Looking back to 225 years ago, it’s hard to imagine what it would be like to arrive in Philadelphia by May 25th, to set the course of a new nation. For starters, the delegates had to find lodging for months – without the help of Expedia or hotels.com.
On May 25, 1787, delegates officially convened in Philadelphia, to revise the Articles of Confederation, but not before booking their own living arrangements.
Although Philadelphia was the nation’s largest city, lodging was at a premium. In fact, Philadelphia was hosting a gathering of Presbyterian ministers from around the country the same time the Federal Convention (as it was called) was taking place.
The Society of Cincinnati, an organization of Continental Army officers, was also in Philadelphia at the time and needed lodging. The founding fathers could probably sympathize with people trying to book decent hotel accommodations for summer trips.
One of the most famous boarding houses was run by Mrs. Mary House. Known for its high-quality accommodations, the house was located on the southwest corner of Fifth and Market streets in 1787.
Mrs. House hosted a number of delegates to the convention including James Madison of Virginia, who was one of the first to arrive.
George Read and John Dickinson shared a room due to room availability being at a premium. Edmund Randolph from Virginia made a vacation out of it by bringing his wife to stay with him.
George Washington, also of Virginia, elected to stay at the house, but later moved to Robert Morris’s mansion a few doors down.
The boardinghouse was even used to hammer out parts of the Virginia Plan. One guest delegate described the house as “very crowded, and the room I am presently in [is] so small as not to admit of a second bed.”
Other delegates found solid living accommodations, too. New York delegate Alexander Hamilton and Massachusetts representative Elbridge Gerry stayed at Miss Daley’s boardinghouse, on the north side of Market Street between Third and Fourth. William Samuel Johnson of Connecticut and Rufus King of Massachusetts stayed at City Tavern.
Like present-day hotels, boardinghouses provided their guests with delectable foods to eat. The delegates, according to historian Richard Beeman, ate breakfast around 9 a.m., consisting of coffee, green tea, a small beer, bread and butter, and some salted fish and cheese.
The delegates ate dinner around 3:30 p.m. and some boardinghouses, including Mrs. House’s, served dinner on the premises. Delegates often went out to dine and carouse at local taverns in town.
If there was one thing boardinghouses could not provide it was relief from the blistering hot Philadelphia climate in the summer of 1787.
The delegates met in the State House with the doors closed and clad in heavy jackets, some of which were made of wool. Without air conditioning, it is doubtful that the boardinghouses were much cooler.
Benjamin Brown is a student of history and American studies at Lafayette College and web manager of the school newspaper. He is also in the Public Programs department of the National Constitution Center.