FOUNDER'S HALL AT GIRARD COLLEGE
Brief Overview and Tours
Founder's Hall was the original classroom building for Girard College. Today this National Historic Landmark houses two museum collections and the archives of Stephen Girard.
TOURS BY APPOINTMENT
Tours may be planned by advance reservation on most days of the week,
generally Monday through Friday. There is a fee based on the number
of people. For information and reservations, please call 215-787-4434
or contact us
Walk-in visitation (no appointment required) is accommodated on
Thursdays only from 9:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. for individuals or for groups
up to 9 people, free to the public.
Groups of 10 or more people must make an appointment and will be
charged a fee.
Please note that stairs are unavoidable at Founder's Hall.
The building is closed on major holidays.
Founder's Hall Architecture
Founder's Hall at Girard College (built 1833-1847) is often considered the finest example of Greek revival architecture in the U.S. The original (deceased) client for the building was Stephen Girard (1750-1831), the school's founder, who specified in his will the dimensions and plan of the building. The living client was Nicholas Biddle (1786-1844), chair of the school's building committee and president of the Second Bank of the United States in Philadelphia.
Members of the city government held an architectural competition to award the job of designing Girard's school. His two million-dollar construction budget ensured that the 1832 competition was the first American architectural competition to have truly national participation. The winning architect was Thomas Ustick Walter (1804-1887). After the long, difficult job at Girard, Walter went on to design the dome of the United State Capitol in Washington, D.C. He later returned to Philadelphia to serve as an assistant architect on City Hall. He became a founding member of the American Institute of Architects (AIA). Some Girard College visitors come only because they want to see a great, early T.U. Walter building.
Founder's Hall was the school's original classroom building. It has three main floors, each measuring 14,000 square feet. The plan for each floor, as specified in Girard's will, consists of a 100' x 20' front hall, then four 50'-square rooms with 25' tall ceilings arranged two by two, and a back hall the same size as the front. The scale of the spaces was dazzlingly large when the building first opened, and Founder's Hall was one of Philadelphia's great 19th-century tourist destinations.
Two final points: 1) Nicholas Biddle was so happy with T. U. Walter's work at Girard that in 1834 he hired Walter to convert the Biddle country home, "Andalusia" in Bucks County, Pa., from a large Pennsylvania farmhouse to what is often considered the finest example of domestic Greek revival architecture in America. 2) When Founder's Hall was finally completed in 1847, it was the second-most expensive building in the U.S., second only to the United States Capitol!
Spoken on July 4, 1833 at the laying of the Founder’s Hall cornerstone,
these words come from the text of Nicholas Biddle’s address:
In the name of Stephen Girard, of the City of Philadelphia, in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, Merchant and Mariner, we lay the foundation of this Girard College for Orphans.
We dedicate it to the cause of CHARITY, which not only feeds and clothes the destitute, but wisely confers the greatest blessings on the greatest sufferers;
To the cause of EDUCATION, which gives to human life its chief value:
To the cause of MORALS, without which knowledge were worse than unavailing; and finally,
To the cause of OUR COUNTRY, whose service is the noblest object to which knowledge and morals can be devoted.
Long may this structure stand, in its majestic simplicity, the pride and admiration of our latest posterity; long may it continue to yield its annual harvests of educated and moral citizens, to adorn and to defend our country. Long may each successive age enjoy its still increasing benefits, when time shall have filled its halls with the memory of the mighty dead who have been reared within them, and shed over its outward beauty the mellowing hues of a thousand years of renown.