In Philadelphia, Follow in the Footsteps of Presidents

The birthplace of America has plenty of commander-in-chief action.

As the birthplace of America and a former U.S. capital city, Philadelphia is packed with places that were essential to the country’s first leaders. From George Washington’s church to Thomas Jefferson’s home and workspace, presidential history buffs find many important sites throughout the city to explore.

After a long day of debate during the First Continental Congress at nearby Carpenters’ Hall, the Founding Fathers, including future Presidents George Washington and John Adams, gathered to eat, drink and unwind at City Tavern. Opened in 1773, this historic restaurant and
 inn hosted the nation’s first Fourth of July celebration, housed prisoners of war during the American Revolution and held a banquet for Washington before his 1789 inauguration. Today, staff in period costumes serve from-scratch Colonial-era dishes like turkey pot pie with beers from Yards Brewery’s Ales of the Revolution line. Try Jefferson’s 1774 Tavern Ale or Alexander Hamilton’s Treasury Ale.

Carpenters’ Hall

Dating back to 1695, Christ Church was the Church of England’s first Pennsylvania parish and, later, the birthplace of the protestant American Episcopal Church. Worshippers in the holy site’s early days included some of the most important figures of the time, including George Washington, Benjamin Franklin and Betsy Ross. In the mid-18th century, the church upgraded and expanded to its current home, welcoming a new generation of the faithful along with visitors. Keep an eye out for details like the chandelier installed in 1740, the baptismal font from Philadelphia founder William Penn’s London church and brass plaques denoting the pews where notable parishioners once prayed.

Christ Church

Decades before he became the nation’s third president, Thomas Jefferson set the world astir by drafting America’s Declaration of Independence. He did so at the home of Jacob Graff Jr., a well-known bricklayer. Today, the Declaration House (Graff) House lets visitors learn about Jefferson’s life and influence through museum-style exhibitions, a short film and recreated setups of the rooms where he lived and worked.

Declaration House (Graff House)

The Second Bank of the United States a magnificent structure modeled after the Parthenon in Athens, today serves as a gallery lined with portraits of influential Americans, including Alexander Hamilton. But the institution that was once headquartered here was vital to the 1832 presidential election between incumbent Andrew Jackson and challenger Henry Clay. In what became known as the Bank Wars, the political rivals clashed over their views of this central bank’s role and its constitutionality, with Clay voicing his support and Jackson seeking to revoke the charter. Jackson ultimately won the election and disbanded the bank. The building is now a National Historic Landmark and a part of Independence National Historic Park.

Second Bank of the United States

Before the White House became the official executive mansion, there was The President’s House (see top), where the new nation’s first two Commanders in Chief lived during their terms. The building where Washington and Adams each resided with their families no longer exists, but its footprint now forms an engaging outdoor exhibit. The multimedia display “Freedom and Slavery in the Making of a New Nation” focuses on the lives of the enslaved Africans who were forced to labor here during Washington’s presidency. The site is located adjacent to the Liberty Bell Center, offering a stark juxtaposition for visitors waiting on line to see the iconic symbol of freedom.

Amy Gordon
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