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Thursday, September 06, 2007

Two Days in Philadelphia

On Tuesday & Wednesday of this week, my friend, Cheri, and I ventured into Philadelphia. Cheri's daughter, Courtney, is a student at Philadelphia University, so we invited ourselves to spend the night with her and this allowed us to spend lots of time sightseeing.

WARNING: This is a long posting 'cause there was SO much to see. So, grab a cup of coffee, an alcoholic beverage, or some water and kick back and enjoy.

Philadelphia is a city of "firsts." So many of our country's historical firsts are found here:

first planned city
first public library
first volunteer fire department
first hospital
first university
first mint
first municipal water system
first art museum
first zoo
first Thanksgiving Day parade

Cheri and I both enjoy walking tours and there was one called "The Constitutional Walking Tour of Philadelphia" and it promised to be a good, long walk so it was decided to leave that for Wednesday when we would have more time.
We got started later in the morning on Tuesday and after checking out the Visitors' Center, we decided to start with Independence Hall.

Independence Hall was built in 1732 and originally known as the Pennsylvania State House. But, as our guide suggested, folks coming from all over the country, and out of it, too, don't want to see a "state house" so it was appropriately renamed, since this is where our independence was written. It was here that the Second Continental Congress met in 1775 and the Declaration of Independence was adopted in 1776. This building is also where the Constitutional Convention met to draft and sign our United States Constitution in 1787.

Have you ever seen the movie, "1776"? If you have, you will recognize the room in Independence Hall in which the Declaration of Independence was signed. The movie did a great job of recreating the room. As soon as I walked into it, I knew what it was. And who says we can't learn anything from the movies???

The only original piece of furniture in the building is the chair in which George Washington sat to preside over the Congress meetings. A rising sun is etched into the top of the chair and it is said that Benjamin Franklin is the one that decided it was a rising sun and not a setting one - because they were witnesses to the rising of a new nation.

The buildings on either side of Independence Hall hold historical significance as well. Congress Hall was built between 1787 & 1789 as as the Philadelphia County Court House, but served as the US Capitol, the meeting place of the US Congress from 1790 to 1800, when Philadelphia was the capital of the United States. The inaugurations of George Washington (his second) and John Adams occurred in this building. Old City Hall held the Supreme Court from 1791 until 1800 when the capital moved to Washington, DC.

These historical buildings are located in Independence Square. Standing watch over the square is a monument to Commodore John Barry, known as the Father of the United States Navy.

Once we had toured Independence Hall, it was lunchtime and we were encouraged to go to Jim's Steakhouse located a few blocks south of Independence Hall. We were promised we'd get the best cheesesteaks in town - and that was by a National Park Ranger - so we figured we had better go. Well, I don't know if they were the best ones in town, but they were pretty darn good, and huge!! I knew we needed to do some walking to settle that sandwich down.

On our walk to and from lunch, we passed so many beautiful historic homes and buildings. It is amazing how well maintained so many of them are. It's also sad to see the ones that are no longer loved and taken care of. One of the buildings was the Philadelphia Contributorship. It is the oldest fire insurance company in America. It was founded in 1752 by, who else? Benjamin Franklin and friends.

One of the homes we saw was once owned by Dr. Philip Syng Physick, known as the Father of American Surgery, because of the techniques and instruments he introduced to the medical world. This house was built in 1786 and is one of just a
few homes built during that time still standing. A couple of Dr. Physick's more famous patients were Dolley Madison and Andrew Jackson.

President James Madison's home is located on a very "normal" residential street. It is a townhouse and was built in 1796. The funniest thing was that it is currently for sale. I just found that amusing for some reason.

Another first in Philadelphia was the first commodities
exchange, housed in the Philadelphia Bourse Building. This building was completed in 1895 and was one of the first steel-framed buildings constructed. It is now home to businesses, retail stores, and a food court.

Our next to last stop for the day was Christ Church Burial Ground, best known as the
burial place of Benjamin Franklin. It has been in continuous use since 1719 and is "home" to four other signers of the Declaration of Independence. There is a list of Benjamin Franklin's accomplishments etched in the brick wall that surrounds the cemetery. Goodness, it was about as tall as me!! It is amazing to read all the Mr. Franklin contributed to our country.

One other person, not so well known, who is buried at Christ Church Burial Ground is David Salisbury Franks. Major Franks was the aide-de-camp to Benedict Arnold during the Revolutionary War. It was at first thought that Major Franks was involved in Arnold's treason, but he was ultimately exonerated. The reason it is interesting that Major Franks is buried at Christ Church is that he was Jewish. Major Franks was a victim of a yellow fever outbreak and was buried at the church by a Christian neighbor.

Across the street from Christ Church Burial Ground is the United States Mint. It was closed by the time we got there, but we found that we couldn't go in anyway. No cameras, phones, etc., are allowed in the Mint. So, I just got a picture of it. And then it was time to head for Courtney's apartment.

Wednesday found us heading back downtown quite a bit earlier and we were excited to start our walking tour. You could have a guide or do it yourself - we chose to do it ourselves, so we could linger where we wanted and skip those sites we were not so interested in.

Our first stop on the tour was The Constitution Center. Well, since the Constitution is not housed there and they wanted $12 bucks for us to look at exhibits I couldn't take pictures of, we chose not to tour this facility. Call me cheap, but there it is.

We moved onto The Liberty Bell Center. The Liberty Bell was originally called the Pennsylvania State Bell as it was the official bell of the Pennsylvania State House. The name "Liberty Bell" was first coined by a group trying to outlaw slavery. The abolitionists remembered the inscription on the bell (Leviticus 25:10) and adopted the bell as a symbol of their cause. The bell was cast in London in 1751 but cracked soon after its arrival in Philadelphia. Local craftsmen, Pass & Stow, cast a new bell in 1753 using the metal from the original bell. That's why their names are on the bell. By 1846 a thin crack affected the sound of the bell. It was repaired that same year and was rung for George Washington's birthday, but it cracked again. It has been silent ever since. And no one knows why it ever cracked.

Washington Square is one of five public parks designed by William Penn. It is home to the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier that was erected in 1954 honoring George Washington and an unknown soldier from the Revolutionary War.

Library Hall, as it stands now, is a 1950s reproduction of the original building and it stands on the original site. The Hall was home to the Library Company of Philadelphia that was founded by Benjamin Franklin in 1731. The Library Company served as the Library of Congress from 1774 to 1800. The current building houses
some of the American Philosophical Society's collections and still functions as a prominent research facility.

The Merchants' Exchange, ca 1831, is the oldest stock exchange building in the United States. It is a gorgeous building.

The First Bank of the United States was chartered by Congress and President Washington in 1791 and the building was completed in 1797.

Carpenters' Hall was built in 1770; the First Continental Congress met here in 1774 to draw up the Declaration of Rights and Grievances and an appeal to King George III in response to the colonies' anger over the punishment Massachusetts received for the Boston Tea Party. And it was during the First Continental Congress here at Carpenters' Hall that Patrick Henry stated that distinctions between the states was to be no more. He said, "I am not a Virginian, but an American."

The B. Free Franklin Post Office & Museum is the only
Colonial-theme post office run by the USPS. It does not fly the American flag because there was no flag in 1775 when Mr. Franklin was appointed Postmaster General. The postmark "B. Free Franklin" is still used to cancel stamps.

One of the very coolest things on this tour was Elfreth's Alley. It consists of 33 townhouses and is the oldest continuous residential street in the United States. One of the houses had a historical marker of 1703,but the history says that it has been lived in since 1713. There are several posters citing the more recent history of this wonderful street - late 1800s and early 1900s.

The Betsy Ross house was built in 1740 and has been restored to circa 1777, this being the year in which Betsy was commissioned by George Washington to create the first American flag. Betsy Ross had a rather tragic life. She was disowned by the Quakers; survived the death of three husbands and two infant daughters. But she persevered and maintained a business during this time. A side note - her pew at Christ Church was next to George Washington's.

Our last stop of the day was Declaration House - a reconstruction of the site where Thomas Jefferson lived while he wrote the Declaration of Independence.

I know this was a LOT to read, but I hope you enjoyed it and maybe even found something out about our country that you didn't know before. In any event, I truly enjoyed my walk around Philadelphia. I certainly learned many, many things I had not known prior to my visit. As always, there are more pictures to be found at our Webshots site: .

The next few weeks are going to be crazy busy. We will celebrate Lindsay's birthday, Reagan's birthday, and Lindsay & Jason's 6th wedding anniversary. I am going to New Hampshire with my mom next week for five days so she and her sister, Helen, can see each other for the first time in a great many years. Then, Randy & I are trying to get together with friends before we hit the road on October 1.

So, keep in touch. We love hearing from you. Take care of each other. Until the next time . . .


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