Unexpected Philadelphia

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Visitors to Philadelphia should save time to visit some of the city’s small, privately run institutions, many of which have been in existence since 1787 or thereabouts, including:

BARTRAM’S GARDEN,

planted on the Schuylkill River in 1728 by John Bartram, America’s first botanist. Washington and Franklin used to visit him there, and although Bartram had died by the time the Constitutional Convention met, his garden was so famous that on July 14, 1787, the delegates suspended their deliberations to visit them. To commemorate that event, this year on July 14 free buses will be available to pick people up at the Independence Park Visitor Center and take them to the garden.

THE LIBRARY COMPANY OF PHILADELPHIA,

founded in 1731 as America’s first subscription library—anyone who bought a share could borrow books. In 1787 it was located just a few blocks from Independence Hall, and the trustees voted to make the collection available to delegates. This year, in an exhibit called “The Intellectual Heritage of the Constitutional Era: The Delegates’ Library,” which opens May 15 and continues into early November, the Library Company will display books that were in the collection in 1787 and that the delegates might have consulted in the course of their deliberations, including works by Locke, Hobbes, Machiavelli, Jefferson, and Adams.

THE AMERICAN PHILOSOPHICAL SOCIETY,

founded by Benjamin Franklin in 1743 “for Promoting Useful Knowledge.” Its bicentennial exhibition, “Designing a Nation: Science, Technology, and the Constitution,” on view from April 30 through October 1, suggests that in the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries Congress failed to foster the sciences. Diaries from the Lewis and Clark expeditions—a rare example of governmentsponsored research during this period—will be included in the exhibit.

THE FRANKLIN INSTITUTE,

founded in 1824 in honor of Benjamin Franklin and “for the promotion of the mechanic arts.” A new, multimedia presentation here, on view through the end of 1987, celebrates Franklin’s scientific experiments.

THE HISTORICAL SOCIETY OF PHILADELPHIA,

founded in 1824. An exhibit opening on June 18 and continuing until December 29, 1987, examines the Constitution after 1787, with memorabilia from the celebrations of 1887 and 1937.

THE ROSENBACH MUSEUM & LIBRARY,

founded in 1954, is an extraordinary collection of Americana in a nineteenth-century townhouse off Rittenhouse Square. An exhibit of letters and documents opening here September 15 highlights the ratification process.