Several months ago, my colleague Cory Kegerise wrote a blog highlighting his childhood memories visiting Hopewell Furnace as part of the National Park Service’s #FindYourPark campaign . He inspired me to make sure my kids had the same experiences and appreciated the plethora of historic sites throughout the Commonwealth. So one Friday in late March when my kids were off from school, we went in search of our own #FindYourPark adventure. In case you are not familiar with the initiative, Americans are encouraged to share their thoughts, reflections, and aspects about their favorite National Park as part of the National Park Service’s Centennial Celebration. Most of the #FindYourPark stories speak of the National Park System’s natural wonders and green bucolic open space. Our adventure may seem in contrast, but Independence National Historical Park in Philadelphia with its rich civic history really sparks my interest. So we set off to explore the colonial history and the birthplace of America.
Beyond the significant events that molded our nation’s history in Philadelphia, Independence National Historical Park has wonderful, high style Colonial-era architecture under the careful stewardship of the National Park Service, the City of Philadelphia, and private organizations. Independence Hall (Key No. 001339), Carpenter’s Hall, 320 Chestnut Street (Key No.001333), Second Bank of the United States, 420 Chestnut Street (Key No. 086871) are all clustered around Independence Square. The small gardens and benches in the Square offered a quiet reflection behind Congress, Independence, and Old City Halls. It really is a lovely spot.
The surrounding skyline includes a mixture of modern buildings in contrast with the smaller 18th century buildings and the newer visitor centers. The Mall is cradled like a pocket in the middle of this bustling city. The former Rohm and Haas Corporate Headquarters (now Dow Chemicals) is seen over the Liberty Bell Center. The building was completed in 1965 and listed in the National Register of Historic Places in 2007. The Mall’s ample open space encouraged teenagers to relax and catch some rays while families stopped to play an impromptu game of soccer while they rested for their next tour. It reminded me of the National Mall in Washington DC where I watched both an impromptu softball and soccer game once.
My family and I took some time to take the guided tour of Independence Hall. Our group included international tourists from Germany, Spain and Mexico and domestic travelers from Virginia, Maryland, New York, and Ohio. An enthusiastic group of students all the way from California rounded out our group. Our Park Service guide carefully explained the significant events that occurred there as well as the building’s dual role as the Pennsylvania State House. I found myself fascinated with the paneled walls in the Supreme Court Chamber with its curved niches and hidden cabinet doors. The other Chamber was just as fascinating with tall windows and coved ceiling. But it was the grand stair at the rear of the building that really caught my eye. The carved stair with punched, gouged and carved ornamentation was exceptional! The level of craftsmanship that went into the execution of these details astounded me!
The National Park Service also displays some of the surviving copies of the Declaration of Independence, Articles of Confederation, and the Constitution of the United States in the Great Essentials exhibit in the west wing of Independence Hall. Those important documents along with the silver inkstand purportedly used to sign both the Declaration and the Constitution, made the experience so much more tangible in understanding the historical events that took place in that great building.
Our trip to discover the birthplace of our nation would not be complete without stopping to see Benjamin Franklin’s grave at Christ Church Burial Ground on the corner of 5th and Arch Streets (Key No. 001341) or wandering around the American Philosophical Society’s Museum, 104 South 5th Street (Key No. 001319). PHMC is a partner in both properties through our Keystone Grant program so I was familiar with the stewardship and preservation efforts both organizations have undertaken. We still had the opportunity to experience the wonder of nature in a very controlled environment of the National Park Service’s 18th century garden on Willing Alley. Of course our visit in late March saw many of the plants still in their dormant phase but the boxwoods and walkways are evidently very well cared for.Our adventure to #FindYourPark obviously heightened my patriotic spirit. I am so grateful to live within driving distance of such a fascinating place. I’ll admit that perhaps the kids enjoyed the ice cream at the Franklin Fountain the most. We had a great time in the #FindYourPark initiative. I hope you do too.