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Archive for December, 2006

Bishop White House; Carpenters’ Hall; Christ Church; City Tavern; Declaration House; First Bank of the United States; Franklin Court; Free Quaker Meeting House; Independence Living History Center; Merchants’ Exchange Building; New Hall Military Museum; Philosophical Hall; Second Bank of the United States; Todd House; Washington Square
Philadelphia, Pa.
Visited: March 23, 2004
Second Visit: December 1,2005
Third Visit: December 7, 2006
NPS Site Visited: 3 of 353
NPS Website; Local Website

Carpenter's HallWHAT IS IT?
Independence NHP is a collection Old City Philadelphia buildings, museums, cemeteries and parks that commemorate events and people who were integral in the creation of the United States. This review covers the 15 Independence NHP sites whose entry requires no security check and no entry fee. Scroll down for a short synopsis of the sites covered here. There are separate reviews for the Liberty Bell Center, the Independence Hall complex and the National Constitution Center.

BEAUTY (8/10)
The mixture of red-brick Federal, white stone Greek Revival and stately white Federal architectures all set amidst open green park space and cobblestone streets is a perfect enscapsulation of the Founding Fathers’ worldly understandings and lofty aspirations. Their 18th century residences, meeting places and streets speak of English roots but their banks and post-Revolution contructions aim for equality with the Greek and Roman civilizations of antiquity.

HISTORIC SIGNIFICANCE (10/10)
Even without the inclusion of Independence Hall, the historical significance of these 15 sites is unmatched by any collection of buildings throughout the United States. Nearly every American Age of Enlightenment-era idea originated or first appeared in the western hemisphere within these grounds: the museum, the post office, centralized banking, the fire station, electricity, meteorology, the library, the philosophical society. It is no underestimation to state that American thought and the idea of the United States began here.

With that came the Declaration of Independence and the shattering of the monarchic inevitability, the notion of democracy and self rule. It all happened here. The First Continental Congress took place in Carpenter’s Hall, these revolutionaries walked and discussed violent rebellion in these same streets, lived in these buildings, wrote the Declaration of Independence here, ate in the City Tavern, lounged on these lawns and changed the world in Old City Philadelphia.

CROWDS (7/10)
Less tourist traffic means more Ranger attention for those who venture outside the Liberty Bell and Independence Hall.

Portrait WallEASE OF USE/ACCESS (2/5)
I-676 and I-95 both drop you off in the center of Old Town Philly. Independence Hall is located on Chestnut Street between 5th and 6th Street. Most of these 15 sites are located within six L-shaped blocks of each other beginning in the north at Arch Street, turning eastward at 6th and Chestnut and ending at 2nd and Walnut. Many of the connecting alleyways and sidestreets are cobblestone and could prove difficult to maneuver.

Independence NHP’s biggest deficiency is that it is not as tourist friendly as Boston’s Freedom Trail. Boston NHP strings the visitor to its attractions via a painted path. Independence NHP tells you to first go to its Visitor Center and to sort it out from there. As a result, the visitor goes to the Liberty Bell and Independence Hall but forgets about these 15 sites; sites that could rightly claim to be America’s real Freedom Trail. It is also difficult to discern which Old City Philadelphia buildings are part of Independence NHP and which buildings are unaffiliated and privately-run museums. If you do not arrive with a plan, the Park could get confusing and overwhelming.

These 15 buildings also have variant and often vexing operating hours. Many are open only from Wednesday through Sunday with limited hours. Plan your visit accordingly; we would not come here on a Monday or Tuesday.

CONCESSIONS/BOOKSTORE (4/5)
The Park’s bookstore is a stand-alone entity located in the Georgian brick Pemberton House on Chestnut Street between 3rd and 4th Streets. The store sells a good selection of books but nowhere near the definitive choice that the definitive American history site should have.

We enjoyed our City Tavern visit immensely. Our favorite part was the Yards Brewery ales which are brewed only for the City Tavern. These beers (the Thomas Jefferson Tavern Ale, the George Washington Porter and the Poor Richard’s Tavern Spruce) styles are historically accurate and based on the recipes of our Founding Fathers! And they taste good too. If spirit imbibing is not your thing, the Tavern’s lunch and dinner menus are just as historically exacting and just as scrumptious.

COSTS (3/5)
Entry into all of these buildings is free. Carpenter’s Hall, Philosopher’s Hall and Christ Church are still privately owned and all three ask for donations.

There is a series of parking lots and garages in the Independence NHP vicinity. You will end up paying somewhere between $10 and $20 for a full day. Discount parking validation at the Independence Visitor Center or National Constutition Center is a possibility. Metered and free two-hour street parking south of the Sites is possible but could prove difficult.

Dining at the City Tavern is pricey but a fun and historical experience.

RANGER/GUIDE TO TOURIST RATIO (5/5)
During his 2005 visit, Michael spent a wonderful hour plus at Philosophical Hall openly discussing some of his more unorthodox American history theories. The American Philosophical Society guide was more than willing to contribute some of her own left-field ideas. The two jabbered on and on like long lost relatives. Michael only left in order to beat the rush hour traffic on the Schuylkill Expressway…and to find his wife who was seven blocks away at the Philadelphia Convention Center.

We encountered the same engaging historical conversation with a Carpenter’s Hall docent, Independence Living History Center archeologists (on two occasions) and at the Declaration House. We did not take the Ranger-led only tour of the Bishop White House and Todd House but are confident it elicits the same sort of graduate level talk. Who else but history buffs would tour these buildings?

Andrew Jackson Hates MeTOURS/CLASSES (8/10)
The terrific staff found throughout these buildings is the key to any educational visit. If you don’t engage the docents and Rangers on duty, many of your learning experiences will be underwhelming. The NPS museums at Franklin Court, the New Hall Military Museum and the Declaration House are dated and/or in disrepair.

Thankfully, you don’t have to look hard to find terrific museums.

The small American Philosophical Society museum is stellar and rotates its exhibits yearly. The 2007 exhibit has yet to be revealed but 2005’s amazing display included the only original Declaration of Independence printed on vellum, William Penn’s Charter of Privileges and the first stored and printed computer program. The other treasures on display were just as incredible.

Equally incredible is the newly reopened Portrait Gallery located in the Second Bank of the United States. The nearly 200 portraits on display put a face on the patriots, thinkers, soldiers and historical figures honored at the Park. The skillful Charles Willson Peale characterizations reveal the personalities and thoughts of 18th-century America.

FUN (8/10)
For anyone who loves American history, these 15 sites are paradise. They are a shining American treasure. They don’t have the obligatory feel of the Liberty Bell or the security-addled confusion of Independence Hall. You can experience their wonder at your leisure and either by yourself or with the aid of similarly minded guides. Your time here won’t be force-fed and might be too brainy for the casual tourist.

WOULD WE RECOMMEND? (9/10)
There is so much to see at this Site. So much history and so much detail. We have been here three times in three years and have not covered everything. Each building offers untold gems and, with your proactive imagination, an adventure that transports you back in time to the American creation.

TOTAL 65/80

Independence NHP’s Less-Famous Sites

Sorted by our order-of-visit priority.

Second Bank of the United States – From 1816-1832 was the most significant bank in the world. Was the center of Andrew Jackson’s attack on the National bank. Currently is a portrait gallery whose collection composed America’s first museum.

Carpenters’ Hall – Site of the First Continental Congress. Site of first American lending library. Original site of the Bank of the United States, the world’s first central bank not owned by a monarch.

Franklin CourtFranklin Court – Site of the only home Benjamin Franklin ever owned, his residence during the Constitutional Convention and the Continental Congress and his place of death.

Philosophical Hall – Home of Ben Franklin’s American Philosophical Society, America’s most remarkable collective of Age of Enlightenment scientific thinkers.

Independence Living History Center – Working archeology center.

First Bank of the United States – Exemplary example of Greek Revival architecture and perhaps the first American building built with a classical facade. Alexander Hamilton’s highly controversial Bank of the United States moved here from Carpenter’s Hall in 1797 shortly after the Bank’s expensive contruction. The First Bank is not open to the public.

Christ Church – Burial ground for Benjamin Franklin, Benjamin Rush and countless other significant Americans.

Declaration House – House where Thomas Jefferson wrote the Declaration of Independence.

City Tavern – Tavern where the Founding Fathers ate that has been restored to its Revolution-era appearance. The tavern serves authentic period food.

Bishop White House – House restored to show upper-class Philadelphia life during the time of the Revolution.

Todd House – 1791-93 home of future first lady Dolley Madison.

New Hall Military Museum – Site of the first Department of War.

Merchants’ Exchange Building – Important example of Greek Revival architecture.

Free Quaker Meeting House – Meeting House of the fighting Quakers; dissident Friends who broke from their church’s pacifist principles during the Revolution.

Washington Square – Site of the Tomb of the Unknown Revolutionary War soldier.

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Philadelphia, Pa.
Visited: March 23, 2004
Second Visit: December 7, 2006
NPS Site Visited: 3 of 353
NPS Website; Local Website

Multilingual LibertiesWHAT IS IT?
The one ton, 70% copper, 30% tin and 100% cracked symbol of liberty and freedom.

There are separate reviews for Independence Hall and Congress Hall, the non-cordoned off buildings of Independence NHP and the National Constitution Center.

BEAUTY (5/10)
The instantly recognizable Liberty Bell with its creviced exterior and orginial elm tree yoke hangs in perpertuity in a glass-sided gallery that composes the southern extreme of the newly constructed Liberty Bell Center and looks out onto Independence Hall. The Bell’s front faces inward and is spared the constant taunts of its much more beautiful former home. The warehouse-like Liberty Bell Center’s long and narrow shape is more utilitarian than attractive and unworthy of its iconic tenant.

HISTORIC SIGNIFICANCE (8/10)
One of Michael’s cheerfully cantankerous University sociology professors once explained that the most powerful ideas are abstractions; concepts that, while somehow real, have no discernable definition and are completely reliant on emotions and individual belief systems. Symbolic icons are often attached to these abstractions in order to allow us a firmer grip on the mysterious. The Liberty Bell is one of America’s most lasting representations of itself and a symbol of the idealized notions of the American Revolution: liberty, freedom and independence.

What is Liberty? What is Freedom? We are sure everyone has different answers. What object symbolizes freedom and liberty to you? We’re guessing the Liberty Bell comes to mind.

The actual history and importance of the Liberty Bell’s role in American independence is tricky. It is impossible to separate the facts from the legends. What is known, however, is that the bell first became known as the Liberty Bell in the 1830’s, over 50 years after the American Revolution. Its name not bestowed by patriotic veterans or romantic poets but by New England abolitionists intent on connecting the abstract 1776 beliefs of freedom and liberty with their anti-slavery cause. Just as in the 1830’s, the Liberty Bell means more today as a symbol and a pop culture icon than it does as an historic entity.

CROWDS (5/10)
The Center’s narrow design does not handle tourists particularly well. All the exhibits are stuffed along the Center’s eastern wall while the western half of the building appears unused. The design crowds people together and, as a result, every exhibit panel we wanted to read already had someone in front of it.

EASE OF USE/ACCESS (3/5)
I-676 and I-95 both drop you off in the center of Old Town Philly. The Liberty Bell Center is located at the corner of Chestnut and 6th Streets. The Center’s north-south length stretches almost an entire city block.

There is a series of parking lots and garages in the Liberty Bell Center vicinity. You will end up paying somewhere between $10 and $20 for a full day. Discount parking validation at the Independence Visitor Center or National Constutition Center is a possibility. Metered and free two-hour street parking is possible but could prove difficult.

During our 2004 visit, we waited almost 15 minutes in the Liberty Bell Center’s security line while a Chinese tourist was searched thoroughly. Our 2006 stop saw a great improvement. The lines moved rapidly and the number of outsourced Wackenhut security guards seemed to be cut in half.

The Real ThingCONCESSIONS/BOOKSTORE (4/5)
The Independence Visitor Center’s ample square footage hosts a good array of Liberty Bell and American Independence-themed trinkets.

COSTS (4/5)
Seeing the Liberty Bell is free, free, free.

RANGER/GUIDE TO TOURIST RATIO (3/5)
There is one Ranger steadfastly posted next to the Liberty Bell, presumably answering “No, the Bell will never be rung again” and “Yes, this is the original Liberty Bell” twenty times every hour. We are also guessing that same Ranger takes a lot of photos and stops countless people from touching the Bell. The Ranger’s presence encourages questions that can be easily overheard by other visitors. Given the Bell’s popularity, however, more on-site Rangers would be nice.

TOURS/CLASSES (5/10)
We enjoyed the collages of the Liberty Bell as symbol throughout the ages. The panels make it clear that the Liberty Bell as icon and legend are, and always have been, much bigger than the actual object or the functions it carried out.

FUN (5/10)
We are always underwhelmed by the Liberty Bell especially when we compare it to the other Old City Philadelphia attractions. It’s just a bell. The U.S. Constitution and the Declaration of Independence formed the physical, philosophical and administrative basis for United States. They were written across the street. They are not theories or abstractions. They are events. The story about the Liberty Bell ringing after the Declaration’s ratification isn’t even true! We have also never understood why an oversized, occupationally deficient and permanently flawed bell has come to symbolize America and its freedoms. Shouldn’t those things be represented by something that works?

WOULD WE RECOMMEND? (8/10)
If you come to Philly, you have to see the Liberty Bell. It is your obligation. The security hassles have been improved and you should be in and out in no time flat.

TOTAL 50/80

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Philadelphia, Pa.
Visited: March 24, 2004
Second Visit: December 7, 2006
NPS Site Visited: 5 of 353

NPS Website; Local Website

Want More? Read About Our Phun-Philled 2004 Philadelphia Phoray.
Click Here for the In-Depth Recount of that Day.

Kosciuszko
WHAT IS IT?
Small townhouse where Kosciuszko (pronounced kosh-CHOOSH-koh) lived in the winter of 1797-98 after his exile from Poland.

BEAUTY (4/10)
The Kosciuszko House is one of many quaint Federal-style redbrick houses in Philadelphia’s charming Society Hill neighborhood. Its corner lot, well-maintained exterior and adjoining cobblestone streets scream “I am worth a ridiculously high price per square foot.”

HISTORIC SIGNIFICANCE (5/10)
During Gab’s first days as an English teacher in Poland, her students asked for her thoughts on Thaddeus Kosciuszko. Gab’s sheepish reply was “Who?”

Her students vociferously responded, “You do not know Kosciuszko!?! He saved your country!” Their fantastic conclusion holds much merit in romanticized legend-making Revolutionary War retellings. Kosciuszko was one of a handful of young, brilliant Age of Enlightenment values-driven Europeans who aided the American Revolution through military, intellectual and spiritual means. Both he and the Marquis de La Fayette returned to their respective countries post-American Revolution with the aim of spreading our new nation’s liberal democratic ideas to their homelands.

Kosciuszko arrived in the Colonies in August of 1776, a 30-year-old military engineer who had been living in Paris. The Park Brochure states that he traveled across the Atlantic on his own spontaneous accord, wrapped up in the fever of the colonial uprising. Other reports say that Benjamin Franklin recruited his services while in Paris. In October 1776 Kosciuszko was named head engineer of the Continental Army.

From there the legend grows. Kosciuszko’s engineering genius allowed for a successful retreat at Fort Ticonderoga, an historically monumental victory at Saratoga and the successful creation of a Hudson River fortress stronghold at West Point. More of Kosciuszko’s handiwork can be seen at the Ninety Six Battlefield in South Carolina.

Kosciuszko returned to Poland in 1784 where he helped write the Polish Constitution, modern Europe’s first, and was named Commander in Chief of the Polish Army. From 1792-94, Kosciuszko successfully defended Poland against a 100,000-soldier strong Russian Invasion, winning every battle. The Polish King, however, surrendered to the Russians. Intrigue, treaties and confusion abounded. In late 1794, the Kosciuszko Uprising, a last-ditch attempt to expel the Russian influence, failed and Tadeusz was imprisoned in Siberia.

KosciuszkoIn 1797, Tadeusz was freed and exiled to the United States. Where did he live? Right here in Philadelphia at Pine and 3rd, just blocks from Independence Hall. He lived here for less than a year before returning to Europe with plans to free Poland.

If you are of Polish decent this rating could be higher. In fact, we think we may have upped it a little bit already.

CROWDS (6/10)
No one. While it would have been nice to have seen someone else, more people would have made the Site’s four tiny rooms unbearably cramped. At approximately 900 square feet, this Site is the NPS’s smallest. In 2005, the Kosciuszko House averaged 16 visitors per day so all Revolutionary War buffs of Polish descent suffering from claustrophobia can be sure of a fear-free visit.

EASE OF USE/ACCESS (2/5)
In 2004, we scratched our brave Altima’s left front while parallel parking into a too-small space.

In 2006, there were at least a half-dozen open spaces in a one-block radius. “We’ve got two hours of free parking, Gab. Want to go to Independence NHP? It’s only a few blocks away.” “Uh, no. That wasn’t in the plan.” “Well then, it’s settled. Let’s see the Liberty Bell.” And we did. And we had fun, says Michael.

The Kosciuszko House has shortened its operating hours in the last year. Its door is now open from 12 noon to 4 p.m. Wednesday through Sunday. Even so, pull hard. We found the door defiantly locked at 12:30 p.m. until a Ranger unlatched it and let us in.

CONCESSIONS/BOOKSTORE (2/5)
The few Kosciuszko-related knickknacks for sale were wholly unmemorable.

Sadly, the wonderful six Kosciuszko lithographs designed by Art Institute of Philadelphia students and on display inside the House are not for sale. We got some good pictures, however, and they might soon adorn our apartment walls despite the Park’s shortsightedness.

COSTS (4/5)
Totally free.

RANGER/GUIDE TO TOURIST RATIO (3/5)
Ranger to Tourist Ratio: High.

Ranger Interest to Tourist Interest Ratio: Very Low.

Both our 2004 and 2006 visits revealed a less-than-enthusiastic on-duty Ranger with minimal Kosciuszko knowledge and an I’ve-just-been-sent-to-National-Park-purgatory look on their face. Perhaps they’re just lonely from only seeing 16 visitors per day.

KosciuszkoTOURS/CLASSES (3/10)
Little effort has gone into the educational offerings at this tiny Site. The 1970’s-produced cartoon film is action-filled campy fun but begins and ends with Kosciuszko’s Revolutionary War exploits. We wanted more information on the Polish Constitution, the Kosciuszko Uprising and Tadeusz’s dealings with Napoleon. Since the Park brochure and other handouts are printed in both English and Polish, we are guessing other visitors want more background info too.

The Site’s marquee (or is it marquis) attraction is Kosciuszko’s recreated boarding house bedroom, stuffed with period furniture, symbolic items and sequestered behind bullet-proof glass. A push-button tape recording dispenses a general recap of the bedroom’s contents. A Ranger-led recap would have been nice; it’s not like they are overwhelmed with visitors or a sprawling mansion.

FUN (5/10)
Kosciuszko is our favorite Revolutionary War hero. He is dashing, he is a military genius and he is Polish. Every Kosciuszko statue, every Kosciuszko-named town and every Kosciuszko-related Park Site makes us giddy. We love you dear Tadeusz. You saved our country.

WOULD WE RECOMMEND? (2/10)
This Site is only for fellow Kosciuszko enthusiasts. His exploits are better understood at the battle sites. Saratoga NHP shows his unparalleled strategic genius while Ninety Six reveals his subtle artistic eye and unorthodox creativity.

After reading this review, has your passion for Kosciuszko reached an uncontrollable ecstasy? If yes, then get to Philly soon! The Ranger told us that the House will soon undergo renovations and, perhaps, a multi-year closure.

TOTAL 36/80

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