Carpenters’ Hall, Philadelphia


Philadelphia was but forty-two years old when a number of builders in the growing town decided to have a guild like the journeymen’s guilds of London. Accordingly they formed, in 1724, ” The Carpenters’ Company of the City and County of Philadelphia,” whose object should be ” to obtain instruction in the science of architecture; to assist such of the members, or the widows and children of members, as should be by accident in need of support,” as well as ” the adoption of such a system of measurements and prices that every one concerned in a building may have the value of his money, and every workman the worth of his labor.”

At first the meetings were held here and there, probably in taverns. In 1768 the Company decided to build. a home. A lot was secured on Chestnut Street, between Third and Fourth streets, for which an annual ground rent of ” 176 Spanish milled pieces of eight ” was to be paid. The sum of three hundred pounds necessary to begin operations was subscribed in about a week.

The Company’s annual meeting of January 21, 1771, was held within the walls, though the building was not entirely completed until 1792.

Three years after the opening of the hall came the first event that linked the building with the history of America. A general meeting of the people of Philadelphia was held here to protest against the failure of Governor Penn to convene the Assembly of the Colony. A committee of three was appointed to wait on the Speaker and ask him for ” a positive answer as to whether he would call the Assembly together or not.”

The Assembly was then called to meet on the ” 18th day of the 6th month.” Three days before the time fixed, another meeting was held in Carpenters’ Hall to consider what measures for the welfare of the Colony should be proposed to the Assembly. At this meeting the necessity of holding ” a general Congress of delegates from all the Colonies ” was voiced. Later the Assembly approved of the idea of such a conference, and a call was issued.

On September 5, 1774, the delegates from eleven provinces met in the City Tavern. Learning that the Carpenters’ Company had offered the hall for the use of the Continental Congress, the delegates voted to inspect the accommodations. John Adams, one of their number, said after the visit : ” They took a view of the room and of the chamber, where there is an excellent library. There is also a long entry, where gentlemen may walk, and also a convenient chamber opposite to the library. The general cry was that this was a good room.”

When this First Continental Congress met, it was decided that the session of the second day should be opened with prayer. Rev. Jacob Duche of Christ Church and St. Peter’s was asked to be present and conduct an opening service. This historic account of the service was written by John Adams :

” Next morning he appeared with his clerk and having on his pontificals, and read several prayers in the established form, and then read the Psalter for the seventh day of September, which was the thirty-fifth Psalm. You must remember that this was the next morning after we had heard of the horrible cannonade of Boston (the account proved to be an error). It seemed as if heaven had ordered that Psalm to be read on that morning. After this, Mr. Duche, unexpectedly to everybody, struck out into extemporary prayer, which filled the bosom of every man present. I must confess, I never heard a better prayer, or one so well pronounced.”

In part, this prayer was as follows :

” Be thou present, 0 God of wisdom ! And direct the councils of this honorable assembly, enable them to settle things on the best and surest foundation, that the scene of blood may be speedily closed, that order, harmony, and peace may be effectually restored, and truth and justice, religion and piety, prevail and flourish amongst Thy people.”

On October 26 the Congress was dissolved. The second Congress was called to meet on May 10, 1775, at the State House, later known as Independence Hall.

When the British took possession of the city in 1777, a portion of the army was quartered in the building. Officers and men alike borrowed books from the Library Company of Philadelphia, which had quarters here, in-variably making deposits and paying for the use of volumes taken in strict accordance with the rules.

In 1778 the United States Commissary of Military Stores began to occupy the lower story and cellar of the building. From 1791 to 1821 various public organizations sought quarters here, including the Bank of the United States, the Bank of Pennsylvania, the United States Land Office, and the United States Custom House.

The Carpenters’ Company therefore, in 1791, erected a second building on this lot, which they occupied until 1857.

When Benson J. Lossing visited the historic hall, on November 27, 1848, he wrote of his great disappointment because the banner of an auctioneer was on the front of the building. He said :

” I tried hard to perceive the apparition . . . to be a classic frieze, with rich historic trigliphs, but it would not do. . . . What a desecration ! Covering the facade of the very Temple of Freedom with the placards of grovelling Mammon ! If sensibility is shocked with this outward pollution, it is overwhelmed with indignant shame on entering the hall where that august Assembly of men—the godfathers of our Republic—convened to stand as sponsors at the baptism of infant American liberty—to find it filled with every species of merchandise, and the walls which once echoed the eloquent words of Henry, Lee, and the Adamses, reverberating with the clatter of the auctioneer’s voice and hammer. Is there not patriotism strong enough in Philadelphia to enter the temple, and ‘ cast out all them that buy and sell, and overthrow the tables of the money-changers?’ ”

At length the Carpenters’ Company decided that the time had come to do what the historian pleaded for. In 1857 they returned to the building, and since then they have held their meetings within the walls consecrated by the heroes of Revolutionary days. The rooms were restored to their original condition, and relics and mementoes of early days were put in place. The Hall has ever since been open to visitors ” who may wish to visit the spot where Henry, Hancock, and Adams inspired the delegates of the Colonies with nerve and the sinew for the toils of war.”