With a brokered deal in which regional interests competed for the permanent capital of the fledgling new United States of America, it was decided that the temporary capital for ten years would be located in the city that had birthed the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, while a new federal city was being constructed – carved out of the swampy wilderness of Virginia and Maryland. At the time, Philadelphia was a teeming city boasting a population of 28,522 people and was second only to New York City’s 33,131 inhabitants.

The President’s House in Philadelphia

Where should Washington live? As President George Washington prepared to establish residence in Philadelphia, the question naturally arose as to where His Excellency would live. For almost a decade, from November 1790 to June 1800, George Washington and then John Adams resided in one of the largest houses in Philadelphia that served as their home and office during their terms of office.  Situated at the corner of today’s Market Street and 6th Street, the house belonged to Robert Morris, the genius who has been called the “Financier of the Revolution.”

Close to birthplace of nation:  The house was located just over a thousand feet from the Pennsylvania State House (now Independence Hall) where the Declaration of Independence had been forged in 1776.  Independence Hall was also where Washington had presided over the Constitutional Convention in the summer of 1787 and where delegates under the inspired genius of James Madison had crafted a new and revolutionary form of government to replace the inefficient and ineffective Articles of Confederation.

Close to Congress Hall:  Washington’s new home was also just a two minute walk from what is now know as Congress Hall but then was known as the Philadelphia County Court House.  It was in this building that the House of Representatives and the Senate met for a decade with the House chamber lodged on ground floor and the Senate situated on the second floor, with rooms for committee meetings and other functions.

Adams moves into the President’s House:  The feisty and often combative John Adams was elected the nation’s second president in 1796, following Washington’s two terms of steady leadership.  On March 4, 1797, Adams took the oath of office in Congress Hall, and moved into the President’s House while Washington eagerly retired to his beloved Mount Vernon.  Washington was the only president not to live in the federal city bearing his name or to live in the White House, whose location he selected in 1791.

Adams moves to Washington:  Adams lived in Philadelphia’s President’s House until June 1800 when he and Abigail moved to the new capital in Washington, DC, first to temporary quarters in Tunnicliffe’s City Hotel, and then on November 1, 1800 to the newly constructed President’s House (also known as the Executive Mansion, and later designated as the White House by Theodore Roosevelt).  By mid-February, 1801, Adams knew that he had been defeated for re-election and thus he lived just five months in the still being finished White House.

Location of the President’s House at 6th & Market Streets in Philadelphia. Today only a partially reconstructed shell marks the original location.

President’s House demolished:  After the capital moved to Washington, the grand brick mansion in Philadelphia that had housed our nation’s first two presidents was converted to an unsuccessful hotel.  Starting in 1832, through a series of gradual and unfortunate demolitions, that continued in 1935, 1941, and 1951 the house began to disappear. In its place today is a newly constructed partial brick facade showing the shape and size of the house where so many important decisions were made by Washington and Adams as they forged the structure of the new government and established precedents to give flesh to the 4,400 word Constitution.

All presidents since Adams lived in White House:  After November 1800, all of our presidents have lived in the White House, although Harry Truman had to move out from 1948 to 1952 while the interior was totally gutted and rebuilt – a necessary renovation project to prevent the aging structure from literally collapsing in on itself. For more information about this reconstruction effort I recommend you read Robert Klara’s outstanding book, The Hidden White House. Click here for a blog entry I wrote reviewing this book.  James Madison also had to vacate the White House after the British torched it on August 24, 1814 during the War of 1812. For the remaining two and a half years of his term, he lived in the Octagon House in Washington.  James Monroe didn’t move into the newly rebuilt Executive Mansion until six months after his term began.

More information:  For more information on Philadelphia’s President’s House, click here to read a well-researched article by Edward Lawler, Jr. 

Mike Purdy’s Presidential History Blog
© 2014 by Michael E. Purdy