After leaving our camp site in Delaware, we had the shortest drive of our trip (39 miles) to a KOA campground in New Jersey. This was the closest full service campground I could find to Philadelphia. Last fall, our daughter Shannon had a great idea – she, Jonathan, Luke and Levi would fly out to Philadelphia during the spring time for a visit. We decided on May as a good month for exploring the city. They planned to stay in a hotel for a week near the historic district. This was exciting for us as we would be together again for the first time since leaving California last September. Rather than driving into Philadelphia and dealing with traffic and parking, we decided to take the metro train in each day – a 20 minute drive from our RV park to the closest station in New Jersey and then another 20 minute relaxing ride across the Delaware River to Philadelphia. Once we got out of the station it was a few minutes walk to the National Park Welcome Center, a great meeting place for the day.
It was fun to be able to explore Philly with our family and we started our first day of exploring on Mother’s Day. We all enjoyed the history, even our grandkids, Luke and Levi. In this post, I wanted to talk about some of the places we visited. We started out with a visit to the Liberty Bell with its message, “Proclaim Liberty Throughout All the Land Unto All the Inhabitants Thereof.” One of “Philly’s” most popular attractions, there is usually a line to get in, although the wait wasn’t too bad. Once inside, we could spend as much time as we wanted to view the exhibits, learn about the Bell and see it. This bell once rang in the tower of the Pennsylvania State House, now known as Independence Hall. In the photo below, you can see Independence Hall behind the bell as Shannon and Luke check it out.
We learned that this is not the original bell. The first was from a London foundry in 1751 and during the first test ring it cracked. It was then melted down and a new one cast here in Philadelphia. The bell is made mostly of bronze and weighs 2,080 pounds. It would ring to call lawmakers to their meetings and the townspeople together to hear the news. The bell developed a thin crack again in the early 1840’s after nearly 90 years of hard use. The wide crack is actually the repair job when the crack was widened to prevent further spread and restore the tone of the bell. The repair was not successful as another fissure developed and the bell was silenced forever.
In order to see Independence Hall (pictured above), we had to get timed tickets for a free tour by a park ranger. This keeps the crowds in the Hall to a minimum. We got to see the room where the founding fathers gathered to sign the Declaration of Independence and Constitution – the birth place of America. The room is furnished with reproductions of furniture from the time. The original furniture was burned by the British during the 1777-78 occupation of Philadelphia. There is one original piece left, the armchair sat in by George Washington while presiding over the 1787 Constitutional Convention. You can see it in the photo below to the left of our family at the back center of the room.
Independence Hall is a stunning building both inside and out. The inside has a grand stairway that Benjamin Franklin frequently used to get to his office on the second floor when he served as Governor of Pennsylvania. We spent some time admiring all the gorgeous architectural details.
The National Park Service has a fun program for kids. They can collect cards of well known people from history like George Washington and Benjamin Franklin. Since history is big here and there is lots to see, rangers with cards can be found all over. The kids had to approach them and after answering a historical question got a card. Sometimes the rangers were out of cards or only had cards the kids already had, but most of the time they got a new one to add to their ever growing collection.
We visited the Betsy Ross house, the 300 year old two story home that she lived and worked in. Betsy is famous for having sewn the first American flag. The story is that General George Washington visited her regarding a design for a flag for the new nation. We were able to do an audio tour and our grandsons even had their own special kid tour as they made their way around the two story house seeing a number of rooms. They were able to learn about Betsy, the flag and life in the 18th century while they solved history mysteries. Betsy worked as a seamstress in an upholstery shop and in the picture below, Luke learns about Betsy’s work from a reenactor.
After our inside tour we learned about the drinking of hot chocolate during colonial times. Demonstrators showed with a mortar and pestle how colonists ground cacao beans that could be mixed with spices and hot water. We were able to taste the finished product, a very good hot chocolate. Below, the boys check out the cacao pods and beans.
Speaking of tasty things, you can’t come to Philadelphia without having a cheesesteak, the iconic food of the city. While walking around, we stopped in at Campo’s, known for good cheesesteaks.
After cheesesteaks we stopped in at Christ Episcopal Church, constructed between 1727 and 1744, perhaps the most historic in Philadelphia. When the steeple was added in 1754, it was the tallest building in North America. The church was attended by 15 signers of the Declaration of Independence, Betsy Ross also attended here. The pews are those neat old fashioned box kind and the ones used by Washington and Franklin are marked with brass plaques. In the picture below, Luke and Levi occupy Washington’s pew.
One of the best things about Philadelphia is just walking around the city looking at all the buildings and monuments and just enjoying the vibe. We walked down Elfreth’s Alley which is said by some to be the oldest residential street in the United States. People still live on this very narrow cobblestoned alley with houses built between the 1720’s and 1830’s. These narrow rowhouses are pretty cool to check out. In the picture below, Luke photobombs his parents.
Thanks for coming along while we sightsee in Philadelphia. In the next blog, I will write about our further exploration of this great city!