Philadelphia: Five Reasons to Skip the Liberty Bell

Photo courtesy of
Bartram’s Garden
Photo courtesy of

Philadelphia is truly the first city of the United States. Millions of visitors travel to the City of Brotherly Love each year to learn more about the nation’s early history, and the iconic Liberty Bell is typically the first stop on their pilgrimage. While one glance at the cracked bell can evoke the hard work and patriotism on which America was built, we’ve asked our local experts to share some of their favorite, authentic off the beaten track historical sites that give a fuller picture of America’s early history. Whether your first or tenth visit to Philadelphia, we’re sure you’ll enjoy these hidden gems.

Arch Street Friends Meeting House is the oldest Quaker Meeting House still in use in Philadelphia. Here visitors can experience the story of the founding of the city by William Penn, brought to life through colorful dioramas and fascinating period artifacts. From what is purportedly a piece of the elm tree under which Penn signed his famous treaty with the Lenape Indians, to a large early map of the city by its original surveyor, neatly labeled with the names of the first purchasers of various tracts of land, visitors are taken through the earliest years of the city’s history. Of course, we can’t leave out the prominent wood drawing of the Liberty Bell itself, flanked by an explanation of its origin as a commemoration of Penn’s Charter granting religious freedom to Pennsylvanians. 4th & Arch Streets

– Joella Klinghoffer, historian and Context docent

Powel House
Powel House

Powel House, located only a few blocks from the Liberty Bell, is an often overlooked gem in Society Hill.  Home to Samuel Powel, the man who served as both Philadelphia’s last mayor before the Revolution and first mayor after the Revolution, the site houses a number of eighteenth-century treasures.  Visitors enter the building and literally walk in the footsteps of the Founding Fathers as they ascend the staircase to the second floor ballroom.  You can imagine the scene when George Washington celebrated his twenty-fifth wedding anniversary in this room.  Downstairs, the house contains one of the first dining rooms in colonial America and it’s a must to finish your tour by strolling about the garden behind the house. Powel House is a stop on Context’s Colonial City in Context walking seminar. 244 South Third Street

– Tim Hayburn, historian and Context docent

Bartram’s Garden Started in 1728, Bartram’s Garden is America’s oldest surviving botanical garden. Located on the banks of the Schuylkill in southwest Philadelphia, visitors can check out the Quaker farmhouse and a range of rare plants like the Franklinia (named after Philadelphia’s favorite polymath, Benjamin Franklin). Note: Bartram’s Garden is tucked down a nondescript driveway at 54th Street and Lindbergh Blvd.; it is best to forgo public transportation in favor of a personal car or a cab.

– Katie Wood Kirchhoff, art historian and Context docent

Mount Pleasant Mansion
Mount Pleasant MansionContext Travel / Foter / CC BY-NC-SA

Mount Pleasant Mansion is tucked away in Fairmount Park and offers visitors one of the finest extant examples of 18th century country architecture. Perched overlooking the Schuylkill River and built by the privateer  (a.k.a. legal pirate) John Macpherson, this magnificent home witnessed social scandal, revolutionary drama, and was even declared “the most elegant seat in Pennsylvania” by John Adams. Context offers curator-led visits of Mount Pleasant Mansion on request. 3800 Mt. Pleasant Drive

– Justina Barrett, art historian and Context docent

Philadelphia Print Shop Located at 8441 Germantown Avenue in Chestnut Hill (in the northwest part of the city), the Philadelphia Print Shop is a treasure for anyone curious about the city’s formative role in the history of printing. Specializing in prints and maps from the 15th through the early 20th centuries, the shop’s friendly and knowledgeable staff guide curious visitors through a vast trove of natural history, sporting, historical, and Americana prints ranging in price from $25 to over $100,000.

– Katie Wood Kirchhoff, art historian and Context docent