This Parkway Had a Tunnel

Keystone Setting, East Portal of the Tunnel near 21st and Hamilton Streets, December 17, 1898 (

One September afternoon in 1898 an Inquirer reporter, accompanied by an artist, “walked over the entire route” of the Reading subway, a massive project stretching from 12th Street to 30th Street.

When completed, this now-defunct subway would accommodate locomotives hauling raw materials and freight through one of the city’s most industrialized neighborhoods. Yet one wouldn’t know it – or even see it – at street level. The entire project would be topped by a landscaped boulevard leading from Hamilton Street and 22nd to the entrances to Fairmount Park at Spring Garden and Green Streets. One might say this project foreshadowed the much more famous Parkway, which was also originally slated to have its own subway.

Beneath the diagonal of Pennsylvania Avenue, this Reading subway would have “a series of thirteen air shafts in the roof of the tunnel” distributed over its entire length at an average distance apart of 75 feet. Each one would be “beautified” with “plots of grass and shrubbery…enclosed by an ornamental iron railing and a granite curb.”

Beneath were massive arches, many of which appeared to the reporter to be “capable of sustaining hundreds of tons more weight than they will ever be called on to sustain.”

A few months later, the Inquirer reporter witnessed the completion of one of the 2,710-foot tunnel’s 52-foot arches. “A five-ton keystone was placed in position yesterday by chief (George S.) Webster, of the bureau of surveys, in the arch of the subway tunnel, at 22nd and Hamilton Streets.” A city photographer was there to document the dedication ceremony, which included the entire project team: politicians, contractors, stone masons and laborers, tools in hand.

Sources: “Hard at Work on the Subway,” The Philadelphia Inquirer, September 19, 1898; “The Subway Keystone,” The Philadelphia Inquirer, December 18, 1898.

George S. Webster, Chief Engineer, Bureau of Surveys (left) shaking hands with an unidentified man. Other unidentified participants on the project team follow.
The Keystone in 2023. South side of 2100 block of Hamilton Street.

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