CONSTRUCTION AND OPENING
Originally, the College was to be
built in what is today the downtown block surrounded by 11th, 12th, Chestnut
and Market Streets, a property Girard purchased from John Dunlap in 1807 for
$101,820. A few months before Girard
died he had purchased the Peel Hall farm and mansion from Richard Parker. On June 6, 1831, Girard paid William Parker $35,000 for
the forty-five acre farm located on Ridge Road in Penn Township, then in suburban Philadelphia.
By codicil to his will he changed the location for his school to the
Peel Hall farm. William Duane, his
lawyer, indicated the change was made because Girard preferred that the College
be built outside the congested city. Peel Hall was built by Oswald Peel in 1742
on property that had belonged to Richard Penn.
The mansion stood about where Founder’s Hall is today.  It
was burned during the Revolution to prevent the British from occupying it, and
in 1779 the ruins and property were purchased by Owen Biddle, who sold it to
Girard died on December 26, 1831 and
to initiate the provisions of his Will (recorded on December 31, 1831 in
Philadelphia Will Book 10, page 190) the City Council selected, on February 11,
1833, an eighteen-member Board of Directors to manage the College. A separate Building Committee was appointed
on March 21, 1833. Nicholas Biddle,
President of the Second Bank of the United States, was selected president of both the
Board and the Building Committee. This
awkward arrangement of dual responsibilities lasted until 1869, when the State
changed the City Charter and established the Directors of City Trusts, with
complete authority to control the Trust and the College.
Girard's Will stipulated that the
College, consisting of a main building and four out-buildings, be constructed "with the most durable
materials, and in a most permanent way, avoiding needless ornament, and
attending chiefly to the strength, convenience, and neatness of the
whole." He describe in detail the
construction features and dimensions of the main building and its rooms. He directed that it have four rooms, each 50
feet by 50 feet, on each floor and that all the rooms contain arched ceilings.
On June 14, 1832, the City Council advertised for architects to submit
design and construction plans depicting their concept of the description Girard
wrote in the Will. Appreciating the two million dollar financial scope of the
job, at least twenty five architects
competed including some of the countries
best known architects: namely, George and William Strickland, J. Stewart, John Skirving, Town and Dakin, Chaumes, Clapham, W.R.Crisp, Charles Egelmann, Haviland, Higham & Wetherall, Isaac Holden, John Kutts,
Richard Lane, James Newman, Isaiah Rogers, William Rodrigue,
Edward Shaw, and Thomas U. Walter.
More than 100 drawings by 19 designers survive today and many were placed on exhibit
during the 1998 celebration of the 150th anniversary of the opening
of Girard College.
Thomas U. Walter was chosen to be
the architect, but his original designs were not the ones used to construct the
College. Those plans proposed porticoes
approached by large flights of steps in the front and rear of the building. Nicholas Biddle influenced the redesign of the Main Building to include surrounding columns. The building committee claimed that they were
necessary to support the weight of the roof.
Other designers disagreed and alleged that the column concept was
intended to be a memorial to Nicholas Biddle's contribution to the classic
arts. On April 18, 1833 The Joint Committee on Constructing the
College agreed to set aside the original Thomas U. Walter plans and have him
redesign the Main Building with a roof high portico on all sides
“After the manner of a Greek temple.”. 
Biddle had visited Greece and was so impressed with their
architecture that it influenced most of his ventures. Before Girard College was built, Biddle influenced the Grecian
design of the Bank of United States, and he applied his influence to insist
that Walter design Girard College to be the "magnificent marble peristyle Grecian temple and four smaller temples". 
Others have described the building as "Grecian Corinthian from the monument of Lysicratus or Lantern of Demosthenes, at Athens."
The redesigned main building, standing today as Founder's Hall, is not
what Girard intended. "Girard was a great admirer of the habits, customs
and manners of the Society of Friends, their frugality, industry and
temperance, the plainness of their public and private buildings, their
strength, convenience and neatness, and complete adaptation to the uses for
which they were intended, combined with a practical economy in their
Walter's Main Building, magnificent in design and proportion,
with its spacious surrounding colonnade of thirty-four Corinthian columns, has
been called "the most perfect Greek Temple in existence." It is similar to the Madeleine Church in Paris, France.
“With the sole exception of the United States Capitol, (which burned
once and was rebuilt several times in the six decades from 1792 to 1950) Girard
College was the most expensive building in America.” 
Walter was the son of a
bricklayer. When he designed Girard College he was only 29 years old and already a
Professor at the Franklin Institute. He
was the architect for many of the buildings in Bucknell University.
He designed the reconstruction of Biddle's home, Andalusia, that also looks like a Greek
temple. In 1861, he replaced Robert
Mills as the United States government architect and while in that
position, he designed the dome and wings of the nation’s Capitol building,
completed in 1863. He and John McArthur
Jr. were the architects for the Philadelphia City Hall.
The final plans for the College were
approved by Council on April
29, 1833, and
ground breaking occurred on May 6, 1833.
The corner stone of the Main Building was laid on July 4, 1833. Nicholas Biddle addressed the
dignitaries present to witness the cornerstone placement. "From the time that stone reached the
earth, the name Girard was beyond oblivion.
He has now taken his rank among the great benefactors of
mankind." Biddle concluded with the
following: "In the name of Stephen Girard we dedicate the College to
charity, education, morals, and Country."
Encased in the cornerstone are the Will, coins, a $5 and $10 note with
Stephen Girard's signature, a newspaper of the day, and a scroll containing the
following inscription: THIS CORNERSTONE
OF THE GIRARD COLLEGE FOR ORPHANS WAS LAID ON THE FOURTH DAY OF JULY 1833 IN
THE PRESENCE OF THE MAYOR, RECORDER, ALDERMAN, SELECT AND COMMON COUNCILS OF
THE CITY OF PHILADELPHIA, AND THE TRUSTEES OF THE GIRARD COLLEGE FOR ORPHANS,
BY THE BUILDING COMMITTEE CONSISTING OF JOHN GILDER, CHAIRMAN, JOSHUE
LIPPONCOTT, JOHN R. NEFF, DENIS MCCREDY, JOSEPH WORRELL, JOHN BYERLY, EPHRIM
HAINES, AND SAMUEL V. MERRICK. THE
ARCHITECT IS THOMAS U. WALTER, THE GENERAL SUPERINTENDENT IS JACOB SOUDER, THE
SUPERINTENDENT OF MARBLE WORK IS FINDLEY HIGHLANDS, AND JOHN P. BINNS IS THE CLERK
OF THE WORKS.
For years, historians debated about the location of the
cornerstone. Biddle in his
ground-breaking speech says, “Tomorrow the earth will cover it. Ours are the last eyes which shall look upon
it, and hereafter it will lie in its silent repose, unmoved by all the
revolutions of the changing world above it.”
Besides the Main Building, the Will called for four side buildings
and Walter submitted their plans in 1835.
He called them numbers 1,2,3, and 4 and that designation lasted until 1927. No.1, later designated Allen Hall, contained
four dwellings for the staff. No.2, now
Bordeaux Hall, contained 4 dormitories, 2 section rooms and toilets to serve
100 students. No.3, now Mariner Hall
contained the dining rooms for all, and parlors for the staff. No.4, now Merchant Hall, contained small
dormitories and an Infirmary. The
designs intended a capacity of no more than three hundred students.
The Will required that College be enclosed by a wall.
The wall is ten foot high, 16" thick, 6843 feet or one and a
quarter miles long.
Within the walls, a farmhouse, barn and appropriate out-buildings were
built at the west end, where approximately twenty acres remained initially
unused. Five acres of the farm at the
southwest corner were not incased in the wall, and on it Girard Estate houses
were built in the 1890s.
Construction of the College was
completed on November 13, 1847, after many delays. Construction proceeded exceedingly slowly,
often interrupted by litigation initiated by Girard’s family and public
critics. Some people claimed that many
delays were intentional because so many bodies of governing people and
officers involved with the construction,
were "eating up a large portion of the fund which Mr. Girard devoted to
the education of the poor orphans."
In 1842, the State House of Representatives conducted a hearing to
determine " if the City of Philadelphia knowingly or willfully violated the
conditions of Stephen Girard’s Will in the construction of the
College." Duane, Girard's attorney,
testified that Girard considered himself a builder and had he lived he would
have supervised the building of the College.
Duane stated that Girard had a mason evaluate the stone on the property
and he concluded that it was inadequate for the buildings, but satisfactory for
the wall. Duane testified that Girard
considered columns to be in bad taste and hated them so much that he considered
removing them from the front of his Bank.
Duane concluded his testimony by stating that the proposed College was
more like a temple and not what Girard had in mind and surely not appropriate
as a College for poor orphans. 
Whereas the Will called for a
"plain and comfortable home" for the orphans, the critics claimed
that the finished product was a marble memorial. The local newspapers criticized the building
committee for having unwisely spent Girard's money, especially for including
the 34 Corinthian capped columns that each cost $13,000. The columns are six feet in diameter and
fifty-five feet high, sitting on bases nine feet three inches in diameter and
three feet two inches high. The
Corinthian capitals are eight feet six inches high. The columns were carved on the grounds of
the College. During 1835, 26369 cubic
feet of marble were delivered to the College, mostly from Chester County quarries. At both ends of the Main Building, doors 16 feet wide and 32 feet high
were inserted. Sidney G. Fisher, a
prominent Philadelphian, in his diary entry of Oct. 16, 1840, states that the Whig party of the City
was expected to lose the 1840 election because of "the abuses in the
management of the Girard College & estate."
Whereas Girard thought that his
college could be built for $350,000 and be completed in two years, it took 15
years and Walter's final report to the Building Committee shows the cost to
have been $1,933,821.78, conveniently close to the two million dollar maximum
permitted by the Will. John Sanderson,
writing under the penname Roberjot, 
wrote a thirty-two page
dissertation critical of the construction.
He believed the grandness of the main building to be inappropriate for
poor orphans. He suggested that some
mothers might want their children born orphans so that they could attend such a
grand place. He complained that in
comparison to the 110x160 feet Main Building that cost slightly under one
million dollars, the 386x140 feet Naval Asylum was built for $240,000, the
88x160 foot United States Bank for
$280,000 and the 120x200 feet United States Mint for $130,000. He castigated the Building Committee for
having wasted considerable money on "needless ornaments" that Girard
would have hated.
The crowning stone of the Main building was placed on August 29, 1846 and the finished College was transferred
to the Directors on Nov. 13, 1847.
Girard College opened on January 1, 1848 and
Joseph Chandler, President of the Board of Directors and Joel Jones, the
President of the College addressed the Select and Commons Council of
Philadelphia, the Board of Directors, friends, and the ninety-five students who
had entered the college between Dec. 27 and Dec. 31, 1847. The staff consisted of sixteen
directors and seventeen officers and
teachers. During the first year 205 boys
were admitted from Philadelphia and 31 from other parts of Pennsylvania.
The average age was between eight and eight and a half . George W. Jackson was the first to graduate
and he later became a bank president in Bellefonte, Pa. 
When the college first opened, the
buildings were lighted by oil but
shortly after gas was introduced. In
November 11, 1848 a break occurred in
the Spring Garden Water Works, located just northwest of the College, and the
force of the flood was so great that 120 feet of the north wall and 100 feet of
the south wall were washed away as well as the dam in the pond located near the
west wall. 
In his final report to the Board,
Thomas U.Walter, in talking about the Main building, says “ The reverberation of sound in these rooms,
in consequence of their magnitude and their arch-formed ceilings, render them
wholly unfit for use: ....... They are, however, constructed in exact
accordance with the Will, and these results were anticipated in the earliest
stages of the work.” The First Annual
report of the Directors was submitted Dec. 5th, 1948 and it reported that shortly after the
College opened it was determined that the sound reverberation of the Main
building rooms rendered them impossible to teach in. Classes were temporally moved to Bldg. 4
(Merchant) while dropped ceiling were installed in the Main building. In the Main building, three of the second
floor rooms were used for primary schools and parts of the fourth room were
used for French and Spanish instruction. One room on the third floor was used
to instruct drawing. The north-west room
on the first floor was a lecture room and used also for teaching natural
History and physiology. The other three rooms were used for moral and religious
instruction, a school library, and one for Stephen Girard books , clothing and
On May 27, 1847, the Select and Common Council (the
City’s governing body) passed 12
ordinances “To provide for the
Organization and Management of the Girard College for Orphans”. Some of those were replaced in June
1856. For many years, all changes to
the Board or the College were accomplished by ordinances. One ordinance indicates that the Directors
of the College were elected for a four year term, not for life, as is the case
today. An ordinance to construct what
became Banker Hall was enacted on December 20, 1849, two years after the college opened and after experience
revealed a water problem. Another
ordinance dated June 14, 1856 authorized a new school building for the
primary level. Many of these ordinances were revised by the Rules For the
Government of the Girard College For Orphans dated April 8, 1857.
They covered meeting arrangements,
powers and duties of the President, selection of officers and
committees, and the responsibilities of
the Accounts, Library, Instruction, Household, Admission, and Estimates
committees. The revision define the responsibility of every position
within the College. One rule reads, “The President shall conduct the family
worship, morning and evening, which shall consist of singing a hymn, reading a
portion of Scriptures, and prayer.” This
reflects that, from its beginning, the College intended to emphasize religion
in spite of the clergy prohibition in the Will.
The rules, and there were many, permitted students to leave the college
two weeks during the summer months only “when the mother or kin resides out of
The first President of Girard
College was Alexander Dallas Bache, who
was a Professor at the University of Pennsylvania.
He was elected President in 1836, and although he traveled extensively
in Europe preparing the Girard College curriculum, he left the position before
the College opened. He became president of the new Philadelphia Central High School.
The second President of Girard
College was the Hon. Joel Jones who, at the time of his selection, was the
President Judge of the District Court of Philadelphia and had been a professor
at Dickinson College.
He was chosen President on Dec. 15, 1847 and resigned June 1, 1849.
Dr. William Henry Allen, the third
President of Girard College was a Professor of Mental Philosophy and English
Literature in Dickinson College, Carlisle Pa.
He served from January 1, 1850 to 1863.
Dr. Allen also became the fifth President when he was re-selected again
in 1867 and served until August 29, 1882, when he died. He is buried in Laurel Hill Cemetery, coincidentally near the Girard College plot.
It is interesting to note that for the first few years of the College,
aside from the President, all other staff people were women, purposely hired to
achieve some feeling of parental relationships.