New York Celebrates The Washington Centennial 1889
For the first year and a half while President, George Washington was a New Yorker. Washington took the oath of office in New York City in 1789 and lived at 3 Cherry Street during his Presidency until 1790 when he moved to Philadelphia. Vice -President John Adams lived at 133 Broadway. Congress met in New York and the city was the center of the Federal government.
To celebrate the centennial of George Washington’s inauguration three days of festivities were held in New York City from April 29 – May 1, 1889. Parties were thrown, parades and flotillas passed by, grand fireworks were set off and people from all over the world flocked to the city. During the celebrations hundreds of thousands of people lined the streets and buildings around the city to witness a grand spectacle. All our illustrations are from Harper’s Weekly of May 4 or May 11, 1889
The Washington Triumphal Arch at Washington Square Park in Greenwich Village was designed by architect Stanford White of Mckim, Mead & White. This first arch was a temporary structure made of wood and painted white. An adjoining dynamo providing electric power brilliantly lit the arch at night with lights.
In its April 27 issue, the literary magazine New York Critic suggested that the temporary arch be allowed to stand until a permanent memorial arch to Washington be put up. Within days the a fund drive to raise $100,000 was underway. The Washington Arch of marble which occupies the site today was completed in 1892.
President Benjamin Harrison, the justices of the Supreme Court and the governors of almost every state in the union were among the dignitaries who attended.
Washington was inaugurated April 30, 1789 at Federal Hall on Wall Street. Federal Hall was demolished in 1812 and a Customs House was constructed on the site in 1842. In 1862 the Customs House moved and the building became the Sub-Treasury Building. We see in this illustration President Harrison delivering his Washington centennial speech from a specially constructed podium in front of the building. There were no microphones, so imagine how loud you had to speak to be heard by 10,000 people.
Schoolboys (who look like grown men to me) march down Fifth Avenue past the General Worth obelisk along Madison Square. 60,000 marchers took part in the the Industrial Parade, the concluding festivities of the celebration on May 1. The Industrial Parade noted the growth and prosperity of the United States in the intervening 100 years.
Each state sent representatives to participate in the parade and many states had horse drawn floats. Other civic groups had their own floats and this one featuring Beethoven was by a group representing German-Americans. With the exception of a handful of anarchists, who showed their displeasure with the celebrations by hanging red flags from their windows, almost everyone was proud of Washington and the country.
100 years later in 1989 there was a weekend of celebration for the bicentennial of the Washington inauguration in New York City but it wasn’t quite the same.
As President George H.W. Bush spoke to a crowd from the Sub-Treasury Building, protestors heckled him chanting “60,000 dead of AIDS! Where was George?” and “100 Days and nothing done! What about AIDS?” and tossed leaflets into the air.