Events and People

If Rudolph Koenig Attended the Philadelphia Science Festival & Philly Tech Week

Rudolph Koenig’s full “Philosophical Apparatus” demonstrated
at the 1876 Philadelphia Centennial Exhibition.

The Philadelphia Science Festival and Philly Tech Week 2013 presented by AT&T both return this week, for their coinciding 10-day-long homage to the thriving science and technology communities in Philadelphia. But Philadelphia’s excitement about new, sometimes oddball technology has precedent that reaches at least as far back as Ben Franklin and includes staples of our daily lives like the wired telephone.

So in honor of the more than 200 events taking place through the end of April, we decided to think back on who we might resurrect from the annals of history to attend these events and decided on a pretty unconventional figure; a Parisian, no less: (Karl) Rudolph Koenig (1832-1901).

Koenig, who is no Philadelphian, certainly seems an unlikely candidate. Originally from Koenigsburg, Prussia (now part of Russia), he made his career in Paris inventing musical oddities and theorizing about the science of acoustics. In addition to his acoustical research contributions, Koenig was best known for his finely crafted tuning forks and for creating a manometric flame and rotating mirror which proved that fire would follow the rise and fall of musical sound waves.

The siren “Telephone” component of the Koenig’s exhibit.

Koenig first came to Philadelphia for the international Philadelphia Centennial Exhibition of 1876. There, Rudolph Koenig showed off a strange acoustical item called the “Philosophical Apparatus” (top). Part of the machine, a siren, was dubbed the “Telephone” and is pictured at left.

Another piece of the apparatus was a tonometer made of more than 600 tuning forks. While the object in the picture doesn’t look like anything most of us would call a phone, the jury was reportedly so taken with entirety of his creation, that one judge commented:

There is no other [exhibit] in the present International Exhibition which surpasses it in scientific interest.

Koenig claimed a gold medal at the Exhibition for his work.

Some reports indicate that the University of Pennsylvania might have been interested in purchasing the entire apparatus Koenig exhibited, however most sources note he struggled to sell his work in the United States and returned to Paris after the Centennial a bit put off. He did eventually sell the tonometer  to the United States Military Academy at West Point.

Incidentally, Alexander Graham Bell was also at the international Philadelphia Centennial Exhibition that year, exhibiting his recently patented and ultimately more famous telephone.

With his passion for audio and penchant for invention, it seems like Koenig could make a strong showing at a PTW mobile hackathon, were it not for more than 100 years of technological advances in the way we record and transmit sound. Still, given the plethora of audio-oriented applications that will undoubtedly be demonstrated throughout the course of PTW, it seems likely that Koenig and his accoustic apparati could quickly fit right in.


Torben Rees, ‘Rudolph Koenig: the pursuit of acoustic perfection’, Explore Whipple Collections, Whipple Museum of the History of Science, University of Cambridge, 2009 [, accessed 24 March 2013]

Events and People Snapshots of History

Happy Holidays from PhillyHistory Blog

The first public tree goes up in Independence Square in 1913.

Lists reflecting on the bests and worsts of the waning year are nearly as abundant as egg nog and cardboard-flavored cookies in the weeks leading up to the holidays. But unlike the transience of yearly in memoriams, Philadelphia’s rich tradition of holiday decorations is long and vibrant.

We hope you’ll think of this collection of holiday photos in Philadelphia not as a list, but as ongoing documentation of the persistence of cheer and lights and, sure, brotherly love, in a city that has kept the holiday spirit alive even in times of hardship.

As PhillyHistory and PlanPhilly have explained, the tree pictured right in front of Independence Square marked the city’s first public Christmas tree and seems to have heralded a tradition of “civic Christmas trees” that has subsequently lit the city during the darkest winter days.

But everyone knows the city doesn’t just celebrate with trees. A collection of carolers gathered in Reyburn Plaza in 1958, with two children sitting, apparently enchanted, in the foreground. In 1956, the city installed a live Santa and a child-sized train set in Reyburn Plaza, but according to the St. Joseph Gazette, no children arrived to ride the train or convey their Christmas lists to Santa. Our guess is that they were relying on the “real” Santa at the Wanamaker Building.

Today we know the holiday seasons would be incomplete without the audiovisual familiarity of jingling bells and red kettles from the Salvation Army. That was true in 1962, too. Below, volunteers celebrate the unveiling of the Salvation Army Christmas billboard that year.

Although the red kettle tradition actually began in San Francisco, Philadelphia was the site of the first Salvation Army meeting in 1879, nearly a century before this photo was taken.

Mayor John Street, looking festive, took a ride in a carriage at the city’s annual tree lighting and holiday festival in 2002. Since Street’s tenure, the yearly ceremony has expanded to include a Christmas Village. This year, due to the construction on Dilworth Plaza, the celebration took place at Love Park across the street.

And with that look at the holidays through years, here’s a graceful, 1962 holiday message that means the same today as it did then:

A lit sign carrying warm wishes over the frozen water at Kelly and Girard.

As a holiday bonus, here is a smattering of trees from 1959, 2002, and 2004:

The 1959 Christmas Tree display at City Hall.

Christmas in Love Park (2002).

The city’s 2004 tree at twilight.

Events and People Snapshots of History

When Presidents Come to Town

By Yael Borofsky for the PhillyHistory Blog

Jimmy Carter stops off in a classroom in pursuit of a re-election bid.

Although Philadelphia’s days as the nation’s capital were glorious, but short-lived, that hasn’t stopped commanders in chief from stopping off in a city that practically oozes with symbols of democracy. As election day and all the associated controversy approaches (make sure to vote!), we wanted to give you a look at a few of the former Presidents who have come to Philadelphia — to campaign, rally support, sign legislation, and otherwise attempt to harness the force of Philadelphia’s great political history — and a reminder of what they said.

Technically, President Jimmy Carter isn’t campaigning in this 1980 photo, but he might as well be. Here, Carter is on a trip to Philly which took him to the Italian Market and beyond in his effort to drum up support for his re-election bid. Things didn’t work out for Carter, who lost out to President Ronald Reagan that year. Still, it’s nice to know that picture perfect visits to elementary schools are not a new thing.

President Gerald Ford shared a table with then-Mayor Frank Rizzo [Photo], likely during or after the dinner celebrating the reconvening of the first Continental Congress on September 6, 1974. Ford celebrated the city in his remarks that day, saying “Philadelphia, the City of Brotherly Love, was the cradle of American liberty. “Love” and “liberty” are two pretty good words with which to start a nation.”

Nixon looks out his car window onto Independence National Mall.

About three years after President Richard Nixon took office in 1969, the president of privatization and Watergate infamy came to Philadelphia to sign a revenue-sharing bill — the State and Local Fiscal Assistance Act of 1972 — at Independence Hall. The bill redirected tax revenue to states and municipal governments who could manage the money as they needed. Nixon, in his remarks given at Independence Square, said:

“The signing today of the State and Local Fiscal Assistance Act of 1972–the legislation known as general revenue sharing-means that this new American revolution is truly underway. And it is appropriate that we launch this new American revolution in the same place where the first American Revolution was launched by our Founding Fathers 196 years ago-Independence Square in Philadelphia. It is appropriate that we meet in this historic place to help enunciate a new declaration of independence for our State and local governments.”

President Lyndon B. Johnson came to Philadelphia in 1967 [Photo] to visit the Philadelphia Opportunities Industrial Center at 19th and Oxford St., which had recently been opened by Reverend Leon H. Sullivan in 1964 to offer job training and educational support to minority groups in the city.

President John F. Kennedy at Independence Hall in 1962.

In his remarks at the POIC, Johnson lauded the work of the institution to lift up Philadelpia’s African American and minority population during a time when discrimination and inequality were destroying the fabric of cities across the country:

“Now when you really talk about what is right, you don’t appear to be nearly as interesting as you are when you talk about what is wrong. But I have seen so many things that are right here this morning that I wish everyone in America could not only see them, but emulate them–and follow them … What I have seen here with Reverend Sullivan is not just an institution–it is a unique training program. I have seen men and women whose self-respect is beginning to burn inside them like a flame–like a furnace that will fire them all their lives.”

On July 4, 1962 President John F. Kennedy was celebrating Independence Day in arguably the most important place to celebrate the holiday — Independence Hall. In an address to Philadelphia city leadership and the 54th National Governors Conference Kennedy remarked:

“Our task–your task in the State House and my task in the White House–is to weave from all these tangled threads a fabric of law and progress. We are not permitted the luxury of irresolution. Others may confine themselves to debate, discussion, and that ultimate luxury-free advice. Our responsibility is one of decision–for to govern is to choose.

Thus, in a very real sense, you and I are the executors of the testament handed down by those who gathered in this historic hall 186 years ago today.”

President Herbert Hoover addresses a crowd in Reyburn Plaza.

It’s not possible to see President Herbert Hoover in this picture taken in Reyburn Plaza at City Hall in October of 1932, but the scene is impressive. Hoover was stopping off in Philadelphia that day as part of a campaign tour through the mid-Atlantic region on his way to New York City and drew what looks to be a sizable crowd. Hoover, however, was not to be reelected.

This somewhat famous photo of President Abraham Lincoln [Photo] (JFK referenced it in the speech mentioned above) raising the American flag in front of Independence Hall could only be made better if you could actually see the man whom nearly every American could recognize with hesitation. Here, on February 22, 1861, Lincoln came to Philadelphia to welcome the state of Kansas to the Union in front of a crowd on the ground and in the trees.



Philadelphia Phillies: the Movingest (not the Losingest) team in baseball

Citizens Bank Park from a Wikipedia photo

By Yael Borofsky for

The thing about October is that the weather is like the baseball — sometimes it’s hot for most of the month, and sometimes it’s very, very cold. After quite a few years of some very “hot” Octobers for the Philadelphia Phillies, this year’s tenth month seems like it will be a chilly one.

But even if the Phillies miss out on a chance at the national title this year, they may deserve another title: the Movingest Team in Baseball.

Although the Cincinatti Reds and a few other legacy baseball teams may be close runners-up, the Phillies have switched major home parks at least five times within the same glorious city throughout their tenure.

The superlative illustrates their unique legacy and could, by way of a jaunt through history, distract from what will otherwise be a decidedly disappointing October.

The Parks

Recreation Park, also known as Centennial Park (among other monikers), was adopted as the first true home of the Philadelphia Phillies in 1883.

A shot of the Baker Bowl Police Annual Review taking place
on the Phillies’ field.

Recreation Park was outlined by 24th Street, 25th Street, Columbia and Ridge Avenue, in what baseball author Rich Westcott described as “the most irregularly shaped piece of land imaginable,” in his book Philadelphia’s Old Ballparks. To add to its physical oddity, though the park was previously called Columbia Park — it had been used as a baseball field by other teams since 1860 — it was also briefly occupied by a cavalry of the Union Army in 1866. One can only assume that they didn’t squeeze a few recreational innings in. The spot was renamed again in 1871 when the Philadelphia Centennials improved the baseball facilities and named it Centennial Park after the team.

Albert Reach, formerly a hot shot second baseman for the Philadelphia Athletics credited with taking that team to the 1871 pennant, brought major league baseball and the Phillies to the bizarre spot he renamed Recreation Park.

But, according to Westcott, the fans and the Phillies outgrew the park quickly and the team moved to a new home park, the Philadelphia Base Ball Park (eventually known as the Baker Bowl), in 1887.

Philadelphia Park met its untimely demise in 1894 when a fire killed 12 fans and injured more than 200 others, according to Westcott.

An aerial view of Connie Mack, which opened in 1909, but was
razed in 1976.

In the aftermath, the Phillies played in a couple other city parks until making their next big move to Columbia Park, the original home of the Athletics and first American League stadium in Philadelphia. In addition to hosting both the Phillies and the Athletics, the wooden park managed to contain the City Series, in which the two Philly teams went head to head. Coincidentally, in 26 total City Series match-ups, each team won an even 13 times.

After Philadelphia Park was reincarnated as the Baker Bowl, the Phillies stayed put for until 1938. Despite the fire and the new park’s infamously low, tin right field wall, it’s no surprise they stuck around – the Phils went to their first World Series there in 1915, not to mention sustained a run of nine consecutive first division finishes.

Westcott writes in his book of the Phillies’ success in the park: “Between 1911 and 1938, Phillies players led or tied for the National League in most home runs hit at home 19 times.”

In total, the Philles hit 1,314 home runs in nearly 52 years at their odd little hitter’s park at Broad Street and Lehigh.

You can read a fuller history of the infamously weird Baker Bowl at by clicking here.

The dedication of Veterans Stadium. The stadium was demolished
in 2004.

The Phillies next set up shop at 21st and Lehigh. Shibe Park, known as Connie Mack after 1953, housed the team for nearly 33 years. The park, named after former catcher and A’s manager Cornelius McGillicuddy, was also a nesting ground for the Philadelphia Athletics for 46 years and the Philadelphia Eagles for 17 years before being razed in 1976.

After Connie Mack closed in 1970, the Phillies moved on to Veterans Stadium where they finally claimed their first World Series title in 1980.

They wouldn’t see another national victory like that until 2008, after moving to their current home, Citizen’s Bank Park, in 2004.

Over the course of more than five different home stadiums, the Phillies traveled from North to South Philly, nabbing themselves a title as unusual as their journey and one that tells a story of adaptability, determination, and maybe, just a little bit of faith.


Wescott, Rich, Philadelphia’s Old Ballparks, Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1996.

Snapshots of History

Photo Gallery: Dilworth Plaza through the years

Former Mayor Richardson Dilworth (1956-1962) in 1957. Dilworth died
in 1974, three years before Dilworth Plaza was completed.

Dilworth Plaza is currently a hollowed-out pit of fenced-in concrete on the west side of City Hall, but soon it should be so much more. Center City District’s plans for the new plaza are modern, chic and supposedly practical in a way that the original construction, which took more than a decade and spurned plenty of controversy, was not.

You can see an EarthCam photo of Dilworth Plaza’s progress here.

But even before Dilworth Plaza was named for the man on the left, former Mayor Richardson Dilworth, the location had served a wide range of purposes throughout the years. Until construction began earlier this year, the plaza was most recently made nationally famous as the site for Philadelphia’s Occupy Protests.

While we anticipate what the new Plaza will do for Center City, let’s take a brief photo tour of the purposes the space has served in the past.

Dilworth Plaza Photo Tour


A pre-event for Take our Daughters to Work Day in Dilworth Plaza.


A show of Christmas festivity on Dilworth Plaza in 1981.


Redevelopment of Market Street including a view of the construction at Dilworth Plaza.
A second view of the redevelopment and construction progress.


Two photos (above and below) of a 1961 car crash that occurred right on the spot that would become Dilworth Plaza.


A shot of the Department of Streets booth during Employees Week in 1959 on what would become Dilworth Plaza.

A shot of the Fairmount Parks Commission booth during Employees Week in 1959 the eventual Dilworth Plaza.

A look at the City Commissioners Employee Week booth.


An indirect view of the western side of City Hall which would one day be Dilworth Plaza.


A 1903 view from the west side of City Hall, which would eventually become Dilworth Plaza.

Events and People

When Guion Bluford, the first African American in space, came home

November 1983: Guion Bluford speaks at a press conference in City Hall upon his homecoming
after his first successful space mission.

By Yael Borofsky for

Guion Bluford — he goes by Guy — is the man at the center of all that attention in the photo to the left. Nearly thirty years after becoming the first African American to go to space, he doesn’t exactly remember what he said in that City Hall press conference, but given that the event marked his homecoming, he probably doesn’t need to.

“It was so long ago,” Bluford told PhillyHistory. “I do remember it was exciting and I was happy to be home.”

Bluford also remembers that being in Philadelphia was a whirlwind. After completing the successful STS 8 mission in September of 1983 and spending a whole month on the road doing public relations events all over the country, Bluford was finally back home for four days, though he was staying at the Four Seasons downtown, not his childhood home in West Philly.

In addition to the City Hall press conference, then-Mayor Bill Green, III, presented him with the Philadelphia bowl (Bluford still prizes it in his trophy case, he says), he met with then-Governor of Pennsylvania Dick Thornburgh, and soon-to-be Mayor Wilson Goode. He visited with sick children at the Children’s Hospital of Pennsylvania, and he’s not entirely certain, but thinks he may have also spoken one other time in Society Hill. To cap it all off, Bluford served as grand marshal of the 64th annual Thanksgiving Day parade.

The city had every reason to celebrate the man. Bluford would go on to complete three more successful space missions — the STS 61-A, STS-39 and STS-53. But the city could have treated him as a public hero and role model even before that. After graduating from the Air Force ROTC with a degree in aeronautical engineering from Penn State University in 1964 — his dream since at least high school — Bluford decided to join the U.S. Air Force as a pilot.

“I was going to go into the Air Force as an engineer and spend three to five years and decide, at that point, if I was going to stay in the Air Force or go work in industry,” Bluford recalled. “Between my junior and senior years, I went to ROTC summer camp… and at the end of the four weeks I took a physical and the doctor asked me why I didn’t want to be a pilot. So I decided to go in as a pilot. I thought I’d be a better engineer if I knew how to fly airplanes.”

According to Bluford’s NASA biography, he flew a total of 144 combat missions, including 65 over North Vietnam.

While in the Air Force he received two degrees from the Air Force Institute of Technology and eventually became a NASA astronaut in 1979. As if space flight was not enough, during his time working for NASA he also received his MBA from the University of Houston, Clear Lake.

Bluford says that when he began working for NASA in 1979 he was aware that an African American had never before traveled to space, he just wasn’t focused on being the one to do it. When it turned out that he was the man to assume that role, he says he was both honored and humbled by the privilege.

“I realized I was setting an example not only for African Americans, but also African American astronauts, and letting people know that African Americans can be astronauts and do just a good a job as everyone else,” Bluford said. “When I went into the astronaut program my goal was to make a contribution and I’m proud of the one I made.”

During his NASA career, Bluford confirmed that he logged 688 hours in space.

Today Bluford lives in Cleveland, Ohio and is the President of the Aerospace Technology group, having begun what he considers to be his “third career” in “industry” after retiring from NASA and the Air Force in 1993.

Though he and his family currently have no plans to move back to Philadelphia, Bluford says that then as now, he will always think of Philadelphia as home.

Urban Planning

100 years of the signage debate in Market East

Purchase Photo View Nearby Photos
A 1911 photo of a hodgepodge of signage covering buildings on
North Juniper Street.

Just over a hundred years after this photo of North Juniper Street was taken, businesses in the Market East corridor may once again find inspiration in the jumble of advertisements adorning this row of buildings.

Late last year, Philadelphia adopted a revamped Zoning Code that promises to have important implications for the city’s attitude toward signage, particularly in the struggling central area along Market Street that spans from 7th to 13th streets. The new rules loosen the restrictions on commercial signage and, according to the New York Times, require a minimum investment of ten million dollars, making the sign licensing a way for developers to generate new revenue to enhance redevelopment.

The policy change combined with the Inquirer’s move to the old Strawbridge and Clothier building at 8th and Market (think enormous news crawler and four total digital signs) are supposed to be a one-two punch that will make the area more exciting and appealing to new businesses.

“The city has been embroiled for years over whether signs are evil or merely disgusting and terrible, but when you look at cities, and this goes all the way back to ancient Rome, commercial districts have always been filled with signs,” George Thomas, a Penn Lecturer on Urban Studies and adjunct faculty at Harvard Graduate School of Design in the strategic and critical conservation program, said. “They’ve always been about communication and connecting people with words and images.”

The realization of the city’s dreams for Market East may take some time. But the genesis of their central assumption — that signage can improve a neighborhood, not blight it — already marks a shift in the way the city thinks about the urban experience.

One hundred years of urban planning finds the city once again in support of the sort of building signage — multistory, LED — that makes the collage of ads in the photo above seem benign. So what happened in between?

At the time this photo was taken, these large, bright, crafted forms of signage were part of a dying breed, according to Thomas. Late in the 1800’s the purifying City Beautiful movement, which frowned on large scale commercial signage, was already on its rise to dominance in the cadre of urban planning paradigms.

Thomas, who is also a partner in architectural consulting firm Civic Visions, says the signs were already being treated as imagery-non-grata in rich areas, like Rittenhouse Square.

“In a larger local frame it was also part of the shift from valuing the engineering and industrial culture that we had created in the Workshop of the World to one that denigrated commerce — with Philadelphia elites losing their connection to the physical world,” Thomas said.

What’s odd is that the haphazard pyramid of antique typefaces seems beautiful today, the randomness of so many commercial entreaties adorable, thanks to the benefit of a century of nostalgia.

“Buildings spoke and people were bombarded with commercial information,” Thomas said.

But those responsible for urban renewal over much of the 20th century, particularly through the 1950s and 1960s, saw no such whimsy in the blunt signage. The broader erasure of so many signs from building picked up pace during these years as stricter sign restrictions became ever more closely tied to urban renewal and modernism.

“The historic preservation movement of the 1950s and 1960s also valued primarily colonial and federal era architecture – hence a great deal of great Victorian architecture (and a lot of [Frank] Furness buildings) got demolished in that era and we adapted a somewhat stylized idea of preservation in which lots of signage from federal-era buildings in Society Hill was also removed,” Center City District President Paul Levy said.

Fifty or so years later, enter the most recent controversy over signage in Market East. In 2007, the city began investigating what new signage rules might mean for Philadelphia by observing other cities, like New York, San Francisco, Chicago, and Boston. What Philadelphia learned, Levy said, was that it could relax signage restrictions without turning Market East into Times Square, a major concern for some stakeholders.

“The goal was not to cover every building with a sign, as in Times Square, but rather to use these signs as a tool to help prompt redevelopment,” Levy said. “Developers would have to do substantial renovation or new construction in order to be eligible for a sign and then would have to animate and open the building at street level (primarily the Gallery) to enhance pedestrian activity.”

The controversy over signage in downtown Philly hit an apex in advance of the Zoning Code passage in December 2011, but Thomas says decades of opposition to signage has scared companies like Unisys out of the city and into the suburbs where commercial signage regulations are friendlier to businesses.

“Commerce was and is a language and a meeting point of a community — and the commercial zone reflected this. Notably when cities were at their most vital they were also at their most communicative. And note too that as sign ordinances and controls began to limit commercial real estate, business moved to malls where signs are the dominant interior landscape feature and keep the quality of the Victorian street.”

The hope now, is that a modern vision inspired by the 1911 photo above, will act like an abstract version of an electric billboard to draw some of those companies, and many of those jobs, back to Market East.

Historic Sites

PMN leaves the Inquirer Building: a look back in pictures

A 2006 shot of the Philadelphia Inquirer Building. Photo Credit: Medvedenko

For decades, Philadelphians have picked up two of the most prominent city newspapers — the Inquirer and the Daily News — knowing that the lens through which they learned about Philadelphia, good and bad, was secure in the imposing, palatial Inquirer building on North Broad Street.

The building and the publishing company have weathered alterations over the years. But as of last week, a more jarring change impacted workers at Philadelphia Media Network, as they settled into a new office at the Strawbridge and Clothier building at the bustling corner of 8th and Market.

The new space is roughly one fifth the size of PMN’s former habitat, according to numbers reported by the New York Times. It’s unclear what the future holds for the publishing company, but the storied history of its home is certain.

In honor of the move and the future, what follows is a gallery of photos depicting the Inquire building through the years. Best of luck to the two daily newspapers and staff.

Historic Sites

The archaeological investigation at the West Shipyard is open to the public Friday

A 1914 picture of Pier 19 possibly taken from the West Shipyard
lot undergoing excavation.

When someone says the words “archaeological dig,” ancient Greece, Egypt or Rome tend to come to mind along with visions of buried treasure and mummies galore.

But Philadelphia has started its own archaeological excavation led by the John Milner Associates along with the Delaware River Waterfront Corporation who have collectively started digging up a thatch of the waterfront at Columbus and Vine, across from Pier 19, in search of the remains of the West Shipyard.

The crew, of course, is not hunting for mummies. They are hoping to discover evidence of the ship building and repairing business that a man named James West owned from 1676 to 1701 — reportedly pre-dating the arrival of William Penn — according to the West Shipyard blog.

The slipway being prepared for excavation is commonly referred to as the Hertz Lot after a Hertz Rental Car opened a location there in 1969 and was listed as the first archaeological site on the Philadelphia Register of Historic Places, according to the Philadelphia Archaeological Forum.

Today the spot in question could not be more unassuming as a battered old parking lot across from the beer, fries, and gameland that is Dave and Busters.

In a recent story on the dig at Hidden City, Harry Kyriakodis, an expert on Philadelphia’s waterfront, describes the original use of the West Shipyard this way:

“In the days before dry docks, sailing ships needing repair would be dragged up slipways (launching ramps) to enable repairs to be made. New vessels, needless to say, were also built on such ramps. A ropewalk (a long straight narrow lane where rope was made) was immediately north of the West Shipyard.”

Kyriakodis reports that West’s son took over after his father’s death in 1701, turning the locale into “miniature ‘company town,’ complete with shops and inns to support its workers,” but advancements in shipbuilding technology eventually outgrew the small shipyard.

Of course the goal is not simply to unearth remains. The study is part of the DRWC’s larger stated plans to redevelop and preserve Philalphia’s once lively, but now underutilized waterfront.

The archaeological dig began on July 16 and is open to the public Friday afternoon, July 20, from 1:00pm to 3:00pm, but you can also click here to arrange an appointment to survey the dig during the week of July 23-27.

Update: An additional public tour time has been added due to popular demand. The site will also be open to the public on Tuesday, July 24, from 5-7pm.

Historic Sites

Sister Cities: the history of a newly restored piece of Logan Square

A recent aerial view of Sister Cities park.
Photo Credit: Marc Morfei

By Yael Borofsky for

Sister Cities park, reopened this May, is a beautiful homage to urban revitalization, combining the charming with the whimsical in a series of landmarks signifying Philadelphia’s ten sister cities: a cafe, a boat pond, and other small wonders that draw people to Ben Franklin Parkway where the park is situated.

But don’t let the newness or the cuteness distract from the fact that there are a couple of odd things behind Sister Cities park.

For one, no one seems to know exactly why Tel Aviv and Florence became Philadelphia’s first two sister cities — Florence in 1964 and Tel Aviv in 1967.

Nancy Gilboy, president of Sister Cities administrative body, the Philadelphia International Visitors Council (IVC), says that at the time, the induction of Sister Cities was all about relationships.

“It usually comes about when somebody of prominence in each city meets and they see there are synergies between the two cities,” Gilboy explained, adding that program was started in the 1950s by President Eisenhower in an effort to bridge cultural divides.

But Gilboy said she couldn’t be sure who was directly responsible for the relationship with both the Israeli and the Italian city, aside from Mayor James Tate who formally invited both cities to participate in the program.

An aerial view of Sister Cities Plaza from 1972.

This archived news article documenting the designation of Philadelphia and Tel Aviv as Sister Cities on April 24, 1967 suggests that one connection between the two cities is that both were sites of independence:

“The ceremonies were held after Philadelphia Mayor James Tate sent a message to Mordechai Namir, Mayor of Tel Aviv, noting that the declaration was being issued on the eve of Passover, “Feast of Freedom” and pointed out that both cities have been sites of declarations — the U.S. Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1776 in Philadelphia, and the Israeli declaration of independence on May 14, 1948 in Tel Aviv.”

One theory commonly put forward is that Philadelphia’s significant Italian and Jewish immigrant populations had something to do with the inter-city connections.

Other oddities about Sister Cities have more to do with the park, before the city had any sisters to honor.

Despite it’s relatively small size — it’s just one tiny chunk of Logan Square — the site has an rich history that includes serving as a grave site for various religious organizations and health institutions, a gallows, and a potter’s field. When Center City District began working to revamp the site, it knew that it and its partners would have to tread lightly, said Vice President of Planning at Center City District Nancy Goldenberg.

Still, when the early stages of park remodeling in 2010 revealed 60 orderly grave sites along the 18th Street border of the park, CCD had to revise many of its plans, including the placement of geothermal wells, in order to avoid disturbing them further.

Goldenburg said that research suggests the graves belonged to the First Reform Church in Old City, who apparently also used the land as burial grounds.

But if bones, hangings, and merchants seem a bizarre mix for a site that now attracts many small children, the location has even older less consistent roots in the Civil War. The spot was used to site the Great Sanitary Fair (or Great Central Fair) of 1864. The multi-week event was designed by the Sanitary Committee, a federal agency, to gather proceeds to fund care and supplies for the Union soldiers, said Goldenberg.

“The fair actually took up all of Logan Square but coincidentally, the fair had a children’s playground area and that was actually located where Sister Cities park is today,” Goldenberg said. “And of course we have a children’s garden in our park so that was really quite ironic.”

The Sanitary Committee, the precursor to the American Red Cross, traveled around the country holding these fairs to drum up wartime support, but Goldenberg says Philadelphia’s Fair was the only one honored by the attendance of President Abraham Lincoln. According to an archived Philadelphia Ledger article from July 1, 1864, the organizers culled about $7,000 in entrance fees, or about $102,000 by today’s standards.

Thanks to the remodeling, the park contains numerous reminders of its sordid past, but as you walk through the modernized form of Sister Cities park it’s worth remembering that things are rarely what they seem.