Philadelphia: US history preserved

On a recent visit to Philadelphia I observed once more that wherever you go in this city, the names William Penn (and Benjamin Franklin) bring to mind their great contributions to America.

Philadelphia skyline 370 (photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
Philadelphia skyline 370
(photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
If you want to be close to American history, travel to Philadelphia, for it is the largest city in Pennsylvania and the birthplace of the United States of America. Both the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution were signed here.
Having been born and raised in Pittsburgh, the second-largest city, located in the western part of the state, I was reminded of my native state, which by the way was given the name “Commonwealth” when it was established by William Penn in 1681 and later was one of the 13 original founding states of the United States.
On a recent visit to Philadelphia I observed once more that wherever you go in this city, the names William Penn (and Benjamin Franklin) bring to mind their great contributions to America.
I walk around Center City and gaze high up at the top of City Hall, where stands the 37-foot statue of William Penn clad in Quaker garb. Penn, an English Quaker, was the founder of Pennsylvania, and chose the name: Sylvania (woodlands). But King Charles of England made it Pennsylvania (Penn’s Woods). Penn also founded Philadelphia in 1682. The word “philadelphia” means brotherly love in Greek and the city was nicknamed “The City of Brotherly Love” and served as the capital of the US from 1790 to 1800. City Hall, by the way, is one of the tallest municipal buildings in the nation, 548 feet.
Being a history buff, the phrase “let freedom ring,” leads me to Independence National Historical Park and Independence Hall, at 520 Chestnut St., where, on July 4, 1776, the Declaration of Independence – ”one of the great documents in human history,” was adopted. The US Constitution was also signed here. Nearby is the Liberty Bell, located in Liberty Bell Center, 526 Market St. Let us not forget Betsy Ross House, at 239 Arch St. She designed the first American (Stars and Stripes) flag. Not far is Carpenter Hall, set back from Chestnut St. This housed the First Continental Congress. At Chestnut and 6th St. stands Congress Hall, home to the US Congress from 1790 to 1800, until Washington, DC, was built and ready to serve as the capital.
I stop at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, immortalized by Sylvester Stallone’s triumphed run in the film Rocky. On a previous visit, I admired the statue of the famous pugilist. I only walk, not run, up the steps, however.
Having been accustomed to viewing paintings in New York City museums, the collection at this Philadelphia house of art surprises me, both quantity and quality: More than 240,000 objects including major holdings of European, American and Asian origin. I personally know couples from out of town who spend weekends in this city, where their first stop on their list is this iconic museum, which is located at 2600 Benjamin Franklin Parkway, the cultural heart of the city. Franklin, the country’s first scientist, is honored in The Franklin Institute, a science museum, at 222 N. 20th St. It houses the Benjamin Franklin National Memorial.
Sauntering around Center City, I head to Reading Terminal Market for lunch. Housed in an old 19th century Reading Railroad station at 51 N. 12th St., this huge, diverse food oasis is part of the city’s civic fabric. I have never seen anything like it: More than 80 vendors manage food shops and eateries of every ethnicity, religion and nation; and yes, Philly cheesesteak. One sits at tables where one meets locals and visitors. After a meal, one can shop here for books, clothing and flowers, considered to be one of the largest farmers’ markets in the US.
On the topic of food, there are about a dozen kosher restaurants in the city, including a number in the suburbs. But what is exceptional for Philadelphia is the number of Middle Eastern eateries that have blossomed in recent years, including the notable Zahav, at 237 St. James Place, Philadelphia. Rave reviews for food and service. Reservations are a must. The owner of this landmark, Philadelphia establishment is Michael Solomonov, an Israeli chef and restaurateur, a pioneer in the world-wide explosion of Israeli and Mediterranean cuisine. He first won the James Beard Foundation award for Best Chef: Mid-Atlantic in 2011.
Great sports teams thrive here, with extremely loyal fans. Names like the Phillies, in baseball; the Eagles, in football; the 76ers, in basketball and the Flyers, in hockey are household words. By the way, Philadelphia fans have a reputation of not only being loyal but of possessing a touch of aggression, to say the least; especially against their rivals from New York City. One Philly friend of mine agrees; he calls them, “nasty.”
Speaking of sports, I stopped at the headquarters of Maccabi USA at 1511 Walnut St in downtown Philly. I met with Lou Moyerman, a retired physical and health education teacher, who not only a member of the USA team staff in the world Olympics in judo, but also each of Maccabiah games in Israel since 1981, except one, often serving as participating medal winner or team captain or manager, and of course, several-time, gold medalist.
In a year and a half (2021), Lou will serve as general chairman of the Maccabi USA team, which will be composed of 1,250 athletes. Lou stresses that one of his goals in shepherding the Americans to the games in Israel is to inspire them to what he has gained in Philadelphia and Israel: “A love of sports, a love of family, including the rich Maccabi family which builds the pride of being Jewish through sports.”
Leaving Maccabi USA, I walk on Walnut Street, I instantly realize that this shopping district was ranked 12th in 2005 by Women’s Wear Daily. Later, I learn that Walnut Street is on the list of most expensive retail streets in North America. Also, a great small park, along a part of Walnut St, is known as Rittenhouse Square. Good place to rest.
Super colleges make up Philadelphia, among them the University of Pennsylvania, Drexel University, Temple University and Villanova University. So, tourists to the US and Americans, visit the largest city in Pennsylvania. You don’t have to put this city on the map, it’s been there a long time.
Ben G. Frank, travel writer and travel talk presenter, is the author of A Travel Guide to Jewish Europe, 4th ed., (Pelican Publishing) and the just-published historical novel: Klara’s War, (, as well as The Scattered Tribe, Traveling the Diaspora from Cuba to India to Tahiti and Beyond, (Globe Pequot Press). Follow him on Twitter @bengfrank.