Things Fall Apart: An Old City Walking Tour

Uncover mysteries of decay, preservation, and renewal hiding behind walls, beneath streets, and even in plain sight.
Things Fall Apart: An Old City Walking Tour

Beginning at the Science History Institute, the tour includes stops at the John C. Haas Archives of Science and Business, the President’s House Site, Independence Hall, Jeweler’s Row, and Society Hill Synagogue.
Things Fall Apart: An Old City Walking Tour

Elisabeth Berry Drago, curator of Things Fall Apart, narrates this walking tour, which features interviews with experts on Old City and its historic preservation.
Things Fall Apart: An Old City Walking Tour
This free app is available for iPhones running iOS9 or higher and Android 4.2 or higher.

Walking Tour


1 hour, 10 minutes


Outside the Science History Institute at 315 Chestnut Street, Philadelphia.


This free app is available for iPhones running iOS9 or higher and Android 4.2 or higher.

Access the Audio Tour!

Old City Philadelphia continually decays and is renewed. Why and how do we preserve it? What does its unique status mean for the people who live in, work in, and visit America’s most historical mile?

Elisabeth Berry Drago, curator of Things Fall Apart, walks you through stories of decay and preservation in Old City. Along the way you’ll spot transformations to historical buildings and learn how materials like brick and marble are kept looking like new—or why they are left to decay. Find out what happens when we preserve some stories from our past but allow others to fade from memory. Hear about early preservationists who committed to saving the stories of America’s “great men,” historians determined to unearth the mysteries that rest beneath our feet, and activists who debate the place of preservation and renewal in Philadelphia.

By tour’s end you’ll see the streets and buildings of Old City—and your own neighborhood—a little differently. You might even ask yourself, what do I want to see preserved? Why? And what can I do to make it happen?

This Detour was produced as part of the exhibition Things Fall Apart, on view in our museum from June 17, 2017, to April 7, 2018.

Read NewsWorks' review of Things Fall Apart: An Old City Walking Tour!

Tips and Hours
  • The tour can be taken during daylight hours any day of the week.
  • Bring a $2 donation with you if you would like to see inside Arch Street Meeting House. During the summer the Meeting House is open Tuesday through Saturday, 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.
  • If you would like to tour Christ Church Burial Ground, bring an additional $1 for the admission fee. The Burial Ground is open Monday through Saturday, 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. and Sunday 12:00 p.m. to 4:00 p.m.
  • You do not need to visit the Science History Institute to take this walking tour, but we encourage you to do so! We're free and open Tuesday through Saturday, from 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.
Featured Stops

John C. Haas Archives of Science and Business
The archives of the Science History Institute sit masked behind a deceptive façade on Third Street.


President’s House Site
This outdoor exhibition teaches about George Washington’s Philadelphia home, the enslaved people who also lived there, and the contradiction of liberty and enslavement in the new United States.


Independence Hall
Efforts to preserve the site where the Declaration of Independence was signed date back to the early 19th century and continue to this day.


Jeweler’s Row
An iconic Philadelphia street, this block of local businesses is set to be demolished and replaced with condominiums sometime in 2017.


Society Hill Synagogue
At the heart of Philadelphia’s famed Society Hill, the synagogue is surrounded by picturesque homes that subtly reveal the neighborhood’s changing character.

Featured Voices

Elisabeth Berry-Drago
Curator of Things Fall Apart at the Institute. Lisa is an art historian with an interest in what paints and pigments are made of, and what their decay over time can reveal about artists and the world they lived in.


Bruce Laverty
Curator of architecture at the Athenaeum of Philadelphia, a member-supported library founded in Philadelphia in 1814.


Brett Mapp
Longtime Philadelphia resident, leader in the Philadelphia arts community, and director of operations at Old City District.


Karie Diethorn
Chief curator at Independence National Historical Park.


Lauren Shaughnessy
Architectural conservator at Dan Lepore and Sons, a construction firm in Philadelphia specializing in restoration.


Lynne Calamia
Executive director of the Arch Street Meeting House Preservation Trust.


Patrick Shea
Chief curator of archives and manuscripts at the Institute.


Paul Steinke
Executive director at the Preservation Alliance for Greater Philadelphia.


Winston Clement
Historical architect at Independence National Historical Park.


Elisabeth Berry-Drago


Executive Producer
Rebecca Ortenberg


Lead Writer
Zack Biro


Research Supervisor
Grey Pierce


Oral History Supervisor
Samantha Blatt


Sound Engineer
Dan Drago


Image Credits

  • Cover photo: Hillary Mohaupt
  • Navigation photos: Samantha Blatt and Rebecca Ortenberg
  • Archival photos courtesy of:
    • Athenaeum of Philadelphia
    • City of Philadelphia Department of Records
    • Independence National Historical Park


Featured Voices

Lynne Calamia, Arch Street Meeting House
Winston Clement, Independence National Historical Park
Karie Diethorn, Independence National Historical Park
Bruce Laverty, The Athenaeum of Philadelphia
Brett Mapp, Old City District
Lauren Shaughnessy, Dan Lepore and Sons
Patrick Shea, Science History Institute
Paul Steinke, Preservation Alliance for Greater Philadelphia


Special Thanks

Karie Diethorn and the staff of Independence National Historical Park