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 that time it was the most ambitious public building in the thirteen colonies. The Provincial government paid for construction as they went along, so it was finished piecemeal. Independence Hall is, by every estimate, the birthplace of the United States. It was within its walls that the Declaration of Independence was adopted. It was here that the Constitution of the United States was debated, drafted and signed.
The hall is a red brick building designed in the Georgian style. It consists of a central building with bell tower and steeple, attached to two smaller wings via arcaded hyphens. The highest point to the tip of the steeple spire is 168 ft, 71⁄4 inches above the ground. The two wings were demolished in 1811–1812, though these have since been reconstructed.
Two smaller buildings adjoin the wings of Independence Hall: Old City Hall to the east, and Congress Hall to the west. These three buildings are together on a city block known as Independence Square, along with Philosophical Hall, the original home of the American Philosophical Society. Since its construction in the mid-20th century, to the north has been Independence Mall, which includes the current home of the Liberty Bell.
The Declaration of Independence and U.S. Constitution were both signed in this room. Later, the room became a shrine to the founding of the nation, proudly displaying the Liberty Bell and original paintings of the Founding Fathers. That was the scene when President-elect Abraham Lincoln visited the Assembly Room and praised the ideals expressed in the Declaration of Independence. Following his assassination, Lincoln’s body lay in repose here for two days. Visitors today can ponder their own role in the on-going experiment in self-government. Independence Hall has been used in more recent times as the staging ground for protests because of its symbolic history in support of democratic and civil rights movements. On October 26, 1918, Tomáš Masaryk proclaimed the independence of Czechoslovakia on the steps of Independence Hall. On Independence Day, July 4, 1962, President John F. Kennedy gave an address there.
Preparation for construction
By the spring of 1729 the citizens of Philadelphia were petitioning to be allowed to build a state house. Two thousand pounds were set aside for the endeavour. A committee was formed composed of Thomas Lawrence, Dr. John Kearsley, and Andrew Hamilton with the responsibility of selecting a site for construction, acquiring plans for the building, and contracting a company for the purpose of construction.
Hamilton was, along with William Allen, named a trustee of the purchasing and building fund and authorized to buy the land that would be the site of the state house. By October 1730 they had begun purchasing lots on Chestnut Street.
By 1732, even though Hamilton had acquired the deed for Lot no.1 from surveyor David Powell, who had been paid for his work with the lot, tensions were rising among the committee members. Dr. John Kearsley and Andrew Hamilton disagreed on a number of issues concerning the state house. Kearsley, who is credited with the designs of both Christ Church and St. Peter’s Church, had plans for the structure of the building but so did Hamilton. There were also differences between the two men on where the site of the building would be; Kearsley suggested High Street, now Market Street and Hamilton wanted the site to be on Chestnut Street. Lawrence said nothing on the matter.
The matter reached a point where arbitration was needed. On August 8, 1732 Andrew Hamilton brought the matter before the House. He explained Kearsley did not approve of either Hamilton’s own plans for the location of the state house or its architecture and went on to insist the House of Representatives had not agreed to these decisions. In response to this, Hamilton, on August 11, showed his plans for the state house to the House of Representatives, which they accepted. On August 14, the House sided with Hamilton, granting him full control over the project, and the site on the South side of Chestnut Street between Fifth and Sixth streets was chosen for the location of the state house. The ground was broken for construction soon after.
In 1752, when Isaac Norris was selecting a man to build the first clock for the State House, today known as Independence Hall, he chose Thomas Stretch, the son of Peter Stretch his old friend and fellow council member, to do the job. In 1753 Thomas Stretch erected a giant clock at the building’s west end that resembled a tall clock (grandfather clock). The 40-foot-tall limestone base was capped with a 14-foot wooden case surrounding the clock’s face, which was carved by Samuel Harding. The giant clock was removed about 1830. The clock’s dials were mounted at the east and west ends of the main building connected by rods to the clock movement in the middle of the building. The acquisition of the original clock and bell by the Pennsylvania Colonial Assembly is closely related to the acquisition of the Liberty Bell. By mid-1753, the clock had been installed in the State House attic, but six years were to elapse before Thomas Stretch received any pay for it.
The Declaration of Independence and U.S. Constitution were both signed in this room. Later, the room became a shrine to the founding of the nation, proudly displaying the Liberty Bell and original paintings of the Founding Fathers.
That was the scene when President-elect Abraham Lincoln visited the Assembly Room and praised the ideals expressed in the Declaration of Independence. Following his assassination, Lincoln’s body lay in repose here for two days. Visitors today can ponder their own role in the on-going experiment in self-government.
Courtroom of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court
The Supreme Court of Pennsylvania sat in this room in the 1700’s. On July 8, 1776, an act of defiance occurred here when a group of Pennsylvania militiamen stormed in and tore down British King George III’s coat of arms. A hundred years later, visitors came to this room during the Centennial to experience the National Museum, a collection of artefacts celebrating the founding of the nation.
The Long Gallery on the second floor of Independence Hall served as a reception area for visitors meeting with Pennsylvania’s governor. It was also the scene of dinners and celebrations.
During the British occupation of Philadelphia, the Long Gallery became a hospital for wounded American prisoners of war. Later visitors to this room marvelled at Peale’s Museum, one of the earliest museums in America.
In 1956 the US Post Office issued a stamp honouring Independence Hall.
Pictured on reverse of Kennedy Bicentennial Half-Dollar.
Independence Hall is pictured on the back of the U.S. $100 bill, as well as the bicentennial Kennedy half dollar.
The Assembly Room is pictured on the reverse of the U.S. 2 dollar bill, from the original painting by John Trumbull entitled Declaration of Independence.
The basement once served as the city’s dog pound
The second floor was once home to Charles Wilson Peale’s museum of natural history.
George Washington, knowing that his opinion would carry undue weight, contributed little to the debate over the Constitution.
Even though the days were very hot in the summer of 1787, windows were kept closed so others could not overhear their discussion.