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Philosophical Hall

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1785–1789, Samuel Vaughan; 1890 rooftop additions, Wilson Brothers; 1948–1950 restored, Sydney Martin of Martin, Stewart and Noble. 104 S. 5th St.
  • (Photograph by Karen Kingsley)

Just before the federal government returned to Philadelphia from New York City in 1790, three structures were added to the square. The only private building on State House Square (PH12.6) houses the American Philosophical Society. It is another of Benjamin Franklin's creations whose circular entitled “A Proposal for Promoting Useful Knowledge among the British Plantations in America” (1743) suggested that Philadelphia should become “the centre of the society because of its position nearest to the centre of the continent colonies.” The organization was meant to disseminate useful knowledge, from canals to steam engines, and was to have an international membership; some of these are documented in its important collection of portraits. Founding members included the celebrated botanist John Bartram. Pure research, then as well as now, was not especially remunerative, so Franklin had to dig into his own pockets for a second major gift before the society could take advantage of the gift of public land. The resulting austere brick building with plain wood cornices and trim is not unlike a Federal-style house in plan and elevation. Its designer, Samuel Vaughan, was a member and for a time a tenant. Other tenants included Charles Willson Peale and Thomas Sully.

Writing Credits

George E. Thomas


What's Nearby


George E. Thomas, "Philosophical Hall", [Philadelphia, Pennsylvania], SAH Archipedia, eds. Gabrielle Esperdy and Karen Kingsley, Charlottesville: UVaP, 2012—,

Print Source

Cover: Buildings of PA vol 2

Buildings of Pennsylvania: Philadelphia and Eastern Pennsylvania, George E. Thomas, with Patricia Likos Ricci, Richard J. Webster, Lawrence M. Newman, Robert Janosov, and Bruce Thomas. Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2012, 57-58.

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