PlanPhilly

Look Up! The Spirit of '76 on Chestnut Street

    • Master carpenter Edmund Wooley added the eight-day clock to the main building.
      Master carpenter Edmund Wooley added the eight-day clock to the main building.
    • The focal point of Independence Mall is the former State House, where the founders debated the price of freedom.
      The focal point of Independence Mall is the former State House, where the founders debated the price of freedom.
    • The building's tower was added in 1750.
      The building's tower was added in 1750.
    • Stately arcades join the main hall to the secondary buildings.
      Stately arcades join the main hall to the secondary buildings.
    • The window on the fourth story of the tower's south side.
      The window on the fourth story of the tower's south side.
    • To the east of Independence Hall is the Federal-style building used by the Supreme Court and later served as City Hall.
      To the east of Independence Hall is the Federal-style building used by the Supreme Court and later served as City Hall.
    • To the west of Independence Hall is Congress Hall, erected in 1787.
      To the west of Independence Hall is Congress Hall, erected in 1787.
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“Look Up!” is a PlanPhilly feature that encourages appreciation of our architectural and historical environment. The photo essays focus on different Philadelphia areas and their distinctive building styles and details, all of which make up the physical fabric of the city and region.

The single block of Philadelphia that probably gets more visitors than any other, particularly on the week of July 4th, is the 500 block of Chestnut.

They come to see an outstanding example of Georgian architecture that has become an international icon of freedom.

The design of Independence Hall is attributed to lawyer Andrew Hamilton, though not all historians agree. Hamilton was the Speaker of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives in the 1730s, and he purchased the Chestnut Street land and donated it to the public for construction of what was then known as the Pennsylvania State House.

According to John Gallery, in his book “Philadelphia Architecture,” Hamilton worked with master carpenter Edmund Wooley on the government complex from 1732 to 1748.

The main building was designed as a horizontal brick rectangle of modest scale and restrained decoration. Two secondary buildings to the east and west were joined to the main building by arcades. The tower that would give the building its bold identity was erected in 1750 by Wooley, who also added the handsome eight-day clock on the west side of the building.

Inside the main building’s Assembly Room, the representatives considered the costs and benefits of liberty, and eventually signed the Declaration of Independence. The building served as the capitol of the new United States from 1790 to 1800.

Independence Hall underwent numerous alterations, including a restoration in 1830 by Greek Revival architect John Haviland, who would later design Eastern State Penitentiary and the Franklin Institute.

The building was returned to its original style in more recent decades. This year, the Preservation Alliance for Greater Philadelphia presented a grand jury award to the city’s Department of Public Property for the most recent, painstaking restoration of Independence Hall Tower.


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Contact the writer at ajaffe@planphilly.com.



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About the author

Alan Jaffe, Contributor

Alan Jaffe has been a contributing writer for PlanPhilly since 2008, focusing on overlooked buidlings and historic preservation issues. He was a writer and editor in the newspaper industry for nearly 30 years, including eight at the Philadelphia Inquirer and nine at the South Jersey Courier-Post. He is currently the director of communications for the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society. He is also an antiques writer and collector and the author of “J. Chein & Co.: A Collector’s Guide to an American Toymaker.”

ajaffe@planphilly.com



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