State House ~ Government

State House

In the early days of Pennsylvania History, her Legislature held their Sessions in private houses; the first place occupied for that purpose, was situated in Front Street, above Mulberry Street, on the bank side; and for many years a house, situated in Front Street, below Walnut was occupied for the same purpose. In 1739, the Legislature resolved to build, for their particular accommodation, the present venerable Structure, situated on the south side of Chesnut Street, between Fifth and Sixth Streets, and appointed Commissioners, to purchase the ground, and execute the design of the assembly, which was completed in 1735, at a cost of Six Thousand Pounds, Pennsylvania currency?

It was originally ornamented with a Steeple, which haying decayed, was removed, about the close of the Revolutionary War; and the base of the steeple continued to present to view, the naked tower, until 1828, when the present steeple was erected, after the design of the original structure.

In this building the Congress of the United States (when Philadelphia was not in possession of the English) sat, during the war of the revolution, up to 1782, at which time, a few soldiers becoming clamorous for their pay, it was deemed prudent to sit in another place. Congress sat in the East Room of the first story, recently restored to its primitive appearance, and ornamented with a Statue, Of The Father Of His Country: In this Room the Declaration Of Independence was passed, on the 4th of July, 1776, (afterwards proclaimed, from the State House steps) and the Convention, that formed the Constitution Of The United States, held their Sessions, in 1787. The Political Association, which will be excited by this Hall, will swell every Patriotic Hearty and the glorious prospects of this country, and the influence that she will exert, on the nations of the earth, will be referred to transactions within its venerated Walls. The West Room on the same floor, is now occupied for the Sessions of the Mayor's Court; and the rooms formerly occupied by Peale's Museum, in the Second story, are now used for the sittings of the District and Circuit Courts of the United States.

In the steeple is placed a superior Clock, made by Mr. Lukens, which indicates the Time, with accuracy, and records it, on a "Ground Glass Dial, capable of being illuminated at night. The hours are struck on a very heavy Bell, fixed in the steeple, which is also used, to indicate the existence and direction of Fires, to ascertain which, and give the Alarm, a Watchman is always in the steeple.

The following arrangement is employed, to give intelligence to the citizens, of the Direction of Fires.

Regulations of the State House Bell

When the fire is in the vicinity of the State House, the Bell is struck rapidly, without any distinct intermission. When North of te State House, One blow is given, with a distinct pause, between each repetition. When South, Two blows are given. When East, Three. When West, Four. When tho Fire is Northeast, One blow is given, followed by a distinct pause, then Three blows, in quick succession. When Northwest, One Four. When Southeast, Two, Three. When Southwest, Two Four.

Besides, the BELL employed for the foregoing purposes, the old bell, east purposely for the edifice, when first erected, is carefully preserved in the tower of the steeple. This Bell was cast, many years before the Declaration of Independence, and bears upon it the following inscription, Prophetic of Its Use, To Announce That Imperishable Manifesto! Proclaim Liberty, throughout this Land, unto all the inhabitants thereof." Leviticus, XXV. chap. v. 10

Offices of The Courts

On each side of the State House is erected, buildings of two stories in height, having the appearance of wings to the main building; these are occupied, (even to the cellars) as Offices for Law Courts, and Depositories for the Records, and Documents, in relation to the County of Philadelphia: Their crowded condition, as well as the inadequate accommodation, which the Court of Law now have, indicate the necessity, of a speedy erection of new Court Houses, Offices of Courts &c.

County Court House

On the Southwest corner of Independence Square is erected, a brick building, two stories in height, intended for the County, District, Criminal, Oyer and Terminer, and Supreme Courts, of Pennsylvania. It has two Court Rooms in each story, and contains also a room, for the use of the Law Library, of the gentlemen of the Philadelphia Bar.

Council Chambers, Mayor's Offices, &c

On the Northeast corner of Independence Square is situated, the building designed to accommodate the City Councils, the Mayor, Police Officers, and other Functionaries, connected with the administration of the City Government. This building, as well as that on the opposite corner, is ornamented with a cupola and vane, and immediately in its rear, on Fifth Street, is erected the Hall of the American Philosophical Society, now occupied by the Athenaeum, and that Institution.

Independence Square

Immediately south of the Old State House, on which it fronts, stands Independence Square, so named, in consequence of the Declaration having been (publicly) made from the steps of the State House. This Square is laid out in straight, and serpentine walks; and greatly improved, with many valuable, and ornamental, aged, and young Trees, in a state of good preservation. It is laid out in grass-plats, and surrounded by an iron railing, with principal entrances, with marble gate posts, on Walnut and Chesnut Streets.

rom the Steeple of the State House, interesting (Panoramic) Views of the City, Public Squares, River Delaware, and beautiful scenery, of the surrounding country, hare been taken, and published by Mr. J. T. Bowen, at his Lithographic press, in Walnut Street, near Fourth.



History of Philadelphia

Source: A History of Philadelphia: With a Notice of Villages, in the Vicinity, Printed and published by Daniel Bowen, 1839

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