Federal Hall, built in 1700 on Wall Street in New York City’s Financial District as the predecessor to New York City Hall, later served as the first capitol building of the United States of America under the Constitution, and was the site of George Washington’s inauguration as the first President of the United States. It was also where the United States Bill of Rights was introduced in the First Congress. The building was demolished in 1812.
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Federal Hall New York
The Federal Hall National Memorial, usually referred to simply as Federal Hall, is located on Wall Street, and is actually the second building to have been constructed on this site. The original building became the first Capitol of the United States, in 1789, and hosted the first Congress, with George Washington being sworn in as the first President on its steps. Prior to this, it served as the first City Hall, and was the place where the letter to King George III was written, protesting the „taxation without representation“ being experienced in what would later become the United States of America. Despite being redesigned and expanded in 1788, this original building was, however, demolished in 1812 and replaced with the present structure, built in the Neoclassical style.
The present building originally served as the US Custom House for the Port of New York, and later was part of the sub-Treasury. It was never known as Federal Hall during this time; that name would be given later by the National Park Service when it was designated a National Memorial. This designation was awarded in 1955, and only ten years later it would also be listed as a landmark by the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission.
It took over a decade to complete construction of the present building, and it opened as the first purpose-built Custom House in 1842. Made primarily of marble, it is one of the best examples of the Neoclassical style still existing in New York City. In order to really appreciate the architecture, which is also described as Greek Revival, 3D building models can be used. Instantly download them now to explore the Doric columns and domed ceiling, reminiscent of Rome’s Pantheon, up close.
Like many public institutions in the United States, it is free to visit the building and its exhibit galleries, which include part of the railing and balcony where George Washington was sworn in as President, and also the copy of the Bible used during his inauguration. However, as it is one of the most important places in US history, it can be extremely busy, which means that you might not be able to see everything you wanted, especially if the design of the building itself is what you are interested in.
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Later, in 1842, the Federal Hall National Memorial was built as the United States Custom House, on the site of the old Federal Hall, and later served as a sub-Treasury building. It is now operated by the National Park Service as a national memorial commemorating the historic events that occurred there.
The original structure on the site was built as New York’s City Hall in 1700. In 1735, John Peter Zenger, an American newspaper publisher, was arrested for committing libel against the British royal governor and was imprisoned and tried there. His acquittal on the grounds that the material he had printed was true established the freedom of the press as it was later defined in the Bill of Rights.
In October 1765, delegates from nine of the 13 colonies met as the Stamp Act Congress in response to the levying of the Stamp Act by the P of Great Britain. Drawn together for the first time in organized opposition to British policy, the attendees drafted a message to King George III, the House of Lords, and the House of Commons, claiming entitlement to the same rights as the residents of Britain and protesting the colonies‘ ‚taxation without representation‘.
After the American Revolution, the City Hall served as the meeting place for the Congress of the United States under the Articles of Confederation, from 1785 until 1789. Acts adopted here included the Northwest Ordinance, which set up what would later become the states of Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Michigan and Wisconsin, but more fundamentally prohibited slavery in these future states.
Archibald Robertson’s View up Wall Street with City Hall (Federal Hall) and Trinity Church, New York City, from around 1798
In 1788 the building was remodeled and enlarged under the direction of Pierre Charles L’Enfant, who was later selected by President George Washington to design the capital city on the Potomac River. This was the first example of Federal Style architecture in the United States. It was renamed Federal Hall when it became the first Capitol of the United States under the Constitution in 1789. The 1st United States Congress met there on March 4, 1789, to establish the new federal government, and the first thing they did was count the votes that elected George Washington as the first President of the United States. He was inaugurated on the balcony of the building on April 30, 1789.
Many of the most important legislative actions in the United States occurred with the 1st Congress at Federal Hall. Foremost was the proposal and initial ratification of the Bill of Rights to the U.S. Constitution; twelve amendments to the Constitution were initially drafted (ten were later adopted), and on September 25, 1789, the United States Bill of Rights was proposed in Federal Hall, establishing the freedoms claimed by the Stamp Act Congress on the same site 24 years earlier. Also, the Judiciary Act of 1789 was enacted in the building which set up the United States federal court system which is still in use today.