Roughly bounded by Chestnut, Second, Walnut, and Sixth Streets, this section of Philadelphia contains many of the star architectural attractions of our founding mythology. Independence Hall has become an icon for our society, and places like Christ Church and Carpenters Hall have become legendary because of the role they played in the beginning of our country - but don't let yourself be jaded. In these few city blocks are among the most beautiful and important 18th and early 19th century buildings in the United States - largely original and largely intact. They are significant in their own right, but they also contained events and hosted visitors which are also legendary. When you walk into Christ Church, you can sit in the actual pew that George Washington sat when he worshiped there. When you walk into Independence Hall, you can see the room where the words "We hold these truths to be self-evidentů" were read for the first time. This is the real deal.
Independence National Historic Park
The buildings are original, but the city scape is a recent invention. When the National Park Service and the City of Philadelphia created Independence National Historical Park in the 1950's, it carved out an "L" shaped area of downtown roughly bounded by Chestnut and Walnut streets and Sixth and Second Streets extending to Arch street between Fifth and Sixth streets. In Victorian times, this area was the heart of the financial district, but in Colonial times it was a transitional area between the commercial center along Market Street (now called Old City) and the more residential area of Society Hill.

Planners decided to tear down the many Victorian commercial and residential buildings, leaving only those which played a role in the founding of our country. In hindsight, most planners and architects now regard this decision with some horror. Lost were hundreds of Victorian buildings which told a compelling story of Philadelphia's development in the 19th century including several masterworks by key Victorian architects like Frank Furness.
The other side of the story is often forgotten. This area of Philadelphia was very congested - the nearest open space was Washington Square at Sixth and Spruce. Filled with commercial traffic and uses, including Philadelphia's major wholesale food market, it provided an unattractive noisy environment for those wishing to experience the buildings where our country was born. While the reduction in building density and the elimination of many "marginal" buildings created a misleading and inaccurate impression of what Colonial Philadelphia actually looked like, it did allow these 18th and 19th century buildings to be better appreciated. The architectural museum approach of Independence Park and Williamsburg has fallen out of fashion among historians and preservationists for now but, like all fashion, is subject to rethinking and revival.