There is a whole lot more to Independence Park than just Independence Hall and the Liberty Bell. One of the things I have never done up until now is to take the tour of the Todd House and The Bishop White House. If you want to tour these houses, you have to plan ahead and get to the Visitor Center as soon as it opens at 8:30am. At this time of year, one tour begins at 11am and one at 2pm. There are only 10 people allowed on each tour, so you can see how imperative it is to be there early to guarantee a spot.
The Todd House is located at Fourth and Walnut. It was the home of successful Philadelphia lawyer John Todd and his lively wife Dolly Paine. She, as it turned out, would be a lot more famous than him. She married James Madison as her second husband, and the rest is, as they say, history. What we see here, however, is the life that she lived when she was Mrs. Todd. We begin our visit in the entrance way of the house, and it soon becomes all too apparent why only 10 people are allowed on the tour. We are only 8, and with our winter coats on, we can barely all squeeze into this very limited space.
The front of the first floor is set up as John’s office and the back is the warming kitchen. It doesn’t appear that a lot of cooking was done in the house, but with all the wonderfully bakeries around, they could have afforded to get their meals prepared elsewhere. There is a narrow staircase that needs to be climbed, and if you are unable to climb, you must leave the tour, as you are not allowed to stay downstairs by yourself. The second stop is just down the street at the Bishop White House. You immediately are struck by the difference. This has a spacious entrance hall and the house is about twice as long, since the hall runs along the whole side. There are rooms to visit on three floors, so, again, you must be able to climb stairs.
Our park ranger Tom kept up a steady flow of information about the families and about the contents of the houses. Most of the items in both of them is from the period but are not original to the house. The contrast between the two is what the whole tour is about. The bishop was obviously a much wealthier man than the successful lawyer. Tom was very knowledgeable and was able to answer the many and varied questions that were asked of him, and he obviously enjoys his job.
December 15, 2005
From journal Phive for Philly