Philadelphia has intrigued me ever since I watched Nicolas Cage (in National Treasure) running through the streets of Philadelphia looking for clues to the greatest treasure! To actually walk those cobbled streets and learn more about the history written here was totally amazing!
Some really cool facts about Philadelphia
- William Penn named the city as Philadelphia which is Greek for “Brotherly Love”.
- It’s the city of firsts, first zoo in America, first hospital, first medical school, library, fire company, national capital and a lot more.
- Philly boasts a big art scene with more than 2000 outdoor murals.
- It’s home to the oldest inhabited Street in America with homes dating back to 1700s.
- America’s first Mint was established in Philadelphia and it’s still available for a tour.
Sharing today my historical tryst with the city of Brotherly Love.
Independence National Historic Park
“History is who we are and why we are the way we are” rightly said by David McCullough and so much in context with this Historic Park
No matter how many times I visit Philly Independence National Historic Park is always on the list. The place is like a movie set and takes you back in time.
Independence National Historical Park is also known as the Americas most historic square mile for it is the birthplace of United States and naturally is a treat for all history buffs.
The park is preserved and maintained by NPS (National Park Service) and comprises of Philly’s most visited historic district.
I usually begin my trip at the Independence Visitor Center as it offers a convenient underground parking lot.
If I had to rate the NPS Visitor centers, this is probably one of the best. The place has it all – interactive media, great maps, guides, friendly Park Rangers, snacks, gift shop, clean restrooms, great photo ops and so on.
Below are my favorite things to do here:
- Look out for photo ops; they always have pretty cool ones here ranging from Colonial dressed actors to Presidents chair, the Rocky statue and many more.
- The Park runs pretty good kid programs – you can ask the Park Rangers for the Junior Park Ranger Activity book. This is such an awesome as well as entertaining activity to engage the young ones and educate them about the history of this place. The Rangers ask you to fill out five activities to earn Junior Ranger Badge and a Certificate. In addition to this, the park also does Trading Cards. You can get one at the Visitor Center to begin with and then look for Park Rangers to swap them or earn more.
- You can also explore the beautiful Liberty View Terrace for a spectacular panoramic view of the Independence Hall and and the historic district
- The center is also home to two larger than life murals.
- Apprised – The mural shows a scene from High Street market on September 19, 1787, where people are hearing details about the new Constitution of the United States.
- Acknowledgement – The mural depicts the July 4, 1788 Grand Federal Procession, in honor of the ratification of the Constitution of the United States.
My next stop was the Liberty bell. The iconic Bell is a beautiful piece of history and carries a deep meaning. It is the international symbol of freedom .
The inscription on the bell reads “Proclaim LIBERTY Throughout all the Land unto all the Inhabitants Thereof “, there by spreading the message to end slavery.
A narrow slit developed in the bell in the early 1840s as a result of 90 years of hard use. In 1846 it was brought down for repair. The crack was widened to prevent further spread and the big crack clearly visible today is the repair job.
Read more about the history of the bell here.
Key things to remember while visiting the Liberty Bell Center:
- The tour is absolutely free but usually has long queues, so try to get here early in the day.
- You have to go through a security checkpoint just like the airport screening.
- Click here for timings and to plan your visit.
- Be sure to spend some time on the beautiful displays inside the Liberty Bell Center
Another historical bell at the Park is the Centennial Bell, made for the nation’s 100th birthday in 1876 and it still rings every hour in the tower of Independence Hall. Did you know this bell weighs 13,000 lbs. – a thousand pounds for each original state?
The Independence Hall
This is one of the most prominent buildings in the Park and you can easily recognize it from the US Hundred dollar bill. The building is in fact the birthplace of America. It’s right here at the declaration of independence and the US Constitution were debated and signed.
Quick things to keep in mind while visiting the Independence Hall:
- You need no cost timed tickets to enter the Independence Hall. There are walk-in tickets available in the Independence Visitor Center or you can buy them online until the previous day for $1 each. I do highly recommend buying them online because the tickets for the day run out pretty quickly. Here is a link to get those.
- Like the Liberty Bell you need to go through security check before entering the Independence Hall.
- Post the security check you would notice about four buildings – the East Wing where the tour actually begins the Independence Hall, the West Wing and next to the West Wing is the Congress Hall building.
- They usually lineup 10 minutes prior to the tour.
The tour itself is very informative and NPS has done a great job of retelling the story and history of this place. . The tour begin in East wing and continue to the main and central building we got to visit the Assembly room the room where the Declaration of Independence and the US constitution were debated and signed.
Our tour guide had a great sense of humor and was very explanative. He exclaimed that if Independence Hall is considered the Birthplace of the United States, the Assembly room was the maternity ward 🙂 and we all chuckled.
The Assembly room also has the famous Rising Sun chair, this is the actual chair George Washington sat on while presiding the 1787 convention.
There is a interesting story associated with this rising chair – as the Founding Leaders sat in this room looking at this chair they imagined whether it was the rising sun or the setting sun and on the day the Declaration of Independence was signed Benjamin Franklin remarked that this clearly was the Rising Sun. Believe me this place has such an aura, it totally has you mesmerized.
Other than the Assembly room, you get to also see Courtroom of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court. The Supreme Court of Pennsylvania sat in this room in the 1700s. The courtroom has a iron rod witness stand, representing the then prevalent guilty until proven innocent ideology under the British rule, and is very different from the present day Courtroom in US which adhere by the innocent until proven guilty constitution.
After touring the Independence Hall, I went to the west wing. The West Wing is a self guided tour and exhibits some of the famous historical artifacts. You can look at the original printed copies of Declaration of Independence, Articles of Confederation and the Constitution of US. Meanwhile the real pieces are available at the National Archives Museum in Washington DC.
Another cool object you can find here is the silver inkstand believed to be use for signing the Declaration of Independence.
Next to the West Wing is the Congress Hall. The Congress Hall tours run every 30 minutes and unlike Independence Hall you do not need tickets to get in there you just need to line up in front of the building and a Park Ranger will guide you.
All the history lessons had made my tummy rumble and I headed to The Bourse which offers a variety of food options. It also has the famous XOXO sculpture, a picture with this is mandatory when in the city of Brotherly Love!
From here I continued my historical journey to the Carpenter’s Hall
On your way to Carpenter’s Hall you cross the second bank of United States which is in fact is s a picture gallery. I did not get a chance to stop there just yet, perhaps another time.
The Carpenter’s Hall is another building of firsts. It hosted the first continental Congress in 1774 and in 1857 it became the first privately owned American building to be opened as a historic monument.
Carpenters’ Hall, completed in 1774, was the meeting place of a group of Philadelphia master builders known as the Carpenters’ Company. The Carpenters banded together to establish architectural standards, to set prices for work, and to aid members’ families in times of need.
The Carpenters’ Company designed many buildings including the Pennsylvania State House (Independence Hall), Old City Hall, The Pennsylvania Hospital, Benjamin Franklin’s mansion and their own Carpenters’ Hall. The Carpenter’s Hall is free to public and is open most days (closed on Mondays), click here for the visiting hours.
Very close to the Carpenters Hall is the First Bank of US. While it’s closed to the public but the exterior of the bank is quite impressive. Above the columns of the First Bank is a unique piece of art – it’s a 200 year old sculpture of the first representation of Treasury Department’s seal.
Betsy Ross House
After exploring the Carpenter’s Hall, I moved on to explore the famous Betsy Ross House.
Who was Betsy Ross?
She was the legendary woman who made the first American flag also known as the Betsy Ross flag and contributed in a unique way to American history. She become an inspiration to the women in the country.
The Betsy Ross house or the birthplace of American flag is a great interactive Museum with historical enactments of life in 18th century.
The Museum offers both radio as well as a self-guided tours. Click here to plan your visit
I saw a lady working at the upholstery shop and asked her about sewing machines, she looked at me puzzled as if I was from an alien world and enquired what is this gadget I am talking about? I thought that was very amusing, and I must say she was a very convincing actor. Just made me realize that life was so different in the 18th century.
Any historic visit to Philly cannot be complete without a stop at Elfreth’s Alley. The street is full of vibrantly colored beautiful houses, preserved through three centuries of history.
Referred to as the oldest continuously inhabited street in America, the place takes you back in time and gives a glimpse of what 18th century residential street looked like.
Elfreth’s Alley was home to Carpenters, Painters and Craftsmen of all sorts in the 18th century.
As you stroll through the cobbled street you can find old-fashioned Georgian architecture and other details. The street is very festive during the holiday season with unique wreaths and Christmas trees glistening through the windows.
You can also walk through a museum house on the street. The Museum House is open April through October, Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays from 12pm-5pm. Click here for details.
Friends, this a wrap for now. Stay tuned for more adventures! Do you leave a comment if you like reading my travel blogs.