Historic Sites and Buildings
This park, a complex of historic structures in the old part of Philadelphia, is not only preeminent among the sites associated with the signers of the Constitution, but also notably commemorates other major aspects of the Nation's founding and initial growth. These include meetings of the First and Second Continental Congresses; adoption and signing of the Declaration of Independence, which marked the creation of the United States; and the labors of the Constitutional Convention of 1787, which perpetuated it. As historian Carl Van Doren has said: "On account of the Declaration of Independence, [Independence Hall] is a shrine honored wherever the rights of man are honored. On account of the Constitution, it is a shrine cherished wherever the principles of self-government on a federal scale are cherished."
Independence Hall, the nucleus of the park, was originally the State House for the Province of Pennsylvania. In 1729 the provincial assembly set aside funds for the building, designed by lawyer Andrew Hamilton. Three years later, construction began under the supervision of master carpenter Edmund Wooley. In 1736 the assembly moved into the statehouse, which was not fully completed until 1756.
As American opposition to British colonial policies mounted, Philadelphia became a center of organized protest. To decide on a unified course of action, in 1774 the First Continental Congress met in newly finished Carpenters' Hall, whose erection the Carpenters' Company of Philadelphia had begun 4 years earlier. In 1775 the Second Continental Congress, taking over the east room of the ground floor of the statehouse from the Pennsylvania assembly, moved from protest to resistance. Warfare had already begun in Massachusetts. Congress created an Army and appointed George Washington as commander in chief. Yet the final break with the Crown had not come; not until a year later would independence be declared.
The Declaration of Independence was adopted on July 4, 1776. Four days later, in Independence Square, it was first read publicly, to the citizens of Philadelphia. In a formal ceremony on August 2, about 50 of the 56 signers affixed their signatures to the Declaration; the others apparently did so later.
Long, hard years of war ensued. In the late autumn and winter of 1776-77, the British threatened Philadelphia and Congress temporarily moved to Baltimore. Again in the fall of 1777 it departed from Philadelphia, this time for York, Pa. During the British occupation of Philadelphia that winter and the next spring, the redcoats used Independence Hall as a barracks and as a hospital for American prisoners. In the summer of 1778 the Government returned. On November 3, 1781, Congress officially received news of Cornwallis' surrender at Yorktown. Independence practically had been won.
Earlier that same year, the Articles of Confederation and Perpetual Union had gone into effect. Under the Confederation, Congress stayed in Philadelphia until 1783, and later met in other cities before settling in City Hall at New York City, in early 1785. In 1787, from May 14 until September 17, the Constitutional Convention held its secret sessions in Independence Hall, in the same chamber in which the Declaration had been adopted and signed. The Constitution was subscribed to on September 17 by 39 of the 55 delegates who attended the Convention. The Pennsylvania legislature later ratified the Constitution in the east room of the second floor of Independence Hall, where it had moved to make first-floor space available for the Convention.
About the same time that Philadelphia became the second Capital (1790-1800) under the Constitution, after the Government had moved from New York City and prior to its relocation to Washington, D.C., Independence Hall acquired three new neighbors in Independence Square: City Hall (1791), on the east; County Court House (1789), on the west; and American Philosophical Society Hall, on the southeast. Beginning in 1790, Congress met in the County Court House (subsequently known as Congress Hall), the Senate in a small chamber on the second floor and the House of Representatives in a larger one on the first. The following year, after sitting for a few days in Independence Hall, the U.S. Supreme Court moved to City Hall. In 1793 George Washington was inaugurated for his second term as President in the Senate chamber of Congress Hall, and 4 years later President Adams took his oath of office in the House chamber.
In 1799 the State government vacated Independence Hall and moved to Lancaster. The next year, the Federal Government relocated to Washington, D.C. The city of Philadelphia then used City Hall and Congress Hall, and various tenants occupied Independence Hall until the city acquired it in 1818. For example, during the period 1802-27 artist Charles Willson Peale operated a museum there. He and his son Rembrandt painted many of the signers of the Constitution and the Declaration as well as the heroes of the War for Independence. These portraits form the core of the park's present collection, which is exhibited in the Second Bank of the United States Building.
Stately and symmetrical Independence Hall, a 2-1/2-story red brick structure that has been carefully restored, is the most beautiful 18th-century public building of Georgian style surviving in the United States. The tall belltower, which had deteriorated and been replaced in 1781 by a low pyramidal roof and spire and then been reconstructed along the original lines in 1828 by architect William Strickland, dominates the south facade. Smaller two-story, hip-roofed, brick wings, erected in 1736 and 1739 and restored in 1897-98, one of which serves as a park information center, are connected to the main building by arcades.
The interior focus of interest in Independence Hall is the Assembly Room, the eastern one on the first floor. Probably no other room in the United States has been the scene of such political courage and wisdom. In this chamber, the Continental Congress and the Constitutional Convention formulated and signed the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. The room is about 40 feet square and 20 feet high. Twin segmental-arched fireplaces along the east wall flank the speaker's dais. Massive fluted pilasters raised on pedestals adorn the paneled east wall. The other three walls are plastered. A heavy Roman Doric entablature borders the plaster ceiling. The room and the furniture arrangement at the time of the Continental Congress have been duplicated. The only original furnishings are the "Rising Sun" chair and the silver inkstand with quill box and shaker used by the signers of the Declaration and the Constitution.
The other large room on the ground floor, where the U.S. Supreme Court held sessions for a few days in 1791 and again in August 1796, housed the supreme court of Pennsylvania and later other State and local courts. The paneled walls are decorated with massive fluted pilasters of the Roman Doric order. The central hail between this room and the Assembly Room is richly adorned with a Roman Doric order of columns and entablature, fully membered. On the second floor are the Long Room, Governor's Council Chamber, and Committee Room. These are furnished to represent the activities of the Pennsylvania legislature and government prior to 1775.
The Liberty Bell, a worldwide emblem of freedom is displayed in a special pavilion on Independence Mall across Chestnut Street from Independence Hall. The source of the 2,080-pound bell's name is the "Proclaim Liberty" inscription, engraved on it to commemorate the 50th anniversary of William Penn's Charter of Privileges (1701). In 1750 the Pennsylvania assembly authorized erection of the Independence Hall belltower, and the next year ordered a bell from England. After it arrived in 1752, it was cracked during testing and was twice recast by local workmen. As the official statehouse bell, it was rung on important public occasions. In 1777, before the British occupied Philadelphia, the Government moved it temporarily to Allentown, Pa. Traditionally the bell cracked once again, in 1835, while tolling the death of Chief Justice John Marshall.
The exterior appearances of City Hall and Congress Hall have changed little since the 1790's, when many of the signers of the Declaration and Constitution served in the Government. The interior of Congress Hall has been restored and refurnished as the meetingplace of Congress in the 1790's. Exhibits in City Hall describe the activities of the U.S. Supreme Court during the same period of time, and portray Philadelphia life during the late 18th century. Carpenters' Hall, a block east of Independence Square, is still owned and operated by the Carpenters' Company of Philadelphia. The hall memorializes the First Continental Congress and possesses architectural significance.
The American Philosophical Society, founded in 1743 by Benjamin Franklin and the oldest learned society in the United States, still maintains its headquarters in Philosophical Hall. Its distinguished membership once included 15 of the signers of the Declaration and 18 signers of the Constitution. The society's collections also contain furniture and documents associated with many of these individuals.
In the years 1789-91, the Library Company of Philadelphia (organized in 1731), one of the first public libraries in the United States, erected Library Hall, across from Independence Square on the corner of Library and Fifth Streets. Some of the signers of the Constitution numbered among the members, including company founder Franklin. Library Hall, reconstructed in 1957-58 by the American Philosophical Society, now serves as its library. The Library Company is quartered elsewhere in the city.
In connection with the U.S. Bicentennial commemoration, the National Park Service has rebuilt the Jacob Graff, Jr., House and City Tavern. The 3-1/2-story, brick Graff House, 2 blocks from Independence Hall on the southwest corner of Seventh and Market Streets, was in 1791 the residence of signer of the Constitution James Wilson. Earlier, in 1776, Jefferson roomed there when he drafted the Declaration of Independence. The first floor contains displays; the parlor and bedroom that Jefferson lived in on the second floor have been restored and are furnished with period pieces. City Tavern, at the northwest corner of Walnut and Second Streets, where many members of the Constitutional Convention and Continental Congress and Government officials stayed while in Philadelphia, is furnished and operated as an 18th-century tavern.
At Franklin Court, in the block south of Market Street between Third and Fourth Streets, an underground museum contains exhibits on Benjamin Franklin's life. A steel-framed structure outlines the site of his home (1766-90), whose foundations are visible. The exteriors of five other houses having associations with Franklin, three of which he built and rented out, have also been reconstructed.
The Deshler-Morris House, at 5442 Germantown Avenue in Germantown, part of the park though located 7 miles away, was for short periods in 1793 and 1794, during yellow fever epidemics, the residence of President Washington.
In addition to the preceding buildings, a few sites of structures no longer extant that were associated with the signers of the Constitution have also been identified. These include those of two adjoining homes (1785-90 and 1790-95) of Robert Morris, on the southeast corner of Market and Sixth Streets, in the first of which Washington stayed with Morris during the Constitutional Convention (1787) and which the latter made available as the temporary Presidential mansion (1790-1800) for Washington and John Adams; and the James Wilson home ("Fort Wilson")(1778-90), on the southwest corner of Walnut and Third Streets.
The graves and tombs of five signers of the Constitution are located in the park. The bodies of Broom and Franklin are in Christ Church Burial Ground, at the southeast corner of Fifth and Arch Streets; and those of Butler, Robert Morris, and Wilson in the yard of Christ Church, on Second Street between Church and Filbert Streets. Fitzsimons was interred in the graveyard of St. Mary's Roman Catholic Church, just outside the park on Fourth Street between Locust and Spruce Streets. Ingersoll was also buried near but beyond the park boundaries, in the cemetery of the First Presbyterian Church, at Fourth and Pine.
Buildings and sites in the park that are mainly of interest in other themes of history than that treated in this volume include: the First Bank of the United States; Second Bank of the United States (Old Custom House); New Hall (Marine Corps Museum); Pemberton House (Army-Navy Museum); Philadelphia (Merchants') Exchange; Bishop White House; Todd House; Mikveh Israel Cemetery National Historic Site; and Gloria Dei (Old Swede's) Church National Historic Site.
The structures and properties in 22-acre Independence National Historical Park, most of which are open to the public, include those owned by the city of Philadelphia, but administered by the National Park Service. These consist of Independence Hall, Congress Hall, City Hall, and Independence Square. In recent years, to enhance the setting of the area, the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania has created Independence Mall in the 3 blocks directly north of Independence Hall; the National Park Service administers it.
Federally owned buildings include the First and Second Banks of the United States; the Deshler-Morris House, operated by the Germantown Historical Society; Todd House; Bishop White House; New Hall; Pemberton House; and the Philadelphia Exchange. Among those privately owned buildings whose owners have cooperative agreements with the National Park Service are Carpenters' Hall and Christ Church, both National Historic Landmarks, and Gloria Dei (Old Swede's) Church and Mikveh Israel Cemetery National Historic Sites. The American Philosophical Society holds title to Philosophical Hall, another Landmark and the only privately owned building on the square, but also operates Library Hall, on Federal land.
In 1948, upon recommendation of the Philadelphia National Shrines Park Commission, Congress created Independence National Historical Park. This act specified the Federal Government's role in the commemoration of existing historic sites and buildings and in the acquisition and management of others. The entire undertaking is guided by an advisory commission of distinguished citizens. Many individuals and private and civic organizations have participated in the preservation and beautification efforts.
Last Updated: 29-Jul-2004