UNESCO World Heritage Site #4: Independence Hall (USA)

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.”

-The Declaration of Independence

Independence Hall
Independence Hall

My Visit

I first visited Independence Hall when my mother and little bro came to visit me in Philadelphia in 2007. I moved to Philly after graduating from the University of Kansas to join Teach For America, spending two years teaching math to middle school and high school students in Philadelphia.

Moving to Philly was exciting. I picked it blindly, and I fell in love with its blend of history, attitude, arrogance, inferiority complex, architecture, food culture, and dependence on Wawa.

When my family came to visit for the first time, I was really excited to show off my new home to my family. And of course, to do that thing we end up doing so often-only indulging in tourist sites when people come to visit. So even though I lived in the city for a decade, I only went inside Independence Hall twice-during this family visit and again last week when I was back visiting the city to catch up with friends.

The first time, it was a snowy, blistery cold March. This year, it was a balmy January that one could easily have confused for early April.

Waiting outside in line
Waiting outside in line

The Site

Independence Hall is one of the most significant buildings in American history. It’s where the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution were debated and signed. Originally known as the Pennsylvania State House, it housed the three branches of the colonial government of Pennsylvania.

Independence Hall is built in the Georgian style and took twenty-one years to complete. Today the building looks beautiful, but small compared to other government buildings. However, according to USHistory.org, it was a significant architectural work during it’s time:

“Construction of the Pennsylvania State House, which came to be known as Independence Hall, began in 1732. It was a symbol of the nation to come. At the time it was the most ambitious public building in the thirteen colonies.”

 

The Constitution was Signed in the Assembly Room
The Constitution was Signed in the Assembly Room

Major historical events that took place here:

  • The Second Continental Congress met, debated, and ratified the Declaration of Independence from 1775-1776. Among those in attendance: George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, Samuel Adams, Benjamin Franklin, John Hancock, Elbridge Gerry, Robert Morris, Benjamin Rush, and Samuel Chase
  • George Washington was appointed the Commander in Chief of the Continental Army here in 1775
  • The Constitutional Convention met here in 1787 to improve the Articles of Confederation. George Washington was elected the president of the convention. They debated and adopted the US Constitution.  Notable attendees: George Washington, James Madison, Alexander Hamilton, Benjamin Franklin, Roger Sherman (the only person to sign the four major founding documents: Declaration of Independence, the Articles of Association, the Articles of Confederation, and the US Constitution), William Paterson, Robert Morris, and John Rutledge
  • First home of the Liberty Bell from the 1780’s to the 1850’s (now housed across the street)
  • In 1861, Abraham Lincoln gave an address in the hall. Later, his body was held in state here for two days in 1865 during the long funeral train.
  • In 1918, Tomáš Masaryk  declared Czechoslovakia’s independence on the steps of Independence Hall
  • In 1948, the Congress designated the building as a National Historic Park overseen by the National Parks Service.
  • History my father would care about: Scenes from Rocky II were shot here, while scenes from National Tresure that take place here were actually shot at a Replica in California.

From UNESCO’s description:

The Declaration of Independence was adopted and the Constitution of the United States of America framed in this fine early 18th-century building in Philadelphia. These events, which took place respectively in 1776 and 1787, were conceived in a national context, but the universal principles of freedom and democracy set forth in these two documents have had a profound impact on lawmakers and political thinkers around the world. They became the models for similar charters of other nations, and may be considered to have heralded the modern era of government.

 

The Assembly Room at Independence Hall
The Assembly Room at Independence Hall

Getting There

I stayed in a Rittenhouse Square hotel and walked about ten blocks. Philadelphia is a very walkable city, with its interior laid out on a grid (thanks William Penn!). Independence Hall is also easily accessible from the 5th Street stop on the Market-Frankford subway line. Here are directions from the National Parks Service covering driving directions and public transit.

The nearby Jewish History Museum
The nearby Jewish History Museum

Getting In

Entry is free. From March-December, you need to pick up a timed entry ticket from the Independence Visitor Center or online (reserving online is $1.50 per person). In January and February, you do not need a ticket, you can go in and wait in line for the next timed tour.

The clock on the outside of the Hall
The clock on the outside of the Hall

Things to Do While You’re There

  • Go on the timed tour of Independence Hall
  • After your tour, check out the 2nd Floor (if opened), and the exhibits in the west wing
  • Tour Congress Hall
  • Nearby are other sites: The Liberty Bell is housed across the street in the Liberty Bell Center, the Independence Visitor’s Center is also across the street, the Benjamin Franklin Museum is a few blocks away, Declaration House is a few blocks in the other direction and is where Jefferson worked on the Declaration, etc. Here is a more comprehensive list of sites in Philadelphia (not all in the immediate vicinity)
The Liberty Bell with Independence Hall in the Background
The Liberty Bell with Independence Hall in the Background

Tips

  • If you’re visiting during summer or school vacations and need a specific time, reserve tickets ahead of time
  • Philadelphia is a great city for food. If you want to eat some colonial grub like a pepperpot soup or Martha Washington’s Chocolate Mousse cake, head to City Tavern where some of the Founding Fathers enjoyed their free time during the conventions.
  • If you’re looking for some good Philadelphia restaurant recommendations that are more this century, check out this 2 Day Guide to Philadelphia from The Foodie Miles.
  • If you’re looking for things to do nearby after the building closes, here’s a great page of things to do in Philadelphia after 5pm

 

George Washington's statue in front of the hall
George Washington’s statue in front of the hall

Further Reading

 

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UNESCO World Heritage Site #4: Independence Hall (USA)
UNESCO World Heritage Site #4: Independence Hall (USA)

13 Comments

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  4. I love “National Treasure” so I got a kick out of visiting Independence Hall last year too! We took the free tour, coming from Australia the history was mind blowing to me, and then visited Liberty Bell on our own after. Great post with fantastic tips, it’s making me want to go back to Philly again!

    • Philly is a great place, definitely worth a second trip! Although might not be too feasible from Austrailia lol. It’s cool you made it to my city. One day I’ll make it to Austrailia!

  5. Majestic building, UNESCO knows what to protect! Thank you for this article, it’s very informative and detailed, would love to visit the place one day!

  6. Since I am getting more and more interested into the history of the United States, I now know where to stop by additional on my visit to Philadelphia next march.
    The architecture looks already so inviting and interesting, but I can imagine to enter and breath the old spirit must be something very unique…

  7. What a cool place to explore, with so much history! Thanks for all the Philly tips too!

  8. I’d love to bring my son and visit. He’s 14 and I think it would be a perfect time to explore American history with him via travel. What is it like in summer? How hot does it get?

    • Philly gets hot, but not too hot. But it gets crowded in the summer, especially in July. If you go early in the morning, it’d be easier. If you take your son, Ride the Ducks. Totally cheesy, but everyone we took to Ride the Ducks absolutely loved it.

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