The Athenaeum of Philadelphia

A Victorian Era Library

An athenaeum is an institution or society for the promotion of literary or scientific learning; more simply, it's a library. It is from the Greek Athenaion, temple of Athena, where poets read their works. This not-for-profit, member-supported library and historic-site museum was founded in 1814 to collect materials "connected with the history and antiquities of America, and the useful arts, and generally to disseminate useful knowledge" for public benefit. The gaslit lamps on the outside welcomed the well-heeled book-lovers to join in study of the great classics in the early 19th century.

The library attracts thousands of readers each year — usually graduate students and senior scholars, architects, interior designers, museum curators, and the private owners of historic buildings. The research library is open for use without charge and membership is not required to gain access. Note: an advance appointment with the curator or librarian specializing in your field of interest is required, as is photo identification. Call 215-925-2688 in advance; please do not expect to walk in off the street and use the library.

The building was declared a National Historic Landmark in 1977.

  • Early sketches of the U.S. Capital and Independence Hall are housed here.
  • This is considered the seminal American structure in the Italianate Revival Style and is one of the first Philadelphia buildings built of brownstone.
  • The foundation of the Walnut Street Prison was discovered beneath this site.

  • Location: 219 South 6th St. (between Walnut and Washington Square South)
  • Built: 1845
  • Architect: John Notman
  • Style: Italianate Revival
  • Tourism information: Mo-Fr 9am-5pm, closed weekends and national holidays, the day after Thanksgiving, Christmas Eve day, and New Year's Eve day. Tours by appointment only. First floor exhibition hall is open to the public. 215-925-2688
  • Official website:

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.