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Independence National Historical Park


Washington's Residence
 Courtesy, Independence National Historical Park

The founding and growth of the United States and Philadelphia, when it was the capital city, are two of the themes that define Independence National Historical Park, which preserves associated historic buildings and artifacts and tells the story of the birth of American democracy. This 51½ -acre park is the site of the meetings of the first and second Continental Congresses and the signing of the Declaration of Independence, the Articles of Confederation, and the Constitution of the United States of America.  George Washington’s inauguration as its first president took place on April 30, 1789 in Federal Hall in New York City, which served as the capital until the government moved to Philadelphia in July 1790.

In the late 18th century, Philadelphia was a significant English-speaking city and port in the Atlantic World. Located at a midpoint in the 13 colonies, the city was a natural place to hold the first and second Continental Congresses and the Constitutional Convention, and to be the capital of the new nation.  Here George Washington and John Adams lived and served as the first two presidents of the infant democracy. Philadelphia became the seat of government between 1790 and 1800, while the new capital at Washington, DC was under construction.  The park includes and interprets a number of restored and reconstructed buildings, sites of buildings, and other resources that relate to the early establishment of the government and to presidents of the United States.
In the Declaration House at 700 Market Street in the park, Thomas Jefferson wrote the Declaration of Independence. Jefferson rented two rooms from Jacob and Maria Graff on the second floor of this house from May to September 1776 to escape the oppressive summer heat, because then the house was on the edge of the city.  The National Park Service reconstructed the three-story brick house in 1976 and furnished Jefferson’s two upstairs rooms, to reflect his occupancy. Visitors can see some objects in these rooms that simulate references from Jefferson’s own day and account book entries.  The public also learns about Jefferson’s slave, Bob Hemmings, who accompanied his master to Philadelphia.

Built from 1787-89 as the Philadelphia County Courthouse, and enlarged from 1793-95 to accommodate the expanding Federal Government, Congress Hall on the corner of 6th and Chestnut Streets was the meeting place of the legislative branch. President George Washington’s second inauguration took place here, and in 1797, Washington transferred the reins of government to John Adams in the building. This event made it clear to doubters at home and abroad that the new democracy was working.

The three-story brick mansion where Presidents George Washington and John Adams lived between 1790 and 1800 stood on the south side of Market between 5th and 6th Streets until its demolition in 1832.  Both presidents also used the house as their executive offices, the place where they invented the role of chief executive.  George Washington brought 9 slaves to the house during his years as the first president of the fledgling nation, despite growing anti-slavery sentiments.

In 2003, in response to activists’ demands, the United States House of Representatives issued a report urging that the National Park Service appropriately commemorate those historical events.  To fulfill this mandate, the National Park Service and the City of Philadelphia developed a cooperative project entitled “The President’s House: Freedom and Slavery in Making a New Nation.”  In May 2007, the mayor of Philadelphia and the superintendent of Independence National Historical Park launched an archeological dig to investigate whether any archeological evidence from the period between 1790 and 1800 remains at the President’s House site. Archeologists discovered remnants of the foundations of the main house, a back kitchen and a connecting service passage. A new permanent installation on the site will commemorate the house and the long untold story of the slaves who lived and toiled there. The tension between slavery and freedom provides a rich interpretive opportunity here to portray the growth of America in very personal terms.  This site offers the opportunity to portray the moral decisions of two presidents—one a slaveholder and one against slavery—as they operated their households and government from the same property. 


Deshler-Morris House
 Courtesy, Independence National Historical Park

President George Washington also briefly occupied the Deshler-Morris House, a two and a half story stuccoed stone house at 5442 Germantown Avenue. The National Park Service restored this building to the way it looked when George Washington was the occupant between 1793 and 1794.  A group of dedicated volunteers provides tours of the property, while the National Park Service continues to maintain the house and grounds.  Here in 1793, the executive branch of the government dealt with the problem of Edward Genet, the former French minister. He had commissioned privateers in American ports to prey on British ships along the American coast and in so doing jeopardized relations and risked war between Great Britain and the new nation. The next summer, Washington rented the house again hoping to protect his family from yellow fever, while he carried out his duties as president. The home became known as “the Summer White House.”

The Todd House on the corner of 4th and Walnut Streets is associated with the life of another of the early presidents of the United States.  Here Dolly Todd lived with her first husband, lawyer John Todd.  After he died, she married Congressman James Madison who became fourth president of the United States, becoming one of the most well known first ladies. The National Park Service uses the Todd House and its neighboring row houses at 339-341 Walnut Street to interpret the lives of the prosperous middle class, when Philadelphia was the nation’s capital.


Todd House
 Courtesy, Independence National Historical Park

Independence Hall is a designated UNESCO World Heritage Site because of the exceptional documents that originated there: the Declaration of Independence signed in 1776, the Articles of Confederation that united the 13 colonies in 1781, and the United States Constitution adopted in 1787. These radical documents had an influence on the constitutions of many democratic nations throughout the world.  Independence Hall is on Chestnut Street between 5th and 6th Streets. In its Assembly Room, George Washington received the appointment of commander-in-chief of the Continental Army in 1775.  Visitors today can see the original "rising sun" chair used by George Washington as he presided over the Constitutional Convention is this building.

North of the historic building are a statue of George Washington and the plaques commemorating the visits of Presidents Abraham Lincoln and John F. Kennedy who worked to uphold the democratic ideals made so explicit in the immortal documents created here. The bronze statue is a 1910 reproduction of the original marble statue of Washington as commander-in-chief sculpted in 1869 by Joseph A. Bailey. 

On February 22, 1861 outside Independence Hall, President Abraham Lincoln raised an American flag with 34 stars to mark the admission of Kansas to the union as a Free State. This event took place on George Washington’s birthday and honors the Constitution, the document that permits adding new States to the union. It also permitted Lincoln to make a public statement of his anti-slavery convictions in a growing secessionist climate.  The Lincoln Plaque, a 33x36” bronze tablet set into the brick sidewalk about 30 feet from Independence Hall commemorates the event, a tribute to Abraham Lincoln, the president who abolished slavery and worked so hard to preserve the Union.  A Pennsylvania post of the Grand Army of the Republic placed the plaque on the site in 1903.

On July 4, 1962, President John F. Kennedy visited the park to celebrate Independence Day.  He stood near the Lincoln plaque and to the densely packed crowd on Independence Mall presented a “Declaration of Interdependence” acknowledging that all countries must pursue a course of peace and global dependency in the 20th century.  In 1964, the City of Philadelphia placed the John F. Kennedy Plaque in honor of the occasion. The plaque is a 36 by 33 inch bronze tablet set in the sidewalk 10 feet east of the Washington statue in full view of Independence Hall.


The Second Bank of the United States
 Courtesy, Independence National Historical Park

The Second Bank of the United States on Chestnut between 4th and 5th Streets now houses the Second Bank Portrait Gallery.  The gallery exhibits a number of portraits of presidents and first ladies as part of its collection of paintings of Colonial and Federal leaders, military officers, explorers and scientists.  Designed by architect William Strickland, the Second Bank was built between 1819 and 1824.  Modeled after the Parthenon, the building was the inspiration of a century of Greek Revival bank buildings throughout America.  The Second Bank, chartered in 1816 under the Madison administration, had a short lifespan, however.  President Andrew Jackson, champion of States’ rights and an ardent foe of central banking, despised the Second Bank and its popular President, Nicholas Biddle.  Jackson conducted a notorious “bank war” against Biddle.  Under Jackson’s provocation, Congress allowed the Bank’s charter to expire in 1836. 

Plan your visit

Independence National Historical Park, a unit of the National Park System, is located in downtown Philadelphia, PA. Click here for the National Register of Historic Places registration file: text and photos.  Begin your visit at the Independence Visitor Center at 6th and Market Sts by viewing the Independence film. A parking garage for visitors is under the center on 6th St. between Arch and Market Sts.  The center opens every day at 8:30am. Most park buildings are open from 9:00am to 5:00pm daily.  Hours are subject to change.  Tour reservations are made at the Visitor Center on the day of your visit.  All sites are free except house tours and the Second Bank Portrait Gallery.  For current details and admission information on park buildings, please visit the National Park Service Independence Hall National Historical Park website, or call 215-597-8974.

Independence National Historical Park is the subject of two online lesson plans, Independence Hall: International Symbol of Freedom and The Liberty Bell: From Obscurity to Icon. The lesson plans have been produced by the National Park Service’s Teaching with Historic Places program, which offers a series of online classroom-ready lesson plans on registered historic places. To learn more, visit the Teaching with Historic Places home page.  Many buildings and other resources at Independence National Historical Park have been documented by the National Park Service’s Historic American Buildings Survey.  Visit the National Park Service Virtual Museum Exhibit on Independence National Historical Park.

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