The Declaration House Through Time

Black and white photo of the Tom Thumb restaurant.
The Tom Thumb restaurant sat on the site of the Declaration House in the 1940s.

Independence National Historical Park, 1947

The home of Jacob Graff, away from the noise and bustle of the city, provided Thomas Jefferson and his enslaved valet Robert Hemings with living and working space while Jefferson attended the sessions of the Second Continental Congress in 1776. In that home, Jefferson drafted the Declaration of Independence. Since that time, the site has been through numerous changes.

Jacob and Maria Graff's Home

Jefferson and Hemings lived in rented rooms in Jacob Graff's home from May 23 until September 3, 1776. In an 1825 letter to Dr. James Mease, Jefferson recollected: "I lodged in the house of a Mr. Graaf, a new brick house 3 stories high of which I rented the 2d floor consisting of a parlour and bed room already that parlour I wrote habitually and in it wrote this paper [Declaration of Independence] particularly." In addition to attending the sessions of Congress and drafting the Declaration of Independence, Jefferson engaged in committee work, wrote letters to family and friends, and shopped for a wide array of goods not as readily available in his rural Virginia.

The home was newly built when Jefferson and Hemings took up residence. Jacob Graff purchased the property at the corner of 7th and Market Streets from Edmund and Abigail Physick on June 1, 1775, and built a three-and-a-half story house on the lot. Jacob and Maria Graff, and their infant son Frederick, moved into their new home in April 1776. One month after the Graffs moved in, they rented their second floor to Thomas Jefferson. Jefferson lived and worked in a parlor and bedchamber. Hemings most likely slept in the garrett, a habitable attic or storage space at the top of the house.

Landlords Jacob and Maria Graff were members of Philadelphia's thriving German community which flourished north of High (Market) Street. Jacob Graff was a third generation American, the grandson of a tailor and his wife who emigrated to America in 1741. Jacob Graff learned his father's contracting trade, and then joined him in business. The Graffs rented brickyards and may have manufactured and laid brick. Their operations were extensive and included building properties for rent and for sale.

Jacob Hiltzheimer Purchases the Property

The Graffs owned the property for about two years. On July 28, 1777, Graff sold the house to his neighbor, Jacob Hiltzheimer. Hiltzheimer recorded the event in his diary: July 28 [1777].--This afternoon I paid Jacob Graff, Jr., for the house and lot at the southwest corner of Seventh and Market Streets..." Hiltzheimer died of yellow fever in September 1798; in 1801 his estate was divided among his heirs. Daughter Mary and her husband inherited the Graff house, selling it in December 1801 to Simon and Hyman Gratz.

Gratz Family Takes Ownership

The Gratz family owned the building through much of the 1800s. They made many modifications to the original home. Between 1802 and 1808, Simon Gratz added a fourth floor, turned the entry door on 7th Street into a window, and added a new door at the south end of 7th Street. He also changed the interior, removing original staircases and central hallways. In 1881, the Gratz family sold the building, and in 1883, the building was torn down.

Later Owners

Other owners later held title to the property, including the Penn National Bank. Noted architect Frank Furness designed the granite bank building that once stood on the site of the Graff house. A popular lunch spot called Tom Thumb stood on this busy intersection in the 1940s. In 1975, the National Park Service reconstructed the home to its 1776 appearance for the Bicentennial.

Today, the home on the southwest corner of 7th and Market Street contains exhibits on the first floor. On the second floor, the bedroom and parlor that Jefferson occupied have been recreated and contain period furnishings. Also included are reproductions of Jefferson's swivel chair and the lap desk he used when he wrote the Declaration of Independence.

Resources for Further Study

For more information on the Declaration of Independence itself, check out this overview of the Declaration of Independence.

The National Park Service's Historic Structures Report on the Graff House: Historical Data Section by John D. R. Platt, September 1972, provides a thorough review of the construction and subsequent changes to the home. The report has been scanned, and is available online.

Independence National Historical Park

Last updated: July 5, 2021