Carpenters’ Hall is a beautiful but relatively small Georgian building nestled in Old City, Philadelphia. It was constructed in 1774 as a guild hall by The Carpenters’ Company- the oldest extant trade guild in America.
In the year of its completion, the building bore witness to events that would lead famed Pulitzer Prize-winning historian, David McCullough, to call Carpenters’ Hall the “acorn of our nation.”
In 1774, Carpenters’ Hall hosted the First Continental Congress. 56 delegates from 12 of the 13 original American colonies came to Philadelphia to discuss the prevailing political issues of their day. The so-called “Boston Tea Party” had occurred the year before alongside other riotous activity, leading to Britain enacting the “Intolerable Acts” and clamping down on New England as a site of insurrectionary activity.
The Colonies, who then saw themselves as indeed very separate, decided to convene in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania- a centrally located spot in the context of the colonies overall. The selection of Carpenters’ Hall as the site for the meeting is described in John Adams’ diary:
“The Delegates all met at the City Tavern and walked to the Carpenters Hall, where they took a View of the Room, and of the Chamber where is an excellent Library. There is also a long Entry, where Gentlemen may walk, and a convenient Chamber opposite to the Library. The General Cry was, that this was a good Room, and the Question was put, whether We were satisfyed [sic] with this Room, and it passed in the Affirmative.” - September 5, 1774.
Thus began the First Continental Congress. At this first meeting, which lasted about 6 weeks, The First Continental Congress levied a petition against King George and through the Colonial Association, built a coalition that would eventually lead to the outbreak of war with Britain in 1775. It was at Carpenters’ Hall that the commitments that would lead to American Independence were made. Acorn indeed, Mr. McCullough.
The Library that Adams mentions in his diary is actually Benjamin Franklin’s Library Company. One of the oldest lending libraries in the United States. It still operates today! (But not in Carpenters’ Hall). In fact, Carpenters’ Hall was home to many such institutions throughout its history. Carpenters’ Hall has hosted the First and Second National Bank as well as the Bank of Pennsylvania. It’s hosted the American Philosophical Society and was the founding spot of The University of the Sciences in Philadelphia. The adjacent New Hall building was America’s First Architectural School and home to America’s War Department. Clearly, Carpenters’ Hall has served as an incubator for some of America’s great institutions!
This was all made possible by the stewardship of The Carpenters’ Company, which has owned and operated Carpenters’ Hall since its construction. The Company itself was founded in 1724 and acted both as a mutual aid network and regulatory body for Philadelphia’s construction trade initially. During the 18th and early 19th century, The Carpenters’ Company determined building standards, labor standards, prices and wages for building work done in Philadelphia.
They also provided support for the families and widows of deceased Carpenters’ Company members. The Carpenters’ Company continues today! However, it acts mostly as a fraternal organization now. Many of its original regulatory functions have been taken over by municipal and federal authorities.
Carpenters’ Hall has been open as a Museum since 1857. The building is open year-round, 6 days a week- Tuesday to Sunday (5 days a week in January and February- Wednesday to Sunday). We currently are running an exhibit entitled Posters for the People.
Do bear in mind, however, that Carpenters’ Hall is currently closed to the Public as per Philadelphia’s latest COVID19 restrictions. Keep an eye out on the “events” section of our website, however! As we’ll be offering virtual events throughout the lockdown.
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Alex Palma is the Assistant Director of The Carpenters’ Company of the City and County of Philadelphia. “The Carpenters’ Company” for short. The Company maintains a historic site- Carpenters' Hall and a small archives. Alex has held his post at Carpenters' Hall for two years. He is also the Archives Assistant at the Lasallian Baltimore District Archives (hosted at La Salle University). Prior, Alex cut his teeth in the Philly history scene by working various project and short-term contract archives jobs around the city. Alex has judged for National History Day since 2017 and is proud to have served as part of NHD’s logistics team. ?Alex also serves as an At-Large member of The Delaware Valley Archivists Group.
Alex has his MA in Public History from La Salle University. His BA was in History with a minor in Philosophy.
Alex enjoys avant-garde cinema, museums, dreary weather, photography and nerd culture.