Tourist Walk in Olde Philadelphia
Colonial Philadelphia can be seen in a hard day's walk, if you stick to the center of town.
Philadelphia Changes the Nature of Money
Banking changed its fundamentals, on Third Street in Philadelphia, three different times.
Millions of eye patients have been asked to read the passage from Franklin's autobiography,
"I walked up Market Street, etc.",
which is universally printed on eye-test cards. Here's your chance to do it.
Emerge from Christ Church onto Market Street, crossing to the Southside. Between Third and Fourth Streets (318 Market), there is a row of Eighteenth-Century Houses, commissioned by Benjamin Franklin, with a central archway leading to the interior of the block where he placed his own house. The restorationists have cleverly displayed the skeleton of the rafters of the house. When the British occupied Philadelphia in 1788, Major Andre (later to become Benedict Arnold's spy-handler) insolently took Franklin's own house as his headquarters (General Howe took Robert Morris's much more splendid house further up Market Street between Fifth and Sixth.) John Andre was court jester for the British officers. He was a poet, playwright, wit, and dashing life of every party. Washington was in tears when he ordered his hanging.
Continue on and out the South end of Franklin Court, onto Chestnut Street, after you have visited the Museum of Ben Franklin, aimed at children but containing examples of his many inventions, a theater with interesting short presentations, and a fascinating sound and light show of Franklin's great moments. The somewhat unexpected underground building is a product of the famous architect, Frank Venturi. At the corner of 3rd and Chestnut (where a restaurant now stands) once stood the house of Alexander Hamilton, and a few houses further North on 3rd Street remains the dilapidated remnant of the business of Anthony Drexel, the mentor and later senior partner to J.P. Morgan. Turning about and looking south, you can see the reason for this concentration of financiers. Just south of Chestnut is the First Bank of the United States (the fascinating Museum of Old House Parts is on the second floor), while the two blocks of Chestnut Street -- Third to Fifth Streets -- are filled with the massive stone piles of other banks of Philadelphia, culminating in that Parthenon-appearing Second Bank, Nicholas Biddle's bank. In the forty years before Andrew Jackson and Martin van Buren interfered, it wasn't Wall Street that mattered, it was Chestnut Street.
Proceed westward on Chestnut Street, and pass the converted bank now used by the Chemical Heritage Foundation, followed by another bank used by the American Philosophical Society as an auditorium. On the other side of the street, an alley leads southward to Carpenters Hall, where the First Continental Congress held deliberations. At that time, it was the largest private building in the Colonies.
Continuing to Fifth and Chestnut, you may wish to take a detour south to around Sixth and Pine to see the mansions of Society Hill, particularly the Powell House and the Physick House. Intermingled with the red brick Georgian style are examples of classical style reflecting French influence. Our present tour, however, points you to the red brick building just to the south of Independence Hall on Fifth Street. It looks like part of the State House complex but is actually the home of the American Philosophical Society, now housing its fascinating museum (seen only by appointment). After that, by all means, stand in line and take the National Parks tour of Independence Hall, which is one of the best displays in the whole Park Service. After that, the tour of the Liberty Bell on the north side of Chestnut is just a trifle tame, but a mandatory visit.
|The Curtis Building|
Do not neglect to cross Sixth Street to the Curtis Building, where a few steps inside is the astonishing mosaic constructed by Louis Comfort Tiffany out of Tiffany glass, based on the artistry of Philadelphian Maxfield Parrish. Look around the lobby, which is pretty ornate, but it once held printing presses for the Saturday Evening Post.
Emerge from the Curtis Building on the Seventh Street side. Take a look at the Atwater Kent Museum of the City of Philadelphia, then notice the Jeweler's Row on Samson Street. The house where Thomas Jefferson wrote the Declaration of Independence is at the corner of 7th and Market; it's a reproduction, however. This would bring you back to the subways and high-speed line where the tour began. Instead, the full tour goes back to the Curtis Building and heads south.
Originally published: Monday, April 02, 2007; most-recently modified: Friday, August 09, 2019
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