Can’t get enough of New York City? Neither can we, which is why we spend time at the six museums listed below. Each offers unique objects and fascinating insights about the city—its history, its politics, its ever-changing landscape, even its subway. By Jessica Allen.
Appropriately enough, the oldest museum in New York is dedicated to the city itself. Founded in 1804, the New-York Historical Society “has a mission to explore the richly layered political, cultural and social history of New York City and State.” Recent and current exhibitions examine the early AIDS crisis from multiple perspectives, use photographs, paintings, and other materials to consider the city during World War II, and showcase the 1933 Double Eagle gold coin, arguably one of the world’s rarest.
Since its founding in 1923, the Museum of the City of New York has collected artifacts related to the city, including a suit worn to George Washington’s Inaugural Ball, programs from Yiddish theaters, and maps showing New York in 1695. All told, the museum has about 750,000 costumes, toys, paintings, prints, sculpture, manuscripts, and other objects. Current exhibits explore activism in the city from the 17th century to the present and Brooklyn’s Green-Wood Cemetery, in honor of its 175th anniversary.
New York City has more subway stations than any other city in the world, linked by an extensive network of tracks. It runs 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year. The New York Transit Museum offers these and other fun facts about the ginormous system that gets people where they want to go in the city via bus, ferry, and subway. Among the things to see are old tokens and slugs, signs, posters, turnstiles, switchboards, and ads. You can even walk through, and hang out in, subway cars from years past.
During its time as a tenement, from 1863 to 1935, approximately 7,000 people lived at 97 Orchard Street, on the Lower East Side. Today the Tenement Museum tells their stories via incredibly insightful tours and painstakingly re-created apartments, featuring hundreds of key period details. You might visit the home of Jewish sweatshop workers around the turn of the century, for example, or discover what life was like for an Irish family living there in 1869. What you will certainly see is a significant slice of American history.
We love many things about Queens County Farm Museum, such as its cuddly livestock and charming restored farmhouse, but what we really adore is the sense of history that hits us whenever we set foot on its soil. This is, in fact, the oldest cultivated land in all of New York, dating to 1697. Once upon a time, much of the city was farmland, a fact that’s easy to forget when you’re dodging taxis and admiring skyscrapers. The annual county fair, held in September, includes a corn maize, pig racing, and a pie-eating contest.
Located in a former precinct, the New York City Police Museum features all kinds of memorabilia and artifacts, including criminal cards listing key details like nationality, build, and illegal specialty, guns, handcuffs, old uniforms, and safe-cracking kits. Understandably, the majority of exhibition space memorializes those who’ve fallen in the line of duty and shows how the police force has changed over time. Note: the museum is currently closed due to damage suffered during Hurricane Sandy.