Philadelphia Old City Walking Tour, Philadelphia

Philadelphia Old City Walking Tour (Self Guided), Philadelphia

King Charles II of England owed a lot of money to Admiral Sir William Penn. He paid in 1681 by signing over lands in America to the Admiral's son, William Penn. Young William, a Quaker and a thorn in the side of the King, became landlord of present-day Pennsylvania and Delaware. William sailed up Delaware, laid out a grid, and founded Philadelphia.

The streets of the grid run east and west between the Delaware and Schuylkill rivers. This is the Old City Center, the most historic section of Philadelphia. It is home to Independence National Historical Park, Independence Hall, the Liberty Bell, the Banks of the United States, Carpenters' Hall, Betsy Ross House, and Elfreth's Alley.

Old City has many historical attractions. Christ Church built in 1695, Arch Street Meeting House built in 1701, and Old First Reformed Church built in 1727 grace the area. There are also fine examples of Federal and Georgian architecture. Greek Revival and Italianate banks and cast iron warehouses add to the visitor's list of things to see. The modern Museum of the American Revolution is here and so is the National Constitution Center.

The Old City is a favorite nightlife watering hole. Lounges, dive bars, and restaurants populate the blocks from 3rd and Market to Front and Chestnut. Boutiques, galleries, and art film theaters operate in the neighborhood. During the First Friday events, the studios, galleries, and shops have evening open houses.

William Penn hoped to found a Utopia of tolerance in the new world. One can get a glimpse of that dream when visiting the City of Brotherly Love.
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Philadelphia Old City Walking Tour Map

Guide Name: Philadelphia Old City Walking Tour
Guide Location: USA » Philadelphia (See other walking tours in Philadelphia)
Guide Type: Self-guided Walking Tour (Sightseeing)
# of Attractions: 10
Tour Duration: 2 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 2.4 Km or 1.5 Miles
Author: leticia
Sight(s) Featured in This Guide:
  • Independence Hall
  • Liberty Bell
  • Independence National Historical Park
  • Christ Church Burial Ground
  • Betsy Ross House
  • Elfreth's Alley
  • Christ Church
  • Benjamin Franklin Museum and Court
  • Museum of the American Revolution
  • City Tavern
Independence Hall

1) Independence Hall (must see)

In 1729 it was becoming evident that Philadelphia needed a state house. In August 1732, the Scottish lawyer Andrew Hamilton showed his plans to the Provincial Assembly. The ground was broken for construction soon after in Philadelphia. The State House would be on the south side of Chestnut Street between Fifth and Sixth Streets. The cost was to be about 2,000 pounds.

The Colonial Government of Pennsylvania took occupancy of the State House immediately. Construction was designed and built by architect Edmund Woolley. The building proceeded piecemeal as funds were allocated. The State House was completed in 1753. It served as the Capitol of the Province and Commonwealth of Pennsylvania until 1799.

Independence Hall is a Georgian-style hall with a red brick facade. There is a central building with a bell tower and steeple. The center is attached by arcaded passageways to wings on either side. The steeple spire is 169 feet high. Old City Hall, Congress Hall, and Independence Hall together with Philosophical Hall, share Independence Square.

The Hall underwent several renovations in the 19th and 20th centuries. In the mid-20th century, the National Park Service carried out a reconstruction to restore the Hall to its 18th-century appearance. On the ground floor are the Assembly Room and the Supreme Court Room, separated by a vestibule. Behind the entrance is the Tower Stair Hall.

From 1775 to 1783, the Pennsylvania State House was the main meeting house of the Second Continental Congress. The Declaration of Independence was approved within its walls on July 4, 1776. Congress had to abandon the State House from time to time as British forces occupied Philadelphia. The United States Constitution was approved here in 1787.

Independence Hall has often served as a venue for speeches, rallies, and protests. Most events have been held on behalf of democratic and civil rights movements.
Liberty Bell

2) Liberty Bell (must see)

Since 2003, the Liberty Bell, formerly the State House Bell, has been kept in the Liberty Bell Center in Independence National Park. That's a short walk away from the Old State House, now Independence Hall. The bell was commissioned in 1752 by the Pennsylvania Provincial Assembly. They chose the London firm of Lester and Pack to do the casting.

The bell cracked the very first time it was tried. The local foundry operators, Pass and Stow, did the recasting. This was done twice. The recast bell was hung on the State House steeple. The crack reappeared in 1835 while tolling the death of Chief Justice John Marshall. The bell was brittle from faulty alloys of tin, pewter, and copper.

The Liberty Bell was used to ring on Independence Day, Washington's Birthday, and Election Day; and to summon legislators into session. In 1835 the bell was dubbed the "Liberty Bell" in the Anti-Slavery Record, an Abolitionist publication. Inscribed on the bell is the message: "Proclaim Liberty Throughout All the Land Unto All the Inhabitants thereof."

On April 1, 1996, Taco Bell announced it had bought the Liberty Bell and changed its name to "Taco Liberty Bell." They claimed the bell would be kept at Taco Bell's home office in Irvine, California. There was outrage, and Taco Bell had to admit it was an April fools' Day joke. The sale of enchiladas rose that week by $500,000.
Independence National Historical Park

3) Independence National Historical Park (must see)

Independence National Historical Park in Philadelphia has been called "America's most historic square mile." Administered by the National Park Service, the 55 landscaped acres hold several often-visited historic sites within the Old City and Society Hill neighborhoods.

The heart of the Park is Independence Hall, the former Old State House of Philadelphia. This is where the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of the United States were adopted. The first Continental Congress met in 1774 in Carpenters' Hall next door to Independence Hall, the home of the Second Continental Congress.

The Liberty Bell hangs in the Liberty Bell Center across from Independence Hall. The First Bank of the United States is in the Park. The Second Bank of the United States was closed down by President Andrew Jackson. Nearby is the City Tavern, a refuge of delegates and John Adams' favorite hangout.

The Park houses Franklin Court Museum dedicated to Benjamin Franklin. Another park resident is the United States Postal Service Museum. The three blocks immediately north of Independence Hall is Independence Mall. Besides the Liberty Bell Center, the Mall holds the National Constitution Center and George Washington's residence in his second term.

The first proposal for Independence National Historical Park was floated in 1915. Architects Albert Kelsey and David K. Boyd were driven to create a more sylvan locale for Independence Hall. The action was not taken until June 1948, when Congress authorized the creation of the Park. The Park is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Christ Church Burial Ground

4) Christ Church Burial Ground

Christ Church Burial Ground in Philadelphia is an important early-American cemetery, which is still active. Despite the name, it is actually three blocks west of Christ Church. The land was acquired in 1719 when the church's property was full, and the new land was on what was back then considered the outskirts of town.

Christ Church is an Episcopal church founded in 1695, and it was the place of worship for many Revolutionary War participants, including George Washington.

Here is the final resting place of many historic national figures and prominent Philadelphians, including Benjamin Franklin and his wife Deborah, as well as four other signers of the Declaration of Independence: Benjamin Rush, Francis Hopkinson, Joseph Hewes, and George Ross. Two more signers (James Wilson and Robert Morris) are buried at Christ Church itself.

The Burial Ground is open to the public for a small fee. When the Burial Ground is closed, one can still view Benjamin Franklin's gravesite from the sidewalk at the corner of 5th and Arch Streets through a set of iron rails. The rail opening in the brick wall was added for public viewing in 1858 at the request of the Franklin Institute.

It is an old Philadelphia tradition for people to leave pennies at Franklin's resting place.

Further away from Franklin, the visitors can see a small but neatly kept space with lesser-known graves, some of which are also quite interesting.
Betsy Ross House

5) Betsy Ross House (must see)

The story goes that Mrs. Eizabeth Claypoole, also known as Betsy Ross, had a visit from George Washington in 1776. She persuaded him, some say, that a five-pointed star was better than a six-pointed star. Betsy was an upholsterer, and she had been making flags for the Pennsylvania Navy. Flags were her specialty.

True or not, this captivating tale was told by her grandsons, William and George Canby, in the 1870s. People loved it, and it became a popular national legend. Number 239 Arch Street in Philadelphia is where Betsy is said to have lived with her third husband, John Claypoole. The house is a restoration done by architect Richardson Okie in 1940.

The "Betsy Ross" house that stands today may have been the house used by Betsy for her business. The residence of Betsy and her husband was adjacent to the present house. The houses next door were demolished and turned into a courtyard.

Richardson Okie used materials from the demolished houses in his restoration. A brick structure was built behind the house. Windows and a dormer were replaced. The whole property was gifted to the city of Philadelphia in 1941. In 1974 the courtyard was provided with a fountain.

As part of the American Bicentennial of 1976, city authorities moved the remains of Betsy and her husband, John Claypoole. They were reinterred in the courtyard of the Betsy Ross House. Betsy is thought to have resided in the house from 1776 until 1779.

John Ross, Betsy's first husband, a member of the militia, died in a gunpowder explosion. Her second husband, Joseph Ashburn, a mariner captured by the British, died in prison in Plymouth, England. John Claypoole was a fellow prisoner. He knew Ashburn. Betsy married Claypoole in 1783.

The Betsy Ross House is traditionally the site of Philadelphia's celebration of Flag Day. This legendary woman lived and worked here for a few short years when the Great Experiment began. Whatever else she may have done, she made flags.
Elfreth's Alley

6) Elfreth's Alley (must see)

In the 18th century, Philadelphia became a bustling city, overcrowded with artisans, tradesmen, shipwrights, metalsmiths, glassblowers, and furniture makers. As a result, the landowners Arthur Wells and John Gilbert started a cart path from Front Street to Second Street in 1703. The path became Elfreth's Alley, named after Jeremiah Elfreth, an 18th-century blacksmith and a man of property in young Philadelphia.

By the 1770s Georgian and Federal-style houses lined the cobblestone Alley. Many of the structures were uniquely Philadelphian Trinity houses. These were three-story houses, exceptionally narrow, with one room on each floor. The floors were referred to as "Father, Son, and Holy Ghost." And that is how Trinity houses got their name.

In the 19th and 20th centuries, the industry started to close in on the Alley. A stove factory took its place in a row of residential houses. Immigrants, hoping for jobs, came in waves. In 1934 the Elfreth's Alley Association (EAA) was founded by Alley resident Dolly Ottey. Ottey fought to combat the deterioration of the Alley by encroaching industry in the early 20th century.

Elfreth's Alley Museum is located in houses 124 and 126. The museum preserves the home of 18th-century dressmakers. Tour guides discuss other homes and inhabitants of the Alley. On "Fete Day" in early June, which celebrates Alley's diverse ethnic heritage, the residents open their homes. There are historical reenactments with drum and fife bands. The Alley also host events for the 4th of July, Oktoberfestivities, and Halloween.
Christ Church

7) Christ Church (must see)

Founded in 1695, Christ Church is considered one of the finest Georgian structures in America. It is often called the "Nation's Church" for having hosted members of the Continental Congress, including Washington, Adams, Rush, Franklin, and others.

The building itself is large and impressive. It was the town's tallest at the time and, for some 50+ years, the tallest structure in the U.S. Outside, the walkways are lined with the graves of early church members. One may recognize a few as being signers of the Declaration of Independence. Christ Church was a site where many famous Americans worshiped during the country's founding, and the pews are labeled with their names.

One of the most striking aspects of the place is that the windows are not stained-glass, but are clear, letting in not only the daylight but pristine views of the outdoors. That is very unusual for churches of the era, but it makes the interior quite lovely and bright. Docents are there to answer questions.

Don't miss the historical collection, including the 14th-century baptismal font in which William Penn was baptized, along with a rare book collection.
Benjamin Franklin Museum and Court

8) Benjamin Franklin Museum and Court

The Benjamin Franklin Museum lies in the fully-enclosed courtyard where the Founding Father's house and print shop once stood. Although these were torn down long ago, some archaeological remains were excavated and are visible beneath glass windows in the ground along with explanatory signs.

"Ghost" houses were built in the exact spots where the house and print shop once stood, so one gets a real sense of how the site would have looked when those structures were standing. There is also a working 18th-century print shop adjacent which is a neat experience.

It doesn't cost anything to walk through Franklin Court, view the "ghost" houses, or visit the working print shop. The museum costs a very reasonable fee. While the space is not huge, it provides a very thorough and interesting overview of Franklin's life and contributions to the country. There are lots of interactive objects for kids and fascinating things to see, read, and ponder for adults.

The visitors can get both an overview of Franklin's life, as well as little interesting tidbits of trivia about him. They even have entertaining videos illustrating some humorous (and informative) episodes in his life, which seem to be everyone's favorite part. All in all, there is something for everyone, regardless of age.
Museum of the American Revolution

9) Museum of the American Revolution (must see)

Fairly recently opened in April of 2017 and located near other historic sites in the heart of Philadelphia's old city, the Museum of the American Revolution is still new, and the facility is modern, bright, well laid-out, and spacious enough to handle crowds. Fittingly enough, its displays take you through the colonial periods leading up to the war with films and exhibits, that are interesting for all to enjoy, no matter the level of interest.

The most memorable piece on display in the museum is the tent that George Washington slept in during the American Revolution.

In addition to artworks, textiles, weapons, manuscripts, and rare books, there also are some interactive areas for children, plus a large and well-stocked gift shop on the 1st floor.

You may skip the introductory film on the 1st floor, but don't skip the presentation on George Washington's tent, which is the museum's highlight. Check to see what times the presentation is playing, and make sure to show up a little bit early, as the theater is not large and fills up quickly.
City Tavern

10) City Tavern

The City Tavern offers great food, fantastic service in period dress, and an outstanding atmosphere. Though not the original built-in 1773, but a historically accurate replication from 1976, you would be hard-pressed to know.

The original suffered fire damage in 1834 and was razed in 1854. Congress petitioned the Independence National Historical Park to preserve and protect this property, literally one where the Founding Fathers dined, drank ale, and argued political philosophy. Curiously, it was Ben Franklin who introduced tofu to the Americas, and the tofu pasta inspired by his recipe can be enjoyed in his private dining room.

One just needs to see the menu, which includes such delicacies as Thomas Jefferson's favorite sweet potato biscuits, chocolate bread pudding, turkey pot pie based on Martha Washington's recipe, West Indies pepper pot soup, and ales brewed according to Washington's and Jefferson's original recipes.

Guests can stay inside for the colonial ambiance or choose to dine outdoors in the back garden area. The restaurant also features an acclaimed kids' menu, so a visit here with young ones isn't just about the historical and educational experience.

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