Underrated Historic Sites To Visit Today

The Paul Robeson house in Philadelphia
Photo: Purnell T. Cropper

It’s no secret that Philadelphia has an embarrassment of riches when it comes to historic sites and museums. Here are a few that are a little off the beaten path that deserve your attention. 


A room inside the Ebenezer Maxwell Mansion
Courtesy of Ebenezer Maxwell Mansion

There are many wonderful historic sites in Philadelphia that focus on 18th century history, but the Ebenezer Maxwell Mansion, located in the heart of the Tulpehocken Historic District of Germantown, is unique. It is the only authentically restored Victorian house museum and garden in the city, giving visitors a glimpse into how upper middle class Philadelphians lived in the 19th century. In recent years, the Mansion has shifted its focus to Black history events and programming, most notably with its immersive tour Deep Rivers, which tells the stories of 10 Black men and women who achieved excellence in the Victorian era, including Julian Abele, Elizabeth Keckley and Henry Ossawa Tanner. www.ebenezermaxwellmansion.org 



USS Olympia George 100
Wikimedia Commons

Founded in 1960 and located right on the Delaware River, the Independence Seaport Museum is a must-see for anyone interested in Philadelphia’s maritime history. Exhibits include Tides of Freedom, which tells the story of the African slave trade at Penn’s Landing, River Alive, a fun and informative scientific exhibit about the river, and Patriots and Pirates, about the founding of the United States Navy in Philadelphia. What truly makes the Seaport Museum essential is that you can also tour the USS Olympia, built in 1895 and the oldest steel warship in the world that is still afloat, as well as the Becuna, a World War II submarine. Both ships are included with your admission and provide an amazing way for kids and adults to step back into history. www.phillyseaport.org 



The Paul Robeson house in Philadelphia
Photo: Purnell T. Cropper

Paul Robeson was a true renaissance man — a brilliant singer, actor, athlete and human rights activist. The first African American to play a leading role in a movie and one of the most successful entertainers of the 20th century, Robeson’s career was hindered by persecution from the FBI due to his vocal support of civil rights. Plagued by ill health, he moved into his sister’s West Philadelphia home for the final 10 years of his life. Today, the Paul Robeson House and Museum has been meticulously restored due to the heroic efforts of the West Philadelphia Cultural Alliance. Located at 4951 Walnut Street, the Paul Robeson House and Museum is a powerful celebration of a great man as well as the surrounding community who made it their mission to preserve this invaluable historic landmark. www.paulrobesonhouse.org 



Photo of the Rosenbach Museum
Wikimedia Commons

Located on the idyllic street Delancey Place, the Rosenbach Museum and Library can be easy to miss if you aren’t looking for it. But I highly recommend you explore this extraordinary museum, which is a book lover’s dream. Here you can see the original manuscript for James Joyce’s Ulysses, Bram Stoker’s research and planning notes for Dracula, the papers of poet Marianne Moore, and many other rare works. The Rosenbach also offers a robust program of special events and virtual classes, as well as free online book clubs such as the currently in-progress Sundays with Jane Eyre and a Shakespeare Read-Aloud group. www.rosenbach.org 



Cave of Kelpius Steven L Johnson
Wikimiedia Commons

When the pandemic began, Wissahickon Valley Park became my outdoor refuge. Designated as a National Natural Landmark in 1964, the park consists of over 2,000 acres of unspoiled woodland as well as 50 miles of different walking and hiking trails. As you explore, you will find many historic sites and landmarks to stumble upon. Some of the most interesting ones include the Fingerspan Bridge (actually shaped like a finger), the Hermit’s Cave, aka the Cave of Kelpius (site of Philly’s first doomsday cult), Devil’s Pool (do NOT swim in it), and Historic Rittenhouse Town, where the first paper mill in North America opened in 1690. Cared for by the Friends of the Wissahickon, the park is the perfect place to go when you need a break from city life. After your walk you can enjoy a wonderful meal at the Valley Green Inn, built in 1850. Just be sure to “leave no trace” to keep this Philadelphia paradise preserved. www.fow.org 

    • Portrait of Josh Hitchens

      Born and raised in Slower Lower Delaware, Josh Hitchens has called Philadelphia home since 2003 and has worked at many museums and historic sites throughout the city both as a tour guide and in visitor services.

    More Popular Articles

    Upcoming Philly Events