The First Bank of the United States building, a historic Philadelphia landmark built in the 1790s, will be transformed into a state-of-the-art interactive museum following an award of $22.2m to Independence National Historical Park (INHP). Provided by the Great American Outdoors Act Legacy Restoration Fund, the grant will be paired with $4.5m already raised by INHP’s philanthropic partner, Independence Historical Trust. The initial step in this joint is to reopen the First Bank as a space for immersive exhibitions that engage the legacy of Alexander Hamilton, who championed the bank, and the birth of the United States’ financial system.
INHP and Independence Historical Trust aim to open the First Bank by the 250th anniversary of the founding of the US in 2026, spearheading an effort to raise an additional $6.6m to help fabricate and install a variety of dynamic exhibits.
“Rehabilitating the First Bank will meet a long-held goal for INHP—it was acquired in 1956, with the establishment of the park, but has been closed to the public for many years,” Amnesty Kochanowski, acting superintendent of INHP, said in a statement. ”The landmark building gives the park the opportunity to showcase aspects of the economy of the early republic and the role of the controversial bank.”
The bank was initially proposed by Hamilton in 1790, the second year of George Washington’s tenure as president, to operate as the first fiscal agent for the fledgling nation. Lambasted by Thomas Jefferson at the outset, Hamilton confronted his claims that the bank was not among the ”enumerated powers” in the US Constitution by arguing its status under the “necessary and proper” clause of Article 1, eventually convincing Washington to sign the bank bill into law in February of 1791. The bank went on to back the US’s national coinage, open new branches, become the leading source of credit for citizens and stabilise the economy during the financial panic of 1792. INHP looks forward to telling the story of the bank as foundational to the history of the US.
“The world we live in is a product of a strong economy created by Hamilton,” David Cowen, president and chief executive of New York’s Museum of American Finance and co-author of Alexander Hamilton on Finance, Credit, and Debt, said in a statement. ”The First Bank was instrumental in unifying the national economy and was a springboard to an era of manufacturing.”
The 20-year charter of the First Bank expired in 1811, allowing the building to be purchased by Philadelphia merchant Stephen Girard. The bank was acquired by the National Park Service in the 1950s with the establishment of INHP, but has been closed to the public for the past 50 years.
The National Park Service and Independence Historical Trust will work alongside John Milner Architects Inc., a firm with a focus in historic preservation, to reimagine the First Bank building. New York-based Local Projects will spearhead visitor experience and displays for the museum.