Yellow Van Travels

Franklin Court and the Benjamin Franklin Museum

A couple blocks from Independence Hall is a nondescript brick building, a tunnel like pass leads in to a courtyard where the home of Benjamin Franklin once stood. This area is known as Franklin Court. Franklin Court is managed by the National Parks Service and contains several different areas, all dedicated to the life of Benjamin Franklin. The largest area and the one you will spend the most time in is the Benjamin Franklin Museum.


How to Get There:

If you have parked at the National Constitution Center and are seeing the city center sites around Independence Hall then Franklin Court is just a short walk away. If you are standing facing Independence Hall from across the street you just turn left and walk a few blocks. You will have to cross to the Independence Hall side of the street at one of the lights. There will be sign posts pointing the directions to the various historical sites and you just have to follow the ones showing the way to Franklin Court. Don’t get confused by signs pointing toward Franklin Square, this is a different place entirely.
Be aware that the Franklin Court sites close at 5:00 PM during the off season (September to May). If you are going during the summer check their website for the current  hours. Just make sure to give yourself enough time for your visit. It is best if you can start your historic Philadelphia activities early in the day so you can avoid long lines and have plenty of time for everything.

What You Will See:

The areas of Franklin Court are: the Benjamin Franklin Museum, the Print Shop, the Post Office, the Ghost House, and the Fragments of Franklin Court. Each of these has something to teach you about the life of Benjamin Franklin, but the museum is the most involved and will take the most time.

Benjamin Franklin Museum

Readers who have been following the blog for a while know that I like museums a lot, but because of my own work in the museum field I can sometimes be critical of the educational impact of their exhibits. The Benjamin Franklin Museum however, was one of the best designed museums I have ever visited.
In the museum you learn about the life of Benjamin Franklin through the lenses of five qualities he prized. Each section of the museum focuses on a different quality with displays, artifacts, and media explaining what Franklin thought and did about each of them. There is a good balance in the museum between different types of information. The animation style they used in their video displays wasn’t my favorite, but that’s not too big of a complaint.
The museum costs $5.00 for adults and $2.00 for children. You pay at the front desk when you enter the museum building but all of the exhibits are downstairs underneath the buildings and the court yard. You should allow about an hour for the museum, because it is a focused museum it doesn’t take too long but there is quite a bit that you can do there.

Print Shop

The print shop is probably the second coolest thing to see at Franklin Court, so if you are short on time after seeing the museum be sure to go here next. The print shop is on the left side of the tunnel if you are looking from inside the square, there are signs but they aren’t always easy to see. The door immediately to the left of the tunnel goes to the Fragments of Franklin Court exhibit, but if you go around the side you will find two doors that go to the print shop, you enter through the one on the right and you will exit through the one on the left.
The print shop is not where Benjamin Franklin’s actual shop was, but it is set up to look like a shop from his time period. National Park rangers run the fully functioning printing shop and will explain all the different parts to you. I think during busy times they might be a little more formal about it, but when we were there there weren’t many people so they just answered question that we asked. It is fun to see real printing demonstration.
Seeing the print shop is free and should take you between 10 and 30 minutes.

Post Office

The post office is on the right side of the tunnel, but it was closed the day we were there so we don’t know much about it. Just like the print shop you enter it from the door inside the courtyard rather than the one facing the street.

The purpose of the post office is to commemorate Benjamin Franklin’s role as the organizer of the postal system and first post master general. I am told that it still functions as a post office so you can actually send mail from it.

Ghost House

I don’t know what goes through your mind when you read the words “ghost house” but it’s probably not what it actually is. In this case ghost house has nothing to do with Halloween and is actually referring to the outline of Franklin’s old house that use to stand in the court. You can see how large it was because there is wrought iron frame in the exact dimensions of the house.
Covered holes inside the house frame let you look down on pieces of the actual foundation of Benjamin Franklin’s house, and engraved paving stones throughout the court tell you where different parts of the home and grounds were located.
It is pretty cool to see especially if you have just been to the museum and learned all about Franklin’s life. It will only take you a few minutes to walk around see it.

Fragments of Franklin Court

This is a special exhibit run by the National Parks rangers and it is inside the door immediately to the left of the court’s entrance tunnel. It turns out that among the many thing Benjamin Franklin created in his life time, one of them was a fire proof house. This building happens to be that house and it has been stripped down to bare walls to show the things that Franklin did to make it fire proof.
I get the sense that this must be the loneliest ranger job in the city because there is just a single ranger at the exhibit and it seemed like very few people stop to see it. It’s kind of cool to see, and really doesn’t take very long. It does however involve climbing stairs which means that it is not a fully accessible site. There is no cost for going in.

Sum Up:

Franklin Court as a whole gives you a great glimpse into the life of one of America’s greatest founders. It isn’t on the absolute must see list for Philadelphia, if your strapped for time or lines are long then you’ll want to focus on Independence Hall and the Liberty Bell. But I think if you can make the time to see it you definitely should. It is a great place especially to take kids who may not have liked standing in line al that time for the Liberty Bell this is a place where they can get some hands on time and learn something in the process.
As a side note Benjamin Franklin’s grave is located not far from here in the cemetery at Christ’s Church. We were unable to visit it on this trip, but I have been there before. Some people like to visit graves, some people don’t, do whatever suits you.