Stephen Girard Tour
This is a tour of sites associated with businessman and philanthropist Stephen Girard (1750-1831), the richest Americam of his era.
Within two weeks of arriving in Philadelphia in June 1776, French immigrant Stephen Girard rented a store on Water Street, the street that would be home to the future multi-millionaire for most of his life. After relocating during the British occupation of Philadelphia, Girard returned to Water Street, where he would have two long-term residences: one at 31 Water Street that he rented beginning in 1778 and one he later built at 23 Water Street in 1796 and lived in until his death in 1831. Over those years, Girard would amass a fortune in shipping, banking, and real estate that made him the richest American of his time. The 23 Water Street home, located on the block between Market and Arch Streets, included a five-story house with an attached two-story counting-house for business. Here Girard and his housekeepers provided for numerous young relatives and teenage apprentices and entertained business associates and French émigrés. By the mid-20th century, Girard’s property and most the rest of Water Street had been torn down for construction of I-95. To view the spot where the house once stood, stroll along the Market Street pedestrian overpass and look north over the highway. Although the house is no longer extant, furniture and possessions from Stephen Girard’s home can be seen at the Founder’s Hall museum at Girard College.
Once the site of an improvised dockside footpath, Delaware Avenue was constructed 1834-1835 to improve access along the Philadelphia waterfront, using money left for this purpose by merchant and financier Stephen Girard. The street was widened and extended repeatedly through the 19th and 20th centuries, a project that continues to this day. In 1992 the portion of Delaware Avenue south of Spring Garden Street was renamed Christopher Columbus Boulevard.
The First Bank of the United States is the country’s oldest bank building and the only federal building left from George Washington's presidency. Completed in 1795, it served as the nation’s first central bank until 1811 when its charter was not renewed by Congress. Wealthy businessman Stephen Girard operated his own private bank at this site afterwards for nearly two decades. The bank is thought to have been designed by Samuel Blodgett, although some argue James Hoben was the architect. Regardless, the three-story, neo-classically designed building provided a fitting home for the National Bank. It is now part of the larger Independence National Historical Park and has been since 1955. It is currently not open to the public while its future is being determined. It was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1966 and achieved National Landmark Status in 1987.
Part of Philadelphia’s Independence National Historical Park, the building that is most famous for housing the Second Bank of the United States was completed in 1824. It represented the nation’s second effort at creating a national bank after the First Bank was not re-chartered in 1811. It served as the nation’s bank until it was dismantled, largely by President Andrew Jackson, in 1836. The building now serves the city as an art gallery that features its “People of Independence” exhibit. This exhibit displays over 150 portraits of influential 18th and 19th century Americans. The building was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1987.
These five Greek Revival homes in the Society Hill neighborhood give a glimpse into the landscape of 1830s Philadelphia. This “Girard Row” of five houses was constructed 1831-1833 by mason John Struthers on property owned by by merchant and financier Stephen Girard and are a surviving example of the income-producing rental buildings that Girard liked to build on his many properties throughout Philadelphia.
Established in 1789 to serve the German Catholic community, Holy Trinity Church was the first American parish created to serve a specific national or linguistic group. Stephen Girard was buried in the churchyard in 1831, before being reinterred in Girard College in 1851. The churchyard is also referenced in Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s poem "Evangeline". In addition to the churchyard, Holy Trinity also acquired a strip of the St. Mary’s graveyard between 5th and 6th street. Holy Trinity parish merged with St. Mary’s in 2009 and the church was closed in 2019.
Founded by Dr. Thomas Bond and Benjamin Franklin, the Pine Building of Pennsylvania Hospital, which opened in 1756, is the site of many American firsts. The hospital itself was the first in the nation, and within its walls are the first surgical amphitheatre, first hospital apothecary, and first medical library (all dating to 1804). It was the first American hospital to treat mental illness as a curable sickness and not possession. On its grounds are a Colonial garden and the Physic Garden, which is dedicated to 18th century medicinal plants and herbs. Its staff has included the father of clinical medicine (Dr. Thomas Bond), the father of American psychiatry (Dr. Benjamin Rush), and the father of American surgery (Dr. Philip Syng Physick) [2; 5].
The Stephen Girard building, now the Hilton Canopy hotel, was built in 1897 and stands on a city block once entirely owned by Philadelphia merchant, banker, and philanthropist Stephen Girard (1750-1831). Although he himself lived on Water Street, Girard invested widely in real estate and on July 1, 1807 he purchased the block bounded by Market, Chestnut, 11th and 12th . Girard originally planned to situate Girard College on this block, but he later purchased a larger property specifically for the school and this site was developed as commercial property to financially support the school.
In August of 1793, a deadly outbreak of yellow fever began to sweep through the city of Philadelphia; over the next three months approximately 10% of the city’s population would die as a result of the epidemic. Bush Hill, an estate outside the city belonging to William Hamilton was requisitioned and turned into a fever hospital. Although two-fifths of Philadelphia's population had fled to the countryside, citizens Stephen Girard and Peter Helm remained in the city and volunteered to supervise the hospital. Doctors Jean Deveze and Benjamin Duffield cared for the patients at Bush Hill according to the "French method" of rest and rehabilitation. There is nothing left of Bush Hill today; the house was demolished in 1875 and the area is now home to the Community College of Philadelphia.
This bronze statue of businessman and philanthropist Stephen Girard, sculpted by J. Massey Rhind, was originally installed on the plaza outside City Hall in 1897. The work was relocated to the Art Museum in 1977. Born in Bordeaux, France, Stephen Girard (1750-1831) came to Philadelphia in 1776 and made immense fortunes in shipping, banking and real estate that combined to make him the wealthiest American of his time.
Girard College is a 1st-12th grade independent school in Philadelphia that has provided free education and boarding for financially disadvantaged students since it first opened in 1848. Despite the name “College,” Girard has always been a residential school for students between the ages of six and eighteen. The boarding school was created and financed through the will of Stephen Girard, one of the first millionaires in US history, who originally endowed the school for “poor white male orphans.” Owing to the rigorous efforts of civil rights activists to desegregate the school, Girard admitted its first non-white students in 1968; the school became coeducational in 1984. Today, Girard students represent various cultural backgrounds, but all come from families with demonstrated financial need and with one or no birth parents living at home. For much of its history, the school taught a dual curriculum of academic subjects and vocational skill training; today it is fully college-preparatory. Girard College is a significant site in local history and a place of opportunity, student life, and achievement for many generations of students. Please note that Girard College is an active residential school, and campus is only open to the public for advertised events. Founder’s Hall Museum is open to the public for walk-in visitation on Thursdays, 9:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. unless otherwise noted, with additional times available by appointment. Visitors are required to check in with the Security Office and present photo ID upon arrival.
Stephen Girard (1750-1831) came to Philadelphia in 1776 and made immense fortunes in shipping, banking and real estate that combined to make him the wealthiest American of his time, When he died in 1831, among his bequests was money to create a school for both boys and girls in Passyunk Township, an area where he had owned a farm for decades. The school opened in 1833, but eventually closed and the building was turned over to the school district in 1867. The current Stephen Girard Elementary School, a public school in the Philadelphia school district, is the third school building on the site.
Once the early 19th-century working farm of America’s first multi-millionaire that has since been transformed into a public park, the Stephen Girard Park is today a vibrant community centerpiece of its South Philadelphia neighborhood. During its tenure as a farm spanning over 500 acres, Stephen Girard both supervised and manually labored over the fields of his fruits, flowers, trees, and livestock. Ownership of the farmlands was turned over to the City of Philadelphia after the accomplished businessman and philanthropist died in 1831. The park’s four-acre plot, which includes the old farmhouse and a statue of Stephen Girard by a Girard College alumnus, was established in 1953. As the industrial city developed residential homes around the park during the 20th century, the entire neighborhood has become known as Girard Estate and is now a historic district.