Historic Philadelphia

This exhibit tours historic locations in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, home of Ben Franklin and the U.S. Constitution.

Independence Hall Philadelphia by Herbert GehrLIFE Photo Collection

Philadelphia, “the city of brotherly love,” was founded in 1683 by William Penn (1644–1718), who also founded the colony of Pennsylvania. Like Pennsylvania itself, the new city attracted many members of the Quaker faith to which William Penn belonged. The new city had a number of natural advantages: a safe inland port, easy access by river to agricultural lands in the interior, and easy access by sea to New York, Boston, Charleston, and other seaports. Roads in Britain’s North American colonies improved during the 1700s, making Philadelphia’s central location even more important to American life. Its shipbuilding industry flourished, and many of its merchants did well in the West Indies trade. The city was an important staging area for British troops during the Seven Years War (called the French and Indian War in North America). Because of its size, influence, and central location, Philadelphia also became the center of American government during the American Revolution (1775–1783) and during the early years of the United States. There are many traces in Philadelphia of stirring events from American history. The Independence National Historic Park maintains over 20 museums and other sites that celebrate Philadelphia’s role in American history, including Independence Hall and the Liberty Bell.

Independence Square

Independence Square has been a hub of information since colonial times. This open space lay next to the State House, the main government building, and was surrounded by attorneys, printers, and others who had business with the government. Benjamin Franklin lived nearby and walked through this square on his way to the Pennsylvania Assembly or to meetings of the Library Company and other Philadelphia civic groups. Citizens gathered in here to debate whether Pennsylvania and the other North American colonies should break with Great Britain and, in 1776, to hear the first public reading of the Declaration of Independence. During the unusually hot summer of 1789, the framers of the United States Constitution strolled out to this space when they needed fresh air. Today the square is part of the Independence National Historical Park.

State House (Independence Hall)

Independence Square faces the State House (now called Independence Hall), the birthplace of the United States of America. The building, which was constructed between 1732 and 1756, housed the government of Pennsylvania, which was then a British colony. A generation later, the State House became the center of American resistance to Great Britain. It was in this hall, in 1776, that the nation’s founders signed the Declaration of Independence. In 1789, delegates from thirteen new states met here to craft the United States Constitution.

John Barry Statue

This statue honors John Barry (1745–1803), a hero of the American Revolution who has been called “the father of the American navy.” He was a merchant who owned trading ships. At the start of the Revolution, Barry helped to organize the first Continental fleet. During that war, ships under his command captured over 20 British vessels. After the American victory, Barry returned to merchant shipping and took part in the expanding trade with China. The Naval Act of 1794 called for new American ships, and Barry supervised their construction. In 1797, President George Washington officially presented Barry with Commission Number One in the new United States Navy.

Philosophical Hall

Philosophical Hall, located next to Independence Hall, was built in 1789 to house the American Philosophical Society. Benjamin Franklin and a group of his friends founded the organization in 1743. Their goal was to study “natural philosophy,” which we now call science. In his proposal for the new society, Franklin argued that “. . . Philadelphia, being the city nearest the center of the continent colonies, communicating with all of them northward and southward by post, and with all the islands by sea, and having the advantage of a good growing library, be the centre of the Society.” Today the building contains the American Philosophical Society Museum.

American Philosophical Society Library

The modern building right across the street from Philosophical Hall is the library of the American Philosophical Society. The building is on the site where the Library Company was founded by Benjamin Franklin in 1731. This was the first free library in North America.

Independence Hall

Independence Hall is the birthplace of the United States of America. It was here, in 1776, that the nation’s founders signed the Declaration of Independence. In 1781, Congress drew up the Articles of Confederation, the nation’s first constitution. In 1789, delegates from thirteen new states met here to debate and shape the United States Constitution. This building and the adjoining Congress Hall were the political center of the nation until 1800, when the government of the United States moved to Washington, D.C. Today this building is the focal point of Independence National Historic Park.

Assembly Room

The delegates to the Second Continental Congress and the Constitutional Convention met in the Assembly Room of the Pennsylvania legislature, on the first floor of the State House. Both the Declaration of Independence and the United States Constitution were adopted in this room.

Congress Hall

This building was completed in 1789, to serve as the Philadelphia County Courthouse. It soon became the Capital of the nation. The United States Congress met in this building between 1790 and 1800. The downstairs chamber was for the House of Representatives, and the upstairs assembly room was for the Senate.

The Liberty Bell Center

The Liberty Bell Center is a modern building that allows large numbers of people to view the Liberty Bell, one of the best-known symbols of American freedom. This bell once hung in the tower of the State House, now known as Independence Hall. The bell rang out to announce important news, including the signing of the Declaration of Independence. Later the bell became a symbol of abolition, the movement to end slavery.

National Constitution Center

At the far end of the mall is the National Constitution Center, which inspires active citizenship as the only place where people across America and around the world can come together to learn about, debate, and celebrate the greatest vision of human freedom in history, the U.S. Constitution. A private, nonprofit organization, the Center serves as America’s leading platform for constitutional education and debate, fulfilling its Congressional charter “to disseminate information about the U.S. Constitution on a non-partisan basis.” As the Museum of We the People, the Center brings the Constitution to life for visitors of all ages through interactive programs and exhibits. As America’s Town Hall, the Center brings the leading conservative and liberal thought leaders together to debate the Constitution on all media platforms. As a center for Civic Education, the Center delivers the best educational programs and online resources that inspire, excite, and engage citizens about the U.S. Constitution. For more information, call 215-409-6700 or visit constitutioncenter.org.

American Philosophical Society Library

This modern building is on the site of the Library Company, which was founded in 1731 by Benjamin Franklin and a group of his friends. It was the first free library in North America. This building is also a library, operated by the American Philosophical Society. Franklin wrote a proposal for the foundation of this society in 1743. This library and the museum across the street demonstrate the eagerness of middle-class people like Franklin to acquire education. They taught themselves science and tried to keep up with the latest thinking in philosophy, economics, and politics. For example, during the late 1740s Franklin and other Library Company members conducted experiments with electricity. Later, in 1752, Franklin flew a kite in a thunderstorm and proved that lightning was electrical.

Statue of Benjamin Franklin

This statue honors Benjamin Franklin (1706-1790), one of the founding fathers of the United States. He was also a printer, a writer, a scientist and inventor, and a founder of the Library Company, the American Philosophical Society, the Pennsylvania Hospital, and many other Philadelphia institutions. Between 1757 and 1775, Franklin spent most of his time in London, representing the interests of Pennsylvania and other colonies at the British court. He returned to Philadelphia and joined the Second Continental Congress, signing the Declaration of Independence in 1776. Then he spent much of the American Revolution in France, successfully seeking French support for the American cause. He helped negotiate the peace at the end of the war and returned home to take part in debates about the United States Constitution.

Old City Hall

The building on the corner of 5th and Chestnut Streets was built to serve as Philadelphia City Hall. It was completed in 1791. The United States Supreme Court used a chamber in this building between 1791 and 1800.

American Philosophical Society Museum

This building, completed in 1789, was the headquarters of the American Philosophical Society. Today the building contains the Society’s museum, a collection of over 12,000 books, scientific instruments, patent models, maps, and other objects. The museum’s treasures include a copy of the Declaration of Independence handwritten by Thomas Jefferson, the Declaration’s author. The museum also holds samples gathered by the Lewis and Clark expedition to the Pacific Ocean, which took place in 1805-1806.

Franklin Court

Benjamin Franklin’s house was located on Market Street, near the corner of Fourth Street. There are only traces left of the original structure. To see these traces, visitors can walk through the arched doorway. In the interior court, a “ghost building” outlines where the house once stood. The Benjamin Franklin Museum is also located in this interior court.

Post Office

This is a replica of an eighteenth century post office. It is much like the post offices that Benjamin Franklin operated, alongside his printing and bookselling business. Franklin was appointed Postmaster-General for Philadelphia in 1737. In 1753, he was appointed deputy postmaster-general for all the colonies.

Printing Office

Benjamin Franklin was born and started his working life in Boston, apprenticed to his older brother James, who was a printer. When he could not get along with James, young Benjamin ran away to Philadelphia, where he found a job as a printer’s assistant. Through hard work and talent, Franklin made his fortune in printing. He printed newspapers, hymnbooks, sermons—even paper money. He also printed Poor Richard’s Almanack, a popular periodical for which he did most of the writing. This replica of an eighteenth-century printing office allows visitors to experience the technology Franklin used to build his career.

Home of Benjamin Franklin Bache

Benjamin Franklin Bache (1769–1790), the grandson of Benjamin Franklin, lived in the house next to the printing office. He was the son of Franklin’s daughter Sarah. Bache was a writer and newspaper publisher who opposed many of the policies of Presidents George Washington and John Adams. Washington and Adams were Federalists who favored a strong central government. Bache represented the Republican point of view, which assigned more importance to the rights of individual states.

Market Street

Market Street, once called High Street, was an important artery in Old Philadelphia. Benjamin Franklin walked down this street on his very first day in Philadelphia. It was 1723, and he was only 17 years old. After landing at the Market Street wharf, he bought three large loaves of bread. “Thus I went up Market Street, as far as Fourth Street, passing by the door of Mr. Read, my future wife’s father, when she, standing at the door, saw me, and thought I made—as I certainly did—a most awkward appearance.” Within a few weeks, young Benjamin had a job as a printer’s assistant. Mr. Read, a friend of his employer, rented Ben a room.

Carpenters’ Hall

Carpenters’ Hall was and is owned by the Carpenters Company of the City and County of Philadelphia, a society of builders. This building is a reconstruction of the original building. Carpenters’ Hall was the site of the First Continental Congress, which convened here in 1774. The purpose of the Congress was to discuss how Britain’s thirteen American colonies should respond to the Intolerable Acts, a new set of British laws that the colonists considered unfair.

Military Museum at New Hall

This museum introduces visitors to the history of the United States Army, Navy, and Marine Corps during the American Revolution and the first years of the United States. The building is a reconstruction. The original was built in 1791. That building contained the office of Henry Knox, the first Secretary of War.

Cobblestone Streets

The neat cobblestoned streets and bricked sidewalks of Philadelphia’s historic district are yet another legacy of Benjamin Franklin. During the 1750s he led a campaign for paving streets and sidewalks and keeping them clean. He presented a formal proposal with his street plans to the Pennsylvania Assembly in 1757.

President's House Site

During their terms in office, Presidents George Washington (1790–1797) and John Adams (1797–1800) lived in a three-story brick house at the corner of Sixth and Market Streets. Although the original building is no longer there, the public can now walk through a reconstruction of its floor plan and thus imagine the lives of the presidents and their households. The two presidents differed in their styles of living. Washington’s household contained more people, including slaves. Adams did not own slaves. He kept a smaller household and lived more simply than Washington did.

Greek Revival architecture

The original house was a three-story mansion built in the Greek revival style. The classical columns and simple pediment over the front door are characteristic of this style. The house’s owner was Robert Morris (1734–1806), a wealthy merchant who helped finance the American Revolution. Morris rented the house to Presidents George Washington and John Adams.

State House (Independence Hall)

Independence Hall (originally called the State House) is another example of the Greek Revival style in architecture. The hall’s rows of regular windows and its two arched passageways are two examples of this style, which stressed symmetry and simplicity of form. The building was constructed between 1732 and 1756.

Independence Visitor Center

The Independence Visitor Center provides services for the thousands of visitors who come to Independence National Historic Park. The center has background exhibits and provides public restrooms and food services. The ticket desk for Independence Hall is located in this building. Walking tours of the park begin here as well.

Credits: Story

Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin
National Constitution Center

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
Explore more
Google apps