The Independence National Historical Park in Philadelphia

3 July 2013 | Author/Destination: | Rubric: General, Museums, Exhibitions, Palaces, Castles, Manors, Parks, UNESCO World Heritage Reading Time:  9 minutes

Independence Hall in Philadelphia by Ferdinand Richardt, 1858-63 © White House Art Collection

Independence Hall in Philadelphia by Ferdinand Richardt, 1858-63 © White House Art Collection

Independence National Historical Park is a United States National Historical Park in Philadelphia that preserves several sites associated with the American Revolution and the nation’s founding history. Administered by the National Park Service, the 55-acre (22 ha) park comprises much of the downtown (or “Center City“) historic district. The park has been nicknamed “America’s most historic square mile” because of its abundance of historic landmarks, and the park sites are located within the Old City and Society Hill neighborhoods of Philadelphia. The centerpiece of the park is Independence Hall, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, where the Declaration of Independence and the United States Constitution were debated and adopted in the late 18th century. Independence Hall was the principal meetinghouse of the Second Continental Congress from 1775 to 1783 and the Constitutional Convention in the summer of 1787. Across the street from Independence Hall, the Liberty Bell, an iconic symbol of American independence, is displayed in the Liberty Bell Center. The park contains other historic buildings, such as the First Bank of the United States, the first bank chartered by the United States Congress, and the Second Bank of the United States, which had its charter renewal vetoed by President Andrew Jackson as part of the Bank War.

Most of the park’s historic structures are located in the vicinity of the four landscaped blocks between Chestnut, Walnut, 2nd, and 6th streets. The park also contains Franklin Court, the site of a museum dedicated to Benjamin Franklin and the United States Postal Service Museum. An additional three blocks directly north of Independence Hall, collectively known as Independence Mall, contain the Liberty Bell Center, National Constitution Center, Independence Visitor Center, and the former site of the President’s House.
Carpenters' Hall © Davidt8 Congress Hall © - Tim Eschaton First Bank of the United States © Kanan H. Jani/cc-by-sa-3.0 Independence Mall in 2004 © National Park Service - Robin Miller Independence Hall © Rdsmith4/cc-by-sa-2.5 Independence National Historical Park map © National Park Service - Harpers Ferry Center Statue of George Washington © Phillyfan0419 Liberty Bell Pavilion - Liberty Bell © Ronen Perry/cc-by-3.0 Independence Hall in Philadelphia by Ferdinand Richardt, 1858-63 © White House Art Collection
Independence Hall in Philadelphia by Ferdinand Richardt, 1858-63 © White House Art Collection
Most of Independence National Historical Park’s buildings and land are contained within the broad plaza called Independence Mall, which is bookended by the National Constitution Center on the north, Independence Hall on the south, and Fifth and Sixth Streets on the east and west, respectively. The Mall was created in the 1950s by city planner Ed Bacon, who demolished “blocks of Victorian architecture” to bring an open space to the heart of historic Philadelphia in front of Independence Hall. Most of the buildings that previously occupied the site of Independence Mall were late nineteenth-century buildings that replaced earlier buildings destroyed by fire in 1851 and 1855. Proponents of the mall thought these buildings were eyesores because of their contrast with the historic nature of the area. As plans emerged, retailers on Market Street resisted, arguing that the demolition was out-of-scale with the comparatively small landmark at its southern end.

By 1959, when the bulldozers finished work on Independence Mall, only the Free Quaker Meetinghouse remained. The building had been used as a warehouse for plumbing supplies before its restoration as part of the project. In 1961, the building was moved 38 feet west and 8 feet south to its present location to allow for the widening of Fifth Street. To plan for the celebration of the United States Bicentennial in 1976, the National Park Service relocated the Liberty Bell from Independence Hall to the glass-enclosed Liberty Bell Pavilion, as the Independence Hall could not accommodate the millions expected to visit Philadelphia that year. In 1997, the National Park Service announced a plan to redesign Independence Mall. As part of the plan, several new public buildings were constructed. The Independence Visitors Center was opened in November 2001, the National Constitution Center was opened in July 2003, and the Liberty Bell, which had been housed in a glass pavilion, was moved into the Liberty Bell Center in October 2003. Exhibits include coverage of slavery in US history and its abolition. At the corner of 6th and Market Street, a President’s House memorial outlines the site of the former mansion and commemorates the slaves who worked there. The former building had been demolished in portions starting in 1835, and its remnants were removed during the creation of Independence Mall.

Read more on Independence National Historical Park, Independence Visitor Center and Wikipedia Independence National Historical Park. Photos by Wikipedia Commons.

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