On Monday, we made our way the two miles down to Independence National Historic Park. Reaching the park where we would regroup with other cyclists before we then made our way to City Hall, we were surprised to find that there was no main entrance but that it was broken up into an area that covered probably 10 city blocks. Located on the other side of the the Delaware River from Camden, New Jersey, it was here that America was born.
Run by the National Park Service, it is an area filled with history. At the Liberty Bell Center, for example, one can find the Liberty Bell which announced the signing of the Declaration of Independence. The symbolic beginning of the Revolutionary War, this ringing device was so feared by the British that it had to to be hidden 60 miles away in Allentown, PA until the war ended seven years later.
Its original home was atop nearby Independence Hall, where the document it announced was singed. Eleven years later, in 1787, the US constitution was also signed in this building.
Filled with dozens of other structures, one of them, Congress Hall, even served as the capital of the United States from 1790 until 1800. And like all the other 24 buildings in this complex, a steady stream of visitors kept it filled.
Philadelphia’s influence over the founding of America, was due, in large part, to one man, Benjamin Franklin, who Philadelphia claims as it most famous and important native. In fact, in January of 2006, Franklin’s 300th birthday, was cause for celebrations throughout the city.
As testimony to this man’s importance to American freedom, it was his ambassadorship that won the military and financial aid from France (who in turn were helped by Spain and the Netherlands), that helped this country defeat the British. Franklin stands alone as the only person to have signed all four of the documents which helped to create the United State: the Declaration of Independence (1776), the, Treaty of Alliance, Amity, and Commerce with France (1778), the Treaty of Peace between England, France, and the United States (1782), and the US Constitution (1787).
In fact, this part of Philadelphia and its most revered son can be found in cash registers all over America even today. While it is Ben Franklin who is pictured on the front of the $100 bill, Independence Hall is pictured on the reverse.
Soon, we found ourselves in front of the center of official city business, a building that oozed with history. Still the tallest and largest stone building in the world, when it was completed in 1901 after 30 years of construction, only the Washington Monument and the Eiffel Tower were taller. And like Providence City Hall, where its founder, Roger Williams is honored with a bust atop its entry way, a 37 foot tall statue of its founder, William Penn, reaches 548 feet high atop Philadelphia City Hall.
Even though the Dutch established a trading post here in 1623 and it was later settled in 1646 by the Swedes, it wasn’t until William Penn laid out the street plan for the city in 1682 that Philadelphia became a recognized population center. A man who lived most of his time in England and died penniless, Penn set aside some of the land he had gotten from the King of England as a place where he and his fellow Quakers could practice their faith without persecution.
King Charles II had already given what would become the state of Pennsylvania to Penn as a way to honor his dead naval hero father. So when the younger Penn was looking for a home for what was seen at the time as a religious experiment, the King was happy to be free of all the trouble Penn’s followers were causing England. To help him market his new settlement in Europe, Penn then used the word, Philadelphia, which in Greek means "city of brotherly love".
Now the fifth most populous city in the United States, at 1.5 million people, soon we would meet its Mayor.