MOTHER SETON SHRINE (originally the James Watson House)

7 State Street
1793
attributed to John McComb, Jr.; extension 1806

Originally constructed in 1793 as the elegant private residence of James Watson, a merchant and the first Speaker of the New York State Assembly, the Federal style mansion at 7 State Street is a remarkable survivor from the early period when Lower Manhattan was home to the city’s wealthy and fashionable families. It is also notable for its long association with the history of Roman Catholicism in America.

Elizabeth Ann Bayley (1774-1821), a Staten Island native and religious pioneer who later became the sainted Mother Seton, briefly lived at 8 State Street before an 1803 trip to Italy that resulted in her conversion to Roman Catholicism (in an 1805 ceremony that took place nearby at St. Peter’s R.C. Church on the corner of Church and Barclay streets). In 1884, 7 State Street became home to the Parish of Our Lady of the Rosary to better serve the Irish immigrants; in 1965 it was restored and protected with landmark status and, in the same year, the Classical-Revival style Our Lady of the Rosary church containing a shrine honoring Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton was constructed immediately to the left. The first American citizen to reach official sainthood, Mother Seton was canonized in 1974, on the 200th anniversary of her birth.

To the east of the building was the Leo House, a settlement house founded by the German Catholic Church in 1889 to serve German immigrants. The settlement house moved in 1926 to West 23rd Street in Chelsea. To the right of Mother Seton Shrine sits a skyscraper at 1 State Street Plaza, a building which began the wave of displacement faced by the immigrant community of the area by replacing the tenements and rowhouses that formerly occupied its space. Mother Seton Shrine is a NYC Individual Landmark and listed on the State and National Register of Historic Places.

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