A "Walking" tour of historic Philadelphia and Independence Park

The kids and I have been studying the American Revolution all year for our history studies, and last week we took a field trip down to Independence National Historical Park  (INHP).  It was a gorgeous day and I took a ton of pictures just so I could share them with you.

So let’s take a walking tour through Philadelphia’s Historic District and INHP ….. a walking tour you can take without ever having to leave your chair.
(Disclaimer:  I don’t know all the names of all the buildings, the years they were built, or even a whole lot of information about their architectural features.  What I do know is that Center City Philadelphia has some really cool old buildings and I couldn’t stop snapping photos.)
First up, let’s visit Independence Hall.  This building literally is the foundation of INHP and it’s where our country was founded.  I won’t bore you with a bunch of historical details, mostly because someone else has already taken the time to type it all up for me, but also because I can’t wait to show you these pictures.

Here she is in all her grandeur…..

Her crowning glory…..


I noticed the clock below the clock tower and just couldn’t help but wonder….. why?  Why does a clock tower (with a clock on all four sides) require an additional clock below it?  Nobody knew.  Google couldn’t tell me either. Here are the kids’ theories: Did our founders have a secret obsession with time? Or maybe this was the early version of World Time Zone Clock Walls?  Perhaps the extra clock showed the time in the Mother Country?  Maybe the Founding Fathers just thought it would be pretty?

I am used to seeing date stones at the bottom of buildings. I’ve never noticed one at the top of a building before, or such a small one. It also seems to be applied to the exterior, rather than built into the wall as I am accustomed to expecting in a datestone. I tried searching out some information, but Google failed me here too. I found one short Wikipedia on datestones, and while the reference sources seem to be Euro-centric it did include a link to this blog post about the use of datestones in Europe that I found a fascinating read. After reading it, I have to wonder if this datestone is actually original to the building. 

Now let’s head inside……

The Court Room

In the 1700’s, the American Colonies used the same Common Law system that England used, using Grand Juries to determine criminal indictments and after declaring their independence, the United States of America continued using the same Grand Jury system as the basis for their justice system.

The concept of Grand Juries was introduced by King Henry the II in 1166 C.E. While they were widely used in England and several other countries around the world, they were not initially used in the Colonies. Instead “Assistants” acting as magistrates made laws, accused suspects, and passed judgments on those charges. Such unmitigated power lead to widespread abuse by the “Assistants” and by the mid-1600’s Grand Juries were replacing the use of “Assistants” in the Colonies. 

But critics soon turned their attentions to Grand Jury hearings saying they didn’t protect witnesses and the accused enough and granted the Grand Jury and the Prosecution too much power.

Eventually Grand Juries were abandoned and today the United States is the only country to still use Grand Juries.

There is no doubt, the Court Room felt imposing, embellished, stately, and significant.  But even the halls and stairways at Independence Hall felt the same way.  Everywhere the eye turned it found the sense of style and essence it expected in such a hallowed building.


In the one corner of the Court Room, my husband noticed and pointed out the hidden doors that sat in the curved corners at the back of the room. The Park Ranger was leading our (rather large, thanks to a Fraternity group from MIT) group out of the room and the temptation was strong to go take a peak at what those doors were hiding – but we resisted.

And now for the room that’s responsible for it all…. 

The Assembly Room is the room where it all began, where the delegations from all thirteen colonies regularly convened to discuss Provincial government matters at first, and eventually where they planned and plotted a Revolution.  It was surprisingly small at only 40 feet square, a nice balance of understated and architecturally interesting, and contained fifteen tables – one for each of the colonies facing the front, one for whomever was presiding over the meetings, and one for the secretary of the meetings.  The only original furniture in the room is the “Rising Sun Chair” (see below for an explanation) used by George Washington and the silver inkstand used to sign both the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution.  All other furnishing were Constitution period items purchased by the NPS when recreating the Assembly Room setting. 

The “Rising Sun Chair” is actually an original piece of furniture to the Assembly Room.  It held our Founding Fathers as they discussed, debated, and declared our independence.  It held George Washington while he presided over the discussions, debates, and declarations that eventually produced our Constitution a few years later.  

Ben Franklin is purported as saying, “I have often, in the course of the session, and the vicissitudes of my hopes and fears as to its issue, looked at that behind the president without being able to tell whether it was rising or setting.  But now, at length, I have the happiness to know that it is a rising. and not a setting. sun.”

Speaking of Ben Franklin….

We also stopped over at Franklin Court.  Franklin’s house is no longer standing (apparently his relatives tore it down a mere 20 years after he died to erect a commercial structure), but the NPS has constructed a “ghost” house that shows the outline of what Franklin’s house would have looked like.  And while Franklin’s house could not be preserved, the rest of the Court could and houses an 18th Century printing press shop and an operating post office and postal museum.  
Oh, and the places where Ben Franklin pooped.  No joke.  They have the round holes where privies sat marked with manhole-like metal covers, inscribed with the notation that they were Ben Franklin’s privies.  Talk about your fanatical preservation…. (No, I did not take pictures.  You can continue scrolling without fear.)

  The front of the shops at Franklin Court

The kids participated in the NPS’ “Junior Ranger Program” while we were visiting INHP.  To be sworn in as Jr. Rangers, they had to complete activities in a workbook throughout the day at our various stops.  Here at Franklin Court they drew a picture of what they thought Franklin’s house would have looked like had it still been standing.

What an 18th Century print shop looks like….

This was hands-down my favorite stop and I came away from our time spent in the print shop with a new found passion and an absolute determination that some day I will own and operate an 18th Century printing press.  No joke on this one either.  I even put it on my Mother’s Day wish list and have the kids campaigning hard with their Father for me.

And this is how flyers, newspapers, sales ads, political papers, notices, etc. were made and printed in the 1700’s…..

First a typesetter would spend hours to days setting the printing plate with the type, embellishment designs, spacing, etc. that made up th
e layout of the page.


Then the ink was applied to the plate face with the use of leather tampers repeatedly pounded over the face of the plate to make sure ink was adequately and evenly applied to the entire printing surface.

After the ink was applied and the cloth paper (they didn’t make paper out of trees in the 1700s) laid out on the opposing wooden lid, the lid was lowered and secured in place on top of the printing plate, and the entire thing was rolled under the press which was then cranked down onto the printing plate to “stamp” the paper with the inked print.

And this was the final result – our Declaration of Independence.  Did you know we had a few different versions of our Declaration of Independence?  (What he’s holding in the picture is the Declaration of Independence as it was printed and distributed in July of 1776.  It was slightly different than what was printed and signed later that year.  Before we left, we were able to purchase that version and the version that was signed from the printer that had been printed right there in the re-created shop.  Now how cool is that?)


After being printed, the papers were hung to dry in railings around the ceiling of the print shop.  The printer noted that there would have usually been several people running a shop of this size – probably one or two dedicated to setting the plates, a few who ran the actual printing in an assembly-line fashion, one who dried and pressed the papers – and they would have been capable of printing several papers a minute.


We also stopped for a photo opp at the First Bank of the United States….

The First Bank of the United States is not only A Very Cool Building, it has A Very Cool Story behind it.  I highly recommend reading the Wikipedia on it.  I won’t get into here, because again, there’s already a well-written and documented Wikipedia on it.  And I’ve already noted that I highly recommend you read the Wikipedia on it.  Need I say more?

If you look close in a few of these pictures, you will see the foundation looks like blocks of marble with a joint.  And it is blocks of marble.  But what was fascinating to me was that the blocks of marble were not nearly as small as they looked.  They were larger slabs of marble that were carved to look like smaller blocks of marble with a joint, though there were no actual joints.

Miscellaneous Pictures from our walkabout…..


A glorious 18th Century garden where we rested our weary feet for awhile and enjoyed a surprising pocket of quiet serenity in Center City Philadelphia.

Oh, and one Very Cute Kid (i.e., the blur running through the pictures).

The best way to end a day….

When we just couldn’t go anymore, we headed towards the Franklin Fountain.  Our family has a tradition of hunting down local creameries every time we go anywhere (even if it is just ten miles down the road), and the story behind Franklin Fountain fascinated us.  (And when the kids heard Man vs. Food visited the Franklin Fountain, it was a done deal.  Click here to watch the short video about his visit.)  The creamery itself fascinated us as well, particularly the cash register with Franklin quotes and the pulley system ceiling fans.

On our walk back to the train station, we caught a view of Independence Hall we hadn’t seen earlier in the day.  I found this particular view perhaps the most poignant of all the views we saw that day.