Historic Sites

Washington Avenue: A Representative Example of Philadelphia’s Industrial Past, Part II

We continue our tour down Washington Avenue at 17th Street heading east towards Broad Street. There are, of course, the ubiquitous coal yards along the way. These may seem strange to us today but were an essential feature in the first half of the 20th Century. Through World War II, nearly half of the railroad sidings along Washington Avenue were devoted to coal delivery. As we cross 17th Street looking north, we can see another element of Philadelphia’s industrial past, the Philadelphia rowhouse. Viewing this picture one sees an almost endless line of rowhouses, with trolley tracks running down the center of the street. Most workers lived close to the factories they worked in, but if they were not within walking distance, they took the trolley.

At the intersection with Chadwick Street stands the Southwark Plating Co. This is a reminder that while Philadelphia did have large companies that dominated the industrial landscape, such as Baldwin Locomotive Works, Philadelphia was also home to many smaller specialty firms that formed a productive network with neighboring industries.1 Just across Chadwick Street, extending to the corner of 16th and Carpenter Streets, was a series of public delivery tracks, allowing industries not directly on Washington Ave. to load and ship by rail. On the west side of 16th Street, a branch office of Berger Manufacturing turned out sheet metal products even after the company was assimilated into Republic Steel in 1930. 2

At the intersection of Washington Avenue and Broad Street, there were a number of important buildings. The northwest quadrant was the site of the original passenger station built by the Philadelphia, Wilmington & Baltimore Railroad in 1852. This was the first passenger station where locomotives were able to bring passengers directly into the city. The station boasted a 400′ long train shed that housed 8 tracks.3 During the Civil War, the station was an important departure point for Union troops headed south. It was also a stopping point for the Lincoln funeral train on its journey to Illinois.4 With the Centennial Exposition of 1876, the railroad expanded its terminal facilities, including the addition of a separate enclosed freight shed.3 Once under the control of the Pennsylvania Railroad, the station was closed for passenger service in January of 1882, coincident with the opening of the railroad’s Broad Street Station.

On the southwest side of the intersection was the Marine Quartermaster’s Depot. This massive building was later expanded and served as an important source for war materials during both World Wars. Uniforms were manufactured here, drawing on the expertise of the local Philadelphia textile industry. Its location along Washington Avenue proved expeditious for shipping materials via rail.4

In the next part of our trip down Washington Avenue, we will continue our tour east of Broad Street and look at some representatives of major industrial categories that were part of the Philadelphia landscape.


[1] Scranton, Philip, (1992). “Large Firms and Industrial Restructuring: The Philadelphia Region, 1900-1980.” Historical Society of Pennsylvania, 116, pp 419–465.


[3] Roberts, Charles S. and David W. Messer (2003). Triumph VI: Philadelphia, Columbia, Harrisburg to Baltimore and Washington DC 1827-2003. Baltimore, Maryland: Barnard, Roberts & Co. p. 50.

[4] “Workshop of the World At War: The USMC Quartermaster Depot.” September 19, 2006.