One block north of Hanover Square, Pearl Street bumps into that most famous of New York City  thoroughfares: Wall Street. Before heading west toward the canyon of financial buildings, look right, toward the East River, where the city’s slave market once stood.
Established by the British in the late 1600s to accommodate the Royal African Company’s growing human cargo, this was once the busiest slave market outside of Charleston, South Carolina . In the early 1700s, nearly 20 percent of New York City’s inhabitants were slaves, and it was here they were examined and sold to the highest bidder.
The wall for which Wall Street was named was erected by the Dutch in 1653 to defend the city against an expected attack by the British (Britain and the Netherlands were at war at that time).
If you’ve never seen it before, Wall Street will seem surprisingly narrow, dark, and short. Surrounded by towering edifices that block out the sun most of the day, the street stretches only about a third of a mile before bumping into the lacy, Gothic spires of Trinity Church.
At 55 Wall Street is a landmark building with double tiers of Ionic and Corinthian columns; the Ionic ones were hauled here from Quincy, Massachusetts , by 40 teams of oxen.
At 23 Wall Street is the Morgan Guarantee Trust building, erected by J. P. Morgan in 1913.
Near the western end of Wall Street stands the Federal Hall Memorial (26 Wall St., at Broad St., 212/825-6888), a fine Greek Revival building with a wide set of stairs that make a perfect perch for watching financial whizzes and fellow tourists go by. Beside the stairs is a bronze statue of George Washington, who took his inaugural oath of office here in 1789. Back then, the English City Hall stood on this site, and Washington, dressed in a plain brown suit, spoke to the crowds from the building’s second-story balcony.
Just south of Federal Hall Memorial is an enormous building resembling a Roman temple: the New York Stock Exchange (20 Broad St., 212/656-5168, www.nyse.com ). As a plaque on the building reads, the exchange was founded in 1792 when a group of 24 brokers drew up a trading agreement beneath a buttonwood tree on Wall Street. Ever since 9/11, the Stock Exchange has been closed to visitors; barricades and security personnel guard its entrance.
Trinity Church (Wall St. and Broadway, 212/602-0872, 7 a.m.–6 p.m. Mon.–Fri., 7 a.m.–4 p.m. Sat.–Sun.) is one of the oldest and wealthiest churches in Manhattan . It includes a small museum (free admission) documenting Trinity’s history. Surrounding the church is a pretty cemetery where some of New York’s most illustrious early residents, among them Alexander Hamilton, are buried.
The Federal Reserve Bank of New York (33 Liberty St., between Nassau and Liberty Sts., 212/720-6130, www.nyfed.org ) is a massive, fortresslike structure of dark limestone that fills an entire city block and safeguards a huge pile of gold—over 10,000 tons, worth about $140 billion. Built in the style of an Italian Renaissance palace, the Federal Reserve is a “bank for banks,” where cash reserves are stored. Nearly 80 foreign countries also keep gold bullion here, in vaults five stories underground. As international fortunes change, the bars are simply moved from one country’s pile to the next.
The Federal Reserve’s free tours (9:30 a.m.–2:30 p.m. Mon.–Fri., make reservations at least one week in advance, frbnytours [at] ny [dot] frb [dot] org) include an informative video and a look at the vaults. No one has ever attempted to rob the Fed, but if someone should, the entire building shuts down in 31 seconds.