April 27, 2023
Carpenters' Hall, one of Philadelphia's historic landmarks, will reopen this July after being closed for more than a year due to an ongoing preservation project and a Christmas Eve fire, officials said.
The building, which is part of Independence National Historical Park on the 300 block of Chestnut Street, will reopen to the public on Monday, July 3 after being closed since April 2022. The landmark's reopening will coincide with a temporary exhibit, "Artifacts and Architecture," which will feature archeological artifacts uncovered during the $3 million preservation project and will include photos of its progress, officials from the Carpenters' Company said in a press release.
The preservation project, which was partially funded by the state of Pennsylvania and members of the Carpenters' Company, was focused primarily on making repairs to the exterior of the building, repainting and waterproofing. The roof was repaired and the bricks lining the building's exterior were cleaned in preparation for an unveiling, which was initially scheduled for February. That reveal was ultimately canceled due to a fire in the building's basement last Christmas Eve.
At around 8 p.m. on December 24, 2022, a National Park Service officer discovered the fire. Responders from multiple agencies responded to the scene to help extinguish the blaze, which is being investigated as an arson. The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives is assisting in the investigation, but there have been no arrests made, Axios reported.
Some 20th century archival material was damaged in the flames, along with mechanical systems. There was no structural damage to the building itself, and most of the repair costs were covered by insurance, according to Carpenters' Hall.
The Carpenters' Company started a GoFundMe shortly after the fire to raise additional funds for the repairs. As of Thursday, $63,902 has been donated to help add a new security system, fire protection system, fireproof archival storage and environmental protections for its document collection.
"It's been a wild journey between the preservation project and the fire recovery, but it's a really great moment for us and hopefully just the harbinger of a great year," Michael Norris, executive director of Carpenters' Hall, told the Philadelphia Business Journal. More information about the program of events for the landmark's reopening will be made available on its website over the next several weeks.
The preservation project was planned in preparation for the 300th anniversary of the Carpenters' Company and the 250th anniversary of Carpenters' Hall, which will be celebrated throughout 2024. The festivities, which were put on hold due to the fire, include reenactments, a reunion picnic for descendants of the delegates and an anniversary exhibition.
Carpenters' Hall is part of Independence National Historical Park, a federally-managed site that includes Independence Hall and the Liberty Bell. The two-story brick building housed the First Continental Congress in 1774 and three nights of secret meetings between Benjamin Franklin, John Jay, Francis Daymon and Julien Alexandre Achard de Bonvouloir, a French emissary who helped negotiate French support for the American Revolution.
The building also housed Franklin's Library Company from 1731 until 1791 and wounded soldiers during the Revolutionary War. Its first floor was leased to the First Bank of the United States in 1794 until its own building was completed. The building was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1970.
During the bicentennial celebration in 1976, Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Phillip visited Carpenters' Hall and Independence National Historical Park, where she presented the country with a replica Liberty Bell.
The reopening plans were announced on Wednesday during an awards ceremony for the winner of the David McCullough Prize for Excellence in American Public History at the Museum of the American Revolution, which has housed much of the Hall's permanent collection during the repairs. The award was presented to Christy Coleman, the executive director of the Jamestown-Yorktown Foundation, who has spent much of her career working in museum leadership across the country.