Visiting the Rise of Wall Street

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If there is one thing I have learned from working in Lower Manhattan, it is that the area is constantly changing. I rarely turn a corner without discovering a new shop or restaurant or a high-rise construction site. So it seems only fitting that the latest exhibition at the Skyscraper Museum would be entitled The Rise of Wall Street.

The exhibition traces the illustrious history of one narrow street in New York City and follows the rise of the skyscrapers along it. But it also touches on the evolution of the skyscraper throughout Manhattan and the world. One section focuses on green initiatives in modern towers. And visitors also learn how modern skyscrapers can reach thousands of feet into the air without collapsing.

The physical layout of the exhibition is impressive. Large columns with posters of Wall Street skyscrapers stretch up to a mirrored ceiling, and as I wandered in between them, it seemed as if I was actually standing on Wall Street, staring up at its skyscrapers as they reached into an endless gray sky.

One of the most interesting things I learned was how Wall Street got its name. Before industrialization, a stockade ran along Wall Street, separating New Amsterdam from the rest of Manhattan. The original structure—made of simple picket and plank fencing—was meant to protect the Dutch settlement from English colonial forces. In 1653, Peter Stuyvesant led an effort to build a stronger structure. They erected a 12-foot wall that could also protect the settlement from various Native American tribes. Thirty years later, the road that ran along the stockade was named—sensibly enough—Wall Street.

After my museum visit, I took my own tour of the real Wall Street, just a few blocks away. It’s amazing to imagine the small buildings that once stood where skyscrapers now loom. The Rise of Wall Street gave me a wonderful appreciation for the transformation that occurred on one particular street in Manhattan over the course of a few hundred years. The Skyscraper Museum at 39 Battery Place is open from 12 to 6 PM Wednesday through Sunday. General admission is $5.