Above photo: The Liberty Bell at Independence National Historic Park in Philadelphia. Right: Archive drawing of Independence Hall. Courtesy: Library of Congress.
When the American Revolution was fomenting throughout the thirteen colonies, it was within the city limits of Philadelphia that the seeds of liberty were sown. As the fathers of our country debated within the rooms of Independence Hall such items as the Declaration of Independence before the document was put in place on July 4, 1776, or the selection of a General to lead the Continental Army, George Washington, or in the days after the war had been won, the Constitution that would provide the framework of laws to govern the United States of America for over two hundred years, the walls of the buildings within Independence National Historic Park held each whisper from British ears.
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Independence Hall - Known as the Pennsylvania State House prior to independence, Independence Hall became the cradle of liberty. Beginning in 1753, the Liberty Bell rang within its steeple. In May 1775, this building housed the Second Continental Congress, which debated how to wage war against Britain, but was not yet convinced about independence from the crown. It was not until June 1776 that the idea of becoming a free nation rippled through the hall, followed up only one month later by the acceptance of the Declaration of Independence. And after years of a loose confederation of states and the problem inherent in that arrangement, the Constitution was hammered out here in 1787.
Carpenter's Hall - Inside this building built by the Carpenters' Company of Philadelphia in the early 1770's, the first Continental Congress gathered to respond to the Intolerable Acts that had been thrust upon the colonies by British Parliament. Their response, in the Declaration of Rights and Grievances, saw no concessions from Great Britain and King George III, leading to the the battles of Lexington and Concord.
Photo above: Stereographic photo of the Liberty Bell inside Independence Hall, 1899, by B.L. Singley, Keystone View Company. Courtesy Library of Congress. Photo below: Indendepence National Historical Park Visitor Center.
Even though the city of Philadelphia has grown around the historical area in many modern ways, for a sixteen block area or more, particularly in the center of the site, you can let your imagination challenge you back to those times in the late 1700's when the decision to remain a colony, even without representation, or independence and thus revolution, a loose confederation of states or a stronger federal form of government, and what would go into the Bill or Rights were discussed in every corner between the fathers of our nation; George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, John Quincy Adams, and many more. There are dozens of historic buildings intact, most which can be visited for free.
Historic Buildings Within Independence National Park
Independence Hall (Free ticket required) - The signature building of the formation of our nation, Independence Hall may no longer hold the Liberty Bell within its steeple, and requires passing through a metal detector after 9.11 security arrangements, but it still remains the most tangible structure in which to hear about the history of the period from 1774 to 1800. The rooms within the Independence Hall structures hosted Constitutional conventions, the first sessions of the Supreme Court, as well serving as the temporary capital of the United States with the first meetings of the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate. Tickets for the free guided tours of Independence Hall must be gotten at the Independent Visitors Center two blocks north of the regulated area. Tickets can be difficult to get in the afternoon, so arrive early and secure your passes for later in the day.
Carpenters' Hall - This hall, now in the middle of the most sedate section of the Independence National Historic Park, is open to park visitors during regular hours for independent tours.
Other historic structures within the park include Old City Hall, Congress Hall, Philosophical Hall, Second Bank of the United States, St. Joseph's Church, Deshler Morris House, Library Hall, Franklin Court, New Hall, Pemberton House, Elfreth's Alley, Free Quaker Meeting House, Declaration House, Market Street Houses, Bishop White House, Todd House, 1st Bank of the United States, City Tavern, Philadelphia Exchange, and Christ Church & Christ Church Burial Ground (Small fee).
Other Buildings Within Independence National Park - Independence Visitor Center, Liberty Bell Center, National Constitution Center (Fee required), Gloria Dei (Old Swedes') Church National Historic Site.
Other Nearby Attractions - United States Mint, Betsy Ross House, Edgar Allen Poe National Historic Site, Thaddeus Kosciuszko National Memorial, the American Revolution Center
EDGAR AND THAD NEED A BIT MORE ATTENTION! SOME OF THE ODD, OFF THE BEATEN PATH HISTORIC SITES ARE UNIQUE SPOTS AS WELL. ADD A VISIT TO THOSE TWO WHILE YOU'RE IN PHILADELPHIA.
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Things You Should Not Miss
1. Spend the time to see both the Liberty Bell and take the guided Independence Hall tour. The tour itself, staffed by the well informed rangers of Independence National Historic Park, takes you into the chambers of Independence Hall, where you will see the actual location of all this Declaration of Independence and Constitutional history. Make sure to get your ticket for the tour at the new Visitor's Center. It is timed and there are only a couple hundred available per fifteen minute time block. On a crowded day, these tickets, which are free, will be gone by early afternoon, even for a late tour time.
2. The Lower Park Area. With the new Visitor Center placed north of Independence Hall on the mall, the spectacular history of old Philadelphia beyond the secure area may get a short stick. However, this is an area where many of the historic buildings sit, reaching down, at the point of City Tavern, almost to the Delaware River. If you walk here, not only will you get a better sense of what the city was like in 1776, but there are many places to rest and relax among mature trees. Although it is likely an unintended consequence of moving the center of gravity far from these buildings, don't let yourself be oriented solely around the new Visitor Center and Independence Hall area.
3. The Freedom's Rising Show in the National Constitution Center. This multimedia presentation with a live actor, projected images on the walls and floor within the tiered circular Kimmel Theater is on the opposite end of the above historic buildings and walks, but it serves as a good reminder of the chronology of the events surrounding the making of the constitution, plus it satisfies the technological, video generation with a media friendly exhibit. Tickets for this show can be bought at the Constitution Center or at the Independence Visitor Center.
Photo above: Some of the forty-two statues inside Signer's Hall, an exhibit of the National Constitution Center.