The Independence Hall Association

The executive committee finally settled on a name on August 11, selecting the catchy and comprehensible "Independence Hall Association," even though it did not fully express their aims. Meanwhile, the organization was busy on many fronts. Larson chaired the Committee on Research and Planning, which at its first meeting began to define alternatives and techniques for acquiring various areas to be included in a park. Among its members was George Nitzche, who assumed the task of assembling and analyzing financial data on the properties in the three city blocks north of Independence Hall. By January 1943 Nitzche was able to report on the approximately 200 properties, valued at about $5 million, "which would have to be acquired by the Federal Government to provide a suitable approach to Independence Hall." Joseph M. McCosker, curator of the Atwater Kent Museum, heading up the Committee on Public Relations and Exhibitions, began to plan the Independence Hall Association's first public event, an exhibit dealing with the history of the Independence Hall group and proposals for its future.

From the beginning it was obvious that the founders of the Independence Hall Association had bigger ideas than simply protecting Independence Hall from enemy bombing. Clearly they wanted a national park in Philadelphia. In early August Larson and a new recruit to the board of directors, Sylvester K. Stevens, Pennsylvania state historian, met with the National Park Service's director, Newton Drury, in Washington. Drury and Herbert E. Kahler, acting chief historian, gave them a copy of the abortive 1941 cooperative agreement. Undoubtedly Drury informed them that a cooperative agreement and designation of the Independence Hall group as a national historic site were prerequisites to any National Park Service involvement in the project. Lewis moved quickly. Within a week after the Washington meeting, he had arranged to see Mayor Bernard Samuel to reopen the question of a cooperative agreement. Negotiations with the city government were not easy, but Lewis was persuasive, On December 21, 1942, City Council passed an ordinance "Authorizing the execution and delivery of an agreement between the City of Philadelphia and the United States of America, designating the Independence Hall group of structures as a National Historic Site and providing for its preservation and improvement," and repeating the language of the 1941 draft agreement. On the federal level the way had already been cleared earlier in the month, when President Roosevelt acceded to Secretary Ickes's request to exempt Independence Hall from the wartime ban on designating national historic sites. On January 11, 1943, the mayor delivered the agreement, executed by the city, to Lewis. However, the city had executed a version of the 1941 agreement from which language had been stricken requiring the city to "secure the approval" of the director of the National Park Service-rather than merely to "consult" with him-before making changes to the buildings. Drury advised Lewis that the stricken language was incorporated in the agreement as approved by Roosevelt and suggested impartial arbitration as an alternative. But Stevens pointed out that it had been difficult enough to obtain the city's consent to the milder wording. The National Park Service gave in. With the offending language removed and continuing city control assured, Ickes announced consummation of the agreement on March 30.

This was perfect timing. On April 22, 1943, the Independence Hall Association opened an exhibition in Congress Hall. Arranged by McCosker's committee, it brought together rich material on the history of the buildings on Independence Square. The items on display, some of which had never been exhibited previously, came from both public and private collections. The concluding section of the exhibition introduced the association's basic aim: