Tourist Walk in Olde Philadelphia
Colonial Philadelphia can be seen in a hard day's walk, if you stick to the center of town.
Tax-hungry Pennsylvania government has voted to allow two gambling casinos to be built on the Delaware River, near the historic district. A lot of angry people declare that must never happen, and it surely will not happen much before 2012. For the time being, and we hope longer than that, the oldest and most historic part of Philadelphia will exist as a quiet little nook fifteen blocks from the business center, with quite a choice of very pleasant, moderately priced hotels and bed-and-breakfasts. In the midst of this, at 2nd and Walnut, is a very large parking facility, with even more parking space available within a couple of blocks. For reference, let's call the site of William Penn's own home the epicenter of all this. It's now called the Welcome Park at South 2nd Street. The ship which brought Governor Penn to his land holdings was called the Welcome. Anyone who can prove descent from those who were on the ship is eligible to be a member of the Welcome Society.
Welcome Park is across 2nd Street from a restoration of City Tavern, which only serves meals (in authentic period dress) but at one time was the place where the delegates to the Continental Congress and the Constitutional Convention stayed overnight. And of course, did lots of negotiation at night over a cold beer. It's also next to the famous Old Original Bookbinder's restaurant which unfortunately is out of business we hope temporarily because of ill-timed overexpansion by the former owner. It's a very large restaurant which used to be able to obtain four-pound lobsters and bake them for tourists. If legalized gambling does make an appearance, the winners are likely to frequent this spot, unless the new owner continues the former tradition of hiring the only truly surly waiters in our otherwise friendly town.
|Dr. Thomas Bond House|
A hundred feet away is a quiet upscale Sheraton, much favored by Society Hill residents. Over a footbridge is a Hyatt, next to the marina on the river, and favored as a hangout by the younger sports in the area. There are at least three charming bed-and-breakfasts along the block, of which the favorite is a 12-room hotel directly facing on Welcome Park. It is the former home of Dr. Thomas Bond, who founded the Pennsylvania Hospital with Ben Franklin's help. Not only did Dr. Bond found the Nation's first hospital, but he also started the tradition among American physicians of not charging for their services to the poor. Without that sort of leadership, the hospitals could never have survived their early years.
So, here is where to begin your tour if you are from out of town. A big garage to store your car, right next to several choices of quiet but moderately priced hotels, and a couple of dozen restaurants. This is a great place to branch out to the historic district, or Society Hill, or the seaport museums and marinas. And maybe some gambling casinos, although it is hard to imagine much tolerance between that group and the history lovers.
By the way, Philadelphia hotels are like hotels everywhere else in one respect. If you forget to make a reservation in advance, just breezing in looking for a room for tonight, you must expect to find the price is nearly doubled.
Originally published: Saturday, May 19, 2007; most-recently modified: Wednesday, May 29, 2019