Congress Hall is an incredibly important building adjacent to the more famous Independence Hall. It’s tough to get the attention you deserve when you’re up against that building. However, it is worth taking a look inside during a Park Ranger-led tour; which is exactly what I did!
Built over two years from 1787 to 1789, the initial purpose was to be the city’s courthouse. But in 1790 Congress Hall served as the home to the U.S. Congress, until 1800. Congress voted to have Philadelphia serve as the temporary capital of the United States while work commenced on the federal seat of government in Washington, DC.
The tour begins here, in the House Chamber on the first floor. As the United States expanded in the 10 years the Congress assembled here, the building had to be enlarged by 28 feet to accommodate all of the new representatives.
Philadelphia was eager to please the federal government, as they hoped they would decide to stay in Philadelphia instead of moving to Washington DC.
This room saw two Presidential inaugurations (Washington’s second term and John Adams).
Some smaller assembly rooms and offices line the hallway to the Senate Chamber. This painting of Marie Antoinette and a painting of Louis XVI in another room are gifts from the French.
There are 32 desks here in the most extravagant room – the Senate Chamber. Those 32 desks are for the Senators from the 16 states that formed the United States in 1800. 28 of the desks in the room today are originals.
A few important events occurred in the room. The ratification of the Bill of Rights and the creation of the Federal Mint, the First Bank of the United States, and the Department of the Navy. The head of the room is where the President of the Senate sits. Two Vice Presidents had the honor in the ten years Congress convened here: John Adams and Thomas Jefferson.
Visit Congress Hall
Congress Hall is open from 9 am to 5 pm and is free to enter. You must go through a security screening, but once you’re in, you’ll just line up on the Independence Square side of the building. It takes about 20 minutes to see the building. Visit the Congress Hall website for more information.