We returned to Philadelphia during the following week. Not wanting to have problems with the PATCO folks again we decided to drive into town. There is an open air parking lot at Penns Landing. Although they charge $20 a day to park that was comparable to taking the train. Then it is just a few blocks to walk into the historic area. Today would be an exploration on foot, just out to see the area. After parking we took a few minutes to check out a sailboat that is used for river cruises. If we are ever here in warmer weather that sounds like fun.
Our first stop was the Ben Franklin Post Office which still functions as an active Post Office. His home no longer stands but a metal frame has been erected to give you a feeling for size. They’ve marked where his privy and well were, just ten feet apart. No wonder folks got sick drinking water back then!
On to the Federal Reserve Tower just a block down and across the street from the Visitors Center. Here you will find a free exhibit about the history of our monetary system and the role of the Federal Reserve. There is tight security here including a body scan machine. No photos allowed either. We didn’t always have a true national currency. The First Bank of the United States was located in Philadelphia and can be visited as can the building that housed the Second United States Bank. Both failed to have their charters renewed after the first twenty years. It would be 75 years until the Federal Reserve was created and the system we have today would be created. At one time someone traveling from Illinois to New York would find the money in their pocket (state issued) was worth only 50 cents on the dollar! There is a display of counterfeit money and you need to decide if it is real or fake. Some are fairly easy but some really require an expert to detect the flaws.
Now for some walking and just seeing the sights. The Betsy Ross House was mobbed by school groups so that was crossed off the list. We passed the Arch Street Meeting House, a Quaker Meeting House built in 1804. Then on to the Carpenters Hall. The building was constructed by a trade group prior to the American Revolution. The Carpenters Hall functioned much as a union would today minus collective bargaining. Ben Franklin had a history with the Carpenters Hall as one of its members built his home and he used the upstairs of the Hall to meet with a French spy before the Revolution began. It was the site of the First Continental Congress and a set of chairs used by them is on display.
Walking on toward the Thaddeus Kosciuszko National Memorial you pass the Todd House. You may not recognize the name Dolley Todd. She was married to John Todd, a lawyer, and had two children. In 1793 she was widowed when her husband died of yellow fever. She also lost one child the same year. You most likely do know of her as Dolley Madison after she married James Madison and became our 4th first lady. The 1776 home is open only for tours by the National Park Service. Further down the block we saw a sign stating that Casper Wistar lived in this home. Who was he? A noted physician, anatomy professor and abolitionist, he instructed Merriweather Lewis in medicine and paleontology prior to the Corps of Discovery heading west.
Just a block or two further was an old church, St. Mary. Several plaques hung on the front wall telling of her part in the early history of our country. On July 4, 1779 the Continental Congress and numerous dignitaries were here to celebrate the first public religious celebration of the Declaration of Independence. On November 4, 1781 another service was held to give thanks for the victory at Yorktown. Besides our leaders, the ministers of France and Spain attended as well as numerous French troops. The conquered flags of Great Britain were laid upon the altar. Another tablet noted that John Barry, father of the United States Navy, was buried in the adjoining cemetery. John Barry came to America from Ireland. He was the first captain of the first ship owned by the Continental Congress and served as commander of the Navy during the Revolution. George Washington then appointed him the first supreme commander of the Navy. Yet another plaque notes this as the resting place of Thomas Fitzsimmons (signer of the Declaration of independence), George Meade (grandfather of George Gordon Meade the Union general at Gettysburg) , General Stephen Moylan (George Washington’s aide-de-camp and Commander of the Cavalry at the close of the Revolution) and Matthew Carey (leading publisher and a chief force in the creation of American literature). If you’d like to read more about Matthew Carey please see the information photo below. To make it easier to read, enlarge to full screen and zoom in. A walk through the grave yard lead to more interesting signs. Philippe Charles Jean Baptiste Tronson DuCordray was a French military artillery expert and engineer who volunteered to come to America to assist the colonists almost three years before France officially entered the war. He was made Major General and commanded the works along the Delaware River. He drowned crossing the Schuylkill River and was given a state funeral and the Continental Congress attended. Another foreign dignitary so honored was Don Juan de Miralles, an agent of the Spanish government in 1780. Colonel Charles von Kusserow was a Prussian born army officer who fought with the Union Army during the Civil War at Antietam, Fredricksburg and Yorktown and received many honors. The sign by his grave says he suffered sunstroke twice during his service and died at age 46 in 1879.
There was a small sign at the street side next to a building called the Powel House. It told about how in 1931 Frances Wister and Herman Durhing, an AIA architect, formed the Philadelphia Society for Landmarks. They bought and restored the Powel House. Then they lobbied not to have historic properties razed and for new buildings to be built in a harmonious design. Some of Philadelphia’s treasures that were saved are the Franklin Institute (now the Atwater Kent Museum), the U. S. Customs House and Elfreth’s Alley (the oldest continuously inhabited residential street in America). They were instrumental in getting Independence National Park established. The Society now manages four properties that are open to the public: Powel House (home of patriot Mayor Samuel Powel), Physick House (home of the Father of American Surgery), Gumbelthorpe (summer home of the Wister family) and Waynesborough (home of Major General Anthony Wayne). Maybe we’ll see them on another trip.
By now we reached the Kosciuszko National Memorial only to find it closed. It’s open only on Saturdays and Sundays. Guess we should check the NPS website before starting out. The Edgar Allen Poe house was also closed for renovation. More reasons to return. Our last stop was the National Jewish American Museum which opened in 2010. There is airport type security here. Steve had to leave his pocket knife with security until we left. We had an hour and a half to spend but could have stayed twice as long. The six floors of the museum are packed with displays from early Jewish immigration through the present. There are rotating exhibits as well as the permanent collection. Maybe we’ll come back and finish some other time.
All of this sightseeing had given us an appetite. We couldn’t leave without having a Philadelphia cheese steak so we stopped at a local pub on the way back to the truck. While we did a lot there is so much more to see… there’s always something to do in Philadelphia.