An article dedicated to the man who lived and breathed Philadelphia Freedom.
Prodigious inventor and statesman. Revolutionary scientist. Bonafide ladies man. Boundary-pushing publisher and printer. Champion swimmer?
Without question, Benjamin Franklin is one of the most iconic men in American history. Now, here’s the history behind three PartySpace venues that have strong ties to Philly’s favorite Founding Father.
Powel House, located in the heart of Old City, is a 18th century landmark full of political intrigue. The mansion was once home to Samuel and Elizabeth Powel. Samuel was the first mayor of Philadelphia post-revolution, and he and his wife hosted lavish parties for the political elite of the time at their Philadelphia mansion.
John Adams wrote that he had had the, “Most sinful feast,” while he attended a party there.
While Elizabeth Powel was mostly known for her close ties to George Washington, Benjamin Franklin had visited and stayed overnight at the Powel House on several occasions, including a celebration of the Washington’s 20th wedding anniversary.
“Undoubtedly, Franklin partied here,” shared Jonathan Burton, former Executive Director for the Philadelphia Society for the Preservation of Landmarks.
“He became who he was here,” said Burton, regarding Franklin’s enduring legacy in Philly. “He came at a young age and established himself a printer. Before becoming a banker, inventor, or scientist.”
In a letter that Franklin had written to his wife, Deborah, he shared details of his stay, “we danced at Mr. Powel's your Birth day or night I should say in company to— gether.”
This venue has been known to even host ghost tours around the property. Who’s to say that the spirit of Benjamin Franklin doesn’t stop by for a visit?
From Mrs. — Powel (unpublished)
Monday June 16 1788
Mrs. Powel flatters herself she need make no Apology for the Liberty she takes with Doctor Franklin in requesting the Favor of him to let his Sedan Chair attend the Commands of a Virginia Gentleman, who is laboring under such severe and weakening Complaints as renders him incapable of being removed in a Wheel Carriage from his present Lodgings in Walnut Street to Mr. Hunters, which his Physicians esteem a more healthy and quiet Situation for him. If it accords with the Doctors Convenience Mr. Powel’s Servant will attend at 12 oClock to direct to the Gentlemans Lodgings.
Mrs. Powel hopes the Doctors Health is perfectly good this very fine Day.
Addressed: His Excellency Benjamin Franklin
When the original Masonic Temple of Philadelphia was burnt to the ground, the structure that is now ONE North Broad, was constructed in 1873 in its place. Even though Franklin’s died in 1790, his influence is still prominent within the halls at ONE North Broad.
This historical landmark has been referred to as one of the great “wonders” of the Masonic world, and their doors are open to the public for guided tours.
Brother Walt VanWinkle of the Philadelphia chapter of the Freemasons is a descendant of Franklin’s, being his first cousin, eight times removed, to be exact.
“He believed that democracy cannot exist on laws,” said VanWinkle. “Men needed virtue.”
VanWinkle shared his favorite bit of Franklin trivia, “Did you know he was a champion swimmer? He is in the Swimmer’s Hall of Fame.”
As a matter of fact, Franklin, being the water bug that he was, he invented swimming fins and kite surfing.
“I keep finding out new things about Franklin, and I am outstanded by him,” said VanWinkle.
It is universally understood that Benjamin Franklin had a reputation for being controversial.
“Franklin was a very controversial Grand Master,” shared VanWinkle. “We [the brothers] all laugh that we build statues, but they used to shun him. The Masons didn’t always think highly of him that way.”
VanWinkle expanded and shared that while Franklin loved Freemasonry, there came a time that he started to gravitate toward less elaborate rituals. Franklin became involved with a clandestine lodge called the La Loge des Neuf Sœurs [The Nine Sisters] while he spent time in France. This organization allowed women and atheists to join, situations that the Philadelphia-based assembly frowned upon.
Now there’s a museum at ONE North Broad that has some of Franklin’s belongings, including etchings of his prints, an etching of an apron he had, and a copy of the Anderson Constitution, which details the basis of modern Freemasonry and its operations.
After spending hours at congress at Independence Hall, the Founding Fathers would wind down with a pint at City Tavern. You can enjoy an ale in the same place where Franklin and the other men who founded our democracy cut loose and celebrated the first Fourth of July back in 1777.
While City Tavern caught fire in March of 1834, you can still dine at the City Tavern today, thanks to Chef Walter Steib. The James Beard-nominated chef took an active interest in 18th century cuisine and sharing that experience with audiences, so he reopened City Tavern on July 4, 1994.
You can watch Chef Steib step back into time on his PBS show, the Emmy-winning series ‘A Taste of History,’ where he elaborates on America’s history and the food that helped build our nation.
Dining at City Tavern today is an immersive and as close to an authentic 18th century experience as one can get. The servers are history buffs, and they dress in time period clothes. To fully round out this experience, you’ll notice many recipes on the menu that come from the Founding Fathers themselves, including Franklin’s fried tofu.
Franklins recipe was taken from a letter he had written in 1770 to Philadelphia’s John Bartram (world-class botanist, of Bartram’s Garden fame). This breaded fried tofu comes with sides of seasoned vegetables, sautéed tomatoes and herbs, and linguine.
“He got the recipe from Chinese immigrants in London, however his health-food craze and vegetarianism was shortly lived.” shared Aaron White, a researcher from ‘A Taste of History.’