Merchants’ Exchange

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This Philadelphia landmark was the gathering place for those selling all sorts of cargo and merchandise. It is the oldest stock exchange building in the country.

The Building

Merchants' Exchange
Merchants’ Exchange

In 1831, a group of Philadelphia aristocracy and business entrepreneurs gathered together to propose the building of an “exchange”, a place where businessmen could gather to sell their wares to the city’s growing population.

The group, led by Stephen Girard – at that time the wealthiest man in the country, chose to build their edifice within view of Girard’s new bank on Third Street and chose well-known architect William Strickland to tackle the job of designing the structure. Strickland had already designed the U.S. Mint and the steeple for Independence Hall. Work on the Exchange was begun in 1832 and completed in 1834.

Strickland’s design is Greek Revival in style. Because of the odd-shaped lot on which the building was to stand, the portico is semicircular rather than straight across. Six Corinthian-style columns rise from the second story and stairs run up both sides, from the basement level to the tall doors on each side of the apse. Majestic marble lions sit by the stairs.

West façade of the Merchants' Exchange Building in Philadelphia
West façade ©Paul Sableman

Windows are tall and let in plenty of sunlight and provided a wonderful view of the river. The tower atop the structure is a free adaptation of the Choragic Monument of Lysicrates in Athens. Members of the Exchange could climb up to the tower to watch ships going up and down the Delaware River.

Its History

The Merchants’ Exchange remained active for about forty years. It was dissolved in 1866 when the financial district of the city moved further west towards busy Broad Street. Though it was periodically used as the city’s Stock Exchange then as a produce exchange after World War I, it eventually fell into disrepair. Independence National Historic Park rescued the Exchange in 1952 and still maintains offices there. A small public exhibition can be enjoyed by visitors, and the exterior makes for a good photo opportunity.

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