Second Bank of the US

Hidden Philadelphia: The Portrait Gallery at the Second Bank of the U.S.

Posted on Posted in Art, Philadelphia
Portraits in the hallway
Portraits in the hallway

Playing tourist in my hometown of Philadelphia is so easy to do with a plethora of historic sites, artistic opportunities aplenty and so many restaurants vying for my attention.  I’ve started wandering with my IPhone lately taking photos with a new eye of the city.  To say, I’ve been surprised is an understatement – I’ve been Philly’s biggest cheerleader for years and yet I’m still finding new experiences after all of these years that make me happy to tout our city even more. So visiting the Second Bank of the U.S. was quite the surprise.


As schoolchildren, we did the obligatory visit to the Liberty Bell and Independence Hall and sadly, for many that was the extent of seeing the hometown sights.  I find that this is true in many places I visit or meet people.  When introduced to new travelers, I often say “I have been to your hometown and x was wonderful” and their reply “I’ve never seen x”  leaves me bewildered.  The easiest travel (and often cheapest) is right in your own hometown.

The Second Bank of the U.S. in Philadelphia

Which leads me to this building, The Second Bank of the U.S.  I have walked, driven and even rode in a horse drawn carriage tour past this Greek revival building forever and just discovered that you can go inside!  It is open to the public despite absolutely no signs saying such.  I only discovered this by wandering the grounds behind the building and seeing a sign for disabled access and realized that there is access for all.

Second Bank of the U.S. Philadelphia
Second Bank of the U.S. in Philadelphia

So I climbed the white, marble steps to the front door and walked into a nicely set up art gallery of history.  I was greeted by a park ranger who laughed when i said “I never knew I could walk in” – she showed me the quick map and motioned me to not miss a gallery that was a bit hidden.   There are nine rooms to explore.

Portrait Gallery Philadelphia History US Bank
The hall of Portraits of those responsible for shaping Philadelphia and the U.S.

Historic Philly – The Portrait Gallery

Portrait Gallery Historic Philadelphia
Portrait Gallery at the Second Bank of the U.S. in Historic Philadelphia

I started my visit by walking to the back of the bank which was pretty much empty save a couple.  The entire attraction was sparsely attended so no worries about lines.  It is all so fascinating and you are able to take your time to explore .  Maybe I’m a bit of an art/history geek but i was pretty impressed with the portraits of those involved in the creation of our country and their back story which included regular folks and of course the business bankers, society and such. It showcases those who lived, worked or visited Philadelphia.   The over 150 portraits are quite striking from an art perspective and the integration of the tapestries/screens to illustrate the area of industry adds to the depths of the presentation.


In the center room with the high ceilings and gorgeous windows there is a structure that outlines the displays holding the lights but shaped like a frame of a home.  Curious, I asked the ranger, Jane, if the house like frame was to signify or represent anything (my attempt at an art question) and she perked up telling me ALL about the galleries with everyday people, military figures and famous names like George and Martha Washington.  She was so eager to chat about the gallery, I felt that I was taking all of her time away from the other tourists but in reality, not really since there were not many questions on the self guided tour of the galleries.

Portrait Gallery Historic Philly Second Bank of the U.S.
Additional portraits with house outlines at the Second Bank of the U.S.
Second Bank of the U.S. Portrait Gallery Historic Philadelphia
U.S. Portrait Gallery in Historic Philadelphia

The Portrait Gallery Surprises

I can see why children may not fully appreciate the rooms of portraits showcasing those who shaped history, it isn’t interactive- just a bunch of paintings as my nieces would tell me.  But as an adult, I was really interested in knowing more about those who walked the cobblestones of Old City and through the gardens that I now wander.  The surprise in the overlooked gallery was under a heavy drape (due to the sensitivity to light no photos allowed).  Lifting the drape and looking down into the display case, you are struck with the delicate portraits on pendants and other smaller items – these are called the miniatures.  The intricacies of the portrait art on the miniatures is incredible.

Jane then showed me the portrait of George Washington and explained that the artist, Peale, made two paintings, side by side, at the same time – not a copy of the original but two originals at once!

George Washington Portrait Philadelphia History
The artist, Peale, painted two portraits side by side of George Washington

As my phone was beeping for some time now (texts that I was late for brunch), I said goodbye to Jane and ran down the steps past the fence that for so many years kept me back from exploring this lovely gallery hidden in plain sight.


Founding Fathers & Mothers of Philadelpha
Founding Fathers & Mothers of Philadelphia and a nation at the Portrait Gallery

Marketing Help Needed!

Looking at a brochure of the historic park area and beyond, I found this entry:

Second Bank of the United States: Collection of 18th century portraits

Chestnut Street, between 4th and 5th

While more a finance guru and not a marketing guru, there seems to be missing information, such as:

It’s FREE!, Open from x to y, Visit Philadelphia history through portrait art, It’s cool as in interesting and also in temperature (it is air conditioned which is a bonus in the hot, humid Philly summers)

Ring Up History in Philadelphia

Another one of my favorite features of Independence National Park is the “Ring Up History” cell phone program.  With over twenty sites in the program, you can call 24/7 and get a pre-recorded account of the history of the attraction.  And in our times of funding questions and shut downs, this program is fully supported by donations. So if you are interested in knowing more about the Portrait Gallery  in the Second Bank, just give them a ring at the number below.

Love this program - Ring up history!
Love this program – Ring up history!

Final Thoughts – the Portrait Gallery at the Second Bank of the U.S.

Well, if this wasn’t a cheerleader moment of my gushing Philadelphia, I don’t know what it was – I do hope you take the time to visit the Second Bank of the United States and geek out like I did – it really was a wonderful surprise that I won’t pass by again. Makes me wonder, what else am I missing in Philadelphia?  How many other hidden gems are there to find? More to explore….

Portrait Gallery Philadelphia History
One of many portraits capturing the day to day life in Philadelphia’s History




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