History of the Independence Hall Association

The Independence Hall Association (IHA) was founded in 1942 to spearhead the creation of Independence National Historical Park. IHA was a leader in publishing historical material on the Internet, launching ushistory.org in 1995, and continues to provide quality educational content online.

IHA founders

Photograph of the founders of the IHA.
If you can identify any of these people, please contact us.
Picture courtesy of the Atwater Kent Museum of Philadelphia.

IHA founders
  • 10. Frances Anne Wister, founder of the Landmarks Society and preservation activist (thanks to Paula Spilner)
  • 12. Right Reverend Bernard McKenna, Catholic priest and president of the American Catholic Historical Society (thanks to Marita J. Krivda)
  • 15. Roy Frank Larson (thanks to Cynthia Larson Kline)

Informal History of the Independence Hall Association

Published by the National Park Service

This history describes the efforts of the association to bring about Independence Mall and Independence National Historical Park. It also describes the roles of the key individuals in the association. The piece was written about 1951, probably by Elizabeth Borie, who was the daughter of D. Knickerbacker Boyd. She played a major role in the association for 20 years, first as an assistant to her father and after his death as the primary worker in the association. Source: Independence National Historical Park archives, Independence Hall Association Papers, David Knickerbacker Boyd collection, Box 2.

In 1941 Judge Edwin 0. Lewis was President of the Pennsylvania Society of Sons of the Revolution. Immediately after the Pearl Harbor attack and this country was in World War II, Judge Lewis decided that some steps should be taken to protect Independence Hall, the Liberty Bell, Carpenters' Hall and other historic old buildings in downtown Philadelphia. He appointed a Committee on the protection of historic buildings and named as Chairman the late D. Knickerbacker Boyd, well known as an architect and city planner, together with a group of other distinguished citizens, members of the Sons of the Revolution.

The Insurance Company of North America, which was organized in Independence Hall, agreed to contribute the cost and arrange for the work of providing an underground steel and concrete pit and elevator so that the Liberty Bell could be quickly protected in the event of an air raid. It was then determined that the priceless historic buildings were subject to a great fire hazard due to the proximity to a large number of inflammable old buildings, the district being counted a conflagration risk by the fire protection interests. Judge Lewis then determined to encourage the Committee to undertake a more ambitious program of eliminating the greater part of the fire risk by creating a historic park east of Independence Square. Later this was amplified to provide for the State Mall north of Independence Square to connect up with the Delaware River Bridge approach both for fire protection purposes and to facilitate the movement of out of town visitors to the historic shrines of old Philadelphia; as well as to beautify their enshrinement. This project was more ambitious than could be successfully undertaken by the Pennsylvania Society of the Sons of the Revolution alone and Judge Lewis and Mr. Boyd planned a larger organization of civic historic and patriotic organizations. Mr. Boyd, thereupon on May 21, 1941, sent out notices calling a meeting of representatives of 52 such organizations to plan for the "conservation and improvement of historic Philadelphia." Judge Lewis, as President of the Sons of the Revolution, presided at this meeting which was held in the Hall of the American Philosophical Society; a Committee of three members was appointed to make recommendations for the formation of a permanent organization and to present a slate of officers to be elected. Roy F. Larson was appointed Chairman of this Organization Committee, the other two members being Dr. William E. Lingelbach and D. Knickerbacker Boyd.

On June 30, 1942, in the hall of the American Philosophical Society, this proposed organization, "The Independence Hall Association," came into being with the officers elected in accordance with the slate presented by the Organization Committee. The Honorable Edwin 0. Lewis was elected President; the other officers included Miss Frances A. Wister, Roy F. Larson, and William E. Lingelbach, Vice Presidents; Joseph F. Stockwell, Treasurer; and D. Knickerbacker Boyd, Secretary.

The newly formed Independence Hall Association at once set out with zeal to seek cooperation with City, State and Federal authorities and to arouse public interest. By-laws were drawn, stated meetings held in the buildings of its member organizations, memberships increased from the 52 Founders to 275 individuals and organizations.

Close collaboration was established with the City Planning Commission created by City councils in December 1942, and with the Philadelphia Chapter, American Institute of Architects, with full recourse to its valuable compilation of data on historic buildings in the city.

Distinguished plans of the proposed development of the Independence Hall area, plans which have served as a basis for all subsequent state and federal planning, were drawn by the eminent Architect and Vice President of the Association, Roy F. Larson.

Through the untiring efforts of Judge Lewis, the Board of Directors and the small but inspired nucleus of members, many of the dreams of city patriots and planners of the past 50 years have already been, or are in the process of being, enacted into state and federal laws.

The Independence Hall Association thus organized was completely non-political, non-profit and volunteer.

Judge Lewis immediately opened negotiations with the Mayor and City Council to have the Independence Hall group of buildings declared a national shrine under the Act of Congress; and the Department of the Interior agreed upon a form of contract, and this was signed in 1943. The contract continued in effect until January, 195 1, when a new contract became effective by which the custody of the Independence Square and the Independence Hall group of buildings was legally transferred to the National Park Service of the Department of the Interior; this has resulted in immediate substantial improvements made for the preservation and beautification of Independence Hall, Congress Hall and the Federal Court House at Fifth and Chestnut streets. Arrangements are now being consummated for the Federal Government to spend $50,000.00 in erecting suitable public conveniences underground adjacent to Congress Hall; thus filling a long time need to accommodate visitors.

The Founders, long disturbed by the dangerous congestion of buildings that threatened the safety of Independence Hall, envisaged a beautiful Mall; one a full block wide that should sweep from these sacred portals clear to the entrance of the Delaware River Bridge, one that should eliminate fire hazards and provide a suitably dignified approach to this most treasured Landmark.

In the words of Dr. William Lingelbach, distinguished historian and vice president of the Independence Hall Association, "...in 1945, Governor Martin and the Legislature at Harrisburg, already concerned about the lack of dignified approaches to Independence Hall, and the fire hazards from antiquated buildings on the north, were induced to set aside a sum of from four to eight million dollars for a great Concourse, or Mall, between Fifth and Sixth Streets from Race Street at the Delaware River bridgehead to Independence Square. By the acquisition of the properties in these nine city blocks, and their demolition to make room for landscaping, parking, and the reconstruction of historic buildings, an appropriate and dignified approach to the National Shrine from the north will be created. "The federal park to the east of Independence Hall, to be known as the Independence National Historical Park Project, was conceived in Philadelphia, according to federal Architect-Historian, Charles E. Peterson, "as a means of reclaiming some of the neighborhood around the old State House now a decaying commercial area ridden with parking lots. Under the leadership of Judge Edwin 0. Lewis as president of the Independence Hall Association and Chairman of two special Federal Commissions, widespread public interest and support were aroused. Bills passed by Congress in 1948 and 1949 established the project, appropriated a half million dollars in cash, and authorized contracts to the extent of $3,935,000 more for the purchase of land. The area will officially become a national historical park and ready for the reception of visitors by the National Park Service when certain important historic buildings and two-thirds of the total of the lands have been acquired."

Members of the original Federal Commission, to which Mr. Peterson refers, include: Mr. George McAneny, Hon. Robert N. McGarvey, Hon. Hugh Martin Morris, Hon. Francis Myers, Dr. Carl Van Doren, Mr. Albert M. Greenfield, Vice Chairman, Hon. Edwin 0. Lewis, Chairman.

The second commission, or Advisory Board of eleven members working with the National Park Service was appointed by Secretary of the Interior Krug in 1949, upon the recommendation of three by the Governor of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, three by the Mayor of the City of Philadelphia, and one each by the Carpenters' Company and the Independence Hall Association. The members are: Chairman, Judge Edwin 0. Lewis; Vice-Chairman, Edward Hopkinson, Jr.; Secretary, Michael J. Bradley; Members: Thomas Buckley, Albert M. Greenfield, John P. Hallahan, Arthur C. Kaufmann, Sydney E. Martin, Honorable Francis J. Myers, Isaac W. Roberts, Frederic R. Mann.

In the nine years since the formation of the Independence Hall Association, Judge Lewis and the supporters o this great civic project have been called constantly to Washington to appear at hearings directed by Dr. Drury, Dean of the National Park Service, department of Public Lands and other Legislative Committee Hearings.

With groups of the officers and directors of the Independence Hall Association and leaders of affiliated civic, City Planning and Patriotic organizations, the Judge has made many trips to Harrisburg to present testimony before Legislative Committees and Sub-Committees; before the Joint State Government Commission; Chief Engineer of the Department of Highways, E. L. Schmidt; and the Secretary, Department of Forests and Waters, Admiral Milo Draemel; and before the Governors of the State of Pennsylvania, the Honorable Edward G. Martin, the Honorable James H. Duff, and the Honorable John S. Fine.

Judge Lewis has testified repeatedly before Philadelphia City Councils and has organized open meetings o interested Citizenry in the Chambers of his Honor, Mayor Samuel, who, as Honorary President of the Independence Hall Association, has been a staunch and active supporter from its formation.

The Judge has welcomed and entertained many Commissions of Legislators both from the Commonwealth and the Federal Government. He has gathered together representatives of the outstanding organizations of the City to give testimony before these dignitaries, often in historic Congress Hall itself, has escorted the visitors over the proposed Park areas, and explained the significance of each historic spot.

When Federal, State, or Municipal funds were not available, and the slim resources of the Independence Hall Association, supported as it is by the personal subscriptions of $1.00 and upwards from its 275 members, were exhausted, the Judge has personally wired, written and phoned to raise the funds necessary to continue the vital activities of the Association.

From 1942 to the present date, increasingly, as the project has become recognized as one of the utmost importance to city, state and nation, President Lewis and Vice-President Roy Larson have given generously of their time to address interested civic, cultural, and patriotic groups on the plans and progress of both the State and Federal Malls.

To further popularize its cause, the Association has arranged numerous Exhibits, particularly outstanding that in 1943, of early Philadelphia prints and documents, of unusual historic value, in old Congress Hall under the supervision of Historians Mrs. Joseph Carson and Mr. Joseph McCosker.

In 1944 the Association, under Judge Lewis, had a large landscaped model made of the proposed Park Areas which aroused wide-spread public interest when displayed on the main aisle of the John Wanamaker Store, again when in the great city Planning Exhibit in the Gimbel Store, later when in the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society's Flower and Landscaping show, and finally when placed on permanent exhibition in the Old Congress Hall.

Several times during its nine years, the Association has arranged to have printed and widely distributed to interested groups and to legislative Committees, certain pamphlets depicting its activities. Particularly influential was the distinguished brochure prepared and financed in 1945 by the Fairmount Park Art Association under the direction of its President, Sydney E. Martin, a leader, from its formation, in the Independence Hall Movement.

In spite of slow and often disappointing progress, and in the face of many seemingly unsurmountable obstacles, Judge Lewis has maintained the same enthusiastic zeal and indomitable spirit that has characterized his leadership from the start.

Many of the buildings in the block to the north of the Hall have already been demolished. Within the next twelve months, due to the unfailing efforts of the Independence Hall Association, and in a mere ten years from its formation, many significant changes will actually become visible in the historic area of the Nation's foremost Shrine.

The IHA Today

IHA continues to provide online content that educates, inspires, and entertains visitors worldwide. We are concurrently devoted to working with other historic and tourist organizations in Philadelphia to help bring visitors to this most venerable and vibrant of American cities.

We want to reach out to historic-minded people from America and abroad interested in the founding of the United States, and the principles of liberty and democratic government that emerged during the Revolutionary and Constitutional periods in Philadelphia.

We have worked with a variety of prominent historic societies and universities on projects pertaining to the country’s founding. And we continue to network with other educational entities, using modern media to tell our nation's story.

The IHA is a Pennsylvania nonprofit corporation which is exempt from federal income tax as a public charity under Sections 501 (c) (3) and 509 of the Internal Revenue Code. The Association is governed by a volunteer Board of Directors.