Philadelphia goes right back to the foundation of Pennsylvania. The colony needed a port and a seat of government, so William Penn founded the city of Philadelphia on the banks of the Delaware River. He designed the city to be very open, with buildings separated by gardens and orchards. Philadelphia can rightly claim to be the birthplace of the USA as it was at the heart of the political moves to independence, at the centre of the Revolutionary War and was the early capital of the USA. While many US cities such as Boston were tearing down their old buildings, Philadelphia recognised that many of its old buildings had played key parts in the country’s history. The old downtown area is now Independence National Historic Park and it has many buildings from the Colonial and Revolutionary periods and also from the early days of the USA.
Betsy Ross House
That seamtress and upholsterer Betsy Ross lived here during the Revolutionary War is well documented, but the rest of the story told here is best described as legend. It is said that in 1776 George Washington and two members of Congress visited Betsy Ross and showed her a sketch of the proposed flag of the new nation. From this sketch, it is claimed that Betsy produced the first Stars and Stripes flag. Visitors now flock to the Betsy Ross House believing that it is where the first US flag was made, but is the story true? There is no conclusive proof, but if the first flag wasn’t made here, then where was it made?
South Street at 3rd Street
With its wealth of historical buildings can leave you with the impression that Philadelphia is rather stiff and formal. However, away from the historical areas can be found a Bohemian spirit. South Street embodies this with its brightly painted buildings, chaotic traffic and small shops that range from specialist to somewhat weird.
First Bank of the US
The First Bank had two major tasks, to pay off debt left from the Revolutionary War and to create a standard currency to replace the various currencies used by the original states. The building was completed in 1797 but only served its intended purpose until 1811 when the bank’s charter lapsed. After 1811 it was the premises of Girard Bank until well into the 20th century. It is thought to be the first major building in the USA with the now familiar classical facade.
Independence Square & Hall
At the heart of Independence National Historic Park is Independence Hall. Constructed between 1732 and 1756, it was originally the colonial State House of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. During much of the Revolutionary War it was the meeting place where the leaders of the colonies planned the new nation and it was here in 1776 that the Declaration of Independence was written and signed. The Assembly Room at the Hall played a continuing role in the birth of the nation culminating in 1787 with the drafting of the US Constitution. The interior of the hall has been restored to show how it would have looked during these times, and includes the actual chair used by George Washington. Sadly during our during our last trip to Philadelphia we found heavy post 9/11 security meant that you could no longer wander around the outside of the building and airline-style security which was both slow and intrusive lead to the abandonment of plans to revisit the interior.
Click on Minimap to navigate
In the middle of Philadephia can be found the oldest residential street in the USA. Elfreth’s Alley can be traced back to 1702 although the oldest buildings still standing date from 1713. From the 1930s onwards residents had to fight to prevent the destruction of this unique alley by developers. It is now protected as a National Historic Landmark. While it has retained its 18th century charm, but is not immune to the 21st century. We had to wait quite some time to take one photograph courtesy of a car drove into the alley and stopped there.
Submarine USS Becuna & Cruiser USS Olympia, Penn's Landing, Philadelphia
The Independence Seaport Museum explains the importance of seafaring in the history of the area and has some great hands-on exhibits demonstrating why boats float or not. The submarine Becuna dating from 1944 gives a feel for the claustrophobic life under water while the cruiser Olympia dating from 1892 shows what life was like at sea in the Victorian era. Looming out of the mist behind them is the Benjamin Franklin Bridge across the Delaware River.
To move forwards or backwards through the Pennsylvania trail click the arrows above, or select your next destination on the Minimap.