Architectural Change Over Time
Drawing of the Old State House, 1732, attributed to master builder Edmund Woolley. This drawing shows the main building as first built, with no tower or steeple. While the plan may seem inadequate to people accustomed to meticulous architectural drawings today, detailed drafts had not yet been introduced in Woolley's day.
Courtesy, The Historical Society of Pennsylvania.
The Pennsylvania State House complex along Chestnut Street has changed frequently and grown substantially since its initial construction. Modern illustrations based on written descriptions provide a visual chronology of the changes. Look carefully and you'll see a story of governmental growth, shifting priorities, and the evolution of a shrine.
The State House, c. 1753, as shown in a modern illustration drawn by James Mulcahy.
This modern illustration shows the State House during the colonial period. Notice the wings, connecting piazzas and original steeple. Initially, the building had no tower or steeple. They were added in the mid 1700's, and a bell was ordered for the steeple in 1751. In 1753, that bell was recast into the one we now call the Liberty Bell.
The State House about 1776, with wing buildings and wooden sheds. Modern illustration after written descriptions, drawn by James Mulcahy.
Look for the wooden sheds adjoining the wing buildings on the east and west ends of the complex. During the American Revolution, these sheds were used for ammunition storage. It is also possible that the sheds housed native peoples when they visited the provincial government for treaty negotiations. The wing buildings served as office space and living quarters for the doorkeeper.
The State House in 1781, showing the removal of the steeple. Modern illustration after written descriptions, drawn by James Mulcahy.
In 1781, the Pennsylvania Assembly had the wooden steeple removed from the main building. The steeple had rotted and weakened to a dangerous extent by 1773, but it wasn't until 1781 that the Assembly had it removed and had the brick tower covered with a hipped roof.
The State House complex in 1791 included the additions of City Hall (1790-1791) on the left and the County Courthouse (1787-1789) on the right. Modern illustration after written descriptions, drawn by James Mulcahy.
The wooden sheds were removed some time after 1787 to make way for City Hall and the County Courthouse. These buildings fulfilled Andrew Hamilton's plan of establishing a city governmental center. Philadelphia became the temporary capital of the nation from 1790 to 1800. During this time, the U.S. Supreme Court sat in City Hall while the U.S. Congress convened in the County Courthouse.
The State House in 1812, showing the replacement of the wing buildings with the Mills office buildings. Modern illustration after written descriptions, drawn by James Mulcahy.
In 1812, the City and County of Philadelphia replaced the wing buildings with "modern" office buildings. Designed by architect Robert Mills, the new buildings were used for city administration and records storage. State government considered tearing down the State House at this time, but the City bought the buildings and land from the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania in 1818 for $70,000.
The State House in 1828, showing the steeple designed by architect William Strickland. Modern illustration after written descriptions, drawn by James Mulcahy.
The City hired architect William Strickland to restore the steeple in 1828. After Revolutionary War hero Marquis de Lafayette had visited the building in 1824, public sentiment advocated for the restoration of the building to its 1776 appearance. Strickland's steeple deviated from the original 1776 steeple design through its incorporation of a clock and use of more ornamentation.
The State House in 1898 with replacement wings and arcades resembling those of the 18th century. Modern illustration after written descriptions, drawn by James Mulcahy.
Between 1896 and 1898, the City implemented a program to restore Independence Square to its appearance during the American Revolution. As part of that program, the Mills buildings were replaced by wings and arcades resembling those of the 18th century. Visitors today will see that the exteriors of the buildings look much as they did to visitors in 1898.