First Bank of the United States building lands $22M in funding, will reopen as museum in time for 20
The First Bank of the United States building in Old City.
INDEPENDENCE HISTORICAL TRUST
Independence National Historical Park has been awarded $22.2 million in federal funding to help rehabilitate the landmark First Bank of the United States building in Old City and reopen it as an interactive museum about the early American economy in time for the nation’s 250th birthday celebration in 2026.
Situated at 120 S. 3rd St., the First Bank building was built in 1795 as a central part of Secretary of the Treasury Alexander Hamilton's vision to create a national financial system that would knit together the economies of the 13 newly independent states. The building has largely been dormant for the better part of the past 50 years despite being a registered National Historic Landmark.
Jonathan Burton, director of development for the Independence Historical Trust, said then-National Parks Service Superintendent Cynthia MacLeod approached the nonprofit in 2017 to see if it could raise $17 million to restore and rehabilitate the First Bank building and convert it into a museum. The trust agreed to take on fundraising responsibilities for the proposed project, which Burton said has since ballooned to over $30 million.
Jonathan Burton of the Independence Historical Trust
INDEPENDENCE HISTORICAL TRUST
Since 2017, Burton said the organization has raised $4.5 million in private and foundation dollars to use for the soft cost such as the design. The money raised vaulted the First Bank project to the front of the line to receive funding from the Great American Outdoors Act of 2020, which provides $1.9 billion annually to address a maintenance backlog at national parks.
It received $22.2 from that pool in fiscal 2023 to be used for the construction. Independence Historical Trust in the process of raising $6.6 million to fabricate and install already designed exhibits about the early American economy, Burton said.
Burton said the First Bank building has been subject to upkeep by the Park Service, which took control of the building 75 years ago from the city of Philadelphia and recently completed a window restoration project. The plumbing, HVAC, electricity and elevators, however, are all broken and there is water damage to the interior.
The dome inside First Bank of the United States
Burton said the biggest aspect of the project will be constructing a three-story structure at the rear part of the building that will become the visitor entrance and include a donor wall. The façade will be left in tact, including its iconic Greek temple front.
The Park Service had some offices inside the bank but Burton said it has largely been “unusable” for the past 50 years. It was a temporary visitors center for Philadelphia leading up to the 1976 bicentennial celebration. It was included in Independence National Historical Park when the park was formed in 1956 and was declared a National Historic Landmark in 1987.
There have been proposals for using the building, such as having it house a collection of the Philadelphia Civil War Museum that was abandoned due to lack of funding from the state of Pennsylvania.
The current plan will be to turn the building into a museum focused on the early American economy, including the economic unification of 13 original states.
Inside First Bank of the United States
“In Independence [Mall] we have Independence Hall, where the Declaration of Independence was signed and the Constitution was signed, creating the political unification and creation of our nation,” Burton said. “However, how does the nation actually grow? The nation actually grows from [Alexander] Hamilton's vision of creating a centralized banking system through the First Bank of the United States, which at the time they just called the Bank of the United States. And this will tell the story of how the bank played a role in everyday American society and the growth engine that our economy became.”
While construction plans are fluid, Burton said the hope is the project is completed by the spring of 2025, at the end of which there will be installation of the exhibits. That could take the project to the fall of 2025, when Burton said the Park Service would assume all operations and then open the museum in early 2026. The title of the exhibit will be called People Power Profit.
Burton said the museum will have revenue-generating events on the first floor of the First Bank building. For example, Burton said the American Bankers Association has already expressed interest in using the building for an annual June meeting. The original front doors, which open onto 3rd Street, will continue to function and be used for those special events.
The back of First Bank of the United States
On the second floor, Burton said a classroom will be created for partners to use for financial literacy programming.
The Park Service and Independence Historical Trust chose Chadds Ford's John Milner Architects, a historic preservation design and architectural firm, to rehabilitate and reimagine the First Bank building. New York-based Local Projects was selected to design the interactive displays and visitor experience. West Chester’s The Bedwell Co., a construction management firm, has been selected to complete the building's rehabilitation.