Friday, February 23, 2018

Cool 19th Century Places to Visit: Second Bank of the United States, Philadelphia

People who love history throng to Philadelphia to ogle the Liberty Bell and tour Independence Hall. But there’s a little-known gem just a block or so away for those whose hearts belong to the nineteenth century. The Second Bank of the United States houses a portrait gallery with wonderful paintings from the late 1700s and early 1800s. And the building itself harkens to the pillared halls of the Regency.

The Second Bank was built in the Greek Revival style, beginning in 1819. It was completed in 1824. When I visited 18 months ago, I saw a number of style choices that reminded me of early nineteenth century England. For example, this window still uses the interior shutters visible in such notable mansions as Apsley House in London.

And doesn’t the pink passage near the main portrait display look just like the entryway to an aristocrat’s town house?

The portraits themselves are marvelous, depicting dress and accessories of the time. The hat!

Many of the portaits are by local artist Charles Willson Peale, who painted people he felt exemplified a self-sacrificing nature and were strong civic supporters. Some of the individuals are government or business leaders, but there is more than one lady in the bunch. Other portraits are by his son Rembrandt (Charles took his painting seriously, apparently), brother James, and British artists James and Ellen Sharples.

There’s another set of Regency paintings at the Second Bank, but I doubt many find it. The stone steps in front prohibit accessibility, so second entrance was created on the west side for those mobility impaired. It brings you in to a basement area, past brickwork I suspect is original and along some delightful life-sized drawings of early nineteenth-century ladies and gentlemen. Of course, I had to stop and visit.

The Second Bank is open Wednesday through Sunday from 11am to 5pm. Learn more about it at the National Park Service website.

I’m sure you can picture yourself here

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