Merchant’s House Museum

In honor of St. Patrick’s Day this week, I am visiting three museums with Irish ties: NYC Police Museum, Firefighter Museum, and Merchant’s House Museum.

I zipped out of work early today so I could get a peek at the top floor of the Merchant’s House Museum a.k.a. what Time Out New York called “arguably the oldest intact site of Irish habitation in Manhattan.”

Arriving at the house, I was slightly put off by the jerry-rigged gate fastener and having to ring a bell in order to be let in. Oddly, the orientation area/gift shop is at the back of the house so I walked past several other visitors before being approached by a matronly docent. I payed my fee and was handed a worn 3-ring binder. And heard those three terrible words: self. guided. tour.

Merg. Now, I love a good self guided tour but judging from the hefty binder I carried before me walking down the stairs to the ground floor, this one wasn’t going to meet expectations. Have I become a lazy museum-goer? No. It is just that when confronted with so much text I often end up with my eyes on the guidebook and not one the architecture and objects. I can read at home!

The guide book was written in a casual narrative style that makes me suspect it was initially a script for an audio tour that was too expensive to produce. Seriously, if historic homes do not wish to slap labels on everything then they either need to have a living tour guide walk visitors through the museum like the Theodore Roosevelt Birthplace or they need push-button audio tours like The Frick.

That said, I did enjoy the Merchant’s House Museum although many of the rooms looked shabbier than I expected and several of the objects mentioned in the guide were not there. The ground floor has a family room and kitchen with access to a garden. The first floor has a front and back parlor and the tiny gift shop. The second floor has the master bedrooms.

The upper floors are typically closed off to the public but today, for the first time in the history of the museum/house, visitors were taken to the fourth floor to see the Irish servant’s quarters. A volunteer docent who was very nice (though a little light on historical facts) brought me to the fourth floor past offices and furniture storage to the tiny little servant’s bedroom. After reading the Time Out New York quote, the experience was a little anticlimactic. It was just a little room with peeling walls and a garret window. Two iron bedsteads were set up and a pair of pantaloons was draped over a drying rack near an old metal stove. Irish women slept here.

That is all.

The Merchant’s House Museum
9 East Fourth Street
Open Thurs-Mon, 12-5 pm
Guided Tours Every Friday at 2 p.m. & Monday at 1 p.m.
Admission $10, $5 Seniors & Students
Very nice old house but not particularly stunning. Might be more fun during a guided tour or with a friend who will take turns reading the guide book with you.


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One Comment on “Merchant’s House Museum”

  1. Barbara says:

    That was pretty harsh. I was there too and I thought it was very authentic and delightful. It’s unfair to compare it to the Frick. It just doesn’t have the same kind of funding. It’s an historic house with original furnishings that actually belonged to the family that lived there. You can experience the history in a very intimate way. And that docent on Saturday was terrific!


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