Congress Hall and Independence Hall, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Congress Hall and Independence Hall, seen from the corner of Chestnut and Sixth Streets in Philadelphia, around 1859. Image courtesy of the Library Company of Philadelphia, Frederick De Bourg Richards Photograph Collection.

The scene in 2019:

These two photos show the south side of Chestnut Street, between Sixth and Fifth Streets. This block contains three historic 18th century government buildings, each of which played an important role in the early history of the United States. In the center of this scene is Independence Hall, Philadelphia’s most famous historic landmark, which served as the meeting place of the Continental Congress and the Constitutional Convention. It is flanked on either side by two nearly identical buildings, both of which were occupied by the federal government in the late 18th century. In the foreground, to the west of Independence Hall, is Congress Hall, and to the east is the Old City Hall, which once housed the United States Supreme Court.

Independence Hall was completed in 1753, and it was originally used as the colonial capitol building of Pennsylvania. However, because of Philadelphia’s central location relative to the northern and southern colonies, it took on a second role during the American Revolution. Aside from several short interruptions during British occupations, the Continental Congress met here from 1775 until 1783, and it was during this time that the delegates approved and signed the Declaration of Independence in 1776. Congress left Philadelphia in 1783, but the building continued to be used by the state government. Then, during the summer of 1787, the Constitutional Convention met here to draft and sign the United States Constitution, which was ratified a year later.

At the time of the convention, New York City was the national capital, but in 1790 the federal government returned to Philadelphia, which would serve as the capital city for ten years while Washington D.C. was being developed. Rather than sharing Independence Hall with the state government, the federal government moved into its own buildings here. Congress Hall, shown in the foreground of these two photos, became the capitol building, with a chamber on the first floor for the House of Representatives, and a smaller one upstairs for the Senate. However, the building is noticeably smaller and more modest than the adjacent Independence Hall, providing an interesting visual contrast between the perceived importance of the state and federal governments during the nation’s early years.

Congress Hall was overshadowed by Independence Hall, both physically and also in terms of its historical significance. Nevertheless, a number of important events occurred here at Congress Hall. George Washington was inaugurated here at the start of his second term, as was John Adams four years later, and the Bill of Rights was formally added to the Constitution here in 1791. It was also here that Congress passed many important bills that would shape the future of the country, including legislation that established the First Bank of the United States, the Post Office, and the Navy.

On the far side of Independence Hall, at the corner of Fifth Street, is the Old City Hall. Its exterior is nearly identical to Congress Hall, and it was completed in 1791. It served as Philadelphia’s city hall until 1854, but it was also occupied by the United States Supreme Court from 1791 until 1800. The court held its sessions on the first floor during this period, with the city council meeting on the second floor. The first case in the history of the court, West v. Barnes, was argued here on August 2, 1791, and the court issued a unanimous decision the following day. Overall, though, the Supreme Court had a relatively minor role in the federal government in these early years, and the court decided few significant cases here in Philadelphia.

Both the state and federal governments left Philadelphia at the end of the 18th century, with the state capital moving to Lancaster in 1799 and the national capital to Washington a year later. Independence Hall faced threats of demolition in the early 19th century, and the building’s original wings were razed and replaced with new buildings, which are partially visible in the first photo. However, the main part of Independence Hall was ultimately preserved, and by the time the first photo was taken in the late 1850s it had become a major symbol of the American Revolution.

In the meantime, City Hall was occupied by the municipal government until 1854, and for many years Congress Hall served as the county courthouse. Both of these buildings were restored around the turn of the 20th century, and Congress Hall was rededicated in 1913 by President Woodrow Wilson. Around this same time, the 1812 wings of Independence Hall were replaced by replicas of the original wings. Since then, this scene has not changed very much in its appearance, and all three buildings are now part of the Independence National Historical Park, which was established in 1948.

Jones’ Hotel, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

The Jones’ Hotel, on the south side of Chestnut Street between Sixth and Seventh Streets in Philadelphia, in December 1858. Image courtesy of the Library Company of Philadelphia, Frederick De Bourg Richards Photograph Collection.

The scene in 2019:

The first photo shows the Jones’ Hotel, which stood on the south side of Chestnut Street between Sixth and Seventh Street. The photo is part of a scrapbook that was compiled in the 1850s to document historic 18th and early 19th century buildings in Philadelphia. Most of the buildings in the scrapbook have long since been demolished, so images such as this one provide a rare glimpse of the city during the early years of photography. The original image, which is now in the collections of the Library Company of Philadelphia, also includes a caption, probably contemporary to the photo, that reads:

Yohe’s, late Jones’ Hotel. On the south side of Chestnut St., next to the Clymer mansion (afterward Geo. Harrison’s residence) between Sixth and Seventh St. The site, in the olden times, of the celebrated “Oeller’s hotel.”

As indicated by the caption, this was once the site of Oellers’s Hotel. It was one of the city’s leading hotels of the late 18th century, but it was destroyed by a fire on December 17, 1799. The site was subsequently redeveloped with houses, but in 1833 hotelier Catharine Yohe purchased two of these homes, demolished them, and constructed the right-hand side of the building in the first photo. It opened in December 1833, and according to a July 10, 1859 article in the Sunday Dispatch it was, at the time of its completion, the only purpose-built hotel building in the city. Its opening was widely announced in newspapers, including classified advertisements as well as news articles that may have been thinly-disguised advertisements. One such article, published in the Philadelphia Inquirer on December 5, speaks of the hotel in glowing terms:

This elegant and commodious establishment is now opened for the reception of Travellers. A more beautiful situation could hardly have been chosen for the erection of a large Hotel—it stands on Chestnut Street—directly opposite the Philadelphia Arcade and Peale’s Museum—between Sixth and Seventh Streets. This extensive building contains numerous parlours, all beautifully furnished—upwards of 100 Bed chambers, admirably arranged for comfort and convenience in all seasons. The Bars are judiciously placed so as to prevent confusion, in directing servants. The Dining Room is perhaps the largest, and most beautifully arranged, of any in the United States—the whole furnished after the order of Modern Architecture, with Furniture to correspond. This extensive and valuable establishment is under the immediate direction of Mrs. Yohe, the owner. From the well known character and capacity of this Lady we may infer that hospitality, kindness and attention will be extended to all, who favour the North American Hotel with their patronage.

Catharine Yohe operated the hotel for the next six years, but in 1839 she sold it to John A. Jones. He subsequently expanded the hotel by purchasing the other two adjoining houses, demolishing them, and building the section of the hotel on the left side of the scene. He also changed the name of the hotel, and it became Jones’ Hotel, as shown above the door in the first photo Under his management, the hotel became the finest in the city during the mid-19th century. The 1859 Dispatch article described it as having been the “‘crack’ house of its time,” a term that meant something very different than it does now.

Jones retired in 1847 and sold the hotel to Noah Bridges and John West. They retained the name, likely because of the reputation that it carried, and the hotel continued to be successful into the mid-1850s. During this time, one of its notable guests was Jenny Lind, during her highly-publicized tour of the United States. She arrived in Philadelphia in October 1850, and her first performance in the city was across the street from here at the Chestnut Street Theatre. Her arrival was highly anticipated by the people of Philadelphia, to the point where Chestnut Street was crowded with people waiting to catch a glimpse of her. However, because of the dense crowds she had to enter via the back entrance on Samson Street. This upset the crowd, though, and they did not disperse until Lind acceded to their demands and appeared at the window waving a handkerchief.

The hotel changed ownership several more times during the 1850s, and by 1858 it had declined to the point where it was vacant, with the furniture sold at auction by order of the sheriff. It was subsequently renovated and reopened in 1859, but it does not appear to have remained in business for very long. Over the next few decades, the building saw several other uses, including as a theater and as the newspaper offices of the Philadelphia German Democrat. Despite these changes, though, an 1887 article in the New York Tribune reported that the room where Jenny Lind stayed has never been altered, and was at the time being used as the offices of W. H. Shaffer & Co. jewelers.

It seems unclear as to exactly when the old hotel building was demolished, but it was definitely gone by the early 1920s, when this entire block of Chestnut Street was cleared to build the new office building of the Philadelphia Public Ledger. The newspaper went out of business only two decades later, but the massive 12-story building is still standing here today, as shown in the 2019 photo.

Chestnut Street Theatre, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

The Chestnut Street Theatre on the north side of Chestnut Street, just west of Sixth Street in Philadelphia, on April 30, 1855. Image courtesy of the Library Company of Philadelphia, James McClees Philadelphia Photograph Collection.

The scene in 2019:

During the colonial era, theater was not a significant part of American culture, particularly in the northern and middle colonies. In New England, the Puritans saw plays and acting as immoral, and here in Philadelphia the Quakers similarly disapproved, believing that going to theaters was a frivolous use of time and money. Some colonies, including Pennsylvania, even outlawed plays. However, this trend began to change after the American Revolution, and one of the first purpose-built theaters in the country was the Chestnut Street Theatre, which opened here in 1794. 

At the time, Philadelphia was the capital city of both the United States and Pennsylvania, and the theater was located in the midst of these governmental buildings. The national capitol, Congress Hall, was diagonally across the street from the theater, and just beyond Congress Hall was Independence Hall, the seat of the state government. The Supreme Court met in a building on the other side of Independence Hall, and a block to the north of the theater was the President’s House, home of George Washington and later John Adams.

The original Chestnut Street Theatre burned in 1820, but it was rebuilt two years later. This new building, which is shown here in the first photo, was designed by prominent Philadelphia architect William Strickland, who was responsible for many important buildings in the city during the early 19th century. On the exterior, the theater featured classically-inspired elements such as the arched entryways on the ground level and the four columns on the upper floor. The columns were flanked by a pair of statues, representing Tragedy and Comedy, that were carved by sculptor William Rush. The interior of the theater featured three rows of boxes arranged in a semi-circle around the stage, and it could accommodate around 2,000 people. It was built with fire safety in mind, including large stairways and multiple exits with outward-swinging doors, and it was said that a full crowd could evacuate the building in under three minutes.

The theater opened on December 2, 1822, and the occasion was marked by the reading of a letter from poet Charles Sprague, followed by a performance of the comedy The School for Scandal. Several days later, the National Gazette reported on it, observing that it opened “to a crowded, brilliant and good humoured house. The spectators and the actors appeared to be in the best spirits and both performed their respective parts in the best manner.” The article went on to say that “Everything went on and off swimmingly and satisfactorily” and that “Several gentlemen who had been abroad, and some foreigners, were heard to say that the Theatre was the prettiest they had ever seen.”

The new Chestnut Street Theatre, which came to be known as “Old Drury,” remained a popular venue for plays and concerts throughout the first half of the 19th century. During this time, perhaps the most famous performer was Jenny Lind, a Swedish opera singer who toured America from 1850 to 1852. The tour was organized by P. T. Barnum, who used his showman skills to generate fanfare for her performances. She arrived in New York in September 1850, and a month later she came to Philadelphia, where her first performance in the city occurred here at the Chestnut Street Theatre on October 17. In order to meet the anticipated demand, the tickets were auctioned off. The first one sold for the astronomical price of $625, equivalent to around $20,000 today, but prices quickly dropped for the subsequent tickets. The second one sold for just $15, and before long they were selling for under $10. In the end, about 1,700 tickets were sold at the auction, at an average of $7 each.

The day after the concert, the Philadelphia Inquirer published an account of the event, including a description of the crowd inside the theater:

A more brilliant audience never assembled within its walls, and this is saying a great deal, for “Old Drury” ranked for many years as the very temple of taste, fashion, dramatic and musical triumph. The spectacle was, indeed, fairy-like. The splendid dresses, the bright eyes, the flushed cheeks, the eager expectation depicted on every countenance, the brilliant gas-lights, and the whisperings and buzzings of many voices, served to produce an unwonted excitement; and thus, long before the hour for the commencement of the entertainment, the blood seemed to flow more rapidly through the veins, even of the most passionless.

The excitement of this event notwithstanding, by the 1850s the Chestnut Street Theatre was past its prime. Its location was no longer as desirable as it had once been, and the building was considered too small by this point. The first photo was taken on April 30, 1855, a day before its final performance, as indicated by the playbills at the main entrance, which indicate that it will be the “last night but one” for the old theater. That evening’s entertainment consisted of the burletta The Loan of a Lover, followed by the comedy Faint Heart Never Won Fair Lady and the drama Sixteen String Jack. The leading performer was 21-year-old Philadelphia native Julia Daly, whose name appears prominently on the playbills. According to newspaper advertisements, admission started at 12.5 cents for the gallery. General admission was 25 cents, and reserved seats for 37.5 cents. Orchestra and private box seating was 50 cents, and the “Colored Gallery” was 25 cents.

Somewhat more ominously than the playbills, the first photo also includes several visible posters advertising for the public sale that would take place on May 2, the day after the final performance. The sale would include the theater’s scenery, wardrobe, machinery, and other items, along with building materials such as doors, windows, rafters, roofing, and even the marble facade. This included the four marble columns, which sold for $25 each.

The theater was demolished soon after the sale, and it was replaced by a commercial building. All of the other buildings in the first photo have since been demolished as well, and the site of the theater is now a bank, which was built in 1965. It was originally the First Pennsylvania Bank, but after a series of mergers it is now a Wells Fargo branch. Further in the distance, on the other side of Sixth Street, is part of the Independence National Historical Park, and just out of view on the far right is Congress Hall and Independence Hall.

Chestnut Street from Sixth Street, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Looking east on Chestnut Street from the corner of Sixth Street in Philadelphia, in June 1851. Image courtesy of the Library Company of Philadelphia, Frederick De Bourg Richards Photograph Collection.

The scene in 2019:

The first photo is a print made from a daguerreotype that was taken in June 1851, looking east along Chestnut Street from the corner of Sixth Street. The photo shows a mix of brick commercial buildings, mostly ranging from three to five stories in height. They stood directly opposite Independence Hall, which is just out of view on the right side of the scene. Based on their architectural style, the buildings with the sloped roofs were likely older, probably from the early 19th century, while the ones with flat roofs were likely from around the 1840s.

In the foreground of the first photo, on the left side of the scene, is Hart’s Building, a five-story building constructed only a few years earlier in 1848 by publisher Abraham Hart. This building housed a number of commercial tenants. By late 1851 these included, on the first floor, a hat store, a bookstore, a draper and tailor, a music dealer, a Venetian blind manufacturer, another tailor, a shaving saloon, a cigar store, and a musical instrument manufacturer. The second floor housed a billiard saloon, along with Sattler’s Cosmorama, which appears to have been an art gallery of some sort. On the upper floors, the building housed several different businesses involved in the publishing industry, including wood engraver William Gihon, bookbinder John F. Ducomb, Butler’s copper plate printing, and Mears’s Stereotype Foundry.

Further down Chestnut Street, just to the right of Hart’s Building, was the law book publishing firm of T. & J. W. Johnson. Beyond it was the three-story Eagle Hotel, followed by a four-story building occupied by bookseller J. W. Moore. His bookstore was located on the first floor, and other tenants of the building included a restaurant and a boarding house. The only other building with legible signs in the first photo is the five-story building in the center of the scene. It has a large sign atop it that reads “China Hall,” and it was occupied by William J. Kerr, who sold china and other imported goods.

This scene was dramatically altered only months after the first photo was taken. In the early morning hours of December 27, 1851, a fire broke out in Hart’s Building, in the third floor drying room of Butler’s copper plate printing offices. Firefighting efforts were hampered by below-zero temperatures, which froze some of the water sources. Because of this, plus the amount of flammable materials stored inside it, the entire building was soon engulfed, and firefighters began trying to save the surrounding buildings.

In the end, Hart’s Building was a total loss, and was insured for only $10,000 of the estimated $100,000 that it would cost to replace it. The neighboring book publishing building was also completely destroyed, at a cost of about $50,000, and the Eagle Hotel likewise suffered heavy damage. The building beyond the Eagle Hotel was only minimally damaged, but the fire also spread across Sixth Street and damaged or destroyed several other properties. There were even fears that the fire might spread across Chestnut Street to Independence Hall, but the famous landmark ultimately escaped damage.

Even worse than the property loss, though, was the loss of life from the fire. Contemporary newspaper articles give different reports on the death toll, but there appear to have been at least five fatalities. The early accounts mentioned two unidentified African Americans who were killed by falling debris, along with a police officer named Johnson who was also killed in the fire. As workers sifted through the debris, though, they uncovered the bodies of William H. Haly and William Baker. Haly, a lawyer and former state legislator, was probably the most notable victim of the fire. However, his body was burned to the point where it was indistinguishable from Baker’s body, so the two men were buried together in the same coffin.

A number of other people were badly injured in the fire, including at least three other police officers and a fireman. One of the officers, Thomas Grant, was pulled from the wreckage while on fire, and was described as having been “bruised in a shocking manner.” Newspaper accounts gave little hope for his recovery, but it seems unclear as to whether he ultimately succumbed to his injuries.

The damaged area was rebuilt soon after the fire, and for the next century this block of Chestnut Street continued to feature a mix of low-rise commercial buildings. However, this all changed in the mid-20th century, as part of an urban renewal project to create Independence Mall, a three-block park area with Independence Hall at its southern end. As part of this, all of the buildings between Fifth and Sixth Streets were demolished, from Chestnut Street up to Race Street, with the sole exception of the Free Quaker Meeting House on Arch Street. This included all of the buildings that stood in this scene, although it seems as though few, if any, of the buildings from the 1851 photo were still standing by that point anyway.

Today, the Independence Mall is part of the Independence National Historical Park, and it remains mostly open parkland, with a few modern buildings running along the Sixth Street side. Here at the corner of Sixth and Chestnut Streets, just out of view on the far left side of the scene, is the Liberty Bell Center, which houses the famous bell across the street from its original location at Independence Hall.

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.