Cradle of Independence


 

Every July Fourth, the nation gears up for a big party celebrating its independence from Great Britain. Nowhere is this more true than in Philadelphia, which has been at times called the “Birthplace of a Nation.” It was here in 1776 that the Second Continental Congress met to commission and adopt the Declaration of Independence. Meeting in the Pennsylvania State House (now Independence Hall, above), the body selected a “Committee of Five” to draft a list of their grievances against the British Crown. For a time after independence–between 1790 and 1800–Philadelphia stood again in a position of great importance, serving as the country’s capital.

With such a background, it is not surprising that the government and the American people became interested in preserving the architecture surrounding these events. On June 28, 1948, President Truman signed into law a bill allowing for the creation of Independence National Historical Park, which included such sites as Independence Hall.

The area around Independence Hall did not always appear as open as it does today. When plans began to create the park, the surrounding locale was a commercial district, as is somewhat evidenced in this much earlier photograph, taken in 1900. The plans called for the demolition of “non-historic” nineteenth-century buildings, leaving behind only Revolutionary-era structures. However, because the federal government did not own the land in the proposed park, it became the first national park to require the purchase of the property it was to be built upon. The government spent close to $3 million alone for the block opposite Independence Hall (Chestnut and Market Streets). Some local businessmen opposed the proposal, suggesting that the money could be better spent cleaning up Philadelphia’s rivers and slums. Planners moved forward, regardless, ultimately creating the park we know and celebrate today.

References:

  • Grieff, Constance M. Independence: The Creation of a National Park. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1987.
  • Mires, Charlene. Independence Hall in American Memory. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2002.
  • National Park Service, U.S. Department of the Interior. Independence National Historical Park. http://www.nps.gov/inde/ (accessed 29 June 2006).
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