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The President's House in Philadelphia

IHA Reponse to April 2002 Editorial

This is the response from the Independence Hall Association to the Martha Aikens editorial in the Inquirer. It was submitted to the Inquirer, but was not published.

Independence Hall Association

April 9, 2002

Philadelphia has a great story to tell. In fact, it's our country's greatest story. But an important chapter is missing from America's historical park.

The April 7th Op Ed piece written by the Superintendent of Independence National Historical Park, Martha Aikens, makes clear the Park's intention to ignore the advice of the professional historical community about the Presidents' House. Her basic message is that we can drive to Germantown to learn about George Washington's life as President in Philadelphia. Her letter makes no mention that President Washington only lived there temporarily to escape the yellow fever epidemic and the summer heat. It makes no mention that Adams never lived there during his three years as president in Philadelphia, but lived, as Washington did for almost 6 1/2 years before him, at 6th and Market Streets in Robert Morris' home.

How many Americans think that Washington served his years as President in D.C? Too many. In her letter, the Superintendent repeatedly called the site at 6th and Market the "Morris mansion" instead of the "Presidents' House." The facts are: the Morris mansion became the Presidents' House for ten years when Washington and Adams each lived there as president. The Deshler Morris House in Germantown is a great place to visit, but why ignore the real ten-year site of the Executive Branch of our government? Sixth and Market was where the business of the Executive Branch was conducted, and where the official entertaining of the new nation took place. Over those ten years, thousands of people attended the Presidential levees, State dinners, evening "drawing rooms," and the open houses on New Year's Day and the Fourth of July. John Quincy Adams wrote in his diary of sitting in the front hall with President Washington and seventeen Chickasaw Indians, passing around an enormous pipe.

Superintendent Aikens wrote about the many public meetings that were held about the park's design in the 1990's. The hearings are over, but the government that was created here allows for flexibility when the public wants change. During those public hearings, how many Philadelphians learned that the "Morris mansion" was actually the Presidents' House where Washington and Adams lived and that this important site is still covered by a toilet for the Liberty Bell Pavilion? Had we known this, wouldn't we have asked for more respectful treatment? Recent letters to the editor confirm this.

Does Philadelphia have so much history that we can afford to cover up our key assets?

The Superintendent wrote about the archeology done at the site, and although we are concerned that the site was never fully explored, we are not asking for excavation, reconstruction or moving the Bell. All we ask is for an outline of the main house in the pavement and appropriate recognition that all three branches of government operated for ten years within one block of each other in Philadelphia. At present, the Park that's dedicated to American history interprets only two branches of government in the city where three were created for checks and balances. Ironically, the National Park Service falls under the missing Executive Branch.

The Superintendent's letter states: "Nor do we plan any full-scale outline of the mansion's floor plan, as some have suggested, because we genuinely believe that it would be confusing rather than revelatory." I am sure that the Superintendent didn't intend to insult our intelligence, however if the Park Service genuinely believes that a building's outline would be confusing, why did they embrace it at Franklin's House, just down the street? My confusion is why they are so adamant that the Presidents' House and Executive Branch are so unimportant.

Independence Hall Association spearheaded the creation of Independence National Historical Park in 1942 to preserve America's history. Sixty years later we ask the National Park Service for a simple outline of the Presidents' House and equal interpretation of all three branches of government in the city where they were created. We believe that the Presidents' House unearths a 'shouldn't-be-lost' opportunity to tell more of the great American and Philadelphia story.

Nancy J. Gilboy
Independence Hall Association

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Copyright ©1999- by the Independence Hall Association, a nonprofit organization in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, founded in 1942. Publishing electronically as On the Internet since July 4, 1995.