Independence Hall is the birthplace of the United States. Here our founding fathers debated and signed both the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of the United States.
It was built originally in 1753 to be used as the Pennsylvania State House because Philadelphia was the first capital of the state. That designation moved to Lancaster in 1799 and finally to Harrisburg in 1812.
Two memorable parts of the exterior are the steeple, designed by William Strickland, and the clock on the west side of the building designed by Thomas Stretch.
While the main shell of the building is still original, those two parts of the building are not. The original steeple was not this elaborate and did not have a clock. This structure is from 1828.
In the steeple is the Centennial Bell which was created in 1876 in time for the United States Centennial. Placed in Independence Hall Tower on July 4, 1876, the bell is cast from a mixture of metals including 100 pounds from four cannons: one British and one Patriot cannon from the Revolutionary battle of Saratoga and Union and Confederate cannons from the Civil War battle of Gettysburg.
Of course, the Centennial Bell is not the most famous bell around these parts – that moniker belongs to the Liberty Bell.
The west side clock (shown below) is a reconstruction from 1973.
Inside Independence Hall
If you want to get into Independence Hall, you will need to plan ahead. See how to get your tickets at the end of this blog post. But for now, let’s talk about what you’ll see behind the door.
Pennsylvania Supreme Courtroom
The first room you’ll visit is the courtroom of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court. On July 8, 1776, Pennsylvania militiamen came in a tore down King George III’s coat of arms from the wall.
Many period books and artifacts sit on the tables today to show visitors how the room appeared in the late 18th century.
The Assembly Room is truly where the magic happened.
In this room, on July 2, 1776, the Second Continental Congress voted to approve the resolution for independence. On July 4, 1776, they voted to approve their document, the Declaration of Independence. The Declaration of Independence was signed here on August 2, 1776.
In 1787 the statesmen assembled again to debate the U.S. Constitution to replace the initial Articles of Confederation.
The Rising Sun chair is one of the only original artifacts in the room.
During the Constitutional Convention debates, Benjamin Franklin looked at the chair where George Washington was seated. Carved into that chair is a sun. As the men signed the Constitution, Franklin said that he had the great happiness to know it was rising and not a setting sun.
Much later, President-elect Abraham Lincoln stepped into this room in 1861 as he journeyed to Washington D.C. for his inauguration. After his assassination in 1865, his body returned to the Assembly Room for two days. Upwards of 85,000 mourners passed by the casket.
To be honest, I have to note the state of the room. I couldn’t believe how dusty the room was and how and unkept the room felt. Just take a look at the crown molding here. The books and chairs were just as dusty. Could we wipe down the room weekly please?
Outside Independence Hall to the south is where most people will spend their time waiting for their moment to go in.
But, you’ll also find an imposing statue of Commodore John Barry, accomplished Revolutionary War soldier and sailor considered “the Father of the US Navy.”
Important work continued in the years after the Declaration of Independence in the building on the corner – Congress Hall.
Visit Independence Hall
Your visit to Independence Hall should start online at Recreation.gov in the weeks or months before your visit. That way you are sure to reserve your entrance tickets for the time that works for you.
Tickets are also available day-of at the visitor center which is one block to the north on Market. Get there early to secure tickets at busy times.