First Bank – History

 

The First Bank of the United States

The Building

EXTERIOR

First Bank of the United States 2

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  • Designed by Samuel Blodgett, Jr., merchant, author, publicist, promoter, architect, and “Superintendent of Buildings” for the new capital in Washington, DC.
  • Won wide acclaim as an architectural master piece upon its completion in 1797.
  • A notable early example of Classical monumental design.
  • A three-story brick structure with a marble front and trim.
  • Its seven-bay marble facade is the work of Claudius F. LeGrand and Sons, stone workers, woodcarvers and guilders.
  • The portico tympanum, restored in 1983, contains elaborate mahogany carvings of a fierce-eyed eagle grasping a shield of thirteen stripes and stars and standing on a globe festooned with an olive branch.
  • The restored hipped roof is covered in copper—some of which, over the portico, is original—and has a balustrade along its four sides.
  • Although somewhat changed by subsequent alterations, the exterior of the building is today essentially as it was in 1795, the date of the earliest drawing and description uncovered so far.

INTERIOR

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  • In 1902 James Windrim, architect, remodeled the interior by removing the original barrel vaulted ceiling and introducing a large skylight over a glass-paned dome to furnish more light for the first floor tellers.
  • At the same time, the original hipped roof was altered further with the introduction of a shaft tower on the west side of the building for an elevator.
  • Between 1912 and 1916, Girard Bank also constructed a two-story addition on the west facade of the building.
  • Between 1974 and 1976, Independence National Historical Park restored the building’s eighteenth century exterior appearance and retained its 1902 interior remodeling, leaving a banking room on the first floor and numerous smaller rooms around its outer perimeter on the second and third floors.
  • The central area is defined by a circular Corinthian columned rotunda on the first and second floors and an electrically lit glass dome at the third floor level.
  • The cellar retains its 1795 stone-walled and brick-vaulted rooms, sane still having their original sheet iron vault doors.

OWNERSHIP & OCCUPANCY

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  • Owned and occupied by The First Bank of the United States until the charter lapsed in 1811.
  • Stephen Girard purchased the building and opened his own bank, Girard Bank, in 1812.
  • The building was left in trust to the City of Philadelphia upon Girard’s death in 1832, although the Girard Bank continued in operation there until 1929.
  • The building languished until the National Park Service purchased it in 1955 as part of Independence National Historical Park.
  • Lack of documentation and extensive alterations perpetrated in 1901-02 leaves knowledge of the interior inadequate.

Source:

THE U.S. CONSTITUTION A National Historic Landmark Theme Study Dr. Harry A. Butowsky National Park Service Department of the Interior December 1986