Philadelphia Historic District

Philadelphia played an instrumental role during the time of the American Revolution including events such as the First Continental Congress in 1774, the signing of the Declaration of Independence in 1776 at the Second Continental Congress, and the creation of the US Constitution at the Constitutional Convention of 1787. The city served as the United States capital for 10 years (1779-1790) while Washington DC was under construction.

 

This tour starts at the Independence Visitor Center and then proceeds to the following locations: the President's House Site, the Liberty Bell Center, Declaration (Graff) House, Congress Hall, Independence Hall, Old City Hall, Philosophical Hall the American Philosophical Society Museum, Washington Square & the Walnut Street Prison, Second Bank of the United States, Carpenters' Hall, the First Bank of the United States, Museum of the American Revolution, Franklin Court, the Benjamin Franklin Museum and the Franklin Court Printing Office, Christ Church, the Betsy Ross House, Christ Church Burial Ground (Benjamin Franklin’s Grave). The tour moves in a large loop and ends back almost where it started at the National Constitution Center.

 

If walked directly point to point this walking tour would take about 40 minutes over a 2 mile path.

Start Philadelphia Historic District Walking Tour

Google Maps Version of Tour

 

Stop 1.  Independence Visitor Center

(599 Market Street,  phlvisitorcenter.com, Open daily 9-5pm)

The Independence Visitor Center is the Official Visitor Center for the Greater Philadelphia Region.  It has staff who will help with free trip planning advice, provides discounted tickets for local attractions and tours, has a digital wall that allows one to explore things to do and provides an 8min video overview of Philadelphia (also located here - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LUwoH5KmZfE&feature=youtu.be). This is the place to pick up free timed tickets to Independence Hall.

The outdoor Liberty View Terrace provides a good picture taking site with Independence Hall in the background

Public restroom facilities are located near the main entrance. Free wifi.

Stop 2.  The President's House Site

(6th & Market streets located in the Independence Park between the Independence Visitor Center and the Liberty Bell Center. Open air exhibit so available any time the park is open.)

Philadelphia was the US Capital between 1789 and June 1800 while George Washington was President (1789-1797) and for a time while John Adams was the 2nd US President (1797-1801). Both Presidents resided in a small house located at this site which was torn down in 1832 but an outline of the building remains.

 

The site also hosts an outdoor exhibit – “Freedom and Slavery in the Making of a New Nation”- which tells the story of the 9 enslaved members of George Washington’s household who lived at this site.

During the Revolutionary War’s British Occupation of Philadelphia (1777-1778) the house was the headquarters of General Sir William Howe and the British Army. Later the house was headquarters for the Military Governor Benedict Arnold who from here started his secret correspondence with the British which resulted in his committing treason.

Stop 3.  The Liberty Bell Center 

(526 Market Street, open daily 9-5, no tickets required, entrance on a first-come, first-served basis.

up to 20 people per time.)

The Liberty Bell, or what was then known as the State House Bell, was the official bell of the Pennsylvania State House (now known as Independence Hall). It was commissioned from a London bell foundry to be used to draw attention to public announcements. When the bell arrived in 1752 when it was first rung the bell cracked and two local workmen recast the bell twice before it began its everyday use. It may have rung on July 8, 1776 to announce the first public reading of The Declaration of Independence.  The bell’s inscription reads: "Proclaim Liberty throughout all the Land unto all the Inhabitants thereof" - Leviticus XXV, v.10, The Bible.

It is unknown how and when the bell again became damaged but in 1846 reports were published that the bell’s cracks were extensive enough that it was not to be rung. The first time the bell was identified as “the liberty bell” was in an 1835 anti-slavery journal but an 1847 story by George Lippard about the bell being rung on July 4 1776 to help congress announce the Declaration of Independence helped to make the bell forever linked to the War for Independence.

Today the 2,000 pound Liberty Bell is housed in the Liberty Bell Center which features a number of exhibits about the history of the bell including its use as a symbol of liberty by abolitionists, women's suffragists, and the civil rights movements.

Stop 4.  Declaration (Graff) House

(700 Market Street, entrance door is through the courtyard on 7th Street)

This was the home of bricklayer Jacob Graff and where Thomas Jefferson rented a room during the summer of 1776 while attending the Second Continental Congress. The house was located at what was then the outskirts of town surrounded by fields and where Jefferson spent 3 weeks writing the Declaration of Independence.

There are exhibits about the Declaration of Independence on the first floor of the building, along with a brief video shown in the theater. On the second floor is a recreation of the two rooms that Jefferson rented during that summer. The house was demolished in 1883 but the National Park Service reconstructed it in 1975.

Stop 5.  Congress Hall

(At the intersection of Chestnut and 6th Streets. Opened daily between 9-5pm. Free.)

Built in 1789 this building was originally the Philadelphia County Court House. It became the seat of the US Government when Congress met here while Philadelphia was the US Capital between 1789-1800 before it’s final move to Washington DC. During this time three new states were admitted (Kentucky, Tennessee, Vermont), the Bill of Rights from the US Constitution was ratified and the first US Presidential Inaugurations were held (George Washington’s 2nd inauguration and John Adams inauguration as the 2nd US President).

The first level of the building was used for the House of Representatives and its 106 members and the 2nd floor housed the 32 members of the US Senate (28 out of the 32 desks in the chamber are originals). The first and second floor locations generated the term lower and upper chambers for Congress which is still in use today.

After the capital moved to Washington, the building converted back to its earlier use as the Philadelphia County Court House. In 1976 the building was restored to its original appearance.

Stop 6.  Independence Hall

(520 Chestnut Street, between 5th and 6th streets. Open daily 9-5. March to December timed tickets are required which can be obtained free at the Independence Visitors Center.)

The Pennsylvania State House (what would later be known as Independence Hall) was built in 1732 and served as the capital of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania until the state capital moved to Lancaster in 1799. From 1775 to 1783, the Hall served as the primary meeting place of the Second Continental Congress which was made up of delegates from each of the 13 States. This Congress nominated George Washington as the head of the Continental Army and approved the Declaration of Independence (the colonies announcement and justification of independence from England). After the Revolutionary War during a hot summer of 1787 Congress met in secret and created the US Constitution in this building.

From 1802 to 1826 the US artist Charles Peale housed his museum of natural history specimens on the 2nd floor, which was one of the first museums in the United States. In 1948 the interior of the building was restored to its original appearance and Congress later that year established an organization to maintain and preserve the Revolutionary War era historical sites around this area.  

The Liberty Bell had hung in Independence Hall until the mid-1840s, was then displayed on the ground floor until 1976 and now resides across the street in the Liberty Bell Center.

The West wing of Independence Hall contains original printed copies of the Declaration of Independence, the Articles of Confederation, and the U.S. Constitution. Also displayed is the Syng inkstand which is believed to be the silver inkstand which was used by the signors of the Declaration of Independence.

Stop 7.  Old City Hall

(At the intersection of Chestnut and 5th Streets. Opened daily between 9-5pm. Free.)

Built in 1790 the building was intended to be Philadelphia’s city hall but it served as the home of the US Supreme Court from 1791 to 1800 while Philadelphia was still the US Capital. 3 Supreme Court Justices officiated here – John Jay, John Rutledge and Olive Ellsworth. After 1800 when the US Capital moved to Washington DC, the building became Philadelphia’s City Hall and stayed at this location until 1854.

Stop 8.  Philosophical Hall the American Philosophical Society Museum

(104 South Fifth Street, open to the public April to December, 10-5 thur to sun. Free)

The American Philosophical Society was founded in 1743 by a group including Benjamin Franklin to promote knowledge in the sciences and humanities through research, professional meetings, publications, library resources, and community outreach.  It is considered the first learned society in the United States. This building was building in 1789 to house the society and is now a museum that exhibits parts of its collection of 3,000 artifacts and fine art objects.

Stop 9.  Washington Square & the Walnut Street Prison

(210 W. Washington Square)

Washington Square was one of the five original open-space parks planned by William Penn when he laid out the city of Philadelphia. In the 18th century the park was used to graze animals, as a cattle market and as a cemetery (by the city's African American community, as a potter's field, for soldiers during the Revolutionary War and for victims of Philadelphia’s bouts with yellow fever).

In the 19th century the park was improved as the surrounding neighborhoods were developed and a monument was proposed for George Washington but in 1954 it instead became a tribute to all soldiers and sailors of the Revolutionary War, designated as the "Tomb of the Unknown Revolutionary War Soldier."

At the corner of Sixth and Walnut Street, the Walnut Street Prison was built in 1776 and in 1790 constructed one of the first penitentiary buildings in the US (using individual cells and work detail) which lasted until 1838. In 1793 on the grounds of the prison the first human flight by hot air balloon was launched by Jean Pierre Blanchard.

Stop 10.  Second Bank of the United States

(420 Chestnut Street , free)

5 years after the War of 1812, President Madison signed a bill establishing the Second Bank of the United States (the First Bank lost its charter in 1811) to help deal with the war debt and federal financial disarray.  The bank handled all fiscal transactions for the U.S. Government, and was accountable to Congress and the U.S. Treasury. After 20 years, Congress did not renew its charter and it became a private bank.

The building, built in 1824, was designed by architect William Strickland in the Greek Revival style and was based on Greece’s Parthenon.

Today the building is part of the Independence National Historic Park and serves as a portrait gallery with portraits of prominent citizens many painted by 18th century artist Charles Willson Peale. Restrooms are available in the basement.

Stop 11.  Carpenters' Hall

(320 Chestnut Street, carpentershall.org, free)

Completed in 1775, the two-story brick meeting hall designed by Robert Smith in the Georgian Style, was built for and is still privately owned by the Carpenters' Company trade guild, the country's oldest craft guild still in existence.

The First Continental Congress met here in 1774 in response to British Parliament's passage of the Intolerable Acts against the colony of Massachusetts and drafted a petition to King George III asking for his assistance. It was also the location of the Pennsylvania Provincial Conference in June 1776 which declared Pennsylvania’s independence from the British Empire. In later years it served various other functions– served has a hospital for both Continental and British troops during the Revolutionary War, was home to Franklin's Library Company, The American Philosophical Society, and the First and Second Banks of the United States.

The Hall contains various items such as a model of Carpenter’s Hall illustrating the 18th century building methods, the officer’s furniture from the 1890s, the original Speaker’s chair used by President of the First Continental Congress Peyton Randolph, displays of a variety of carpenters' tools.

 

Stop 12.  The First Bank of the United States

 

(3rd Street between Walnut and Chestnut, closed to the public)

Alexander Hamilton, the first Secretary of the Treasury, established the First Bank of the United States in 1791 in order to help deal with the great debt load that the United States carried over from the Revolutionary War. His plan was for this national bank to help stabilize and improve the new nation's credit, and to improve handling of the financial business of the United States government under the newly enacted Constitution. It faced great debate within Congress about how to interpret the Constitution but Hamilton’s argument won and Congress granted the bank a 20 year charter.

At this time each State could print their own banknotes, but the First Bank’s notes became the closest thing to a national currency since they were the only ones accepted when paying federal taxes, which the First Bank was in charge of collecting. Congress did not renew the charter and the bank became a private bank, Girard Bank.

 

In 1791 the bank started operations in Carpenters Hall but moved into its current location in 1797 in a building that is known as a masterpiece of Classical Revival design designed by architect Samuel Blodgett, Jr. The building is closed to the public.

 

Stop 13.  Museum of the American Revolution

(101 S. 3rd Street, amrevmuseum.org)

 

The museum provides a chronological journey from the roots of conflict in the 1760s to the rise of armed resistance, the Declaration of Independence of 1776 through the final years of the war. Besides the many artifacts displayed in the various exhibits some of the particularly interesting exhibits include a full-scale replica of Boston's Liberty Tree, the recreation of an Oneida Indian Council, the Battlefield Theater featuring the Battle of Brandywine, a recreation of Independence Hall, and a large model of an 18th-century privateer ship. And a dedicated theater houses an iconic surviving artifact of the Revolution: General Washington's Headquarters Tent, which served as both his office and sleeping quarters throughout much of the war

 

Stop 14.  Franklin Court, the Benjamin Franklin Museum and the Franklin Court Printing Office

(317 Chestnut Street, Franklin Court and the Printing Office are free)

 

Benjamin Franklin built his house in this courtyard in 1763 which was connected to Market Street via an alleyway. While this was his house Franklin was overseas for much of the rest of his life but was home here during his time in the Second Continental Congress and the United States Constitutional Convention and moved permanently back into this house in 1785 where he lived until his death in 1790.

 

In 1787, Franklin built a print shop within the lot for his grandson Benjamin Franklin Bache, who would publish the Philadelphia Aurora there.

 

The house and most likely the print shop were demolished in 1812 and only the foundations are left. In 1974 a “ghost” outline of the house was built that provides an approximation of the building since there was inadequate historical information to rebuild the house accurately. There are concrete hoods that allow visitors to view the archaeological remains beneath.

 

The Benjamin Franklin Museum is located underground underneath the outline of his house. Exhibits include short films and interactive displays that allow one to explore Franklin’s life and legacy through some of his character traits.

 

The Franklin Court Printing Office contains several exhibits including a typesetting area, two reproduction 18th century presses, a bindery, and the newspaper office of Franklin's grandson, Benjamin Franklin Bache. Park rangers demonstrate typesetting and use of the 18th century printing press to visitors.

 

Stop 15.  Christ Church

(20 N. American Street, christchurchphila.org)

 

Christ Church was founded in 1695 by members of the Church of England who built a small wooden church on this site. By 1744 the current church was built and when the 196 foot steeple was added in 1754, the church became the tallest structure in the 13 colonies.

 

Known as “the Nation’s Church” many prominent leaders of the Revolutionary War time were members including George Washington, John Adams, Robert Morris, Benjamin Franklin and Betsy Ross. The church played an integral role in the founding of the Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States. Visitors can site in the same pews as these historical figures (brass plaques mark where they sat).

 

The church’s burial ground is located 2 blocks away at the corner of Arch and N Independence Mall although 2 signors of the Declaration of Independence were buried at the church - James Wilson and Robert Morris.

 

Admission $5 adults, $2 children. Sundays donate as you wish.

Stop 16.  The Betsy Ross House

(239 Arch Street)

 

Purported to be the site where the seamstress and flag-maker Betsy Ross (1752-1836) lived when she is said to have sewed the first American Flag. Historians now are uncertain this past but her house is a popular destination for tourists. Betsy Ross’ grave site is located in the courtyard.

 

Admission: $7 adults / $6 children for self guided tour.

 

Stop 17.  Christ Church Burial Ground (Benjamin Franklin’s Grave)

(5th and Arch Street, christchurchphila.org)

 

Christ Church (located 2 blocks away at 20 N. American St) the “Nation’s Church” located its burial ground here in 1719. Four signors of the Declaration of Independence are buried here - Benjamin Rush, Francis Hopkinson, Joseph Hewes and George Ross – along with one of Philadelphia’s most famous residents, Benjamin Franklin. Franklin’s grave is located at the corner of 5th and Arch so even if the burial ground is closed, visitors can still see the grave site through the gates. It is a tradition to place pennies on Franklin’s grave.

 

Admission: $5 adults/$2 children.

 

Stop 18.  National Constitution Center

(525 Arch Street, constitutioncenter.org)

 

The National Constitution Center is an interactive museum that dramatically retells the story of the Constitution from its beginnings here in Philadelphia to present day. There are a variety of exhibits designed to provide information about constitutional issues including a a 360-degree live theatrical production Freedom Rising and being able to walk amongst 42 life-size bronze statues of the Founding Fathers. The museum does not house the original Constitution, which is instead located at the National Archives Building in Washington, D.C., but does have an original copy of the first public printing of the constitution. The building was designed by the architectural firm of Pei Cobb Freed & Partners.

Admission:  adults $14.50 / children $11.

Start Historic District Philadelphia Walking Tour