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Long before the first musket shot was fired in Lexington in 1775, the seeds of the American Revolution were taking root in Philadelphia as the colonists declared their independence and began preparing for war.
For visitors eager to delve into this tumultuous time in history, the Museum of the American Revolution — located in the heart of Philadelphia’s Historic District — delivers a full-picture story of this world-changing war, creating the perfect starting point for exploration.
Two-and-a-half centuries after the Revolution, dozens of key sites and landmarks throughout the region remain, giving visitors a glimpse into the fascinating stories of this immensely important era in history.
The Museum of the American Revolution tells the whole story of the world-changing American War of Independence. George Washington’s headquarters tent and dozens of arms, uniforms, artifacts, documents and historical vignettes have made their home in the heart of Philadelphia’s Historic District, where the idea for the Revolution began.
Where: Museum of the American Revolution, 101 S. 3rd Street
Fed up with King George’s taxes and trade policies, representatives from 12 colonies (Georgia didn’t attend) gathered at Carpenters’ Hall in 1774 for the First Continental Congress and voted on a trade embargo, the first of many unified acts of defiance against the realm. This Georgian gem’s history is significant, but modern-day visitors often stop by to appreciate the building’s architecture, courtesy of the country’s oldest craft guild.
Where: Carpenters’ Hall, 320 Chestnut Street
After long days of debating the future of the colonies, Washington, Jefferson, Franklin and others gathered here for an early version of happy hour. Recreated to its original design, City Tavern sates 21st-century appetites with hearty fare and beverages delivered by colonial-costumed servers.
Where: City Tavern, 138 S. 2nd Street
It’s hard to believe that the Graff House (also known as Declaration House), situated just blocks from the hustle and bustle of Independence Hall, was once a country refuge providing Thomas Jefferson with the peace and quiet he needed to draft the Declaration of Independence. Tour hours are limited, so check the schedule online before planning a visit.
Where: Declaration (Graff) House, 2 S. 7th Street
During the blistering summer of 1776, 56 delegates gathered at the Pennsylvania State House and pledged their “lives, their fortune and their sacred honor” in the pursuit of independence. Now known as Independence Hall, the UNESCO World Heritage Site is where the Declaration of Independence was signed, finalizing the colonies’ break with England. Tickets, which are required for tours, are free and available at the Independence Visitor Center.
Where: Independence Hall, 520 Chestnut Street
The elegant 18th-century townhouse of Samuel and Elizabeth Powel opened to Founding Fathers for post-planning soirees, the Washington’s 20th wedding anniversary, a meal John Adams called a “Sinful Feast” and dancing in the Rococo ballroom. Today, their elegant Georgian home, with antique portraits, clocks, china from Martha Washington and a formal garden, is open for tour on select days.
Where: Powel House, 244 S. 3rd Street
Perched amid 16 acres of parkland, Harriton House quietly holds an important place in America’s history. Built in 1704, it was home to Charles Thomson, an abolitionist who became secretary to both Continental Congresses. The original desk where Thomson signed the copy of the Declaration of Independence that was sent to King George is discreetly placed in Harriton’s great hall.
Where: Harriton House, 500 Harriton Road, Bryn Mawr
The Revolutionary War left the young upholsterer Betsy Ross a widow not once but twice. After losing her first husband, John Ross, to an ammunition explosion, she wed John Ashburn, who died after being captured and imprisoned by the British. Betsy herself is on site daily, plying her trade as she welcomes visitors with stories of colonial-era life.
Where: The Betsy Ross House, 239 Arch Street
The Continental Army and Navy needed armaments, and this Chester County foundry supplied the troops with cannons, shots and shells, including 115 big guns for the Continental Navy. The circa 1771 intact iron-making village includes a furnace complex, ironmaster’s mansion, village store, blacksmith shop, and the homes of some of the ironworkers. The summer season brings living history demonstrations and other historic activities.
Where: Hopewell Furnace National Historic Site, 2 Mark Bird Lane, Elverson
The New Hall Military Museum, a reconstruction of the first Secretary of War’s headquarters, features exhibits that trace the founding of the U.S. Marines, Army and Navy during the Revolution. Modern-day visitors will find dozens of examples of colonial-era weaponry, scale models and other artifacts.
Where: New Hall Military Museum, 320 Chestnut Street
When the American troops were low on weapons, food, supplies and the money to purchase them, Haym Salomon, a member of Congregation Mikveh Israel, stepped up and helped finance and underwrite the war. He was so generous with his personal resources that he died penniless. Salomon is buried at Congregation Mikveh Israel Cemetery.
Where: Congregation Mikveh Israel, 44 N. 4th Street
The ragtag Continental army had this Polish war hero to thank for the brilliant military engineering that helped them pummel the Redcoats in several battles. He was a military giant — he also fortified West Point — but resided in a humble one-room apartment in a corner boarding house that is open for self-guided tours on select days.
Where: Thaddeus Kosciuszko National Memorial, 301 Pine Street
In 1776, General Washington gave the British troops a morning-after-Christmas surprise — a sneak attack that ultimately turned the tide of the Revolutionary War. Echoes of that historic event are evidenced throughout Washington Crossing Historic Park, where centuries-old historic houses and buildings and a visitors center recount that daring trip. Each Christmas, hearty souls don olonial-era attire and recreate that daring and dangerous river crossing.
Where: Washington Crossing Historic Park, 1112 River Road, Washington Crossing
During its long, storied history, Stenton mansion saw both sides of the war. In August 1777, General Washington sought refuge in this elegant home as he made his way to the Battle of Brandywine. Then Britain’s General Howe occupied the estate for the month leading up to and through the Battle of Germantown.
Where: Stenton, 4601 N. 18th Street
On September 11, 1777, 30,000 American and British soldiers faced off here in the largest land of battle of the Revolution. Despite being led by a who’s who of the Continental Army —W ashington, Wayne, Lafayette, Knox and others — the Americans suffered a major blow. The site is now a park, offering terrain to freely explore, and, for a fee, access to a small museum of artifacts and two historic houses, including one that served as Washington’s headquarters.
Where: Brandywine Battlefield Park, 878 Baltimore Pike, Chadds Ford
Both the Barns-Brinton House and John Chads’ springhouse suffered damage during the Battle of Brandywine in 1777. Before the battle, Washington himself may have surveyed the Brandywine from a hill behind the Chads’ House. The sites offer educational programs throughout the year.
Where: Chadds Ford Historical Society, 1736 North Creek Road, Chadds Ford
During the Continental Army’s winter encampment at Valley Forge, General “Mad” Anthony Wayne, one of Washington’s most celebrated generals, would sometimes return to his family home, Historic Waynesborough, for a good night’s sleep. The Battle of Paoli took place steps away from the front door and yet the house survived unscathed. Guided, by-reservation tours lead visitors from the carriage house through the elegant residence itself and tell stories about objects, art and the seven generations of Waynes who lived here until 1980.
Where: Historic Waynesborough, 2049 Waynesborough Road, Paoli
At midnight on September 20, 1777, 2,000 British troops used bayonets to raid Anthony Wayne’s 2,100 troops camped in this field in what became the war’s ninth bloodiest battle, which by its end, involved 2,200 members of the Maryland Militia. The country’s second-oldest Revolutionary War monument commemorates lives lost during the “Paoli Massacre.” Today, the 40-acre site serves as a historical park and memorial grounds with self-guided tours along a three-quarter-mile trail. Other features to enjoy: monuments, cannons, historical obstacles and, on the last Monday in May, the country’s oldest continuously held Memorial Day parade.
Where: Paoli Battlefield Historical Park, Monument Avenue & Wayne Avenue, Malvern
In early October 1777, General Washington and his staff chose this farm as a temporary headquarters while planning a strategy to engage the British forces in Germantown, a major defeat for the Continental Army. Washington’s contingent returned to the Wentz property for four days later that month before marching in for the winter at Valley Forge in December. Visitors to the restored site can take on-the-hour tours to view livestock, kitchens, German furnishings and 1777-inspired recreations of farmstead life.
Where: Peter Wentz Farmstead, 2030 Shearer Road, Lansdale
A Georgian estate designed by the architect behind Independence Hall, Hope Lodge served as quarters for Washington’s most dependable general, Nathaniel Green, and was used as a hospital by Washington’s Surgeon General John Cochran in the fall of 1777.
Where: Hope Lodge & Mather Mill, 553 S. Bethlehem Pike, Fort Washington
On the morning of October 4, 1777, Washington and his army fought for hours trying to remove the British troops who had taken shelter in this historic Germantown estate. After several hours of intense fighting, the defeated patriot forces retreated to Montgomery County. Today, Cliveden commemorates the Battle of Germantown on the first Saturday of every October; the Revolutionary Germantown Festival features two reenactments and other activities. Any time of year, visitors can experience the museum and grounds through tours and exhibitions.
Where: Cliveden, 6401 Germantown Avenue
The bloody business of war still haunts Grumblethorpe, home of the Wister family and occupied by British Brigadier General James Agnew before the Battle of Germantown. Shot by a sniper, Agnew bled to death, More than two centuries later, the bloodstains are still visible on the floor.
Where: Grumblethorpe, 5267 Germantown Avenue
During the Battle of Germantown, this Quaker estate was used as a field hospital, the 18th-century version of a MASH unit. Visits to Wyck (available during select seasons on select days) include tours of the house’s antique-filled first floor, the country’s oldest rose garden and a working quarter-acre farm.
Where: Wyck House, 6026 Germantown Avenue
The Germantown White House was once home to one of the fiercest foes in America’s history. After defeating George Washington in the Battle of Germantown, British General William Howe took over the summer retreat, which was empty for the winter. Years later, Washington moved the First Family into the home, a precursor to the official White House. The red sofa that resides there today is thought to have belonged to Washington.
Where: Germantown White House (Deshler-Morris House), 5442 Germantown Avenue
During Washington’s campaign in 1776-77, wounded and ailing soldiers recovered at the Thompson Neely House, which had been transformed into a temporary regimental army hospital. James Monroe, who would later become the fifth president, was among the many who convalesced there.
Where: Thompson Neely House, 1638 River Road, Washington Crossing
For six long, cold weeks in 1777, a cadre of 400 soldiers huddled inside this fort to fend off British ships attempting to bring supplies to British-occupied Philadelphia. Despite lack of food, freezing temperatures and rampant illness, the rebels held the ships back, giving Washington time to flee to Valley Forge. Philadelphia’s only fort opens to the public during select seasons on select days for tours of barracks, a blacksmith shop, cannon demonstrations and more.
Where: Fort Mifflin, 82 Fort Mifflin Road
This 3,500-acre national park is the site of the 1777-1778 winter encampment of George Washington’s Continental Army. Woodlands, streams, meadows, monuments and 26 miles of trails commemorate the sacrifice and transformation of the Continental Army during these pivotal six months during the Revolutionary War. Visitors explore the encampment through tours, exhibits, live demonstrations, children’s activities and more.
Where: Valley Forge National Historical Park, 1400 N. Outer Line Drive, King of Prussia
Dating to 1719, this plot is the final resting place for many who toiled for American independence. Among the 4,000 graves are those of Benjamin and Deborah Franklin, Dr. Benjamin Rush, Francis Hopkinson and Continental Army officers Major William Jackson and General Jacob Morgan. The corner cemetery is open for self-guided and guided tours for a small fee; visitors on the sidewalk often toss pennies onto the Franklins’ grave.
Where: Christ Church Burial Ground, 340 N. 5th Street
Many who gave their lives in the pursuit of liberty went nameless when they were laid to rest at this Germantown site. Today, 52 of the such soldiers have been identified, although six more who perished in the Battle of Germantown remain unknown. The grounds and 1775 school house are open for tours on select days and by appointment.
Where: Concord School House and Upper Burying Ground, 6309 Germantown Avenue
While George and Martha Washington, John Adams and other colonial-era notables attended Old St. Mary’s Church, history also permeates the gravesite here. Commodore John Barry, founder of the American navy, is buried in the adjacent cemetery, along with General Washington’s aide-de-camp Stephen Moylan and other heroes of the Revolution.
Where: Old St. Mary’s Church, 252 S. 4th Street
The National Constitution Center (NCC) picks up the narrative in 1787, three years after the end of the war, with the creation of a new government. Delegates from the former colonies gathered in Philadelphia and elected George Washington to preside over the Constitutional Convention, the result of which was the signing of the United States Constitution, ratified later that year. The NCC’s high-tech, interactive exhibitions explore how the document has evolved and influenced United States history through modern times.
Where: National Constitution Center, 525 Arch Street
Everyone from the casually interested to the dedicated scholar can utilize the David Library of the American Revolution. Devoted solely to American history from 1750-1800, the David Library boasts 10,000 reels of microfilm, nearly 8,000 books and 2,000 pamphlets among its holdings. Primary source materials include diaries, maps, muster rolls, letters, recipes and other information from the era.
Where: David Library of the American Revolution, 1201 River Road, Washington Crossing
More than 3,000 books, pamphlets and serials, along with 210 archival collections dealing with the American Revolution are included in this vast array of primary source materials and research resources for inquiring minds.
Where: Historical Society of Pennsylvania, 1300 Locust Street
The Polish American Cultural Center offers a glimpse into the life and contributions of Thaddeus Kosciuszko, whose engineering genius helped win the Revolution.
Where: Polish American Cultural Center, 308 Walnut Street
The library and research facilities at the Chester County Historical Society hold a wealth of information about people and events that played a regional role in the Revolutionary War.
Where: Chester County Historical Society, 225 North High Street, West Chester
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