Ben Franklin bears all!

The houses and print shop owned by Ben Franklin still exist on Market Street in Philadelphia.

The houses and print shop owned by Ben Franklin still exist on Market Street in Philadelphia.

Originally owned by Benjamin Franklin, the former tenant house at 318 Market Street is a unique museum that reveals more than Benjamin Franklin’s history. Unlike most house museums, 318 Market does not represent a specific moment in history or one family’s experience within the house and the City. Walls of the Franklin house have been “stripped bare”  to reveal the changes made from the time it was built in 1787 to the present. The history of the house is documented by scars on the walls that show where the partitions once stood and where architectural elements, like fireplaces, were once located.   Physical details that are still visible represent the entire history of the house and all of its owners from the eighteenth through the twentieth centuries.  Dennis Kowal, AIA worked with the National Park Service to explain this history and develop a Museum about Ben Franklin’s involvement in the construction of the his houses. Franklin loved to watch construction and called it “an old man’s amusement” (the name of the Museum as well).

The tools used to build houses like these and the methods employed are the features of the museum.  This original display window still contains the “bulls eye” glass that was hand blown for this purpose.   A “bulls eye” is a round thickened bulge in the glass where the glass blower removed his pontil  (blow pipe).   During the 18th and early 19th century, molten glass was blown into a “crown” (globe shape) and then spun and flattened into a large glass disk using centrifugal force.  The best window  glass was the thin and clear glass away from the center, while the thicker inner circle glass was cut for less important windows.  Machine rolled glass wasn’t developed in America until 1888 and “wire glass” (security glazing) came along in 1898.

Dennis Kowal originally designed and field tested a projection system of how the interiors could be recreated from the wall fragments.  The photos below show how the black soot reveals where the chimney flue rose against the wall (red line) and locates the fireplace between two built-in china closets with small shelves and a central cupboard (beige line).   All that remains of the closets are plaster backs which denote where the wood shelves and construction once stood.

Ben Franklin’s wall have been “stripped bare” of furring and layers of finishes to reveal the original bearing wall which provides a fascinating look into the original finishes, millwork and structural modifications.  From these fragments and knowledge about the period, the entire interior can be mentally recreated as it once was.

Museum in Independence Park