Carpenters’ Hall is a small and easily overlooked destination among Philadelphia’s numerous historical sites, but it played a big role in the formation of the United States.
On Sept. 5, 1774, a group of men gathered in what today would be considered a simple building on Philadelphia’s Chestnut Street. The group included some big names — Samuel Adams, John Adams, Patrick Henry — and the goal was to discuss what they perceived as Great Britain’s abuses of the American colonies.
It was the first Continental Congress.
The gathering ended in late October of that year, and it now stands as an early event in the American Revolution.
Today, you can still visit the building where the gathering took place. It’s called Carpenters’ Hall, and it lies at the end of a quiet courtyard within walking distance of some of Philadelphia’s most famous sites. I happened upon it one day while wandering the city’s downtown, and during my visit I was one of only three people there.
Though the building is simple, it houses an exhibit on the historical events that happened there, as well as information about the architecture and material culture of the period. It also includes several Windsor chairs that were used back in the 1700s. There is even a replica that visitors can sit in.
One of the most interesting things about Carpenters’ Hall is that it’s also owned and operated today by the Carpenters’ Company of the City and County of Philadelphia — the same guild that built the structure back in the 1700s. The guild was founded in 1724, and inside the hall is a big framed list of members names going back to the beginning and ending with people who are still alive today.
Visiting Carpenters’ Hall doesn’t take long — it’s really just one room — but it offers a glimpse into the origins of the United States. I found it fascinating to consider that the leaders of what would become the most powerful country in the world were at one time gathering in a modest building trying to figure out what to do next.
If you go:
Carpenters’ Hall is open daily except Mondays. It’s free. For more information, visit the hall’s website here.
— Jim Dalrymple II