NYC is a relatively new city compared to others around the world. That said, even New York is hundreds of years old, and several buildings constructed during its early years are still around today. Schools, farmhouses, and even entire neighborhoods from the old days are still easily accessible to those who know of their existence. CitySignal wants you to be in the know too so that you can learn and experience the history of NYC, and the history of the nation as a whole. These buildings tell a story, and that story can be told to you if you’re open to listening to it.
Oldest Building in NYC
The Wyckoff House is the oldest surviving building in New York City. Built in 1652, it was one of the first structures Europeans built on Long Island. However, the Wyckoff House isn’t the only building in NYC with an impressive history! Check out the following list to learn more about the oldest buildings that are still standing in NYC. Many have been converted into commercial properties such as museums and bars so you can check out their history for yourself!
Oldest Buildings in NYC
- Fraunces Tavern: The oldest building and restaurant in Manhattan, Fraunces Tavern has been around 1719. Located at 54 Pearl Street, this tavern has a rich history. Originally a family home, it was quickly turned into a rental home/dance hall in 1737. It was converted into offices for trade in the 1750’s, and turned into a tavern in 1762 by Samuel Fraunces. This tavern soon became a center for revolutionaries like the New York Provincial Congress, which acted as a temporary government during the Revolutionary War, playing an important role in the formation of the nation. Today the property is a museum and tavern.
- Morris-Jumel Mansion: Built in 1765, this mansion in Washington Heights has played an important role in history, and is considered one of the most haunted places in NYC. Built by Roger Morris, who fled the property during the revolution, it was built on a hill that acted as a vantage point for both the American and British Armies during the war. After the war ended, it was the home of Eliza Jumel and her husband Aaron Burr. It was then a tavern for a time before closing its doors. It’s currently a museum, and many people think the ghosts of Jumel and Burr walk the halls of this place.
- St. Paul’s Chapel: Located at 209 Broadway, this is the oldest standing church in Manhattan. Built in 1766, this church is a survivor, staying intact after both the Great Fire of 1776 and the attacks of September 11th. This has earned St. Paul’s the nickname, “The Little Church That Could.” After the revolution, this building became a popular spot for new government officials. George Washington took his Oath of Office here, and the pew he prayed in is still on display in the church to this day.
- Captain Joseph Roe House: Built between 1773 and 1781, this three story federal style house is located in South Street Seaport. This building was used as a family home for most of its life, though it was also used as an illegal boxing venue for a short time. It was also a venue for rat pit killings, an old fashioned gambling and entertainment event that involved a mongoose killing hundreds of rats in a night. Currently the building holds luxury apartments, the owners of which probably don’t know about the rat killings.
- The Wyckoff House: Built in 1652, this is the oldest surviving building in New York City. The building is one of the very first structures Europeans built on Long Island, and it’s genuinely impressive that it has survived this long, especially given its lack of history. It’s gone through several renovations over the years, sure, but it was just a farm and family home for most of its 400 year history. Currently, the house is a museum dedicated to showing people how agriculture worked in the old days, and how agriculture is still important to this very day. It’s worth a visit, so book your trip today!
- The Jan Martense Schenck House: The only building on the list to exist inside a museum, The Jan Martense Schenck House has a long and weird history. Originally built in 1676, this home was originally a farmhouse that received numerous additions and expansions over its lifetime. In 1952, The Brooklyn Museum decided to preserve the house, which was in danger of being demolished while the rest of the city was expanding. The museum deconstructed the building, and used the original wood to resemble it within the museum itself. While it doesn’t look like the original house, it closely resembles what the house would’ve looked like in the 1730’s.
- The Hendrick I. Lott House: This house in Marine Park was built in 1720, and is the oldest colonial Dutch house in Brooklyn. Built by a member of the New York Colonial Assembly, this farmhouse received an addition added by the home’s namesake and was kept intact, as is, since that time. Owned by the Lott family since the 1700’s, this home holds the title for longest continual ownership of a property in NYC. The Lott’s sold the property in 2001. It even once served as a stop for the Underground railroad.
- The Stoothoff-Baxter-Kouwenhaven House: Built in 1747, this landmarked building has been moved several times during its long history. It stands as an example of the style of home built by Flemish farmers who settled in the Flatlands of Brooklyn during the early colonial period. While this house hasn’t exactly played a large role in the history of the nation, it’s an interesting look into the past, especially considering that most homes from that era met a much more gruesome fate via fire or demolition.
- The Riker-Lent-Smith Homestead: One of the many hyphenated names in the old house industry of NYC, the Riker-Lent-Smith Homestead and Cemetery was built in 1654. This home is just two years younger than the oldest standing structure in NYC. That said, it does hold the title of oldest NYC structure that’s still used as a family home. Named for the family that named Riker’s Island, the Rikers have lived in the house for a long time. There’s almost no point in history when the house was empty. Though they’ve gone through several renovations, the house has mostly stayed intact, and the owner allows tours throughout the home every once in a while.
- The Onderdonk House: This home is the oldest Dutch colonial style house in the city. It was built in 1661 in Ridgewood, The home underwent major renovations in 1709. The building rests right on the border of Brooklyn and Queens, and was even part of a border dispute between the two boroughs in 1769. The House now acts as a museum, which seems to be the trend of these older homes. The museum examines life in the colonial era, before the US was an independent nation.
- The John Bowne House: Another home built in 1661, this house played an important role in establishing the United States as a nation grounded in religious freedom, and even advocated for racial freedom in a time when doing so was dangerous. John Bowne, the home’s builder and original owner, was arrested for hosting Quaker meetings. His great grandson, Robert Bowne, followed in John’s footsteps. Robert was an avid abolitionist, and used the house to hold meetings with other abolitionists including Alexander Hamilton. The home eventually became a stop on the underground railroad. Today, the house is a museum that has been in business for more than 70 years.
- The Van Cortlandt House: The oldest structure in The Bronx, this stately manor now serves as a very popular museum. It played a major role during the Revolutionary War, used by George Washington as a temporary base of operations during several major battles. Afterwards, the house was used by the Van Cortlandt family until it was sold to the city in the late 1800’s. It was almost immediately turned into a museum, and is one of the most popular attractions in The Bronx.
- The Valentine-Varian House: The oldest surviving farmhouse in The Bronx, The Valentine-Varian House was built in 1758. During the Revolutionary War, it was used as a boarding house for troops of various armies depending on who was controlling the land when. The house was moved in 1965, which is pretty common when it comes to old buildings in NYC. What’s uncommon is the fact that it took a dolly with 48 wheels to move the structure. Being old and made of stone, the home was difficult to move without being damaged. Now, the house is a museum that’s run by the Museum of Bronx History.
- The Edgar Allan Poe Cottage: One of the younger buildings on this “old buildings” list, The Edgar Allan Poe Cottage was the last home of the poet before he died. Built in 1812, Poe wasn’t the first owner of the home. He moved into the house with his wife and mother-in-law in the 1840’s. Though it was his last residence, he still worked a lot during his time there, even completing his famous work, The Bells, in the home. The building is now a small museum dedicated to the writer and his time in The Bronx.
- The Billiou-Stillwell-Perine House: I promise I’m not making up these hyphenated names. That said, the Billiou-Stillwell-Perine House is the oldest house on Staten Island. Built in 1662, this is the third oldest house in NYC, and was occupied by the British during the Revolution, as many old homes were. Other than that, the house has been just that, a family home that has been on Richmond Road for more than 300 years, an impressive amount of time for any building. Currently, the building is neither a home or museum, but is open to the public on special occasions.
- The Britton Cottage: Built in 1670, this cottage is part of an interesting museum/historic town. The original location was on a beach in Staten Island, but now it resides in The Historic Richmond Town, a museum village with a bunch of historic Staten Island homes. The house played a major role in the governance of Staten Island, being home to many of the island’s officials including the original town clerk. The originator of the New York Botanical Garden lived there too. Overall, this structure housed many of New York’s most important people, which is likely why it’s still standing to this day.
NYC might be a young city, but it’s one that’s had a lot happen in that short time. It’s telling that many of the surviving structures of the city are farmhouses and taverns. These locations helped shape America, and many of them have been turned into museums that detail that shaping. They tell a story of our past, while also giving us a glimpse of it. These structures provide a rare opportunity to know what life was like before the modern era. Lucky for us, most of these places are open to the public. So get some friends and check them out for yourselves. You’ll learn a lot, and experience what NYC was like before it become the most iconic city on Earth.
Russell is a writer and comic based in New York City. His plays have been featured at Penn State’s Cultural Conversation’s Festival, The NYC Thespis Festival, and Imaginarium’s Inaugural Theater Festival. Follow him on TikTok and Instagram @pooleparty528