Central Roles

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"Congress Hall and New Theatre, in Chestnut Street"

Congress Hall: Brick building lining a dirt street with many pedestrians

Courtesy, Independence National Historical Park

W.H. Birch (1744–1834), Philadelphia . . . in the Year 1800.

Congress Hall, at left, was built in 1787-89 as a county court house. The U.S. Congress occupied it from 1790 until the capital was moved to Washington City in 1800; both Washington and Adams were inaugurated here. The New Theatre, at right, was built in 1791-94. By the time Lewis got back to Philadelphia in 1807 the New Theatre had been remodelled by the famous architect Benjamin Latrobe. It was destroyed by fire in 1820.

—Joseph Mussulman

The city had lost its central role in the federal government, but not in science and medicine. Jefferson remained president of the American Philosophical society long after he had ceased to be President of the United States. Philosophical Hall was now also the home of the College of Physicians.

Nor were artistic and cultural institutions faltering. Charles Willson Peale had just moved his museum from Philosophical Hall into the second floor of the State House next door; his son Rembrandt occupied the Assembly Room (where the Declaration was approved and signed) as a portrait studio. Though it had given up its role of de facto Library of Congress, the Library Company, also a one-time occupant of the State House, was now comfortably situated across the street in Library Hall. One of its proud possessions was the large scholarly library of George Logan's grandfather James.

Despite Quaker disapproval of idle pleasures, the Chestnut Street Theater was presenting dramas, proudly distinguishing them from the equestrian exhibitions of Rickett's Circus. An equestrian group rivaling Rickets would soon modify its program and its arena to become the Walnut Street Theater.

Wherever Dickerson and Lewis interrupted their walks and rides, perhaps at City Tavern or (less likely) at A Man Full of Troubles, they paid with coins produced at the first U.S. Mint at 7th Street. Denominations in cents and half-cents were probably sufficient for the tavern bills of the time. The salary of the director of the mint was $2000 per year, that of the Treasurer $1200. True, both Patterson and Rush, who filled those posts respectively, had other sources of income. Still . . . .

The portraitist Gilbert Stuart, the author of the famous epithet describing Federalist Philadelphia as the Athens of America, was preparing to move to Washington at the end of the year. His sitters had included the political and social elite of the city, temporary residents like George Washington and the Adamses, and permanent ones like Bishop William White.

Funded in part by a grant from the National Park Service Challenge Cost Share