At one time, a city’s harbors were one of its most important assets: travelers, cargo, and trade were conducted via the ships entering or leaving ports, and as such they were a critical hub for food, labor, and supplies. The Independence Seaport Museum in Philadelphia is a fantastic place to go to learn more about not just the history of the maritime trade but also the history of the city as a whole.
The Independence Seaport Museum was founded in 1961 by attorney Joseph Welles Henderson, a maritime collector worried that people were forgetting about the history of Philadelphia’s ports. First renting space in the Atheneum to share his artifacts, the museum would move two more times until it reached its current location in 1995 in the former Port of History Museum. The Port of History Museum had been built for the city’s Bicentennial Celebration. Construction finished a year late, and the Pennsylvania Historical Museum Commission had no funds to operate it. The building was put up for sale but there were no buyers, so it sat unused until 1981 when it was used for displaying a hodgepodge of Philadelphia-related artifacts and closed in 1993.
The Independence Seaport Museum, it has a variety of engaging exhibits: visitors can tour the USS Olympia and submarine USS Becuna, and learn more about the slave trade and underground railroad in Philadelphia, disasters and rescues along the Delaware River, the environment and ecology, immigration, trade, and navigation. There is also a collection of paintings and the J. Welles Henderson Archives and Library, which is a fantastic resource for researchers. Programs include the River Ambassadors, which teaches how to test water quality, the Sailor Program, which teaches boat-building skills, and paddleboat and kayak excursions.
It’s easy to overlook the Independence Seaport Museum as Penn’s Landing is somewhat cut off from Old City by the highway, and the museum is hidden away behind a hotel, but it’s a great place to stop by if you have an interest in life on the oceans and riverfront were like. Like many small and midsized museums, you can spend a fun afternoon there learning about a subject you may not yet have discovered you have an interest in, and the tours offered there are well worth it. The museum is open Saturdays through Mondays and you can find more info on hours and events on their website https://www.phillyseaport.org/onwater/
Matthew Christopher PA Philadelphia Dec 05, 2022 Museums Places to Visit