Philadelphia has an overwhelming amount of historic sites and museums, but there’s a lot of history many travelers may miss. Historic people and places that helped shape our nation abound, and there’s one early Philadelphian who left the city and the country quite a legacy. Stephen Girard’s presence can still be felt and visited around Philadelphia.
Stephen Girard was a Revolutionary War-era Philadelphian, a self-made millionaire who started as a cabin boy and eventually owned a fleet of cargo ships. When Girard died in 1831, his estate was worth $7.5 million, the equivalent of several billion dollars today. He wasn’t just a rich guy, he was the Bill Gates of his day, considered one of the top five richest Americans in history. He used the money to help the then-fledgling American government finance (and win) the War of 1812.
Girard left the bulk of his money to the establishment of Girard College, a boarding home for poor, fatherless boys to be admitted when between the ages of 6 and 9. From age 6 to 17, I was a student at Girard College. A native Philadelphian, my father died when I was 4. Because of the excellent education and guidance provided me there, I was able to go on to university studies and a successful business career.
Stephen Girard Collection at Girard College
The Stephen Girard Collection is a museum on the grounds of Girard College. It contains Girard’s personal artifacts and honors the life of an early American patriot and business genius with the unique ability to accumulate great wealth. The institution, which opened in 1848, is on 43 acres, located at 2101 S. College Ave. in North Philadelphia. The museum is located on the Girard campus on the second floor of Founder’s Hall.
The collection includes original furniture, silverware, ceramics, journals, paintings, his carriage, and other articles from Girard’s estate. A life-sized statue and tomb of the founder are located on the first floor. Tours of the Girard Collection, Founder’s Hall, and/or the entire campus are given free to the public on Thursdays from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Other days may be accommodated by appointment.
Girard Bank Building
Girard took over what was the First Bank of the United States in 1811 and opened his own bank. This included taking over the bank’s building, which still stands today, as part of the Independence National Historic Park. The building exterior can be visited (120 S. Third St., Philadelphia), but the inside is currently under renovation. Girard Bank, which I was a customer of, operated until 1983, when it was merged with Mellon Bank and the Girard name retired.
The City Tavern
The City Tavern (138 S. Second St., Philadelphia) dates back to 1773. This restaurant still brings memories of when I was a student at Girard College many decades ago. Only a few steps from the Girard Bank building, it’s located within the Independence Historical Park. Aside from the good food and period costumes worn by the staff, we always enjoyed visiting a tavern where we knew Stephen Girard must have also eaten.
Ted Sherman has spent a lifetime traveling. With journeys to every continent, almost 100 cruises, and multiple group tours, he enjoys sharing his travel experiences and knowledge with others. Follow Ted on Twitter @travel4seniors and on his travel blog, travel4seniors.com.
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