Assembly Room, Independence Hall, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

The Assembly Room on the first floor of Independence Hall, around 1905. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

The room in 2018:

As discussed in an earlier post, Independence Hall was completed in 1753 as the Pennsylvania State House, the colony’s first capitol building. The first floor consisted of two large rooms on either side of a central hall. To the west was the courtroom for the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania, while the room on the east side, which is shown here, housed the Pennsylvania Provincial Assembly. As a result, this room was known as the Assembly Room, and it was the meeting place of the colonial legislature – and later the state legislature – throughout the second half of the 18th century. However, this room is most remembered for housing the Continental Congress from 1775 to 1783, and for being the site of the signing of the Declaration of Independence and the United States Constitution.

Philadelphia had played a central role in the American Revolution since 1774, when the First Continental Congress convened in the city from September 5 to October 26 of that year. The city served as a convenient meeting place between the northern and southern colonies, but the delegates met at the recently-constructed Carpenters’ Hall, instead of here at the State House. It was not until the Second Continental Congress, which convened on May 10, 1775, that the colonial delegates would meet here in the Assembly Room of what would become known as Independence Hall.

When these delegates arrived here for the Second Continental Congress, the American Revolution was less than a month old, having started on April 19 with the Battles of Lexington and Concord. As a result, the Congress soon began to exercise control over the colonial military, starting with the creation of the Continental Army on June 14 and the appointment of George Washington as its commanding officer. Washington, who was part of the Virginia delegation here in Congress, was nominated for the position by John Adams, and Washington subsequently left for Boston to assume command of the army.

Another important congressional action occurred less than a month later, on July 8, when the delegates approved the Olive Branch Petition. Intended as a peace overture to Britain, in order to appease the more conservative members, this petition was summarily rejected by the British government. However, it proved significant in highlighting the fact that Britain was not receptive to compromises, which gave the more radical members a stronger case in favor of declaring independence.

Even so, it would take nearly another year before the Continental Congress finally declared independence. The resolution, known as the Lee Resolution after its sponsor, Richard Henry Lee of Virginia, was introduced here on June 7, 1776. In the ensuing weeks, the idea of independence was debated, a draft declaration was written, and the resolution finally passed on July 2, after last-minute actions to secure yes votes from South Carolina, Pennsylvania, and Delaware.

John Adams, who was among the delegates in attendance, believed that this day would be celebrated by future generations as Independence Day. As it turned out, though, it ended up being July 4 – the day when Congress approved the final wording of the Declaration of Independence – that would be remembered as such. However, despite popular images of the Founding Fathers lining up here to sign the document, no such scene actually occurred on that day. Instead, historians generally identify August 2 as the date when most delegates signed, although some signatures would be added as late as November.

Following the Declaration of Independence, Congress continued to meet here throughout most of the war, with two interruptions during British occupations of Philadelphia. The first occurred from December 1776 through March 1777, when Congress met in Baltimore, and the second lasted from September 1777 to July 1778, with Congress meeting in Lancaster for one day and then York, Pennsylvania for the duration. The Articles of Confederation, the nation’s first constitution, was written while Congress was in York, but it did not go into effect until 1781, when Maryland signed it here in the Assembly Room of Independence Hall.

Under the Articles of Confederation, the Continental Congress did not see significant change. It remained a unicameral legislature, with each state having one vote regardless of population, and it continued to meet here in Independence Hall for several years, making this the de facto national capitol building. However, Congress’s time here was cut short by a dispute between it and the state government of Pennsylvania, which also occupied this building. In June 1783, a mob of about 400 American soldiers descended upon Independence Hall, demanding payment for their wartime service. Congress asked the state’s Supreme Executive Council to call in the militia to suppress the riot, but the state declined, and Congress left the city on June 21.

When Congress reconvened nine days later, it was at Nassau Hall in Princeton, New Jersey. Over the next few years, Congress would also meet in Annapolis, Trenton, and then in New York City, which became the national capital until 1790. Congress would never return here to Independence Hall, but this room would play one more important role in the national government in 1787, when the Constitutional Convention met here from May 25 through September 17, 1787. Although officially intended to “revise” the heavily flawed Articles of Confederation, this convention ultimately created a completely new blueprint for the national government, and the current United States Constitution was signed here on September 17, by delegates from 12 of the 13 states.

The Constitutional Convention became famous for its many compromises, with delegates seeking to strike a balance between the large states and small states, and between the north and the south. Perhaps the most important was the Connecticut Compromise, which established a bicameral legislature, with equal representation in the Senate and proportional representation in the House. The proportional representation caused another controversy, though, with regards to how slaves should be counted for representation purposes. This was resolved by the Three-Fifths Compromise, which counted three-fifths of the slave population toward Congressional representation, thus preventing southern states from becoming too dominant in national politics.

The end of the Constitutional Convention also marked the end of this room’s use for national political gatherings. The new Constitution went into effect in 1789, and a year later the national government returned to Philadelphia for a ten-year period, while Washington, D.C. was being developed. However, during this time period Congress met next door in Congress Hall, while the Supreme Court met in a matching building on the other side of Independence Hall. In the meantime, the Assembly Room here in Independence Hall would continue to be used by the state legislature, but in 1799 the state capital was moved to Lancaster, leaving this building largely vacant.

During the early 19th century, parts of Independence Hall were used by artist Charles Willson Peale, who established a natural history museum and portrait gallery here. The building was nearly demolished in the 1810s, but it was instead purchased by the city of Philadelphia. Early in the city’s ownership, the original paneling here in the Assembly Room was removed, but the room was subsequently restored by noted architect John Haviland in 1833. However, this restoration, which is shown in the first photo some 70 years later, was not entirely accurate, and was largely based on the appearance of the adjacent Supreme Court Room.

Throughout the 19th century, the Assembly Room was used for a wide variety of purposes. Many patriotic events were held here, with distinguished visitors such as Henry Clay, Andrew Jackson, and Abraham Lincoln. The bodies of both Clay and Lincoln would later lay in state here in this room, as did the body of John Quincy Adams following his death in 1848. In addition, this room was also used as a museum, displaying a number of objects relating to American Revolution. During the second half of the 19th century, the Liberty Bell was on display here, before being moved to the base of the tower, and the room also housed a large collection of Charles Willson Peale’s portraits. Some of these are visible in the first photo, including his famous George Washington at Princeton, which stands in the corner on the left side of the scene.

The Assembly Room later underwent a second major renovation in the mid-20th century, restoring it to its presumed 18th century appearance. The room was also furnished during this time, although almost none of the objects are original to the room. Today, there are only two artifacts that survive from the Revolutionary period. The oldest of these is the Syng inkstand, which sits on the table at the front of the room in the present-day scene. Made in 1752, this inkstand was used in the signing of both the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, and it is visible in the first photo, in a small display case in front of the fireplace on the left side.

The other object, and the only surviving piece of furniture from the 18th century, is the chair in the center of the room, which is visible in both photos. This was made in 1779, and it was the seat where George Washington sat while presiding over the Constitutional Convention. It is often known as the Rising Sun Armchair, because of the carved sun on the top of it. This decoration caught the attention of Benjamin Franklin during the Constitutional Convention, and he remarked on it as the delegates were signing the document. His words, which were recorded in James Madison’s notes, provided a fitting conclusion to the convention that marked a new beginning for the United States:

Whilst the last members were signing it Doctr. Franklin looking towards the Presidents Chair, at the back of which a rising sun happened to be painted, observed to a few members near him, that Painters had found it difficult to distinguish in their art a rising from a setting sun. I have said he, often and often in the course of the Session, and the vicisitudes of my hopes and fears as to its issue, looked at that behind the President without being able to tell whether it was rising or setting: But now at length I have the happiness to know that it is a rising and not a setting Sun.

Supreme Court Room, Independence Hall, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

The Supreme Court Room at Independence Hall in Philadelphia, around 1904. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

The room in 2018:

The ground floor of Independence Hall – originally known as the Pennsylvania State House – consists of two large rooms. On the east side is the more famous Assembly Room, where the colonial legislature and Continental Congress met, and where the Declaration of Independence and the U. S. Constitution were signed. On the opposite side of the building is this room, which was originally built as the courtroom for the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania. The two rooms are separated by a central hall, but, unlike the Assembly Room, the courtroom does not have any doors separating it from the hall. Instead, there are three large arches between the hall and courtroom, highlighting the importance of public judicial proceedings.

The Supreme Court met here throughout the 1700s. It originally consisted of three justices, although in 1767 its size was increased to four. During this time, probably its most prominent jurist was Thomas McKean, who served as Chief Justice from 1777 until 1799, when he was elected governor. Prior to his time on the bench, he represented Delaware in the Continental Congress from 1774 to 1776, and 1777 to 1783, serving as the president of Congress in 1783. He was also a signatory to the Declaration of Independence, and he briefly served as president of Delaware in 1777. Another important member of the Supreme Court was John Morton, who served as an associate justice from 1774 until his death in 1777. He was simultaneously a delegate to the Continental Congress, where he signed the Declaration of Independence, and he was also the chairman of the committee that drafted the Articles of Confederation.

This building would continue to be used by the state government until 1799, when Philadelphia lost its status as the capital city to Lancaster. The Supreme Court subsequently relocated there, vacating its old quarters here in Independence Hall. The building was nearly demolished in the early 19th century, but it was instead purchased by the city of Philadelphia and preserved. By the 1870s, the Supreme Court room was in use as a museum, housing paintings and relics from the American Revolution. The room itself had also undergone some changes, including the arches, which had been closed since 1789 and separated from the central hall by a set of double doors.

The Supreme Court room was ultimately restored in the late 1890s, as shown by the first photo. However, the room was not furnished at the time, and its sparse decorations consisted of just a statue and several paintings. The paintings appear to all depict former justices, including William Bradford on the far left, Thomas Smith third to the right, and Thomas McKean on the wall in the center. The room would later undergo another major renovation in the 1960s, bringing it to its present-day appearance. As a result, it looks far more like a courtroom today than it did when the first photo was taken more than a century ago, and the room is, along with the Assembly Room, one of the two major stops on the public tours of Independence Hall.

Liberty Bell, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

The Liberty Bell, at the base of the tower in Independence Hall, around 1905. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

The scene in 2018, without the Liberty Bell:

Today, the Liberty Bell is one of the most recognizable symbols of American independence and freedom, perhaps only matched by the American flag and the bald eagle. However, this would have seemed a rather implausible outcome for mid-18th century observers, who would have seen it as a poorly-made English import that barely served its purpose as a bell. The original bell arrived in Philadelphia in 1752, and it was to be installed in the Pennsylvania State House (now Independence Hall), which was then under construction. The first time that it was rung, though, the bell cracked, and in 1753 it was melted down and re-cast by local foundry owners John Pass and John Stow. However, this second bell had a poor sound, so Pass and Stowe again re-cast it, and in 1753 it was hung in the steeple of the State House.

In the early years of the Liberty Bell’s history, Pennsylvania was still a British colony, and the Declaration of Independence was still several decades away. As such, Philadelphians would not have associated the bell with the concept of liberty, although it bore a rather prophetic inscription taken from Leviticus 25:10, which reads, “Proclaim liberty throughout all the land unto all the inhabitants thereof.” Instead, the fame of the Liberty Bell comes from the fact that it sat in the steeple of the State House when the Second Continental Congress declared independence in 1776. Despite popular belief,though, this bell did not ring on July 4 to mark the occasion, as the Declaration of Independence was not made public for another four days. The bell likely would have been one of many that were rung in Philadelphia on July 8 in order to celebrate the Declaration, although there is no direct evidence of this.

The Liberty Bell remained in its perch above the building until 1777, when retreating American forces took it down and removed it from the city, in order to prevent the British from seizing it and melting it down for munitions. The bell returned to Philadelphia a year later, although it was not re-installed in the steeple because of the deteriorated condition of the structure. It was put into storage for the next few years, and in 1781 the old steeple was demolished. Then, in 1785, the bell was installed in the truncated brick tower, beneath where the steeple had been.

It was at some point in the early 19th century, probably between 1817 and 1846, that the Liberty Bell cracked again, giving the bell its distinctive present-day appearance. Also during this time, Independence Hall underwent a renovation, with a new steeple built atop the tower in 1828. As part of this project, the city of Philadelphia also ordered a new bell to replace the old Liberty Bell. John Wilbank received the contract to make the new one, and part of his payment was the Liberty Bell itself, which had a scrap value of $400. However, the cost of removing it would have exceeded this amount, so he let the city keep the bell, thus preventing the historic relic from being melted down for scrap.

By the middle of the 19th century, the Liberty Bell was becoming widely recognized for its historic significance. In 1848, it was moved to the Assembly Room of Independence Hall, where the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution had been signed, and it would remain on display there for the next 50 years. Then, in 1898, it was moved to a new location in the building, at the base of the tower, as shown in the first photo. However, during this time the Liberty Bell also went on tour, traveling by rail to various locations around the country. The last of these occurred in 1915, and the practice was subsequently ended, in part because of the many souvenir hunters who chipped off pieces of the bell during these traveling exhibitions.

Aside from these trips, the Liberty Bell was on display here in the tower hall throughout much of the 20th century. As the bell’s fame continued to grow, though, this space became inadequate for the increasing number of visitors who came here. In 1976, in anticipation of the crowds that would come to celebrate America’s bicentennial, it was relocated to the Liberty Bell Pavilion, which was constructed on the Independence Mall on the other side of Chestnut Street, opposite Independence Hall. It remained there for the next 27 years, but in 2003 it moved again, to the new, larger Liberty Bell Center. The bell is still on display there now, with the view of Independence Hall as its backdrop, and it draws an estimated one million visitors each year.

Statuary Hall, US Capitol, Washington, DC

The National Statuary Hall, formerly the U.S. House of Representatives chamber in the Capitol, around 1900-1906. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress.

The scene in 2018:

This room in the United States Capitol was constructed between 1815 and 1819 as the House of Representatives chamber. However, the House had actually met here at this site since 1801, when a temporary structure was built here while the Capitol was still under construction. This was replaced by a permanent House chamber in 1807, but this was subsequently burned during the British invasion of Washington in 1814. It was soon rebuilt, though, with designs by architects Benjamin Henry Latrobe and Charles Bulfinch.

The room is semicircular, and shaped like an ancient amphitheater. It is surrounded on all sides by locally-quarried marble columns, which are topped by white marble Corinthian capitals that were imported from Italy. The original design of the room also included two statues, both of which are still here. One is located directly behind where this photo was taken from, and the other, Liberty and the Eagle, is visible above the columns in the center of the room. It was the work of sculptor Enrico Causici, and it features a female depiction of Liberty, holding the Constitution in her outstretched right hand. To her right is an eagle, and to the left is a snake on a column.

Several years after its completion, the House chamber became the subject of an 1823 painting by Samuel F. B. Morse, who had a successful career as a painter before turning his attention to telegraphy. His painting, included below, shows the view of the room from the left side, at approximately a right angle from where these two photos were taken. It is now on display a few blocks away from here at the National Gallery of Art, providing a rare glimpse into this room during the years that it was used by the House of Representatives.

The House of Representatives met here until 1857, when the present House chamber was completed. During this time, this room was the site of many important events. In the years before presidential inaugurations were consistently held outdoors, several such ceremonies were held here, including James Monroe (1821), John Quincy Adams (1825), Andrew Jackson (1833), and Millard Fillmore (1850). Both of James Madison’s inaugurations (1809 and 1813) were also held here, although these occurred before the postwar reconstruction of the chamber. In addition to being inaugurated here, this chamber was also the site of John Quincy Adams’s election to the presidency. None of the four candidates in the 1824 election had received a majority of the electoral votes, so it was left to the House to choose the president here.

Adams’s association with this room would ultimately go far beyond his highly-contested presidential election. Two years after his defeat for re-election in 1828, he became the only ex-president to be elected to the House of Representatives, and he would go on to serve here for nearly 17 years. It was also here that, in 1836, the House instituted the Gag Rule, which blocked discussion of any anti-slavery petitions. This was designed to silence northern abolitionists, particularly Adams, who became perhaps the most vocal opponent of the rule. It would eventually be repealed in 1844, thanks in large part to his efforts, and Adams continued to be be one of the most outspoken abolitionists in the House until his death in 1848. On February 21 of that year, he suffered a stroke while at his desk here in the House chamber, and he died two days later in the adjacent speaker’s room.

Among those present in the chamber when Adams collapsed was Abraham Lincoln, a freshman representative from Illinois. Although they had only been colleagues in the House for a year, Lincoln was selected to serve as a pallbearer at Adams’s funeral, which was also held here in the House chamber. This would prove to be a fitting selection, as Lincoln would eventually accomplish Adams’s lifelong goal of abolishing slavery. Today, plaques on the floor of this room mark the locations of both Lincoln’s desk – located in the rear of the room on the far right side of this scene – and Adams’s desk, which was also on the right, but near the front of the room.

Overall, this room was the site of some of the most important debates and acts of legislation during the antebellum period of American history. The Missouri Compromise was introduced and debated here in 1820, only a year after the room was completed, and it set the policy for the admission of new states for more than three decades. However, in 1854, only a few years before the House relocated to its current chamber, the Missouri Compromise was repealed by the Kansas-Nebraska Act. This law was hotly debated here on the floor of the House before eventually passing by a narrow margin, and it would prove to be one of the major controversies that ultimately led to the start of the Civil War.

The admission of new states was a considerable source of strife within the House of Representatives throughout the first half of the 19th century, but it also posed a more logistical problem for the House. When this room was completed in 1819, the country had 22 states, with a total of 187 representatives serving here. However, by 1857 there were 31 states, with plenty more potential states on the horizon, and the House had grown to 237 representatives. This overcrowding, combined with notoriously poor acoustics in the room, led Congress to expand the Capitol in the 1850s. On the exterior, the most noticeable changes were the addition of two new wings for new legislative chambers, and a new, larger dome in the center of the building. The current House chamber – located through the doors in the distant center of this scene – was completed in 1857, and the current Senate chamber was completed in 1859 on the opposite end of the building.

After the House moved out, there were several different proposals for re-using this room, including as an art gallery, as space for the Library of Congress, or dividing it into two floors of conference rooms. It would remain vacant for several years, though, with Congress likely being more preoccupied by the Civil War than by redesigning rooms in the Capitol. However, in 1864 this room was designated as the National Statuary Hall, and each state was invited to send two statues of prominent individuals from their history.

The first statue arrived here in 1870, but it would take another century before every state was represented by at least one statue, and it was not until 2005 that each state had two statues here. When the first photo was taken around the turn of the 20th century, the collection included about two dozen statues, eleven of which are visible in this photo. From left to right, these include Roger Sherman (CT), Jonathan Trumbull (CT), Peter Muhlenberg (PA), Ethan Allen (VT), Lewis Cass (MI), James Garfield (OH), William Allen (OH), Jacob Collamer (VT), Robert Fulton (PA), Nathaniel Greene (RI), and Roger Williams (RI).

Over time, as the collection of statues grew, this room became too overcrowded. The dozens of heavy statues also raised structural concerns, so many of them were ultimately relocated to other parts of the Capitol. Today, there are 38 here in Statuary Hall, although only three of the ones visible in the first photo are still here in this room. Of these, only Lewis Cass is still visible from this angle, with his statue standing between the two columns on the left, only a few feet from where it stood a century earlier in the first photo. One of the statues from the first photo, William Allen, has been entirely removed from the Capitol; his statue was replaced in 2016 by one of Thomas Edison.

Overall, aside from rearranged statues, the Statuary Hall has not seen too many changes since the first photo was taken over a century ago. However, in 1976 it was partially restored to its early 19th century appearance, using Morse’s painting as a guide. This included the addition of curtains behind the curtains, along with a replica of the original chandelier in the center of the room. As a result, the present-day appearance of Statuary Hall actually bears a better resemblance to the old House chamber than it did when the first photo was taken.

Great Hall, Library of Congress, Washington, DC

The Great Hall in the Thomas Jefferson Building of the Library of Congress, around 1900-1901. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress.

The scene in 2018:

The Library of Congress is said to be the largest library in the world, with over 168 items in its collections. These are housed in four different buildings in and near Washington, D.C., but the oldest of these is the main building, located directly across the street from the Capitol. Completed in 1897, and later named in honor of Thomas Jefferson in 1980, this building includes the main reading room, along with smaller specialized reading rooms and a variety of galleries.

Along with its massive collection of books, though, the Library of Congress also features outstanding Beaux-Arts architecture, on both the interior and exterior. Aside from the main reading room itself, perhaps the single most impressive interior space is here in the great hall, where the main staircase is located. As these photos show, the space is lavishly decorated, and it includes a wide variety of works by some of the leading American painters and sculptors of the late 19th century.

This particular view shows the northeastern corner of the great hall. In the lower part of the scene is the staircase, which features carved images of young boys. Known as putti – but often conflated with cherubs – many of these figures represent different occupations, such as a printer, physician, musician, and electrician. Two others sit on opposite sides of a globe, representing Europe and Asia, and several others represent the fine arts. These were all carved by noted sculptor Philip Martiny, whose other works here included the carvings in the corner of the ceiling.

On the far right side of the scene is the arch that leads to the main reading room. It was designed by sculptor Olin L. Warner, and it features a pair of figures, one young and one old, representing knowledge. Directly above the arch is an inscription that recognizes the architects and engineers involved in constructing the library, and the inscription is flanked by a pair of eagles.

Further up in the great hall, the upper portions of the walls are painted with a variety of designs. On the left side of the scene, just to the left of the round windows, are three paintings that feature allegorical depictions of women. From left to right, they represent Understanding, Knowledge, and Philosophy. A fourth figure, just out of view to the left, represents Wisdom. Above these paintings, and around the ceiling of the second level, are a number of printers’ marks, which served as early forms of trademarks beginning in the Renaissance era.

The other noteworthy feature of the great hall is its ceiling. Although only partially visible in these views, it is decorated with murals done by artist Frederic C. Martin, in addition to the corner figures carved by Philip Martiny. Each of these carvings has two winged figures, and in between them is an image of a book and a torch, which represent learning. In the middle of the ceiling are six square skylights, with designs that match the floor of the great hall.

Today, nearly 120 years after the first photo was taken, remarkably little has changed here in the great hall. The building is popular among visitors to Washington, who are able to admire the architecture, explore the nearby exhibits, and view the library’s copy of the Gutenberg Bible, which is located on the first floor, just out of view beyond the lower right corner of the scene. Overall, the only readily visible change between these two photos is the bust of Thomas Jefferson, which now sits in what had originally been an empty niche beneath the staircase.

Interior of Old First Church, Springfield, Mass (2)

The interior of Old First Church from the balcony, around 1940. Photo from author’s collection; gift of Barbara Shaffer.

 

The church in 2015:

973_2015
The interior of Old First Church was shown in an earlier post, with a photo that was taken around 1915. At the time, the interior design was from an 1881 remodel, but in 1924 many of the Victorian changes were undone and it was restored to an early 19th century appearance. The c.1940 photo here reflects these changes, and it remains mostly the same today. There is a different organ, which was installed in 1958, the steps up to the pulpit have moved, and most of the pews to the left and right of the pulpit are gone, but there have been no major alterations since 1924.

The church was built in 1819, and after nearly 200 years it is the oldest church building still standing in the city. However, the First Church congregation itself no longer exists. With declining membership and high maintenance costs, they disbanded in 2007, and the city purchased the historic building. They regularly rent it out it out for special events, and since 2009 it has also been used by WellSpring Church for their Sunday services.