Start at (1) the Independence Visitors Center (One North Independence Mall West; www.independencevisitorcenter.com) at Sixth and Market streets and pick up free, timed tickets to tour Independence Hall, which will be the final stop on your walk. Learn more about Franklin and other Founding Fathers by watching Independence, a short film. Load up on brochures about other attractions.
Head out of the visitors center, turn right on Sixth Street and proceed to the (2) Federal Reserve Bank. “They have a wonderful exhibit on money,” says Ralph Archbold, a Franklin impersonator. There’s also an engaging “Match Wits with Ben” game.
Carry on to the (3) National Constitution Center (525 Arch Street; www.constitutioncenter.org) directly across Arch Street between Fifth and Sixth streets, where visitors, via iPod reenactment, can relive the moment on Sept. 17, 1787, when delegates signed the Constitution.
Go to Fifth and Arch streets to (4) Christ Church Burial Ground, where Franklin and four other signers of the Declaration of Independence are buried, as well as Philip Syng, the silversmith who made the inkwell for the signing. “Franklin’s grave always has lots of pennies on it, a tradition started by brides who tossed a penny on his tombstone on their way to the church to show they’d be frugal housewives,” says Thomas Keels, author, Philadelphia Graveyards and Cemeteries.
Exit the Burial Ground and make a right. Turn left on Second Street and proceed past Race Street to the (5) Fireman’s Hall Museum (147 North Second Street; www.firemanshall.org), originally the site of the Union Fire Company, established by Franklin in 1736 and now home to a collection of antique fire trucks, including the earliest models, drawn by horses or husky men.
Make a left and continue to (6) Elfreth’s Alley (www.elfrethsalley.org), the oldest continuously inhabited street in America. Because people still live there, the only homes open to the public are the Museum House (at 126) and Museum Shop (124).
Leave the alley and go left on Second Street to American Street to (7) Christ Church (www.christchurchphila.org) where Franklin was a member. “You can sit in the pew where George Washington sat,” Archbold notes. (That’s pew 54; pew 70 was reserved for Franklin.)
Continue on Second Street and turn left on Market Street to the (8) Franklin Fountain (116 Market Street; www.franklinfountain.com) where you can indulge in Franklin Mint Chip ice cream, fudge and other confections. Drink in the collection of soda fountain ephemera. As Ben himself opined: “A great empire, like a great cake, is most easily diminished at the edges.”
Take Market Street past Second Street to (9) Franklin Court. “Mail a letter; the cancellation reads ‘B. Free Franklin,’” Archbold suggests. Franklin was the nation’s first postmaster general and the (10) U.S. Postal Service Museum is on the second floor. Next door is the (11) Print Shop and demonstrations of the 18th-century techniques with which Franklin printed Poor Richard’s Almanack. An (12) underground museum displays family portraits, highlights on Franklin’s career as a diplomat, and many of his inventions, including an armonica, a musical instrument made from spinning glass.
Exit Franklin Court via the Chestnut Street exit. Turn right on Chestnut, cross Fourth Street and enter the (13) Second Bank of the United States, now a gallery of 185 portraits of the Founding Fathers, including a painting and bust of Franklin.
Leave the bank and make a right onto Chestnut Street. Head to Fifth and Chestnut Streets. End your tour where America began, at (14) Independence Hall. Both the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution were signed here. The guided tour includes the courtroom where lawyers from opposing sides shared tables and George Washington’s “rising sun” chair in the Assembly Room, set up as it was during the Constitutional Convention in 1787. An original draft of the Constitution is in the west wing.
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