• Registration Year

    1979

  • Registered Sector

    Independence Hall

  • Historical Function

    The Declaration of Independence (1776) and the Constitution of the United States (1787) were both signed in this building in Philadelphia.

Urban Morphology

Founded in 1683, Philadelphia is the largest and most complete fulfillment of the kind of model city envisioned by Enlightenment architects. Its rational gridded street plan, punctuated by five green squares of park, is the physical corollary of the just society that William Penn planned to inhabit it. Although little of the street plan was built and occupied by the time of the Revolution, the grid remained the symbol of Philadelphia, and it continued to guide the growth of the city. Today’s Philadelphia preserves most of the seventeenth-century plan and its five squares, and in Society Hill and Old City more buildings from the colonial and federal periods are preserved than anywhere else in America.

In the eighteenth century, Philadelphia was the largest English-speaking city outside the British Isles. As the de facto capital of British interests in North America and the largest center of economic and cultural life of the colonies, it became the center of nascent nationalist and revolutionary activity. Here were held the first and  second Continental Congresses, leading to the Declaration of Independence in 1776, and Philadelphia remained the wartime capital except during the period of its occupation by the British. After the American victory, the new nation’s leaders again convened in Philadelphia to draft the Constitution, and after the adoption of the Constitution in 1789, Philadelphia served as the capital in 1790-1800, while Washington, D.C. was being constructed. During that period, the Bill of Rights was drafted and adopted, and many of the new nation’s institutions were invented. The places and spaces in which the idea of America was born are preserved in today’s Philadelphia.

Early nineteenth-century Philadelphia was America’s first financial capital, and as that function (and leadership in the population race) shifted to New York, Philadelphia gathered the nation’s largest concentration of industry and technology. Here were located the largest manufacturer of railway equipment (the Baldwin Locomotive Works) and the largest corporation (the Pennsylvania Railroad Company) in the world. Philadelphia’s material strength made possible the Union victory in the Civil War, and it was in Philadelphia in 1876 that America celebrated its survival and its emergence on a global stage with a great world’s fair. The skeleton of this vast industrial infrastructure — an overlay on Philadelphia’s colonial grid — remains visible throughout the city. Its superlatives are durably and centrally celebrated in the iron tower of City Hall, the tallest building in the world when it was completed in 1901.

In the twentieth century, Philadelphia remained a center of industry, but farsighted leaders began to reimagine it as a city defined by commerce and culture. A manufacturing district was demolished (starting in 1907) to make way for the Benjamin Franklin Parkway--the symbol and physical embodiment of that new kind of metropolis. The city’s universities, museums, hospitals, and research institutions would grow in size and reputation throughout the century, laying the foundations for today’s economy of “eds and meds.”

In the aftermath of World War II, Philadelphia distinguished itself from the many American cities that eviscerated their downtowns with destructive “urban renewal” projects.  While Philadelphia built its share of new highways and high rise public housing,  it carefully nurtured its successful residential neighborhoods, and in Society Hill and Old City, it chose to preserve and restore (rather than demolish) a vast but severely dilapidated inventory of buildings from the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. 

Registration Criteria

Criterion (vi) The universal principles of the right to revolution and self-government as expressed in the U.S. Declaration of Independence (1776) and Constitution (1787), which were debated, adopted, and signed in Independence Hall, have profoundly influenced lawmakers and politicians around the world. The fundamental concepts, format, and even substantive elements of the two documents have influenced governmental charters in many nations and even the United Nations Charter.

Historical Reference

“Independence Hall” was built in 1732-48 on what were then the outskirts of Philadelphia to house the government of the colony of Pennsylvania. Created by a gentleman amateur architect (Andrew Hamilton) and a gifted carpenter-builder (Edmund Woolley), its architectural forms were old-fashioned. It was essentially a big central-hall house. But it was exceptionally large (over 100 feet long), and with the addition of a churchlike bell tower in 1750-52, it bespoke the aspirations of a new kind of civil society, which aimed to steer its own route to the future.   

That future was charted in a succession of historic gatherings within the walls of Independence Hall. Here met the Second Continental Congress, which adopted the Declaration of Independence. The wartime government met in the building as well, and after the victory, the Federal Constitutional Convention returned to draft the Constitution. Between 1790 and 1800, while the city of Washington was being built, the new American government continued to meet in Independence Hall, but they turned the main body of the building back to the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and occupied instead the just-completed east and west wings, designed for state courts and the city government. These latter functions remained when the national government left for Washington in 1800.  (At the same time the state government decamped for Lancaster, before ultimately moving to Harrisburg.)

Until the completion of the new City Hall in Center Square at the end of the nineteenth century, city government remained in the historic building. Here, too, Charles Wilson Peale moved his famous museum, the first public museum in America, in 1802. But Independence Hall’s most important function in the nineteenth century was symbolic, as it has been ever after, as the largest reminder of the republic’s creative and perilous beginnings. This historic importance was first recognized concretely in 1818, when Philadelphia purchased the building from the state to save it from demolition. A new sense of American history was coming into being, and this was fanned by Lafayette’s visit to Independence Hall in September 1824, as part of his farewell tour of America. That inspired some hasty repairs to the building and led in 1828 to the replacement of the steeple, which had been judged unsound and taken down in 1781.

Independence Hall is thus both the place where many of the most important episodes of American history occurred and the place where we devised what to remember and how to remember it.

Jim Kenney

Mayor of Philadelphia

Mr Jim Kenney
Mayor
City of Philadelphia
City Hall
Philadelphia, PA, USA
19102
Tel:

Fax:

Email:
Ms Sylvie Gallier Howard
Deputy Chief of Staff, Director of Commerce
City of Philadelphia, Department of Commerce
1515 Arch Street
Philadelphia, PA, USA
19102
Tel:
215.683.4652/ 215.478.3286
Fax:

Email:
sylvie.gallierhoward@phila.gov
Mr. John F. Smith III
Chair, Board of Directors
Global Philadelphia
2500 One Liberty Place
Philadelphia, PA, USA
19103
Tel:
(215) 241 - 7920
Fax:

Email:
jfsmith@globalphiladelphia.org
Ms. Zabeth Teelucksingh
Executive Director
Global Philadelphia Association
2500 One Liberty Place
Philadelphia, PA, USA
19103
Tel:
(215) 851 - 8112
Fax:

Email:
zabeth.teelucksingh@globalphiladelphia.org