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A Franklin Walking Tour of Philadelphia

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"In Franklin’s Footsteps" is the name of this trip that was taken by about a hundred school kids on a lovely day in April; please pardon the few obvious points and schoolmarmish tone. :-)

Our starting point is Penn’s Landing, at Front and Market (parking is available here, or you can take the El train to 2nd and Market and go over the pedestrian bridge.) At the time that Franklin landed here from New York (where he had stopped on his way from Boston) this was a very busy commercial area called the Market Street Wharf. Things would be unloaded from ships here and rolled up to the markets on the center flat slate stones on the cobblestone streets. (See if you can find some of these streets on your tour.) Look around: there’s something big and blue that’s named for Franklin…and no, it’s not the river. That’s the Delaware.

Now for some directions: the river is East, When your back is to the river, south is to your left and north is to your right and west, of course, is in front of you. The numbered streets run north and south, while the named streets run east and west. This grid of streets was developed before Franklin arrived in 1723, so he would have found it easy to find his way around.

You will cross the pedestrian walkway that is directly north of the Independence Seaport Museum. Once you’re across, you’ll be at Walnut Street. On the corner of 2nd and Walnut Streets is Old City Tavern, a reproduction of a place where the founding fathers frequently met. Built in 1773, it now serves authentic food of the 18th century. (Reservations are suggested, and, although I haven't tried it myself, word is that the food's actually not bad these days.)

Take 2nd Street north; just past Market Street, you’ll come to Christ Church. Franklin paid for a pew (#70) here, and managed a public lottery to raise money for its steeple. He donated to every religious group in Philadelphia, but Christ Church was the one that most of the “Founding Fathers” attended while in Philadelphia. You can tour the church.

Continuing on past Christ Church on the east side of 2nd Street, keep going north for a few blocks until you come to a tiny alley of colonial homes. This is Elfreth’s Alley, the oldest continuously inhabited street in the whole nation. There have been houses here since about 1713, although these houses are from various times from about 1723 to the middle of the 19th century. House 122 was rented by William Maudridge, who was a carpenter and ship-joiner; he was one of the original members of Franklin’s Junto, a group of craftsmen organized by Franklin to make the city better--an early "Chamber of Commerce." Many people who lived here in colonial times were associated with working on the water or were craftspeople and artisans; later the alley became home to immigrants and was almost torn down, but now is a National Historic Preservation site. There is a museum house in the middle of the block, but most of the houses are privately owned. (to the tune of about half a million dollars.)

A block away you can visit the Fire Museum on the site of a former firehouse. There are exhibits about the fire company started by Franklin, the methods used, and even some equipment of that time.

Then retrace your steps a bit, going south on 2nd Street until you reach Arch St. Going west on Arch Street (and keeping to its north side for the time) you will pass the “Betsy Ross” house, possibly the spot where Elizabeth Griscom Ross Ashburn Claypoole managed her furniture upholstering and sewing business. She made many items, including flags, and was one of the last surviving members of the Free/Fighting Quakers. (see below) This house was built around 1740, and was part of the busy commercial district. After you pass--or tour--the house, you will come upon Loxley Court, which used to have a statue of Franklin made of pennies donated by schoolchildren (unfortunately it collapsed and was unable to be rebuilt.) It was here that the kite and key experiment supposedly took place. The building directly across the street is the Arch Street Friends’ Meeting House, a colonial place of worship for the Quakers who started Philadelphia.

Continuing west on Arch Street, cross to the south side and walk beside the Christ Church burial ground. Here lies Benjamin Franklin, his wife Deborah, his son
Francis, and his daughter and son-in-law, Sally and Richard Bache. There is an iron fence interrupting the brick wall of the cemetery; it’s a tradition to toss a penny on Franklin’s grave through this fence, although it seems to be against his adage of “A penny saved is a penny earned.” Tours of the cemetery are also available.

Across 5th Street from the cemetery is the Free Quaker Meeting House; the Free Quakers had been “read out of meeting” by the Society of Friends for joining the Revolution. Elizabeth Ross was a member of the Free Quakers; two of her three husbands were killed in connection with the Revolutionary War. You can see her signature on the church roll; she was one of the last two surviving members. Quite a a fascinating life even without the flag story, actually!

At this point you may wish to visit the Independence Visitor’s Center, which has an exhibit about Franklin. It’s located one block west of the Free Quaker Meeting House. (There are restrooms available here, too!)

After coming out of the Visitor Center, go East on Market Street, which is one block south of Arch Street, cross Market and go south on 5th Street one more block to Chestnut Street. You’ll be beside Independence Hall, where Franklin was clerk to the Pennsylvania Assembly from 1736, an assemblyman from 1751, and a member of the Second Continental Congress and the Constitutional Convention. At 104 5th St. you’ll find the Philosophical Hall (a society started by…) and across the street is the Library Company, the first subscription library in the nation; check for the statue in the niche!

Come back to Chestnut Street and go east to 320 Chestnut; turn right at the little row of colonial buildings that runs perpendicular to the street, and you’ll be in Carpenter’s Hall. The First Continental Congress met here – secretly – and Franklin, as a member of the Second Continental Congress’s Committee of Secret Correspondence, met here secretly with the French envoy, Julien-Alexandre Archard de Bonvouloir, in December of 1775.
This was the beginning of negotiations with France, which of course ended with France sending absolutely vital economic and military aid to the colonial revolutionaries. You can visit Carpenter's Hall any day except Monday (subject to change.)
If you have a large group you can enter the Bourse building for lunch from either 4th St. or 5th St. between Chestnut and Market. There are various food stands or you may take your own lunch down to the tables in the downstairs area. More authentic are the various carts you'll see scattered about, and there are many lovely little restaurants in the area.

Leave the Bourse to go to Franklin Court: go by way of Market Street, going north on 4th Street from the Bourse to Market Street, and then east on Market until you get to the line of houses that are reconstructions of the ones Franklin owned there.

At Franklin Court there are many items of interest, some of which are "key":

1. Visit the printing shop and learn how the press worked

2. See the documentary "Portrait of a Family"

3. Use the "phones" to listen to one of the many people whose views of Franklin are quoted

4. See if you can get the ranger to show you how the glass armonica works; Mozart and Beethoven, among others, created music for this instrument of Franklin's invention

Please make sure to check out Benjamin Franklin Bache’s print shop as well; he carried on the family tradition of involvement!

There are many archaeological finds in Franklin Court; as no one is sure what the houses looked like, they are merely represented in the areas that they would have occupied.

There are many other sites in Philadelphia that are associated with Franklin as well, and, of course, Independence Hall (free timed tickets from the Vistiors' Center) is a must for those who have never been there.

Happy walking!

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