The Middle Dutch Church was built between 1726 and 1731, a vestige of Manhattan’s Dutch Reformed community that traced itself back to New Amsterdam‘s very first house of worship.
In 1776, during the Revolutionary War, the occupying British troops converted the 100 x 70 foot damaged and deteriorating building and its neighboring sugar house into a military prison for unruly rebels. An old Times article estimates up to 8,000 prisoners were held here in those years. “When the victims confined to the Middle Dutch church crawled to the windows begging for food, a sentinel, pistol in hand, would turn back the gifts of the charitable. The whole floor of the Church was one caked mass of dead, dying, excrement and vermin,” “supernatural” conditions that probably echoed throughout the entire city, choked off during the occupation years between 1776 to 1783. The building was eventually emptied, “the planking torn up, tan laid down, and a riding-school established for the recruits of the English riding-horse.”
When the British galloped out of New York entirely in 1783, the beat-up old building sat virtually unused — although Benjamin Franklin may have used the belfry for electricity experiments.
Worship services resumed on July 4, 1790, until the United States government stepped in to lease the property for a post office in 1844. It stayed as a church for 44 years, even as New York’s population migrated north. Finally, under a cloud of debt, the church permanently closed in 1844, with its final service symbolically held in both English and Dutch languages.
With the federal standardization of postal rates in 1845, New York found itself in need of a central post office. So the U.S. government leased the old church — buying it outright in 1861 — and radically transformed the building into New York’s central post office.
The poor building, renovated and stretched thin, could barely process the flow of mail coming through the city by the late 1860s, so a new central post office was built — the odd, greatly loathed City Hall Post Office building.The old Dutch church, now 150 years old, was considered a city treasure, but real estate in downtown Manhattan was now being carved out for skyscrapers. The church of a thousand faces, to the curiosity of “thousands of relic-hunters and citizens,” was finally torn down and replaced with the Mutual Life Insurance Building in 1882.