Independence Hall is a public building in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, which resides on Chestnut Street on a city block with other historical buildings. Along with Independence Hall, the landscaped city block houses Congress Hall, Old City Hall, the Liberty Bell, and Franklin Court. The area is known as Independence Square. Known as America's birthplace, Independence Hall is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site not for its architectural design but for the documents of freedom and democracy, the Declaration of Independence, and the United States Constitution. These documents were drafted and debated forming the democracy of the United States and influencing lawmakers and politicians worldwide.
In 1732, Andrew Hamilton, a lawyer and Speaker of the Pennsylvania Assembly, collaborated with master builder Edmund Woolley to build the Pennsylvania State House. Completed in 1753, the red brick building now known as Independence Hall has undergone multiple restorations to maintain its original Georgian Style.
Independence Hall was the home of what is now known as the Liberty Bell. The bell arrived in Philadelphia in 1752 from London. When tested for its sound, the rim cracked. Local foundry workers John Pass and John Stow attempted to recast the bell. On their second attempt, they produced an architecturally and auditorily pleasing bell. The bell was installed in the bell tower in June of 1753. The original cracked bell is now located in the Liberty Bell Center.
From April 1775 to September 1783, the State House functioned as the state's and national governments' capital during America's War for Independence. The building briefly served as a jail and hospital while the British occupied Philadelphia from 1777 - 1778. Founding fathers John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, Alexander Hamilton, John Jay, and George Washington met in the Assembly Room of Independence Hall to plan the future of a new nation. The Declaration of Independence resulted from their planning, and on July 4, 1776, the document was established. The signing of this famous historical document is celebrated today as America's Independence Day, more commonly known as July 4th. Later in 1781, the Articles of Confederation would also be ratified. In 1787, Independence Hall hosted the Constitutional Convention. The purpose of the convention was to revise the Articles of Confederation. Their revisions resulted in the United States Constitution.
Architecture and Design
Independence Hall is an example of Georgian style architecture, which was popular in the colonies from 1720 to 1840. The style takes inspiration from Greek and Roman architecture and refers to when four British monarchs, George I, George II, George III, and George IV reigned. The Georgian style was revived in the 19th century in the United States as Colonial Revival Architecture and Neo-Georgian Architecture in Britain. The exterior of Independence Hall contains marble keystones above each curved window. The keystone located at the center of the arch supports and balances the design. A carved wooden cornice and wooden balustrades extend between the building's chimneys. Red brick, a popular and sturdy material at the time, is used for the exterior.
Between 1750 and 1756, the south side of Independence Hall received an addition of a masonry tower with a wooden steeple. The tower seen today dates back to 1828. Architect William Strickland was hired to restore the steeple. Strickland incorporated a clock and additional embellishments into the original design. With the addition of the tower, a grand staircase was added to the second floor. During his time as Governor of Pennsylvania from 1785 to 1788, Benjamin Franklin used the staircase to access his office.
Samuel Harding was hired to fabricate wood carvings to decorate Central Hall and Tower Stair Hall. Working near the ceiling, Harding created masks by carving deep into the wood. This technique allows the expressions on the masks to be visible. Harding's work in Tower Stair Hall includes elaborate scroll-carved friezes at each stair landing. Visitors can see his original designs today. In the 1950s, officials noticed the original treads in the staircase were badly worn and needed repair. To avoid damaging the original structure, professionals installed slip-in treads. These slip-in treads can be easily replaced as needed allowing the original treads to remain.
Independence Hall is authentic to its original design from the 1800s. Except for renovations needed to sustain the structure's integrity, the original exterior and interior elements of Independence Hall are intact. The abundance of visitors, air pollution, and acid rain continue to degrade the building. Independence Hall receives protection under the National Park Service to preserve its authenticity as America's birthplace. The federal government maintains the protection of the building.
Visiting Independence Hall
Free of charge, visitors to Independence Hall are welcome to marvel at the building's design and be educated about the history of America through guided tours. Inside, Assembly Hall showcases a scene of tables. These tables are arranged in two rows separated by a center aisle. The Declaration of Independence and the United States Constitution were debated, agreed upon, and signed in this room. The Declaration of Common Aims was also signed in this room and is often displayed in the West Wing. Although free, tickets must be reserved before enjoying a tour of Independence Hall. Each tour has a max of 60 visitors. After touring the hall, visitors can walk to Liberty Bell Center to see the hall's original cracked bell. Philadelphia's Old City is full of historical sites within walking distance of Independence Hall. Sites include Benjamin Franklin's grave, the house of Betsy Ross, and Elfreth's Alley, the oldest continuous residential street.
- Independence Hall is featured on the back of the $100 bill and the Kennedy Bicentennial half-dollar.
- Independence Hall was the location for the Second Continental Congress from 1775 to 1783.
- After his assassination, Abraham Lincoln’s body was taken from Washington D.C. to Independence Hall.
- The League to Enforce Peace, a group of European and American leaders, met at Independence Hall in 1915. These leaders agreed to be united to protect and support from aggression.
- Exterior shots were filmed at Independence Hall in the movie National Treasures, starring Nicholas Cage.
Independence Hall and surrounding historical buildings in Independence Square were witnesses to critical moments in America's history. Artifacts such as books, manuscripts, personal items, and decorative arts provide visitors with an insight into a time when America fought to be free. The solid brick walls, long windows, detailed carvings, and decorative bell tower of Independence Hall provide education and visual beauty to all who visit.