The New-York Historical Society is considered New York’s First Museum. It was established in 1804 by 11 men who had just lived through the American Revolution and saw that “New York’s citizens needed to take decisive action to preserve eyewitness evidence of their own historical moment”. They established the museum to make sure that the accounts and artifacts didn’t fade away with the individuals who had lived through this formative time in our country and city’s history.
The New-York Historical Society predates the founding of the Metropolitan Museum of Art by nearly 70 years and houses art and exhibits from many famous NYC artists, like Gilbert Stuart, Rembrandt Peale, or Thomas Cole. The NYHS has been housed in many buildings, including the Government House (which once was a temporary residence for the President) from 1809 to 1816, until moving into its current building in 1908.
Not only is the New-York Historical Society home to a extensive art museum with an impressive collection of artworks, it also houses a library, children’s museum, and has education programs which serve over 200,000 students a year.
Fun Facts about the New-York Historical Society
- In 2017, it opened the Center for Women’s History, which is the first of its kind within the walls of a major museum.
- The historical society uses an archaic spelling of the city – hyphenating New-York was popular when the institution was founded and they haven’t changed the title to this day.
- In the 1970’s and 80’s, the N-YHS was so short on cash that they closed to the public until 1995.
Does two museums, a library, and a women’s history center seem like a lot to cover? Let us do the work for you! Bring your team to learn about the role New York played in the American Revolution and beyond.
Guide to the New-York Historical Society
5 Things to See at the New-York Historical Society
The Wooden Leg of Gouverneur Morris
This wooden and metal prosthetic leg was worn by Founding Father Gouverneur Morris after he lost his left leg in a carriage accident at 28. Morris was infamous for his many affairs and rumor has it that he may have even suffered the injuries which required his leg to be amputated after jumping from a window to escape a jealous husband.
Morris had a fraught history with injuries: scalding his right arm and side with boiling water to such a degree that he missed a year of school, and he ultimately died from the injuries and infection he sustained after attempting to unblock a urinary tract infection with a DIY catheter made from a whale bone.
You can’t make this stuff up!
Known as the founder of the Hudson River School, Thomas Cole mostly painted landscapes. Though he was occasionally known to dabble in portraiture.
Many works from the painters in the Hudson River School, and Thomas Cole’s only known self portrait are on display at the New-York Historical Society.
Mayor George B. McClellan at the controls of the first subway train
This photograph captures the first ever subway ride. NYC Mayor George McClellan was excited to be part of this historical moment. So excited in fact, that he drove the whole inaugural ride! (He was supposed to give up controls after ceremonially starting the train from the City Hall Station.)
The somewhat bumpy ride from City Hall Station to 146th Street took them 26 minutes and began a new era of transit in the city.
In addition to this photograph, the original subway handle is on display at the N-YHS museum.
The flagship store for this small coffee chain can be found within the New-York Historical Society. It’s a great place to meet colleagues, hang out, or go get some work done since admission to the museum is not required to enter the shop.
Bonus trivia: Parliament Coffee is served at another one of our favorite museums – the National Gallery of Art in Washington DC!
This film was created for the New-York Historical Society’s Center for Women’s History and shows once an hour in the museum auditorium. Narrated by Meryl Streep and featuring music from Alicia Keys, We Rise documents the 70 year fight for women’s suffrage.
The film was released in time for the 100 year anniversary of women gaining the right to vote in New York State.
Hacks for Visiting the New-York Historical Society
- The museum offers pay-as-you-wish admission from 6-8 pm on Fridays.
- Have little ones? Your museum admission cost covers entrance into the DiMenna Children’s Museum section of the New-York Historical Society too!
- You can register as a researcher and view or check out items from their library’s catalog. More info can be found on their website here: https://nyhs.aeon.atlas-sys.com/aeon/Requesting.html
- The New-York Historical Society offers FREE American history and civics classes, plus other resources to legal immigrants seeking American citizenship through The Citizenship Project.
- Make sure to check their website for current and future exhibitions - they’ve always got cool stuff. At the time of writing, the New-York Historical Society is anticipating a Harry Potter-inspired magic exhibit!
the New-York Historical Society: Frequently Asked Questions & Logistics
Senior/Educator/Active Military $16
Kid (5–13 years old) $6
Kids (4 and under) FREE
Small bags may be carried throughout the museum, but large bags or purses and backpacks must be checked. The museum will not check items of high value (i.e. laptops, wallets, bikes). You can either check your umbrella or place it in a special bag provided by the museum. There are some wheelchairs available by the coat check. They may be reserved by calling 212-873-3400 ext. 369
Phone Number: 212-873-3400
Address: 170 Central Park West (at 77th Street) New York, NY 10024
Dining in the NYHS
Visit Storico for lunch or dinner (plus wine!) on Tuesdays through Fridays from 11:30am – 2:30 pm for lunch and 5:00-10:00 pm for dinner. And Saturdays from 11:00am-4:00pm for brunch and from 5:30-10:00 pm for dinner or Sunday, 11:00am-4:00pm for brunch.
More in the mood for coffee and/or breakfast? Check out Parliament Espresso and Coffee Bar from 7:30am-6pm Monday through Saturday or 10am-6pm on Sundays.
Tues-Thurs & Sat – 10a-6p
Fri – 10a-8p
Sun – 11a-5p
Closed on Mondays
Be sure to check the New-York Historical Society’s website for holiday closure and other updates, as well as the hours for the library and children’s museum.
There’s a limited amount of street parking available on 76th Street, 77th Street and Central Park West. Nearby parking garages can be found between Broadway and Amsterdam Avenue.
By subway, take the B or C lines to 81st Street, or the 1 train to 79th Street.
By bus, take the M10 route to 77th Street or the M79 route to 81st Street and Central Park West.
Strollers are allowed in all galleries and there are a limited number available to be checked out in the museum.
What’s Allowed Inside
All bags are subject to search. No food is allowed to be brought into the galleries, drinks are allowed in the gallery as long as they have a secure lid. Sketching is allowed in the museum, but with graphite pencil only.
Why We Know So Much About the New-York Historical Society
Our company, Museum Hack, leads renegade tours of the world’s best museums, including at the New-York Historical Society. Our guides are experts in the obscure, and collectors of amazing hidden stories about the art and museum; many of which the museum staff isn’t allowed to share.
When you come on a tour of the New-York Historical Society with Museum Hack, expect:
- Fun games! Play matchmaker and create love stories for characters from your favorite art.
- A world of gossip. Wooden legs. Affairs. Revolutions. Oh my!
- Subversive stories. What other museum tour would tell you about DIY catheters made from whale bone?!
- Hidden insights. The museum often leaves out the best, most interesting information, no Museum Hack tour would be complete without spilling some crazy secrets.
- Zany photos. We love museum selfies! Art museums always make great backgrounds. We’ll even challenge you to use your camera to complete challenges and play games during the tour.
No matter how many times you’ve visited the New-York Historical Society, we’ll show you the “Un-highlights” you have never seen or heard of before. Bring your team and your insatiable curiosity and experience a side of the museum you’ll never forget. Guaranteed!