s America’s birthplace, Philadelphia is the nation’s only UNESCO World Heritage City and as such is a tourist mecca for history lovers in the United States. Among the most well-known attractions of historical value on the average visitor’s itinerary are the Liberty Bell, Independence Hall, Congress Hall, the Betsy Ross house and Carpenters Hall (where the First Continental Congress met). Famous Americans associated with Philadelphia’s Revolutionary War period include Benjamin Franklin among many others.
But there are also many lesser-known attractions within the city, among which are several “Firsts” that generally draw less attention than their more famous brethren. Here are several to-see/to-do’s to put on your list that you may not have known about:
- Oldest continuously occupied street in the U.S.: Elfreth’s Alley (pictured above), since 1713 (the street itself actually dates back to 1702). As of 2012, there are 32 houses on the street, which were built between 1728 and 1836. The Elfreth’s Alley Museum is located at #124 and 126. The alley is a National Historic Landmark. Located in the Old City neighborhood, it is between North 2nd Street and North Front Street, in the block between Arch and Race Streets.
- First art school and art museum: Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, founded 1805.
- Oldest theater in continuous use in the English-speaking world: Walnut Street Theater, since 1809.
- First orchestra to appear in a motion picture (1937), on television (1948) and to tour China (1973): Philadelphia Orchestra.
- First city to guarantee religious freedom, beginning in 1682.
- First African-American church: Mother Bethel A.M.E. Church, established 1794.
- First zoo in America: Philadelphia Zoo, chartered in 1859 and opened in 1874.
- First July 4th event: 1776. Still a big celebration every year with the 10-day Wawa Welcome America! festival.
- First Thanksgiving Day Parade: 1919.
- First botanical garden: Bartram’s Garden, opened 1728.
- First stock exchange: Philadelphia Stock Exchange, 1790.
- First international-style skyscraper: Loews Philadelphia Hotel (12th & Market Streets), formerly the PSFS (bank) Building, 1932. This was also the first totally air-conditioned building in America.
- First and oldest hospital in America: Pennsylvania Hospital, opened 1751.
- First World’s Fair in America: the Centennial International Exhibition, 1876. Memorial Hall, built especially for the World’s Fair, houses the Please Touch Museum.
- First American convention: the Constitutional Convention of 1787, where the Constitution of the United States was written and adopted by representatives of the 13 original colonies.
- First American university: The University of Pennsylvania assumed university status in 1779.
- First library: The Library Company of Philadelphia, founded by Benjamin Franklin in 1731; its current location, 1314 Locust Street, is open to the public.
- First U. S. Mint: established in 1792 on Seventh Street, near Arch Street, it was the first property acquired by the federal government.
- First black self-help organization in the US, the Free African Society,founded by Richard Allen and Absalom Jones in 1787.
Of course the city has many other attractions to enlighten and delight visitors as well. Where else can you walk from the sites where political luminaries debated standing up to a king to the home of the largest collection of Rodin sculptures outside of Paris before making your way through a giant-sized human heart?
Whatever your personal sightseeing preferences may be, Philadelphia has enough to keep you coming back for a lifetime.
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