No inquiry into the history of Colonial America would be complete without mentioning Philadelphia. One of the best ways for students to learn about Philadelphia and the founding of the United States is through a walking tour.
Philadelphia was founded in 1682 by William Penn. The Pennsylvania State House, known as Independence Hall, was the meeting place where the Declaration of Independence and the United States Constitution were written.
Independence Hall is just one of dozens of important buildings dating back to the 17th and 18th centuries. Students can visit many of these sites on a fun, educational walking tour of the Old City and Society Hill sections of Philadelphia.
Independence Mall National Historic Park
Independence Hall National Historic Park encompasses more than 55 acres on 20 city blocks. In addition to Independence Hall, the park includes many of Philadelphia’s historic sites like the Liberty Bell Center, the National Constitution Center, Franklin Court, Carpenter’s Hall, Christ Church, and other important and interesting landmarks. The park’s website (www.nps.gov/inde) offers resources and materials for teachers including educational field trip tips and numerous lesson plans.
Start Your Walking Tour of Philadelphia
A good place to begin an educational tour of Old City Philadelphia is the Independence Visitor Center. It is on Independence Mall and offers an abundance of information about historic Philadelphia and the region.
While at the Visitor Center, student travel groups can prepare for their tour of Independence Hall. Independence Hall tours are organized by timed-tickets so your walking tour route may be dictated by the time your students are scheduled to visit it.
Visiting Independence Hall
Independence Hall was constructed as the State House of Pennsylvania beginning in 1732. Its beautiful Georgian architecture has been restored to its 18th century appearance. Students will be able to stand in the room where the Declaration of Independence was signed, George Washington was appointed commander in chief, and the Constitution was written. The period furnishings, including the “rising sun” chair, help bring American history to life.
Visiting the Liberty Bell Center in Philadelphia
The Liberty Bell resides in the Liberty Bell Center, also on Independence Mall. Inside the center, students can learn more about the history of the bell and its significance through a video presentation and various exhibits. The Liberty Bell, now an international icon of freedom, is displayed in a glass chamber with Independence Hall in the background. Students will be as inspired by the bell, its story, and its inscription as generations of freedom fighters and abolitionists were.
National Constitution Center: A Multimedia and Interactive Museum
Further down Independence Mall is the National Constitution Center. It is America’s most interactive history museum and the only one devoted to the U.S. Constitution. The Center is an independent, non-partisan, non-profit organization dedicated to increasing awareness about the Constitution and its relevance today.
The National Constitution Center houses The Story of We the People, a permanent three-part exhibit. In the star-shaped Kimmel Theater, students will learn about the Constitution in a multimedia production. The American Experience offers students more than 100 interactive and multimedia exhibits and Signers’ Hall is home to statues of the 39 signers of the Constitution and the three dissenters, making these remarkable visionaries almost come to life.The center’s website, wwwconstitutioncenter.org, has resources for teachers.
The Life and Streets of Old City Philadelphia
Elfreth’s Alley, dating back to 1702, is one of the oldest residential streets in America and is only a few blocks east of Independence Mall. Although the homes are not open to the public, students can walk down the tiny street lined with 300 year-old homes and imagine what Colonial Philadelphia was like. House 126, built in 1755 by Jeremiah Elfreth, is home to the Elfreth’s Alley Museum, which is open to the public.
About a block south of Elfreth’s Alley is the Betsy Ross House. Betsy Ross is known to have lived in this house and is said to have stitched the first American flag here. Students can tour seven rooms, including a kitchen, bedrooms, parlor and an 18th century upholstery shop. The rooms are furnished with period antiques, reproductions and objects that belonged to Betsy Ross including her eyeglasses, quilted petticoat and Bible.
This is just a sampling of the numerous historic sites in Philadelphia. Students on an educational field trip to Philadelphia will be excited about the past and able to make connections between American history and now after walking the same streets as our Founding Fathers. Because there is so much to see and experience, an educational travel consultant can help you plan the best and most productive trip to Philadelphia for your students. For more information, visit the page about the Philadelphia tour.
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