Historic Sites and Buildings
LIKE all the residences and buildings of early periods of U.S. history, those related to the signers of the Constitution have been ravaged by time. War, urbanization, and fire, among other causes, have destroyed every one of the structures associated with 19 of the 39 men. The deleterious effects of weathering, aging, and neglect have damaged many others. Some have been extensively altered, including major revisions in architectural styles.
In addition to these factors, which of course are detrimental to all historic buildings, two special ones have hampered the marking and preserving of signers' sites. Not until modern times has special reverence been bestowed upon many of these individuals, and those who did not enjoy national reputations other than assigners have received little historical recognition. Fortunately, the recent surge of interest in the formative era of our Nation, particularly that generated by the Bicentennial celebration, has spurred preservation and restoration activity.
Many of the surviving structures are of prime importance. Not only do they recreate the settings in which the signers lived and worked and demonstrate their lifestyles, but they also illuminate many aspects of the creation of the Constitution. The most notable survivor is Independence Hall (Independence National Historical Park, Pa.), in which it was conceived, debated, approved, and signed. The National Park Service administers the park in cooperation with the city of Philadelphia and various private agencies.
Three other sites are also in the Park System: George Washington Birthplace National Monument, Va.; Hamilton Grange National Memorial, N.Y.; and Federal Hall National Memorial, N.Y. The latter commemorates the building where the Continental Congress issued the call for the Constitutional Convention, reviewed the completed instrument, and forwarded it to the States for ratification. George Washington was also inaugurated there as the first President under the Constitution.
Nearly half the surviving homes of the signers are owned by private individuals. The rest are owned and maintained principally by States, cities, and diverse nongovernmental institutions, such as patriotic-civic and fraternal organizations, memorial associations, local historical societies, and foundations. Most of these individuals and agencies have ably advanced the cause of historic preservation and restoration.
Extant homes or residences with which the signers were significantly associated have not been located for 19 men, though many of the sites of such places have been marked. In this category are Baldwin, Brearly, Butler, Carroll, Few, Fitzsimons, Franklin, Gorham, Ingersoll, Johnson, McHenry, Mifflin, the two Morrises, Paterson, Charles Cotesworth Pinckney, Sherman, Spaight, and Williamson. Two signers, Bassett and Jenifer, are represented in this volume by structures (Bassett and Peggy Stewart Houses) they owned but in which they probably never resided. Ellerslie plantation was Jenifer's birthplace, but he may not have lived in the existing house, which belonged to his older brother.
The signers have been honored in many other ways than by the preservation and marking of appropriate residences and buildings. The extent and form of such commemoration differ from signer to signer and from State to State. Monuments and memorials range from simple plaques to the Washington Monument, D.C., in the National Park System. Statues of several men are located in the U.S. Capitol. Not only is Madison, Wis., named after the "Father of the Constitution," but the principal streets in the older part of the city also bear the surnames of the men who subscribed to it.
Numerous other cities, notably Washington, D.C., Dayton, Ohio, and Paterson, N.J., as well as the State of Washington, and various counties, schools, and natural features throughout the Nation also recognize specific individuals. Fort McHenry National Monument and Historic Shrine, Md., also in the Park System, honors a Maryland signer.
Last Updated: 29-Jul-2004