A lunchtime tourist in her own city: Old City

February 6, 2012 – When you work in the best part of town you need to take the time to appreciate your surroundings.

Old City is a charming, historical neighborhood in center city Philadelphia filled with tourists who come to see sights such as Independence Hall, the Liberty Bell, the Betsy Ross House, and Elfreth’s Alley (the oldest residential street in America), to name a few. I pass by these special landmarks every day – the office building where I work acts as a time machine in the middle of it all – but I hardly notice them because I’m either rushing to work or anxious to get home.

The last time I took in these wondrous sights I was a child on a class trip. And that was many years ago. It’s so damn easy to ignore what’s in your backyard, isn’t it? That’s why I decided to play lunchtime tourist and take a mini vacation. Turns out it was a double pleasure because the winter weather was unusually warm making it lovely and educational.

One of the most famous tourist spots is Independence Hall, where our forefathers signed the Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1776. A few years later, they also drafted the Constitution in the same building.

Surrounded by cobblestone streets, and plenty of tourists in horse-drawn carriages, the Independence Hall area stays true to its heritage.

The Liberty Bell is no longer inside Independence Hall. It was moved across the street in 2001 to a significantly larger pavilion, which sadly looks too modern for the historic treasure (see photo above).

A few blocks east, at 239 Arch Street, sits the historic Betsy Ross House. I’m told the legend that claims the famous seamstress created the first American Flag in the house lacks historic evidence, but that’s what they taught us in school. Instead, according to sources, Miss Ross offered rooms to travelers in the home, and may not have actually lived there herself. Still, it offers an authentic look at Colonial life, and according to the Philadelphia Historic Society, the house is the most visited tourist attraction in Old City.

Another block east is Elfreth’s Alley, which dates back to the first days of the 18th Century. Historic cobblestones line the street and a walk down the famous Alley instantly transforms you back to Colonial America. In 1702, the block-long street acted as a connection between the busy waterfront and the blacksmiths’ shops. Today, it is still home to 32 historically preserved homes and merchant shops, including a museum.

And that’s about all I could see in an hour. I will visit again when I have time to wallow.

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