Independence Hall Was Originally Known As the Pennsylvania State House...

Independence Hall

Plaque on Independence Hall, noting its enormous significance in American history - 5th and Chestnut Streets

Independence Hall

Independence Hall, front view, 5th and Chestnut Streets.

Center City District Location - RED - Historic District - Old City

The reason being that when Philadelphia was the capital of the colony of Pennsylvania, Independence Hall was the seat of public business. It did not become known as "Independence Hall" for many years, after the Declaration of Independence was signed there on July 4, 1776.

However, the Declaration was not the only pillar of our nation's history, to be debated and signed in the Pennsylvania State House. The "Federal Convention", known to us as the Constitutional Convention, was assembled there in 1787, four years after the Treaty of Paris officially ended the war with Great Britain.

The purpose of the Constitutional Convention, was to revise the Articles of Confederation, the cumbersome, stopgap government under which the colonies waged the war- but were staggering through the subsequent peace.

Each colony was granted one vote, regardless of size, and it was virtually impossible to govern the fledgling nation.

"In order to form a more perfect union", 12 states sent representatives to Philadelphia for a "Federal Convention", which had the ostensible purpose of "revising the Articles of Confederation". However, its actual purpose was to scrap the Articles entirely, and create a stronger national government.

But to acknowledge that as the purpose, would likely have doomed the Federal Convention's efforts, before the delegates had even arrived in Philadelphia.

After a long, grueling, and quarrelsome late spring and summer, in the Pennsylvania State House, a brand-new U.S. Constitution was created on September 17, 1787.

The delegates had started their work back in May. By September, they had finally emerged, with a document which pleased nobody entirely. But it had enough support to gain the signatures of the vast majority of the delegates (although three refused to sign on principle, and others had gone home, prior to its adoption).

It was stipulated that the new U.S. Constitution would go into effect, upon the ratification of nine of the 13 states (i.e., two/thirds of the 13). After a long and fitful series of ratifying conventions, the Constitution finally took effect several months later.

Tiny Delaware became the first state, by ratifying the Constitution in December 1787, just five days prior to Pennsylvania. At the other extreme, Rhode Island - which had boycotted the Convention, entirely - finally gave in and ratified the document, and became the 13th state, albeit reluctantly.

Remarkably, despite its status as the birthplace of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, the Pennsylvania State House was nearly demolished, in the 19th century.

What would become known as Independence Hall was only preserved - ironically - because of the triumphant return to America of the Marquis de Lafayette, the last surviving hero of the American Revolution, in 1826.

Only a teenager when the war began, the wealthy French nobleman, who fought for liberty not only in America, but in France, had outlived all of the other prominent figures of the war.

When he returned, Lafayette made a tour of all the principal American cities, receiving the 19th-century equivalent of the treatment of a rock star - which was well-deserved.

With Lafayette having returned, there was a strong revival of interest in the American Revolution, and the events leading to the nation's creation. Accordingly, efforts were made to preserve the Pennsylvania State House for posterity.

And so, you can see it today, thanks to the Marquis de Lafayette, who was viewed almost as a son by George Washington, a generation older, and who had no biological children of his own.

Traveling to Independence Hall

If you are visiting Independence Hall, and particularly during the busy tourist season in Philadelphia, we would strongly recommend that you use either the Phlash Trolley - which operates between May 1 and Halloween - and/or SEPTA - Philadelphia's mass transit system, which offers several ways to get to Independence Hall.

If you are already in Center City, we would recommend the Phlash. However, you can also take the - Blue Line/Market-Frankford Line/"el" - which are all the same entity - to its 5th Street stop. You will disembark at 5th and Market Streets, and you'll see Independence Hall, one block south.

If you are traveling from the outskirts of the city, or from the suburbs, your best bet is likely to be SEPTA Regional Rail - which offers comprehensive service to the suburbs.

Virtually all SEPTA Regional Rail trains stop at Market East Station - located at 11th and Market Streets.

You have three options from there:

1) Switching to the Blue Line station at 11th Street.

You can do this without ever coming up to street level. However, the interchange is not free, so you'll have to go over to the SEPTA ticket window and buy tokens for the Blue Line.

Once you've done that, just follow the signs with a blue background with white letters, reading-

"Market-Frankford Line"

You'll soon arrive at the entrance to the Blue Line 11th Street station. Once there, it is essential that you follow signs reading "Eastbound to Frankford". There is an eastbound platform and a westbound platform. Once you've figured out the correct platform, drop your token in the turnstile, and wait.

The ride will be very short, so don't even bother sitting down. It's only two stops, and unlike the train, where they'll let you off the train slowly - the el is lightning quick. When you get to the second stop - 5th Street - be ready to walk right off the el car. You'll ascend to 5th and Market, and follow the directions above.

Conversely, on the return trip - make sure you follow signs reading "Westbound to 69th Street", when you enter the 5th Street Blue Line Station. And make sure you get off at 11th Street.

2) Walk from Market East to Independence Hall - it's only six blocks or so.

3) Take an eastbound SEPTA bus from 11th to 5th.

Just ask the driver if he/she is going to 5th or 6th and Market Streets, when you get on. If so, just hop on, and get off after the six blocks or so.

Traveling from 30th Street Station to Independence Hall

If you are visiting Philadelphia via Amtrak, you will disembark at the architecturally impressive 30th Street Station - but unfortunately, it is pretty far from Independence Hall, way too far to walk. But here's how to get there, quickly and easily:

30th Street Station is also a SEPTA Regional Rail Station. And your Amtrak ticket is valid as a train fare to either Suburban Station - located at 16th Street and John F. Kennedy Boulevard, and Market East Station.

In this case, you need to follow the signs within 30th Street for "SEPTA". Ask at the ticket window, "when is the next train to Market East Station, and what platform is it on?"

Then, when you ascend the platforms within the SEPTA sector, make sure you ask the conductor, "does this train go to Market East Station?" (i.e., is it eastbound?) If the answer is yes, hop on; if not, ask to be directed to one that is.

You'll pass Suburban Station first; Market East is second. Then follow the directions from Market East, above.

(Note: Your Amtrak ticket is only valid on the Regional Rail system, not the Blue Line/Market-Frankford Line.)

During the Summer, Free Tickets Are Required for Independence Hall

In contrast to the Liberty Bell - which never requires tickets - you need a free ticket in order to be admitted to Independence Hall, during the busy season (especially the summer).

Accordingly, you must go to the nearby Independence Visitor Center, and obtain a free, timed ticket. In general, you ought to go as early as possible in the day, particularly in the summer, as the tickets for Independence Hall often "sell out" quickly.

A Map of Independence Hall and the Surrounding Area

View Independence Hall in a larger map

A History of Independence Hall - A Timeline

This timeline is still under construction, so please be patient, and check back for more content.

1682 - William Penn officially establishes the colony of Pennsylvania and the city of Philadelphia.

1701 - Nearly two decades later, Penn grants a Charter to the city of Philadelphia. The 50th anniversary of this Charter, in fact, was the original purpose for the casting of the Liberty Bell.

At this time, the city was no more than a village and had no public buildings.

1729 - As Philadelphia grew, the colonial legislature - the General Assembly - decides to appropriate funds for a public building - a Pennsylvania State House. It appoints a three-man committee to scout out sites for it: its Speaker, Andrew Hamilton, Dr. John Kearsley, and Thomas Lawrence.

The trio found an undeveloped area - the south side of Chestnut Street, between 5th and 6th Streets - on what was then the western frontier of Philadelphia. They began purchasing up the surrounding property, with the intention of building.

1732 - Hamilton provides to the Assembly, "a Draught [drawing] of the State-house, containing the Plan and Elevation of that Building." The design is by master builder Edmund Woolley. Woolley provides an invoice to the proprietary Governor Penn, for "drawing... the plans of the first and second floors of the State House." Woolley - trained in Britain - was a member of the Carpenters' Company - the same guild which had recently opened

Carpenters' Hall - located on Chestnut Street, between 3rd and 4th Streets, which would ultimately be home to the First Continental Congress - which convened in September 1774.

1737 - After eight years, Woolley and his business partner Ebenezer Tomlinson finally complete construction of the Pennsylvania State House. It is a very impressive structure today, but even more so at the time of its construction.

Its ground floor is split between two large rooms - one for the Assembly, and the other for the Pennsylvania Supreme Court.

The second floor is reserved for the Provincial Council meetings, with one room for the entire Council, and the other for its Committees.

1749 - The Pennsylvania Assembly provided for the construction of "a Building on the South Side of the said [State] House to contain the staircase, with a suitable Place thereon for hanging a Bell."

Woolley once again takes charge of the project, and bills the Assembly for designing the stair tower and steeple, the lumber and bricks for construction, his subcontractors, and hanging the Bell that would eventually be designated the Liberty Bell. Due to its famous crack, Woolley sent an invoice for "getting the Bell up & down & up again & twice hanging Bells."

1753 - Four years later, the new stair tower and steeple are finally finished. The original staircase is demolished.

July 2, 1776 - Congress approves, 12-0-1, a resolution declaring independency, with all colonies in favor, except New York, which abstains, due to lack of instructions.

July 4, 1776 - Congress adopts the final draft of the Declaration of Independence.

July 8, 1776 - The Declaration of Independence is read publicly for the first time, outside the Pennsylvania State House.

1781 - Woolley's steeple, having fallen into disrepair, is determined to be dangerous, and is demolished.

October 1781 - A combined French and American army, along with a French fleet, trap a British army under Lord Cornwallis at Yorktown, Virginia. After a short siege, Cornwallis surrendered his entire army to the respective Generals - George Washington and the Comte de Rochambeau. This decisive victory effectively ended the American Revolution and guaranteed American independence.

The captured battle flags - or colors - of Cornwallis' army are presented to Congress, in a symbolic gesture of triumph.

May 1787 - The Federal Convention - known to us as the Constitutional Convention - convenes there.

1815 - The city of Philadelphia leases the building - from the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania - and searches for tenants. In order to do so, it removes woodwork from the Assembly room.

In order to reduce chances of fire, the city also removes Woolley's arcades and office wings. It replaces them with more modern, fireproof offices, constructed by architect Robert Mills.

1818 - The city buys State House Square - and all of the buildings within it - from the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania for $70,000.

1820s - A sense of growing American nationalism, and the approaching 50th anniversary of the events of the American Revolution, leads to a revival of interest in the buildings which had housed these events.

1824 - The Marquis de Lafayette makes his triumphant return, and visits the State House - now referred to as the "Hall of Independence".

July 4, 1826 - The 50th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence is commemorated.

1828 - The city of Philadelphia commissions architect William Strickland - to rebuild Woolley's spire - the one which had been demolished in 1781 - in order to replicate the look of Independence Hall on July 4, 1776.

1831 - The city commissions architect John Haviland - the archrival of Strickland - to restore the Assembly room woodwork, to its Second Continental Congress look - "to its Ancient Form". He attempts to do so, but the new version does not resemble the Second Continental Congress woodwork.

1870s - With the Centennial celebration being observed in 1876, efforts are made to restore Independence Hall to its 18th-century appearance.

1890s - The Common and Select Councils of Philadelphia delegate to the Daughters of the American Revolution, the restoration of all buildings surrounding Independence Hall. The Mills-added offices are demolished, and the Woolley arcades and wings are rebuilt.

Late 1940s - After World War II, Independence National Historical Park is created by the National Park Service.

1951 - The city enters into an agreement with the Park Service. The terms stipulate that the Park Service has the right to supervise and maintain custody of all of the buildings in INHP, while the city retains legal title to them.

1960s - The National Park Service, while restoring Independence Hall, removes Haviland's attempt at woodwork reproduction, and places it in the Lit Brothers building - a now-defunct department store, several blocks away on Market Street.

Source for timeline: Roger W. Moss, Historic Landmarks of Philadelphia, p. 24-31. University of Pennsylvania Press, 2008.

For the most detailed, in-depth information on tickets for touring Independence Hall, it's best to visit the official Independence National Historic Park web site, with ticket information for Independence Hall.

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