In March, I spent a weekend in Philadelphia for a friend’s wedding. On Saturday morning, I stole away for a few hours to walk around the historic core of the city. In particular, I wanted to walk the “cabinet neighborhood.” In my work, I explore how the Philadelphia neighborhood shaped the development of the executive branch, and the cabinet in particular.
Although Philadelphia was the largest and most cosmopolitan center in the United States in the 1790s, the elite neighborhoods were still tiny. Most of the wealthy families lived south of Market Street (or High Street) in between Third and Ninth Streets. Many of the first government officials also lived in the neighborhood and opened their government offices on the same streets. For reference, here is a map of Philadelphia in 1807. Most of the streets would have been similar in 1793.
Using city directories and private correspondence, I’ve figured out where the Washington administration secretaries worked and lived. I have edited the above map to include my best guess of those locations.
So finding myself in Philadelphia, I set out to walk from one side of the cabinet neighborhood to the other. Just a few traces remained of the original sights and sounds. It only took me a few minutes to walk from Attorney General Edmund Randolph’s house to Secretary Treasury Alexander Hamilton’s office. Along the way, I passed the museum for the President’s House, which the National Park Service opened in 2007.
If you stand on the far left side of the museum, you can see Independence Hall. Just as Washington would have seen the steeple from his office window.
Around the corner from the President’s House is the Thomas Jefferson garden. I believe the War Department offices would have been here in 1793.
Alexander Hamilton’s Treasury Department were located just on the other side of the same block and he lived across the street from his offices.
As I was walking around, I was struck by how many other important sites and offices were in the same area. For example, Ben Franklin lived across the street until his death in 1790. The Auditors office was right next to the Treasury Department and the first national bank was right next door.
Similarly, Carpenter’s Hall is just one block from the Treasury and War Departments. The first Continental Congress met in Carpenter’s Hall – which must have brought back memories for Washington, Adams, and others.
I love that the city has preserved some of the old cobblestone walk ways in the historic core. If you stare at Carpenter’s Hall, squint your eyes so you don’t see the electricity, block out the sounds of cars, and image the smell of sewage, you can almost pretend you are back in the 1790s for a moment.
Walking around the neighborhood gave me an even greater appreciation for the tight-knit community. If I saw several of the same tourists multiple times, I imagine the first office holders would have bumped into each other often. It puts a whole new spin on the Jefferson-Hamilton feud and gives me a lot to think about.