We meet Erika at the Welcome Park at Second and Walnut--or, more
accurately, across the street from City Tavern. Reservations aren’t necessary, so anyone
with nothing to do on a Saturday evening can simply show up at 6:30pm, pay $5, and
take the tour by Centipede Tours. Its greatest limitation is that nobody has any idea how
large the group will be until the tour starts, and large groups make for difficulty hearing
There are only nine of us, but our guide speaks very softly.
Yes, Erika is a very sweet lady, but I wish she had the voice of Robin Williams! I wear
myself out two-stepping on rough brick and cobblestone to find a position where I can
hear as we walk along on a miserably hot evening, still in the heat of the day, actually,
when only those with masochistic tendencies are still out touring. "At least, I have a
drink and snack," I console myself, but how to carry all that with camera, writing pad,
and pencil? Oh, yes, and paper towels--to wipe the sweat! I have learned that I learn
not a thing on my feet. It’s all about experiencing the ambience--and managing
the physical plant--until I get home to my desk. So, I must take notes.
And now I see that William Penn brought all the Quakers from England to
Pennsylvania in 1682, when he persuaded Charles II to grant him the property west of the
Delaware in return for a debt he owed Penn’s father. "Sylvania" means woods, and
"society" (as in Society Hill) refers to the Free Society of Traders, not to an upper-crust
neighborhood, although many prominent people lived here in the 1700’s.
The first building Erika talks about is City Tavern: "where the Revolution began."
Eighty taverns in Philadelphia served working folks, but only this one was for the elite.
When the tavern was rebuilt, architects followed diagrams found in a library in
England, so the present building replicates the original.
Our next stop is the Merchants Exchange, opened in 1834 and designed by William
Strickland, a leader of Greek Revival style and architect for Second Bank,
At one time, water that surrounded this building site caused an epidemic of yellow fever.
We procede to First Bank (1795) and the Treasurer’s Office Site, where I can’t hear a
word. We do learn that Franklin’s house was the first one commandeered by the British
when they occupied Philadelphia, and I believe the reason they wanted it was because it
was so comfortable and had indoor plumbing. Franklin had the second flush toilet in
Philadelphia. We don’t walk anywhere near his house, but that tidbit is relevant to our
Bishop White’s house was the first one in Philadelphia to have a flush toilet. He
was the first bishop at Christ Church. I resolve to visit Christ Church, and this
is what I like about walking tours. They tie everything from diverse attractions together,
creating positive reinforcement or multifaceted memory. I encounter Bishop White
details everywhere I go, and the same is true for all the founding fathers.
We see Old St. Paul’s Church, Powell House, and New Market. New Market was built in
the 1700’s, and I believe there are still craft sales here, perhaps on
One might check at the Visitors Center about sales here.
St. Peter’s Church, Thaddeus Kosciuszko House, and more lead us down cobblestone
streets with horse-drawn carriages and carriage stones and overgrown, one-lane brick
alleys with ingenious driveways, window boxes, boot rakes, and over-the-door spyglass
Most of the houses were built in the 1730’s-1770’s, but we see some fairly new ones,
modern styles with incredibly interesting twists on design specifications engineered for
the purpose of passing design review, which must be strict in this extremely important
We’re almost back where we began, I think, when we stop in front of Henry Hill’s house.
He was a liquor merchant who built his residence wide in the 1780’s. The width is
significant, because folks paid taxes on their homes according to how wide they were.
Apparently, Hill was so rich that he didn’t care, and one might speculate that he was a bit
of a show-off. Well, isn’t that just typical of the nouveau riche?
In spite of the difficulty hearing our guide, I can recommend this tour. The cost is
negligible. I could have asked Erika to speak up, but I was concerned about her physical
comfort on such a hot night. She was wearing a long dress with full sleeves and a
bonnet, and I didn’t have the nerve to ask more of her. If you walk Society Hill during
Visitor Center hours, you can probably get an audio tour there, but if you have
other activities planned for the day, when museums are open, then you might want to
take this tour in the evening, when audio tours are probably not available anywhere. We
were trying to reserve our daytime hours for museums, and this activity didn’t detract
from our itinerary. See more here.