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Independence Seaport Museum

Posted on Thursday, June 18, 2015
A museum dedicated to Philadelphia’s rich maritime history.

The History

Originally founded in 1960 as the Philadelphia Maritime Museum, the Independence Seaport Museum is dedicated to helping visitors understand and experience Philadelphia’s long and important relationship to its waterways.  The museum was founded by J. Welles Henderson, a Philadelphian lawyer with a lifelong fascination with maritime history and the open seas.  The Museum’s humble beginnings started when Henderson rented a single room from the Athenaeum to display artifacts that were almost entirely made up from Henderson’s own personal collection.
As it turned out, Henderson wasn’t the only one interested in Philadelphia’s aquatic history. The success of the small one room museum led to multiple expansions throughout the years. In 1974 the museum moved to larger quarters within the confines of Independence National Historical Park just in time for the flood of visitors that arrived with the bicentennial celebrations two years later.  It was at this time that the Independence Seaport Museum expanded its impact from simply displaying artifacts of the past, to playing an active role in Philadelphia's waterfront of the future. The Seaport Museum opened a “Workshop on the Water,” a fully operational boat building facility on Penn’s Landing designed to be used for educational purposes.
Independence Seaport Museum
In 1994 the entire Independence Seaport Museum moved to Penn’s Landing after investing $15 million to renovate and expand the former home of the City of Philadelphia’s Port of History.  This facility remains the home of the Seaport Museum today.  A museum that was created to celebrate the waterfront of Philadelphia’s past has now played an import role in shaping the Delaware River Waterfront and Penn’s Landing into a destination that draws millions of visitors every year.

What to See

The Independence Seaport Museum is home to a collection of temporary and permanent exhibitions.  Current highlights include an exhibit that uses recently uncovered artifacts and first person accounts to tell the story of African Americans on the Delaware River.  The exhibit is the first in a series titled “River of Freedom” and was curated by the University of Pennsylvania.  Another current exhibit titled “Disasters on the Delaware” tells the story of numerous marine catastrophes that have occurred over the course of the Delaware River’s bustling history as a trade and commerce water highway as well as the daring rescues that averted potential disasters.
As fascinating as these exhibits are, it’s hard to match the living museums that float on the Delaware River beside the Independence Seaport Museum.  Two historic vessels, a steel warship named Olympia and a WWII era submarine named Becuna are both open for museum guests to explore.  The Olympia was built in 1892 and is the oldest steel warship afloat in the world and the only surviving naval ship of the Spanish-American War.  The Olympia served as the flagship of Addmiral Dewey during the battle of Manila Bay, an event that is thought to have announced America’s emergence as a naval power on the global scale.  The Becuna was launched in 1944 and completed five WWII patrols of the Pacific Ocean.  During the cold war the Becuna served many missions in the Atlantic Ocean trailing soviet submarines and also served during the Korean and Vietnam Wars.
Olympia, Historic Steel Warship

Insider Tips

Those interested in Philadelphia’s history on the Delaware Riverfront will likely be excited to hear that the Independence Seaport Museum will help to host a unique festival this summer.  From June 25th to June 28th Philadelphia will be home to the “Tall Ships Festival" which is being billed as largest sailing event in the United States in 2015.   
Included in the event will be over a dozen ships that were built all over the world.  Original ships over 100 years old as well as replica ships will sail in the event.  Among the highlights include “L’Hermione,” a replica of the ship that transported the Marquis de Lafayette to America to join in the Revolutionary War effort and “Barque Eagle,” the only currently operational sailing vessel in the U.S. maritime services.  The Tall Ships Festival will even include the world's largest Rubber Duck which weighs in at an impressive 11 tons and is 7 stories tall!
Visitors to the festival will be able to see these majestic ships from the past as well as board them, and in some cases visitors will even be able to set sail upon them.  The festival will also include historical reenactments, live music, dance, youth sail training, and a craft beer garden!
World's Largest Rubber Duck - Photo Credit: Philadelphia Tall Ships

How to Get There

Visitors of The Constitutional Walking Tour can easily get to the Independence Seaport Museum from the National Constitution Center where all of our tours both begin and end.  Walking is an easy 20 min trip in which you start down 5th Street and then make a left onto Walnut Street.  Follow Walnut Street to its endpoint and then follow the pedestrian bridge to Penn Landing where the Independence Seaport Museum is located.  
The Independence Seaport museum is also well served by public transit.  The 2nd Street Station which is served by the Market-Frankford line is just a short walk away.  The 33 bus also travels directly to Penn’s Landing.  There is also a parking lot directly adjacent to the museum which makes traveling by car very easy as well.


Tues-Sun: 10:00am – 5:00pm
Summer Hours (Memorial Day to Labor Day) Sun-Sat : 10:00am – 7:00pm
(Note: These hours are subject to change and you may want to contact the Independence Seaport Museum to confirm)

Additional Information

Penn’s Landing (at Walnut Street)
Philadelphia, PA 19106
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