Tours of Independence Hall Offered Right Here in Sharpstown

Tours of Independence Hall Offered Right Here in Sharpstown
Houston Christian University's replica of Independence Hall. Image Credit: Tyess Korsmo

By Kirsten Passmore, HCU student

I rolled up the ramp in my wheelchair toward the grand white doors of Independence Hall, where America's founders signed the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. But I wasn't in one of the original thirteen colonies.

This was Texas.

The real Independence Hall (originally known as the Pennsylvania State House) is in Philadelphia, but Sharpstown's Houston Christian University is home to a full-scale replica, the centerpiece of the Morris Family Center for Law and Liberty. Opened in September 2022, the Center contains recreations of the old Pennsylvania Supreme Court and the room where America's founding documents were inked.

The Center is open to the public. Not only does it offer guided group tours for prearranged school field trips, but in September 2023, the Center launched a free, self-guided audio tour. I visited to check it out.

While the entrance was wheelchair accessible, it had no handicap button. Fortunately, Eleanor Barton, director of historical museums, helped me with the door and walked me to the end of the Grand Hall.

She explained that the Hall’s creation, which took many years, was a team effort. Dr. Christopher Hammons wrote the audio tour script (narrated by him and Mrs. Barton) along with all the curriculum offered by the Law and Liberty Center.

She pointed me toward a small front desk where I scanned a QR code with my phone to access the audio tour.

Dr. Hammon's voice came through my phone, describing how the hall was built according the Georgian style, which emphasizes symmetry, proportion, and lots of light. Unsurprisingly, the name comes from the various King Georges of the British Empire.

Light was important for American colonists who lived before electricity, which is why HCU’s Independence Hall has an iconic window. 

A balcony with a railing and a window

Description automatically generated with medium confidence
Image Credit: Kirsten Passmore

According to the Law and Liberty Center's webpage, HCU students "often use this photographic spot to commemorate events such as graduation, birthdays, and even marriage proposals." As a senior political science major, I would love to take my graduation photos close to the window. However, as a wheelchair user, I think I will have to find another spot.

The window can be accessed by the portrait-lined staircase. The audio tour offers information on each portrait. While I could glimpse parts of the gallery, I was unsure how I was supposed to get to the gallery’s level.

In one wing, the courtroom is furnished with a dock, jury box, and witness stand. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court continued meeting in this room after America declared independence from Britain.

The portrait of John Adams stands in the Courtroom as a reminder of the Boston Massacre and the importance of a fair trial. In 1770, he served as the defense attorney for the accused British soldiers, despite knowing it would make him unpopular.

The courtroom. Image Credit: Kirsten Passmore

But the magnum opus of Independence Hall is the Assembly Room, the birthplace of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. HCU allows classes and lectures to take place in their recreation of the room.

From the center of the room, George Washington oversaw the Constitutional Convention. HCU faithfully recreated his chair, including the small image of a sun. The tour describes how Benjamin Franklin wondered, during the convention, if the sun on the back of Washington’s seat represented America rising or sinking in the face of the challenges ahead of her. Thankfully for Americans, the sun was rising at the end of the Convention.

There's more to the tour. For example, the Great Hall, where visitors enter, showcases two famous paintings: “The Declaration of Independence” by John Trumbull and “The Signing of the Constitution” by Howard Chandler Christy.

The Presidential Gallery is traditionally not on HCU’s Independence Hall tour. Equipped with a kitchen, it is only open for private parties or special events hosted by the school. Thankfully, luck was on my side. I gained access to the Presidential Gallery by attending a speaking engagement.

A room with tables and chairs

Description automatically generated
The Presidential Gallery. Image Credit: Kirsten Passmore

Touring Independence Hall was a formative experience that reminded me why I chose my political science major. At HCU, I can study the Declaration of Independence and Constitution inside a recreation of the room where they were signed.

After my experience, I spoke with Dr. Hammons about an alternative for hard-of-hearing people who may have difficulty with the audio tour. He and I came up with a solution: a copy of the audio tour script will be kept at the front desk and available upon request.

Free audio tours are available on weekdays from 9:00 AM to 4:00 PM (no charge for admission either).

According to student worker Marisol Balderas, groups from public, charter, and private schools can also arrange to come for interactive, guided tours. The touring students get to wear revolutionary hats, sit in the jury box to put their teachers on trial, and more.

More tour information is available on HCU's website.

Conflict of Interest Statement: Kirsten Passmore is a student at HCU and an advisee of Dr. Chris Hammons. Tyess Korsmo is an alumnus of HCU and teaches English there.


Kirsten Passmore

Kirsten Passmore, reporter
Kirsten Passmore is a senior studying political science at Houston Christian University. She enjoys volunteering, spending time with friends, and playing adaptive sports in her spare time. Diagnosed with cerebral palsy (as a result of a brain injury at birth), she uses an electric wheelchair. In 201…

Tyess Korsmo

Tyess Korsmo, editor-in-chief
A North Dakota farm boy, Tyess moved to Sharpstown in 2019 to earn his Master of Liberal Arts at Houston Christian University (formerly Houston Baptist), where he now teaches English and history. He also teaches English for the Heart of Texas Foundation College of Ministry, located in a maximum-secu…