Tag Archives: National Park Service

Independence National Historical Park

I took a trip this past Memorial Day weekend, so I’m loaded with more material, so I may switch back to posting twice a month in the coming months. But before I get ahead of myself, let’s finish with my last stop during my Philadelphia day trip from last August…

Independence National Historical Park, located in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Independence National Historical Park encompasses several street blocks, thus various buildings and facilities are considered as part of the park. The historical park is open daily from 9am to 5pm, but hours may vary for some of the buildings and facilities, thus it’s best to check the park’s website for hours of operation. Independence National Historical Park is easily accessible via car and public transportation. If you choose to drive, there are various parking lots nearby, but note that fees do apply. If you choose to take public transportation, take the SEPTA Market-Frankford Subway, the blue line, to 5th Street/Independence Hall Station, and walk about one block west to reach the Visitor Center or one block south to reach Independence Hall and the Liberty Bell. The historical park can be a short half day visit if you want to visit the must see sites only, but if you want to see everything, it can take several days, so there’s plenty to do. Should you wish to switch things up a bit, stop by the Museum at the Chemical Heritage Foundation to take a break from history and learn some chemistry.

As mentioned above, Independence National Historical Park includes a lot of sites, but I only managed the must sees during my visit, thus this post will cover only the following: Independence Square, Liberty Bell Center and Independence Visitor Center. Independence Square is comprised of Independence Hall, Congress Hall, Philosophical Hall and Old City Hall. To get into Independence Square, visitors are required to go through a security screening, but the line moves relatively quick. Independence Hall is open daily from 9am to 5pm, and to 7pm in the summer. Admission to Independence Hall is by tour only. Timed-entry tickets are required between March to November. Tickets are free and can be obtained at the Visitor Center on the day of the visit, or for a small fee tickets can be reserved in advance either online or by telephone. ( I didn’t want to pay a fee, so I just headed to the Visitor Center first thing and obtained tickets. Don’t get there too late, since they do have a limited amount of tickets per day.)  The tour starts in the East Wing of Independence Hall, where the ranger guide gives a 10 minute overview on the drafting and signing of the Declaration of Independence, followed by a 20 minute tour of the first floor of the Independence Hall, bringing the total tour time to 30 minutes.

The West Wing of Independence Hall contains the Great Essentials exhibit. Visitors can view original printed copies of the Declaration of Independence, the Articles of Confederation and the U.S. Constitution. There is also an inkstand on display. (Please excuse the poor photos, my hands aren’t still enough for longer exposure times needed to take pictures in low light.)

Congress Hall is open from 9am to 5pm daily. Congress Hall is accessible only by tour, but there is no need to obtain tickets, as it’s on a first come first served basis, so just show up around the scheduled tour times. Tours last about 15 minutes and are scheduled for every 30 minutes. Congress Hall was home to the U.S. Congress from 1790 to 1800, when Philadelphia served as the temporary capital of the U.S. The building is two floors, the open space ground floor was where the House of Representatives met, and the U.S. Senate congregated on the second floor, which is comprised of several rooms.

Philosophical Hall houses the American Philosophical Society (APS) and its museum. The APS was founded by Benjamin Franklin in 1743 to promote useful knowledge.  The APS museum is open between April to December, from Thursday to Sunday, 10am to 4pm. (Check their website for current hours and exhibits.)  The museum contains one exhibit that rotates on an annual basis that features the society’s collection of historical items and materials. The museum is on one floor of the building, spanning several rooms. When I visited, the exhibit on display was “Gathering Voices: Thomas Jefferson and Native America”, which lasted from April 15, 2016 to December 30, 2016. The exhibit highlighted Jefferson’s collection of Native American languages. I didn’t get a chance to visit the Old City Hall as I was running low on time and also I couldn’t find the entrance, so I decided to skip it and move onto the next destination.

The Liberty Bell is one of the most famous sites in Philadelphia. The bell can be seen in the Liberty Bell Center, which is very close to Independence Hall. The center is open from 9am to 5pm year round, to 7pm during the summer months. Admission is free.  Asides from viewing the Liberty Bell (which is a lot smaller than I expected), there are various exhibits highlighting the history of the Liberty Bell.

Last, but not least, is the Independence Visitor Center. I started here to get tickets for Independence Hall, but didn’t see the exhibits inside until the end. The visitor’s center contains a theater where visitors can enjoy films about the founding of the United States and the Revolutionary War. In addition, there’s an exhibit inside showcasing some prominent historical events and figures related to Philadelphia, such as the Underground Railroad and Benjamin Franklin.

Seeing all of the above took me about 2.5 hours total, including travel time to each place, and waiting for tours to begin and in lines . The majority of the time was spent with the guided tours as the time was predetermined; in the self-guided areas, I spent significantly less time, not more than 20 minutes in each area, and looking back now I don’t feel it was an adequate amount of time for some of the sites. Thus other visitors will most likely need more time to see all of the above, but the minimum time to spend is 2.5 hours (however, you may spend less time too, if you read and move faster). Everything at Independence National Historical Park is free, thus it’s a good place to bring your friends and family as there’s enough to do that everyone will find something interesting. People who enjoy history will definitely have a field day as every where they turn, a piece of history is staring back. So put on your good walking shoes and learn about the founding of the United States at Independence National Historical Park.

Salem Maritime National Historic Site

I went on vacation recently, and having been slacking a lot, hence not that many posts. I had every intention to get this post out around the U.S. National Park Service’s (NPS) Centennial back in August, however I’m about 2 months behind, but better late then never…

Salem Maritime National Historic Site, located in Salem, Massachusetts

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The Salem Maritime National Historic Site encompasses a variety of indoor and outdoor areas. The indoor exhibits are located in several different locations and the hours vary from place to place (visit the NPS website for operating hours); some locations are open to the public, whereas others require a guided tour. Outdoor exhibits are open 24 hours a day and 7 days a week. The best way to get to the historic site is by foot if you are already in the area; or by car if you are traveling from outside of Salem. The historic site doesn’t have onsite parking, but there are several parking lots nearby with a minimal fee (very minimal, some costs as little as $0.25 per hr). The Salem Maritime National Historic Site is a bit further away from the tourist area, but there are  other places to visit nearby, and if you visit all the places within the historic site, it could take a whole day.

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First stop at the historic site is the Custom House, which is open Monday to Friday from 1pm to 4pm and Saturday to Sunday from 10am to 4pm. This Salem Custom House was built in 1819 (there were others prior), and housed the offices for representatives of the U.S. Custom Services. The house is two stories and has a cupola (the cupola is off-limits to the public).  On the first floor, visitors can see an exhibit on the tools used by the Custom Services, which include a variety of measuring devices such as scales and measuring sticks, and the  Collector’s Public Office, where records were kept and where merchants and ship captains paid their duties. Also on the first floor is Nathaniel Hawthorne’s office; his time working at the Custom Service inspired his famous novel, The Scarlet Letter. On the second floor is the Collector’s Private Room and Office. There is an eagle sculpture, known as the Custom House eagle, on the roof of the building. The current eagle is a replica.  The original was carved by Joseph True and place on the roof in 1820s, but weather and time has aged the sculpture, and thus was replaced by the replica in 2004 in order to preserve the original, which is now on display in an exhibit on the second floor.

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Next stop is the Friendship of Salem and Derby Wharf. The Friendship of Salem is a replica of a cargo vessel built in Salem in 1797. (The ship is currently undergoing maintenance, check the NPS website for the latest updates on the Friendship.) The day I visited, the sails and masts weren’t there, so it’s not quite as majestic, but google images of the Friendship and see the ship at its full glory. Visitors are free to walk about the both the main deck and the lower deck. Visitors can pose by the ship’s wheel and pretend to be captain of the ship on the main deck. The lower deck contains the living quarters of the captain and the ship’s crew. Derby Wharf is the longest of the three wharves that are part of the historic site. Derby Wharf was started in 1762 by the Derby family, and as their trading increased, they kept extending the wharf until its current 1/2 mile length in the early 1800s. The Derby Wharf Light Station, situated at the end of Derby Wharf, was built in 1871 and has since helped with navigation in Salem harbor.

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The Derby House and the Narbonne House are two areas of the Salem Maritime National Historic Site that can be viewed only by park ranger-led tours. The Derby House and Narbonne House tour is about 1 hr long, and typically is available once a day at 2:30pm (check the website for tour times). Reservation is required, and the tour can only accommodate 8 people at a time, so interested visitors should visit the Salem Visitor’s Center early to sign up for a spot. First on the tour was the Narbonne House, which was originally a butcher’s house, but has been home to various middle class families throughout the years. The house was built in sections and held together by dowels. The interior of the house is unfurnished, but contains an exhibit highlighting the items found in the house’s backyard. The Derby house was home to one of America’s wealthiest families, the Derbys. The house has many luxuries of the time period, such as a big front door, wallpaper, canopy beds, banisters, and high ceilings. The interior of the house is furnished, but they aren’t original to the house, just imaginings of how the house may have been decorated back when the Derbys resided there. Also worth a visit is the Salem Visitor Center, where there are special exhibits and movie presentations in regards to Salem’s maritime history.

I took about 2.5 hours for both self-guided explorations and the ranger guided-tour of the Salem Maritime National Historic Site. As always, other visitors may take more or less time depending on how much they want to see and their interest. (I only covered the highlights of the historic site, there more places to see and tours to take for more in-depth views of the site.) The historic site is a great place for a family outing, as there’s plenty to see and do, and an ample amount of space for children to just run around outside. History lovers will enjoy a visit and the general population should definitely visit too, as it’s free and offers much to see, and even if history isn’t your thing, you’ll enjoy being outside and near the water. Salem is most notable in history for the witch trials of 1692, but it also has an important spot in maritime history and where better to learn about it then at the Salem Maritime National Historic Site.