Return to Home PageThe President's House

History of the Controversy: 1947-Present

Also see the In the News section.

Abbreviations: INHP (sometimes INDE) is Independence National Historical Park in Philadelphia, part of the National Park Service (NPS). IHA is the Independence Hall Association (owner of, founded in 1942 and written into the enabling legislation for the Park. Ed Lawler, Jr., is the current IHA historian.


November 1, 1951: Surviving walls of the President's House demolished in the creation of Independence Mall.
In September, historian Ed Lawler and Coxey Toogood of INHP share research.
In November, the stone pit of the President's House icehouse is uncovered by archaeologists excavating within the footprint of the planned Liberty Bell Center. It is initially dismissed as a 19th century structure. In December, Lawler's research establishes it as the icehouse built by Robert Morris in 1781, and used by Presidents Washington and Adams, 1790-1800.
The March groundbreaking for the Liberty Bell Center is postponed. In August, INHP publishes a report stating that the backbuildings shown on the 1785 Burnt House Plan did not exist when Washington arrived in 1790 (this decision is later reversed). In an August letter, IHA urges that the President's House be marked in the paving of the planned Liberty Bell Center. INHP responds negatively in October. In November, WHYY radio airs the first media piece on the subject.
"The President's House in Philadelphia: The Rediscovery of a Lost Landmark" published. In February, INHP announces that it does not intend to expand its interpretation of the house, and IHA launches the President's House website ( In March, INHP breaks ground on the Liberty Bell Center building, and the controversy hits the front pages after a radio interview with Gary Nash. Coverage includes the New York Times and AP. In July, Charles Blockson and Michael Coard jointly organize a protest at the Liberty Bell Pavilion (Blockson forms Generations Unlimited and Coard forms ATAC, which continues this as an annual event), and the Appropriations Committee of the U.S. House of Representatives directs NPS to study the President's House, and report back to it. A design process for the site commences in October (see report January 2003).
In January, the designs for the site are unveiled at an angry public meeting at Philadelphia's African American Musuem. Anger is directed at lack of public participation; the plan itself is received well; however, relying on the August 2001 INHP report, the slave quarters are not marked, unbeknownst to the designers and most in attendance. The project is estimated to cost $4.5 million, and the designs are submitted to the Appropriations Committee in March. In April, IHA writes to the committee in support of the basic design, but urges that the slave quarters be marked. INHP defends its position in a May letter. In September, the Ad Hoc Historians lobby for INHP to complete the President's House design process. The Liberty Bell Center opens on October 9, and Philadelphia Mayor John Street pledges $1.5 million toward commemoration of the slaves who served at the President's House site. In November, INHP convenes a one-day Roundtable of scholars to review the evidence. The process is immediately controversial.
In February, INHP completes a Consensus Document detailing the findings of the Roundtable; the reporting of the consensus is disputed and a Minority Report is prepared by Ed Lawler. In July, Lawler announces the discovery of a ninth enslaved African in Washington's presidential household. INHP holds a public forum on the President's House on October 30; hundreds attend. INHP privately agrees to mark the slave quarters in December, and turns over management of the design process for the site to the City of Philadelphia.
ATAC's annual July protest at the President's House site inspires a highly-critical column in the Citypaper. Mayor Street's chief of staff pledges there will be something in place at the President's House site before he leaves office (January 2008). On September 6, Representatives Chaka Fattah and Bob Brady present a $3.5M check to the Park Service for the project.
Six teams of semi-finalists are selected (one drops out, leaving five). Agreement that archaeology will be done at the site during the summer.
Kelly/Maiello, a black-owned Philadelphia design team is selected. A play based on the controversy premieres. Archeology is begun, revealing far more than experts had expected, including bow window built for Washington, "hidden" servant's passage, kitchen foundations. Discussion over if and how to preserve archeology into the design. Coverage outside the region by AP, a Chinese newspaper, New York Times, and Washington Post.
Mayor Nutter takes office and plans for the President's House commemoration are proceeding, with a focus on cooperation and fund-raising.
Funding is completed and construction begins.
Opening is scheduled for November 2010.
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