allie is not only piecing together the building’s past, but she is also being reminded of how much history itself is “alive” and constantly changing.
Living History at Fraunces Tavern Museum
By Allie Delyanis
April 22, 2019
After weeks of writing captions and editing images in an attempt to build the Museum’s digital archives, I came across this image, pulled from D.T. Valentine’s Manual from 1854. It is purported to be one of the earliest known images of Fraunces Tavern following a fire in 1832. I have discovered, however, that this may not be the case. According to Volume 23 of Harvard University’s Architectural Record (1908), this image isn’t Fraunces Tavern at all. The Record states that the building pictured simply would not have fit on 54 Pearl Street’s original foundation (which was uncovered in 1905 during architect William H. Mersereau’s restoration of building).
I was perplexed; if not Fraunces Tavern, what could this building possibly be? So I rolled up my sleeves and started to dig.
In the theory I propose, Mr. Valentine isn’t that far off in his claim. I believe that building to be the site of Vauxhall Gardens, which sat on what is now the corner of Greenwich and Warren Street, adjacent to the Hudson River, and operated by none other than Samuel Fraunces.
Ever the entrepreneur, Fraunces bought and sold buildings throughout his lifetime, often running one himself and leasing out others. Fraunces purchased 54 Pearl Street from then owner, the merchant firm De Lancey, Robinson & Company in 1762, and opened up a tavern for the first time at this location (then the Queen’s Head Tavern). In 1765, Fraunces leased 54 Pearl Street to John Jones, who renamed it the Free Mason’s Arms and operated it until 1767. Jones then leased the building to two men by the name of Bolton and Sigell in 1766, who ran a tavern and coffeehouse at the site. Fraunces renegotiated the lease with Bolton and Sigell in May of 1770 and returned to operate the Queen’s Head Tavern once again. From 1765 to 1774, Fraunces also operated Vauxhall Gardens, named after London’s iconic gardens of the same name. There, he managed a tavern and a garden of wax figures while the seeds of revolution were sown in the Long Room at 54 Pearl Street.
We live history every day at Fraunces Tavern Museum, especially this year, the 300th anniversary of the construction of the building that the Museum now calls home. Just as we learned last year when it was revealed that the man depicted in the “Samuel Fraunces” painting hanging in our famous Long Room may, in fact, not be Samuel Fraunces, discoveries such as this are a vivid reminder that history lives and breathes alongside us, waiting to be uncovered.
As we continue to develop our programming for the building’s 300th anniversary, keep an eye out as more history is discovered.