The original William Thornton–designed building of the Library Company was erected on this site in 1789 as part of the attempt to keep the federal government in Philadelphia. Thornton is now remembered as the victor in the competition for the United States Capitol but was trained as a physician. His prizewinning design used Philadelphia red brick, but adapted the elegant proportions of Robert Adam to a composition taken from Abraham Swan's Collection of Designs of Architecture (1757). The frontispiece of slender two-story pilasters carrying a shallow pediment became a common motif for important buildings in the next generation, as Robert Smith's giant Palladian window in the east end of churches had been in the previous generation. A carved figure by Francois Lazzarini of the company's founder, Benjamin Franklin, in a toga and leaning on a stack of books, occupied the niche in the center of the facade. The original figure was given by William Bingham. Now much damaged by acid rain, it stands in the
In 1878, the Library Company commissioned Frank Furness to build a new structure at Locust and Juniper streets. The Thornton building was subsequently demolished in 1889 for Wilson Brothers’ enlargement of the Drexel Building. When that building was demolished with the creation of Independence National Historical Park, a replica of the original Library Company was built to serve as the library of the American Philosophical Society (see PH12.3). Martin, Stewart and Noble worked from nineteenth-century photographs to re-create Thornton's facade. The society's collection is among the most important in the city.