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Rittenhouse Square

Posted on Tuesday, October 13, 2015

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One of the finest urban public spaces in the United States

The History

When William Penn founded Philadelphia in 1682, he designed the first planed city in America. Coming from the crowded and disease ridden city of 17th Century London, Penn sought to create a city that was more green and inviting.  Penn designed five public squares into his city plan, one of which was Rittenhouse Square.  Originally called Southwest Square, the square was renamed after David Rittenhouse in 1825. 
Rittenhouse Square
David Rittenhouse was a descendant of a prominent early Philadelphian family that had established and operated Philadelphia’s first paper mill.  Rittenhouse became a renowned astronomer and inventor who was respected by the likes of Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson.  Rittenhouse would frequently meet with Franklin and would become the President of Franklin’s American Philosophical Society upon his death (learn more about the American Philosophical Society on our tour).  Rittenhouse was also involved in early American politics, becoming the treasurer of the newly independent state of Pennsylvania in 1777 and later the first director of the United States Mint.
For much of Rittenhouse Square’s early history, things were very quiet in Rittenhouse Square.  While Penn’s other city squares became the centers of historic Philadelphian neighborhoods and were even used as public burials grounds, hardly anyone even lived near Rittenhouse Square. The square was never used as a pubic burial ground and even after Philadelphia was over a century old, most of the land surrounding the square remained undeveloped.  Finally, by the mid-19th century, the city of Philadelphia expanded to the point that Rittenhouse Square was suddenly surrounded by newly constructed buildings.  Rittenhouse Square quickly evolved into one of the most desirable places to live in Philadelphia and the square became surrounded by stately Victorian mansions.  
Today the neighborhood surrounding Rittenhouse Square remains among the most desirable neighborhoods in Philadelphia and Rittenhouse Square itself is considered to be among the best public spaces in this country.

What to See

One of the big reasons for Rittenhouse Square’s success is the design of the park grounds by renowned architect Paul Phillippe Cret.  Cret, who also designed the original Barnes Foundation, the Rodin Museum and the Benjamin Franklin Bridge, designed Rittenhouse Square in 1913 and his vision remains today.  Cret’s design creates many paths that carry pedestrian traffic through the park.  At the center of the park is a central plaza which contains a reflecting pool and an ornately carved stone balustrade.  Classical urns with ancient Greek inspired reliefs adorn the entrances of the square. The park also contains a number of significant pieces of public art including Antoine-Louis Barye’s “Lion Crushing a Serpent,” which was inspired by the French Revolution.  The park is filled with benches and open green space to serve the thousands who use the park each day.  Throughout the park, large century old trees provide ample shade for all who enjoy the square.
Rittenhouse Square Art Show
For many, Rittenhouse Square serves as the beautiful backdrop for their lunchbreak or their evening constitutionals.  The square is also a popular gathering place for nearby young families; children running in the grass and parents pushing strollers is a common sight.  But if you wish to do more than enjoy a stroll or relaxing picnic lunch, Rittenhouse Square is also home to a number of events.  Rittenhouse Square plays host to flower markets, art shows, craft fairs and weekly farmer’s markets.  There are also concerts in the square during the summer months and even a black tie gala.  During the winter months Rittenhouse Square gets decked out for the holiday season and celebrations mark the lighting of the park’s Christmas tree and Menorah.  All year long there is something happening in Rittenhouse Square.

Rittenhouse Square During the Holidays


Insider Info

When exploring Rittenhouse Square, be sure to look beyond the confines of Rittenhouse Square itself as the neighborhood that surrounds Rittenhouse Square is amongst the most beautiful in the country.  The square is surrounded by tree lined streets of stately 19th century mansions, some built by some of America’s most respected architects.  But the area surrounding Rittenhouse Square isn’t just beautiful; it contains the best shopping district in Philadelphia.  The blocks surrounding Rittenhouse square are filled with hundreds of places to shop, from national retailers like Anthropologie, Barneys Co-Op, and Michael Kors to local Philadelphian icons like Boyds and Joan Shepp.
Shops Along Walnut Street Near Rittenhouse Square
While great stores are located all throughout the area, the premier shopping street in Philadelphia is Walnut Street which runs parallel to the northern edge of Rittenhouse Square.  The area also has a large number of restaurants and cafes, making Rittenhouse Square the perfect area to head to if you want to get a nice meal and enjoy some shopping.  No matter what your fashion tastes are, shopping on Rittenhouse Square is an experience that a mall simply can’t beat.


For guests of The Constitutional Walking Tour, a stroll to Rittenhouse Square represents a somewhat lengthy but none the less enjoyable walking.  Starting from the National Constitution Center where all of our tours both begin and end, walk south on 6th Street to Walnut Street and make a right hand turn.  You’ll reach Rittenhouse Square at 18th Street and Walnut Street in roughly half an hour.  If you wish to drive, you’ll find the area to be too congested to make street parking a reasonable option, but there are a number of parking garages in the area that helps to make driving relatively easy.  For those taking public transit, there are a large number of buses that go right past Rittenhouse Square including the 9, 17, 21, and 42 buses.  Rittenhouse Square is located near the 15th Street stop of the Market Frankford Line and the Walnut Street stop of the Broad Street line.


Rittenhouse Square is accessible to the public 24/7

Additional Information

210 West Rittenhouse Square
Box 1308
Philadelphia, PA 19103

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