Philadelphia Bourse, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

The Black Bear Tavern on South Fifth Street, seen looking south from near Market Street, in February 1859. Image courtesy of the Library Company of Philadelphia, Frederick De Bourg Richards Collection.

The scene around 1904. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

The scene in 2019:

The first photo was taken in February 1859, showing the scene looking south on South 5th Street from near Market Street. In the foreground on the left is the Black Bear Inn, a four-story hotel that was built around 1816. The inn itself had been in operation since the 18th century, and it was originally located around the corner on Market Street before moving to this building. It was still in operation when the first photo was taken, and by this point the building had several other commercial tenants as indicated by the signs, including grocer Jeremiah Starr and wine and liquor dealers Schaffer & Montgomery.

Further down the street were several other early 19th century buildings. Among these was a group of rowhouses, visible to the right of the center of the photo with three dormer windows on the roof. The one furthest to the left, at 23 South 5th Street, was at the time the home of noted portrait artist Thomas Sully. Although born in England, Sully spent most of his life in Philadelphia, and he lived in this house for many years. During his long career he painted a number of prominent individuals, and he was responsible for the Seated Liberty coin design. Many years after his death, his work made another appearance on American money when his portrait of Andrew Jackson was incorporated into the design of the $20 bill.

The Black Bear Inn was ultimately demolished soon after the first photo was taken, and it was replaced by the Eastern Market, which opened here in November 1859. This building remained in use as a marketplace throughout the next few decades, but it was ultimately demolished in the early 1890s in order to construct the Philadelphia Bourse, which is shown here in both the second and third photos.

The Bourse was established in 1891 as a commodities exchange. Its founder, George E. Bartol, modeled it after the Bourse in Hamburg, Germany, and it was located in temporary quarters for several years while this building was under construction. The work was completed in 1895 after two years of construction, at a cost of about $2.4 million, equivalent to about $75 million today. It was designed by the noted Philadelphia architectural firm of G. W. & W. D. Hewitt, and it was one of the city’s first steel-frame skyscrapers.

When the building opened on October 1, 1895, its tenants included the Board of Trade, the Trades League, the Lumbermen’s Exchange, the Grocers and Importers Exchange, and the Hardware Merchants and Manufacturers’ Association. The Bourse soon became the commercial center of the city, and by the early 20th century it was also occupied by the Commercial Exchange, the Maritime Exchange, the Paint Manufacturers’ Club, and the Drug Exchange. Other tenants during this period included the Philadelphia offices of the Government Weather Bureau and the Navy’s Hydrographic Office, along with a variety of railroad and steamship agencies and other businesses.

In 1916, on the 25th anniversary of its establishment, the Philadelphia Inquirer published an article on the Bourse, in which it praised the effect that it has had on the city’s commerce, noting:

The Philadelphia Bourse is the only institution of its kind in the United States and in some of its features probably is better known outside of Philadelphia than by the people of this city. It is an application to Philadelphia of the European Bourse idea, a building in which merchants may meet to facilitate the transaction of business and which may house various commercial and business organizations, such as the Bourse du Commerce of Paris and the Bourses of Hamburg and Vienna. . . .

From a venture supported by farsighted and progressive business men in twenty-five years the Philadelphia Bourse has developed into an institution of national reputation. It has played a leading part in the development of the port and commercial life of this city and vicinity and within recent years it had taken an influential position in the commercial matters of the entire country.

The Bourse continued to function as a commodities exchange until the 1960s. Since then, it has been used for retail and commercial office space, and it now includes a food court on the ground floor. The building underwent a major $40 million renovation from 2016-2018, and today it remains well-preserved, with few exterior changes since the second photo was taken more than a century ago.

However, the Bourse is the only surviving building from the second photo. The buildings further in the distance were demolished a few years later to make room for the Lafayette Building, which was completed in 1907 and still stands at the corner of South 5th and Chestnut Streets. The building on the far left side in the foreground is also gone, as are all of the buildings on the opposite side of South 5th Street, which were demolished in the mid-20th century to create the Independence Mall.

Christ Church, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Christ Church, seen from North Second Street in Philadelphia, around 1900-1915. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

The church in 2019:

The city of Philadelphia was established in 1682 by William Penn, the founder of the Pennsylvania colony. Although Penn and his followers were Quakers, the colony was tolerant of other religions, and they were soon joined by settlers of other faiths, including Episcopalians, who established Christ Church in 1695. A small wooden church was built here on this site a year later, and it remained in use throughout the early 18th century.

However, in 1727, the parish began construction of a much larger church building. It took the next 17 years to build, and it was one of the grandest churches in the colonies at the time, in sharp contrast to the city’s plain, modest Quaker meeting houses. It featured Georgian-style architecture, with a design that was based on the London churches of famed architect Christopher Wren. The church itself was completed in 1744, although it took another ten years before the steeple was built. When finished, the steeple stood 196 feet in height, making it the tallest building in the American colonies at the time. It would continue to hold this record for more than 50 years, until the completion of Park Street Church in Boston in 1810.

During the 18th century, many of Philadelphia’s leading citizens were members of Christ Church. The most notable of these was Benjamin Franklin, who had even organized a lottery to help finance the completion of the steeple. Several other signers of the Declaration of Independence were also members, including Francis Hopkinson, Robert Morris, and Benjamin Rush. Even colonial governor John Penn—grandson of the Quaker William Penn—was a member. Given Philadelphia’s role as the seat of the Continental Congress, and later as the temporary national capital, a number of other founding fathers also attended services here, including George Washington and John Adams.

Throughout most of the American Revolution, the rector of Christ Church was the Reverend William White, who also served as chaplain of both the Continental Congress and later the United States Senate. After the war, Reverend White played an important role in the formal separation of the Episcopal Church from the Church of England. The first General Convention of the Episcopal Church was held here at Christ Church in 1785, and in 1787 White was ordained as the first bishop of the Diocese of Pennsylvania. He subsequently became the first presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church, serving in 1789 and from 1795 until his death in 1836. During this time, he continued to serve as rector of Christ Church, serving in that role for a total of 57 years.

By the time the first photo was taken at the turn of the 20th century, Christ Church was already more than 150 years old. Its interior had been remodeled several times by then, but the exterior remained largely unchanged in its 18th century appearance. Around this time, in 1908, the steeple was damaged in a fire caused by a lightning strike, but this was subsequently repaired.

Since then, there have been few changes to this scene, aside from the trees in the foreground, which partially hide the church in the present-day photo. The angle is a little different between the two photos, though, because the first one was evidently taken from the upper floors of a building across the street, allowing for a wider view than from street level on the narrow street. During this time, Christ Church has remained standing as both an active Episcopalian parish and as a major tourist attraction. It is one of the most important surviving works of Georgian architecture in the country, and in 1970 it was designated as a National Historic Landmark.

Second Bank of the United States, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

The former Second Bank of the United States, on Chestnut Street in Philadelphia, around 1900-1906. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

The building in 2019:

The establishment of a national bank was one of the most controversial economic matters in the early years of the United States government, pitting Federalists such as Alexander Hamilton against Democratic-Republicans such as Thomas Jefferson. The Federalists, who generally represented urban and northern interests, favored a strong central government in order to promote trade and industry, while the Democratic-Republicans, who were primarily southern and rural, saw such a government as a threat, instead preferring a decentralized, agrarian-based economy.

Over the objections of prominent figures such as Thomas Jefferson and James Madison, the First Bank of the United States was established in 1791. At the time, the national capital was here in Philadelphia, with Congress meeting in Congress Hall, adjacent to Independence Hall. As a result, the bank was also headquartered in Philadelphia, where it operated out of Carpenters’ Hall until 1797, when a new bank building was completed nearby on South Third Street. The national government subsequently relocated to Washington, D.C. in 1800, but the bank remained in Philadelphia, and it continued to operate until 1811, when its twenty-year charter expired and Congress declined to renew it.

The country was without a national bank for the next five years, but in 1816 Congress authorized a new bank, the Second Bank of the United States. Ironically, this legislation was signed into law by President James Madison, who had come to recognize the need for a national bank after his earlier misgivings about the First Bank. Like its predecessor, the Second Bank was privately owned yet subject to government oversight, and its important roles included regulating public credit and stabilizing the national currency. This was particularly important in the years during and after the Madison administration, as the country recovered from the War of 1812 and began a series of ambitious internal improvements.

As with the First Bank, the Second Bank was located in Philadelphia, and it began operations in 1817. It also used Carpenters’ Hall as its temporary home, but in 1824 the bank moved into this newly-completed building on Chestnut Street. Designed by noted architect William Strickland, it features a Greek Revival exterior that is modeled on the Parthenon, with a pediment and eight Doric columns on both the north and south facades. This was an early example of Greek Revival architecture in the United States, and this style subsequently became very popular across the country in the next few decades, particularly for government and other institutional buildings.

By the time the building was completed in 1824, the bank had already faced significant criticism for its role in the Panic of 1819, the first major financial crisis in American history. Although part of a larger worldwide recession, it was also a consequence of the lending practices here at the Second Bank of the United States. Along with its role as the national bank, it also made loans to corporations and private individuals, and during its first few years it extended too much credit to borrowers. Then, in an effort to correct this, the bank began restricting credit, causing a nationwide rise in interest rates and unemployment, and a drop in property values and prices of farm produce. This ultimately triggered a financial panic in 1819, which was followed by an economic recession that lasted for several years.

The bank’s first two presidents were largely ineffective, but in 1823 Philadelphia native Nicholas Biddle became the bank president. He oversaw a slow but steady expansion of credit, along with an increase in banknotes, and during his tenure he managed to rehabilitate the bank’s image in the general public. This building on Chestnut Street opened about a year into his presidency, and he would continue to run the bank here for the next 12 years, until it closed in 1836 after its charter expired.

During these years, the bank — including its 25 branches across the country — played an important role in the nation’s economic growth. However, despite the bank’s success, it continued to generate controversy, becoming a central political issue during the presidency of Andrew Jackson. First elected in 1828, Jackson had a distrust of banks in general and the Second Bank of the United States in particular. He was skeptical of both paper money and lending, and he also opposed the bank on constitutional grounds. Echoing the earlier opposition to the First Bank, he argued that, as the Constitution does not explicitly authorize Congress to establish a national bank, it was an infringement upon the rights of the states.

In 1832, Congress approved a renewal of the bank’s charter, which was due to expire in four years. However, Jackson vetoed the bill, and Congress was unable to gather enough votes to override it. A year later, Jackson removed federal deposits from the bank and placed them into various state banks. Biddle subsequently made another effort to renew the charter, but despite his financial abilities he lacked strong political skills, and the bank’s charter ultimately expired in February 1836.

The bank itself did not close at this time, instead becoming the United States Bank of Philadelphia, with Nicholas Biddle still at the helm. However, the lack of a national bank soon became a factor in the Panic of 1837, which led to a seven-year recession. It was the worst economic crisis until the Great Depression, and it triggered a number of bank failures, including the United States Bank of Philadelphia. At the start of the recession, it had been the largest bank in the country, yet it ultimately went bankrupt in 1841.

A year later, Charles Dickens came to Philadelphia as part of his 1842 trip to the United States. He had few positive things to say about the country in his subsequent book, American Notes for General Circulation, and he painted a particularly bleak picture of the scene here at the old bank building with the following description:

We reached the city, late that night. Looking out of my chamber-window, before going to bed, I saw, on the opposite side of the way, a handsome building of white marble, which had a mournful ghost-like aspect, dreary to behold. I attributed this to the sombre influence of the night, and on rising in the morning looked out again, expecting to see its steps and portico thronged with groups of people passing in and out. The door was still tight shut, however; the same cold cheerless air prevailed: and the building looked as if the marble statue of Don Guzman could alone have any business to transact within its gloomy walls. I hastened to inquire its name and purpose, and then my surprise vanished. It was the Tomb of many fortunes; the Great Catacomb of investment; the memorable United States Bank.

The stoppage of this bank, with all its ruinous consequences, had cast (as I was told on every side) a gloom on Philadelphia, under the depressing effect of which it yet laboured. It certainly did seem rather dull and out of spirits.

As it turned out, the building did not remain vacant for very long. In 1845, it became the U. S. Custom House for the port of Philadelphia, and it was used in this capacity for far longer than it was ever used as a bank. It was still the Custom House when the first photo was taken at the turn of the 20th century, and this continued until 1934, when the present Custom House opened two blocks away. Then, in 1939, the old building was transferred to the National Park Service, which has owned it ever since.

The building has seen several different uses over the past 80 years, but it currently houses the Second Bank Portrait Gallery. It features a number of portraits by prominent late 18th and early 19th century artist Charles Willson Peale, including those of many important colonial-era leaders, such as John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, and Alexander Hamilton. Most of the interior has been heavily altered since its time as a bank, although the exterior has remained well-preserved, with few changes from its appearance in the first photo. It is now part of the Independence National Historical Park, and in 1987 it was designated as a National Historic Landmark.

Congress Hall, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

The view looking west on Chestnut Street, toward the corner of 6th Street in Philadelphia, around the late 1860s or 1870s. Image courtesy of the New York Public Library.

The scene in 2018:

The building on the left side of this scene is Congress Hall, which stands just to the west of Independence Hall on Chestnut Street in Philadelphia. Although smaller and less well-known than its neighbor, this building played an important role in the early history of the United States government, housing Congress for ten years from 1790 until 1800, when the national capital moved to Washington, D.C.

Philadelphia had been the de facto capital city throughout the American Revolution, with the Continental Congress meeting in Independence Hall from 1775 until 1783. However, Congress fled the city in 1783, after being threatened by a mob of soldiers who were demanding payment for their wartime service, and it subsequently met in Princeton, Annapolis, and Trenton, before eventually moving to New York City in 1785. New York served as the capital for the next five years, but Pennsylvania’s inability to protect Congress from rioters had convinced the federal government that it needed a capital city that was not within any state.

In 1790, Congress passed the Residence Act, which established Washington, D.C. as the permanent national capital, but designated Philadelphia as a temporary capital for the remainder of the 18th century. The building here on the left side had been completed a year earlier, in 1789, and it was originally intended as the Philadelphia County Courthouse. It was the work of architect Samuel Lewis, and its brick exterior reflected Federal-style architecture, which was popular during this period, particularly for public buildings. On the interior, the entire ground floor was occupied by the House of Representatives chamber, while the second floor housed the smaller Senate chamber, along with several other rooms.

Congress convened here for the first time on December 6, 1790, and the building went on to serve as the national capitol for the next decade. These were important formative years in the nation’s history, and Congress Hall was the site of many historic events. George Washington’s second inauguration was held here in 1793, in the Senate chamber on the second floor, and it was here that he gave his inaugural address. At just 135 words in length, it remains the shortest inaugural address in presidential history. John Adams was also inaugurated in this building four years later, although the ceremony was held downstairs in the House chamber, and it featured a much longer address by Adams.

During its time in this building, Congress passed a number of important pieces of legislation. The First Bank of the United States, the Post Office, the United States Mint, and the Navy were all established here, and the states of Vermont, Kentucky, and Tennessee were admitted to the Union here, becoming the first states added to the country after the original thirteen. The 1791 liquor tax, which incited the Whiskey Rebellion, was passed here, as were the similarly controversial Alien and Sedition Acts of 1798. Several treaties were also ratified by the Senate here, including the Treaty of Madrid, the Jay Treaty, and the Treaty of Tripoli. In addition, the Bill of Rights, which had been submitted to the states in 1789, was ratified by the requisite number of states in 1791, and was formally added to the Constitution here at Congress Hall.

This building was last used by Congress on May 14, 1800, and six months later Congress convened in Washington, D.C. for the first time. Here in Philadelphia, Congress Hall reverted to its originally intended use as a county courthouse, and the nearby Supreme Court building – which was completed in 1791 with an exterior that was nearly identical to Congress Hall – became the Philadelphia City Hall. Both buildings were subsequently threatened with demolition in the late 19th century, but this was never carried out, and Congress Hall was restored between 1895 and 1913. Upon the completion of this project, the building was rededicated by President Woodrow Wilson, who gave a speech here on October 25, 1913.

Congress Hall was the oldest building in this scene when the first photo was taken, and it is also the only one that has survived to the present day. Just beyond it, on the other side of 6th Street, was a Second Empire-style commercial block that was completed in 1867 as the offices of the Public Ledger newspaper. This was demolished in 1920, and it was replaced by a new building for the newspaper, which spanned the entire length of the block. The Public Ledger has been defunct since 1942, but its former office building is still standing here in the background of this scene.

Today, Congress Hall is part of the Independence National Historical Park, which was established in 1948. From this angle, the exterior has not changed much since the first photo was taken some 150 years ago, although the interior is very different, thanks to the turn-of-the-century restoration project. The building is now open to the public, with National Park Service rangers providing free guided tours of both the first and second floors.

Independence Hall, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania (2)

The south side of Independence Hall, seen from Independence Square around 1900-1910. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

Independence Hall in 2018:

As discussed in greater detail in a previous post, Independence Hall was built over the course of a 21-year period between 1732 and 1753. It was designed and built by Edmund Woolley, and it featured a brick Georgian style of architecture that was common for public buildings of this period. Upon its completion, it became the first capitol building for the colony, and it remained the seat of Pennsylvania’s government throughout the rest of the 18th century.

However, Independence Hall is best remembered today for its role in the early history of the United States. From 1775 to 1783, the Continental Congress met here, and it was during this time that, in 1776, the delegates debated, approved, and signed the Declaration of Independence. This occurred in the Assembly Room, which is located on the first floor on the right side of the building. Eleven years later, state delegates gathered in the same room for the Constitutional Convention, and the current United States Constitution was signed here on September 17, 1787.

Over the years, the exterior of Independence Hall has undergone some significant changes. The original wooden steeple had, by the time of the American Revolution, become badly deteriorated, and it was ultimately removed in 1782. The brick tower was capped with a simple roof for the next few decades, but in 1828 a new steeple was added. It was designed by architect William Strickland, and it was similar to – although not identical to – the original one. Another change came in 1812, when the original wings of the building were demolished. However, replicas of these wings were constructed in 1898, and they are connected to the main building by the brick arcades that are visible on the right and left sides of both photos.

Today, despite these many changes, Independence Hall stands as one of the most historic landmarks in the country. The exterior has remained largely the same since the first photo was taken more than a century ago, and it has long been recognized as a major symbol of American liberty and freedom. In 1948, it became a part of the Independence National Historical Park, and in 1966 it was designated as a National Historic Landmark, which is the highest level of federal recognition for a historic site. However, it has also received international recognition for its significance, and in 1979 it was named as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Because of its historical importance, it is one of the most popular tourist attractions in the northeast, with the park drawing an average of over 4 million visitors each year.

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.