Interior Architecture of Independence Hall

Black and white photo showing close-up of carved mask that looks like a face.
Rich architectural details grace the interior of Independence Hall, including this mask (shown unpainted) over the Assembly Room doorway. 

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The decorative elements of Independence Hall are part of a language of architecture commonly used by mid 18th century builders. In Independence Hall, the interior reinforced the ideas of proportion and symmetry promoted through Georgian architecture. The development and proliferation of architectural pattern books in the eighteenth century enabled the spread of ideas and motifs in architectural design in America, England and Europe.

The Central Hall and Tower Stair Hall are two of the most decorative interior spaces in Independence Hall. These rooms retain many of their original eighteenth century features, perhaps because their functions did not change over time.

 
Detail of carved wooden mask on tabernacle frame in the central hall of Independence Hall.
This image shows the mask with the paint removed, highlighting the wood carving created by Samuel Harding.

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Masks

Masks were common motifs published in pattern books of the time period. The masks at Independence Hall are located on the north and east walls of the Central Hall.

Master builder Edmund Woolley commissioned carpenter Samuel Harding to create the wood carvings in the Central Hall and Tower Stair Hall, and his work remains there today. The masks on the tabernacle frames of the Central Hall's east wall illustrate Harding's skill as a carver. Harding deeply carved out and exaggerated the mask's physical features to create stronger shadows needed to convey their expression and remain visible ten feet above the floor.


 
Interior view of large Venetian window and staircase inside Independence Hall.
18th century visitor Marquis de Chastellux remarked, "...this building is rather handsome; the staircase in particular is wide and noble."

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Tower Stair Hall

Between 1750 and 1756, a masonry tower with a wooden steeple was added to the south side of Independence Hall. The addition provided the building with a grand new staircase to the second floor. Benjamin Franklin frequently used the staircase and its walnut handrail to get to his office on the second floor when he served as President (Governor) of Pennsylvania from 1785 to 1788.

The stairs are classified as open newel, meaning that they turn around a large light well. They are also open string, since the profile of the risers and treads are visible. Open newel stairs generally have more elaborate designs, and the staircase at Independence Hall is no exception. Look for Harding's work, including elaborate scroll carved friezes at each of the stair landings, and scroll and leaf brackets applied to the sides of the steps. Purely decorative columns or pilasters separate the three openings of the Venetian window. Carved bell flowers and ionic capitals adorn these pilasters.

Learn more about the preservation of the staircase, and see the photo gallery below for more images of these interior spaces.

 

Last updated: December 1, 2021

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