A RAMBLE DOWN WALL STREET since the Dutch Built a Wooden Wall Here in 1653, Wall Street Has Remained an Avenue of Dreams, Schemes, and Riches. but the Scene Changes. in Post-'80S Austerity, 'Limousines That Used to Be Parked Up and Down the Street' Are Gone, One Veteran Says

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WALL Street - the financial center of the United States - is hard to miss. Perhaps the most famous single roadway in the North America, Wall Street runs perpendicular to Broadway, which was an old Indian trail.

Today, Wall Street is a canyon of skyscrapers that juts directly across lower Manhattan to the East River. It is among the most congested streets in Manhattan, says Frank Vardy, a demographer for New York's city planning department. With three subway stops in a two-block area, Wall Street is "crowded" by definition, Mr. Vardy laughs.

Dutch Gov. Peter Stuyvesant built a wooden wall here in 1653, protecting his fellow citizens of "Nieuw Amsterdam" from the cows, pesky Indians, and wild Englishmen running around northern Manhattan. It was the Dutch wall that eventually lent its name to the street.

Whether under the early Dutch, the British who followed them, or citizens of today, Wall Street has remained an avenue of dreams, schemes, and riches. But one landmark has almost always been here: Trinity Church, an Episcopal church. Trinity's Gothic facade on the corner of Broadway and Wall was once the tallest in the city. And Trinity's presence seems to underscore the diversity of the street - the mingling of government, commerce, and lofty aspirations.

In the cemetery of Trinity Church are found the burial sites of two secretaries of the US Treasury: Alexander Hamilton (under George Washington) and Albert Gallatin (under Thomas Jefferson). And just down the road, at 28 Wall Street, is Federal Hall, the site where George Washington was inaugurated president in 1789 - when New York, for one shining year, was the capital of the United States.

The current building dates back to 1842. During the financial panic of 1873, the federal government placed Gatling Guns atop the building - just in case a restive populace stormed the street.

Diagonally across from Federal Hall, at the corner of Wall and Broad, is the most famous structure on the street: the home of the New York Stock Exchange. With massive Corinthian columns, the building imparts a sense of solidity to the surrounding area.

The original stock exchange, founded in 1792, was a few blocks east. And back in early Dutch days, a canal ran down Broad Street; today, stock traders gather along Broad Street for small-talk while wolfing down sandwich lunches. …