Historic Sites

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

We will begin the final part of our tour down Washington Avenue starting at Broad Street and working our way eastward towards the Delaware River. One of Philadelphia’s major industries, textiles, was well represented along Washington Avenue. By 1860, Philadelphia had as many people employed in the textile industry as the textile center of New England – Lowell, Massachusetts1. The industry thrived through the early part of the 20th century, with large mills located primarily in the Kensington area of the city, but also scattered in various locations throughout the city. On Washington Avenue, textile mills included the Abraham Kirschbaum Co. located on the northeast corner of the intersection with Broad Street, which can be seen on the right side of the photograph across the street from the PW&B railroad station. A second large mill, the Caleb J. Milne factory, took up an entire city block on the north side between 10th and 11th Streets. Built in 1895 and added to in 1904, it housed spinning, weaving and finishing operations2.

Another major industry along Washington Avenue was the Curtis Publishing Co., located between 11th and 12th Streets. Founded in 1883, it is principally remembered for its popular magazine publications The Ladies Home Journal and The Saturday Evening Post3.

Ancillary to Curtis Publishing was the Columbian Carbon Co., manufacturers of printer’s ink, located one block west at 1223 Washington Avenue. The industries on Washington Avenue included a number of smaller companies as well. For instance, there was McCracken and Hall, “Manufacturers of Fancy Cabinet Ware,” located at 1124 Washington Ave. This rather ornately decorated building seems to have survived at least another 40 years, although minus its mansard roof and with a new tenant – the Frank A. England Co., also a furniture maker. Interestingly, after 10th Street, Washington Avenue takes on a much more residential character with no major industries until its intersection with Delaware Avenue. Coal dealerships like American Ice and Coal still appear, but for the most part, the tracks glide past the row homes of Southwark on their way to the river.
After looking at these archival photographs, it’s interesting to reflect on what remains today. The tracks themselves are now gone, last used in the 1980s. Perhaps symbolic of the fate of manufacturing in Philadelphia, there are very few manufacturers of any sort remaining along Washington Avenue. A perusal using Google Earth shows that many of the small coal yards are now parking lots. Many of the very large buildings such as those of the Kirschbaum Co. and Caleb Milne Co. have been demolished and are vacant lots. As Philadelphia, like many other urban centers, evolves away from being a nexus of industry, it is still useful to remember and appreciate its rich industrial heritage that made it a great city.


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

[2] Workshop of the World, Oliver Evans Press, Philadelphia (1990), pp. 1-11-1-12.

[3] Scranton, Philip, Walter Licht. Work Sights: Industrial Philadelphia, 1890-1950. Philadelphia, Temple University Press, 1986, p. 222.