Congress Hall


This was once the home of the United States Congress.

Independence Hall (seen from the Liberty Bell) is flanked on the right by Congress Hall. The newly formed United States Congress occupied Congress Hall when Philadelphia was the capital of the United States from 1790-1800. Congress Hall has been restored to the way it looked in 1793-1800. The first floor was occupied by the House of Representatives. The upper floor was occupied appropriately, by the upper house, or the Senate. In 1793, President George Washington was inaugurated here for a second term. Four years later, in a precedent-setting ceremony in the House of Representatives chamber, the reins of power were passed from George Washington to John Adams. At the close of the ceremony, John Adams waited for Washington to lead the exit, as everyone had grown accustomed to, but Washington insisted on leaving the room after the new President. Finally, and perhaps most important of all, the Bill of Rights was ratified while Congress met in these rooms.

Don't miss the opportunity to tour this building. On the first floor in the House chambers, the valances of dark green above the windows enhance the mahogany of the desks and studded leather chairs. In the south bay is an alcove where Representatives smoked, and drank sherry, port, and madeira. Note too, the small boxes filled with sand near the fireplaces. These were spitting boxes, used in an age when snuff and chewing tobacco were common. Upstairs, 28 of the 32 chairs and the Secretary's desk are authentic. Also remarkable is an 19th-century fresco of an eagle holding an olive branch signifying peace. Notice too, the plaster medallion on the ceiling — an unusual and elegant touch: it has an oval sunburst design honoring the thirteen original states with thirteen stars. The carpet is a reproduction of the original carpet made in the early 1790s by William Sprague of Philadelphia. Its designs are typical patriotic symbols with the centerpiece a chain of 13 state shields. In the corners are cornucopias echoing the wish for abundance in the new land.

After Congress departed for Washington, D.C., the Hall reverted back to the Philadelphia County Courthouse, the purpose it was built for.

  • George Washington was inaugurated here for his second term.
  • John Adams was inaugurated here.
  • Vermont, Kentucky, and Tennessee were admitted to Union while Congress sat here.
  • The Bill of Rights were ratified.

  • Location: Chestnut, near 6th Street
  • Built: 1787-89
  • Style: Federal
  • Commissioned by: Philadelphia County commissioners
  • Facilities: Tour guide, indoor-outdoor benches, tourist information, wheelchair accessible

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.