Historic Sites

As Long as the Creeks and Rivers Run: Traces of the Lenni Lenape – Part I: Along the Delaware

By Shawn Evans, Atkin Olshin Schade Architects

Philadelphia’s history stretches long before the advent of photography. Our city had already passed its sesquicentennial when it was first captured in film in 1839.i The historic photos of the City Archives provide a window into the evolution of the city: here we can find beloved buildings lost to changing tastes and to the perceived needs of the automobile, as well as traces of the landscape that existed here for thousands of years prior to William Penn. Among these landscapes are remnants of the natural environment named by the Lenni Lenape who lived here before us. In many cases only the place names survive.

At 37 feet tall, William Penn, is Philadelphia’s largest citizen and visible to all. Standing at the center of an ever-changing city since 1894, he carries on a quiet conversation with the Lenni Lenape Indians, who once occupied many hamlets and campsites within the current city boundaries. Billy Penn gestures northeast towards the place now known as Penn Treaty Park, where in 1682, he met with Chief Tamanend and other indigenous leaders under a great elm tree and made the Treaty of Amity and Friendship. Famously depicted in dozens of paintings and lithographs, Penn wholeheartedly promises equal treatment, to which Chief Tamanend reportedly replied, “We will live in love with William Penn and his children as long as the creeks and rivers run, and while the sun, moon, and stars endure.” ii

The Treaty Elm was situated in an area then known as Shackamaxon. The original Swedish settlers and the English who followed adopted the Lenape name for this place, which is assumed to be derived from Schachamesink – “Place of Eels” or Sakimaucheen “Place where the Chiefs are Made.” iii Shackamaxon was one of the largest Lenape settlements, encompassing the current neighborhoods of Kensington, Fishtown, and Port Richmond. While Penn’s descendants neglected to honor the treaty, this place remains special to both Philadelphians and the Lenape. The Treaty Elm stood until 1810 when it was uprooted in a violent storm.iv As early as 1825, plans were made to memorialize the site. A monument was erected, but Penn Treaty Park did not open until 1893. Numerous descendants of the Treaty Elm have been planted at the site, most recently in May 2010, and a number of recent Lenape ceremonies have been held here.v

One mile up the Delaware River, known to the Lenni Lenape as Makerisk-kitton, meaning “the great tide-water river,” another Lenape place exists today only on street Aramingo Avenue takes its name from the creek that emptied into the river where Aramingo meets I-95 in Kensington. In 1850 this area was incorporated as Aramingo Borough, but its self-governance was short-lived. Aramingo and all other municipalities within Philadelphia County were consolidated into the City of Philadelphia in 1854. Aramingo Creek, also known as Gunner’s Run, was converted into a canal and eventually transformed into a covered sewer.vii Aramingo is believed to be a derivation of the Lenape word, Tumanaraming, which means “wolf walk.” viii The Aramingo Canal is seen here in 1900 shortly before it was covered.

Frankford Creek, which empties into the Delaware at the foot of the Betsy Ross Bridge, was known to the Lenape as Quessinawomink. Just south of the Tacony-Palmyra Bridge was the Wissinoming Creek, another missing waterway, whose name is derived from the Lenape word, Wischanemunk meaning “Where We Are Frightened.” Although the creek is gone, the neighborhood preserves the place name.ix

North of these creeks was a Lenape settlement named Pemapaki, meaning “Lake Land.” x This settlement was likely in at the mouth of the Pennypack Creek, an Anglicized spelling of the Lenape place name. Pennypack Park was established in 1905 and retains sizable natural areas, such as depicted in this 1900 photograph of a wooden bridge at Rhawn Street. At Frankford Avenue, an historic masonry bridge crosses Pennypack Creek. Seen here during an 1893 widening, the bridge dates to 1697 and is the oldest roadway bridge in the country.xi A National Historic Civil Engineering Landmark, its original construction was directed by William Penn as a key component of the King’s Highway connecting Philadelphia to Boston. This structure was crossed by both the first generations of European settlers and last generations of Lenape prior to their relocation.

The Poquessing Creek forms the northeastern boundary of Philadelphia where it meets Bucks County. Along the mouth of this creek was a Lenape hamlet known as Poquesink, meaning “place of the mice.” xii The Glen Foerd Mansion has occupied this remarkable site since about 1850. This image shows several bridges spanning the Poquessing just west of Glen Foerd.

In South Philadelphia, one other Lenape village is known to have occupied the shores of the Delaware River within the current city limits. Now known as Queen Village, this neighborhood had previously been known as Southwark, the name given by William Penn to “New Sweden,” a small community of Swedish settlers who had arrived in 1642. The Swedes established their colony where Hollander Creek emptied into the Delaware, a place occupied by Lenape. Known to them as Wequiaquenske, a likely combination of Wiquek “head of Creek” and Kuwe “pine tree,” the name means “Place of Pine Trees at the Head of a Creek.” xiii The name has been Anglicized to Wicaco and Weccacoe. The Swedish settlers retained usage of the Lenape place name, referring to one of the first public structures erected as the Wicaco Blockhouse, seen here in its reconstructed form, adjacent to the American Historical Museum in FDR Park. This building was constructed in 1669 and demolished in 1698 to make room for Old Swede’s Church. Weccacoe carries forth as the name of a beloved neighborhood park, facing these typical Queen Village houses on the 400 block of Catherine Street.

See Part II for a tracing of Lenni Lenape places up the Schuylkill River.


[i] Looney, Robert F. Old Philadelphia in Early Photographs, 1839-1914, 215 Prints from the Collection of the Free Library of Philadelphia. New York: Dover Publications, Inc., 1976.

[ii] Milano, Kenneth W. The History of Penn Treaty Park. Charleston, SC: The History Press, 2009, p.21.

[iii] Cotter, John L., Daniel G. Roberts, and Michael Parrington. The Buried Past: An Archaeological History of Philadelphia. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1992, p.28.

[iv] Penn Treaty Museum website,, accessed 6/23/2010.

[v] Elissa Lala, “Penn Treaty Elm replanted from original’s descendant.” Philadelphia Inquirer, 8 May 2010, accessed 6/23/2010.

[vi] Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society, held at Philadelphia, for Promoting Useful Knowledge. Vol. V. Philadelphia: John C. Clark, 1854, p.127.

[vii] Philly H2O: The History of Philadelphia’s Watersheds., accessed 6/23/2010.

[viii] Cotter, p.28.

[ix] Cotter, p.29.

[x] Cotter, p.28.

[xi] Historic American Building Surveys:, accessed 6/23/2010.

[xii] Cotter, p.28

[xiii] Cotter, p.28. Many sources identify the meaning of Weccacoe as “pleasant place.” See “From Weccacoe to South Philadelphia”, accessed 6/23/2010.

Historic Sites

“One price and goods returnable”: Center City’s Department Stores

During the first half of the nineteenth century, Market Street (formerly High Street) was a mix of residential and commercial, as Philadelphians clung to the Delaware waterfront for sustenance. Successful businessmen such as printer Benjamin Franklin and china maker Benjamin Tucker lived “above the store” or in houses adjacent to their businesses.i With the coming of the horse-drawn and electric streetcar, however, Market Street became almost exclusively commercial, as many business owners moved to fashionable residential districts to the south and the west.

Following the Civil War, there was an explosion in manufactured consumer goods, especially clothing and household wares. By 1900, fine furniture, crockery, carpets, tailored suits, and dresses were now available to an expanding (and increasingly discerning) middle class, not just the rich. For residents of neighborhoods like Germantown and West Philadelphia, shopping was no longer just a chore: it was entertainment.

A number of Philadelphia entrepreneurs capitalized on this embarrassment of riches by consolidating consumer offerings under one roof. The most famous merchandiser of them all was John Wanamaker, who came up with a simple slogan: “One price and goods returnable.” Like his contemporary John D. Rockefeller, Wanamaker was a proponent of the “Social Gospel,” a philosophy that maintained wealth was a tool to further “the exhibition of the Kingdom of Heaven to the world.” ii A devout Presbyterian, Wanamaker believed he could uplift his patrons through art, culture, and Christian morality.

After successfully operating two smaller stores in Center City, in 1875 he purchased the Pennsylvania Railroad’s freight depot at 13th and Market Streets, on the east side of Penn Square. He then refurbished it into a sprawling store with 129 counters. He also made sure his store was on the cutting edge of technology, equipping it with telephones, elevators, electric lights, and pneumatic tubes.iii Wanamaker bet that the unfinished City Hall –being built on what once had been quiet residential square—would transform the area into a booming commercial hub.

Wanamaker’s gamble paid off. Not only did the new City Hall shift the commercial heart of the city from Old City to Penn Square, but the new Broad Street Station funneled prosperous suburbanites right onto his store’s front doorsteps. His “Grand Depot” was so lucrative that Wanamaker built an even bigger store on the same site. Designed by Daniel Burnham and unveiled in 1911, the new store was 12 stories high and resembled an Italian Renaissance palazzo on the exterior.iv The interior was a glittering jewel box, encrusted with crystal, marble, and European paintings.v A gigantic pipe organ, originally built for the St. Louis World’s Fair, entertained shoppers as they strolled through the The 9th floor Crystal Tea Room, able to seat 1,400 guests, was one of the most beautiful dining establishments in the city. At Christmastime, a sparkling curtain of light cascaded down the walls of the main atrium, eliciting the “oohs” and “ahs” from generations of Philadelphia children.

“Pious John” Wanamaker was not modest about his own success. Read a plaque in the lobby: “Let those who follow me continue to build with the plumb of honor, the level of truth and the square of integrity, education, courtesy, and mutuality.” vii He was also sometimes credited with one of the most famous quips in advertising history: “Retailers Rule…The customer is always right.” viii

While Wanamaker’s was the store of choice for Main Line matrons, other department stores catered to Philadelphia’s middle and working class shoppers. Quaker partners Justus Strawbridge and Isaac Clothier founded their less flashy establishment in 1858. In 1930, Strawbridge and Clothier completed their big, but appropriately subdued, neo-classical store at 8th and Market Streets. Pipe organs, catchy slogans, and French salon paintings were not in the “Quaker plain” vein of Strawbridge and Clothier. Rather, the store’s trademark was the “Seal of Confidence” depicting William Penn shaking hands with a Native American. The “Corinthian Room” food court served hot dogs rather than high tea. This thrifty philosophy was appreciated by the store’s clientele. As one long-time Strawbridge patron said, “I’ve been coming here for many years. As long as the merchandise is good quality and it’s decently priced, I plan to keep on coming.” ix At Christmas, the fourth floor boasted a life-sized walk through set of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, complete with actors and Victorian sets.x

A stone’s throw away from Strawbridge and Clothier stood Gimbel Brothers, which took up the entire 800 block between Market and Chestnut Streets. Like John Wanamaker, founder Jacob Gimbel distinguished himself as a philanthropist as well as a businessman. In 1901, he was appointed president of the new Federation of Jewish Charities, which was charged to assist the thousands of Jewish immigrants fleeing czarist pogroms in Russia and Poland.xi Known to Philadelphians simply as “Gimbels,” this store brought the holidays to the streets by sponsoring the city’s annual Christmas Parade. The climax of this popular pageant was Santa climbing a fire truck ladder to the ninth floor of the Gimbel’s store.xii

Lit Brothers, like Gimbels, was also founded by German Jewish immigrants. Cheaper than most of its competitors, Lit’s slogan was “A Great Store in A Great City.” Lit Brothers flagship at 7th and Market store was created in 1907 by the consolidation of an entire block of cast iron commercial structures.xiii Unlike masonry construction, cast iron allowed designers to create open floor plans, ornate facades, and large windows.  Lit Brothers’ main holiday attraction was a complete “Colonial Christmas Village,” part of which survives at the Please Touch Museum.xiv

Sadly, due to buy-outs and the rise of suburban malls, none of these stores are in business today. Lit Brothers has been converted into a commercial building and Strawbridge’s sits vacant. The original Gimbels was demolished in the 1970s and has been replaced by a parking lot, although its warehouse at 833 Chestnut Street survives as an office building. Macy’s now occupies the original Wanamaker’s building, and happily its new owners have taken excellent care of the historic structure, restoring its 7,000 pipe organ and exquisite interior detailing to their original glory.


[i] “Philadelphia (Tucker) China – 1825-1838” Accessed June 5, 2010.

[ii] Jack B. Rogers, and Robert E. Blade, “The Great Ends of the Church: Two Perspectives,” Journal of Presbyterian History (1998) 76:181-186.

[iii] “Wanamaker’s Department Store,” World Architecture Images, Essential Architecture – the North East. Accessed June 8, 2010.

[iv] Robert Morris Skaler, Images of America: Philadelphia’s Broad Street, South and North (Charleston, South Carolina: The Arcadia Press, 2003, p.52.

[v] “Wanamaker’s Department Store,” World Architecture Images, Essential Architecture – the North East. Accessed June 8, 2010.

[vi] Friends of the Wanamaker Organ at Macy’s, Philadelphia: Celebrating the Heritage of a National Historic Landmark, Facts and Figures about the Wanamaker Organ. Accessed June 8, 2010.

[vii] Nathaniel Burt, The Perennial Philadelphian: The Anatomy of an American Aristocracy (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania: University of Pennsylvania Press), 1963, p.173.

[viii] “Wanamaker’s Department Store,” World Architecture Images, Essential Architecture – the North East. Accessed June 8, 2010.

[ix] Associated Press, “At Strawbridge’s, customers seeking value, not nostalgia,” Reading Eagle/Reading Times, July 26, 1996, B7.,5034439 Accessed June 8, 2010.

[x] Ryan Caviglia, “Christmas in Philly,” The New Colonist, Calendar of Antiques: Your Guide to Antique and Art Events, undated. Accessed June 8, 2010.

[xi] Nathaniel Burt and Wallace E. Davies, “The Iron Age, 1876-1905,” from Philadelphia: A 300-Year History (New York, New York: W.W. Norton and Company, 1982), p.489.

[xii] Ryan Caviglia, “Christmas in Philly,” The New Colonist, Calendar of Antiques: Your Guide to Antique and Art Events, undated. Accessed June 8, 2010.

[xiii] Lit Brothers Store, 701-739 Market Street, Philadelphia, PA, HABS No. PA-1438. Historic American Buildings Survey/Historic American Engineering Record.

[xiv] Ryan Caviglia, “Christmas in Philly,” The New Colonist, Calendar of Antiques: Your Guide to Antique and Art Events, undated. Accessed June 8, 2010.

Historic Sites

The Philadelphia Aquarium at the Fairmount Water Works

While many know Philadelphia as the site of the first zoo in the United States, the story of the Philadelphia Aquarium, once among the largest in the world, is a less well-known part of the city’s history. Following the closure of the Fairmount Water Works plant in 1909, the site took on new life as home to an aquarium from 1911 to 1962. At the time, aquariums were a novel concept largely inspired by fishery exhibitions at the Chicago and St. Louis World’s Fairs in 1893 and 1904 respectively. After fifteen years of debate over the issue, the Philadelphia Aquarium was established by city ordinance and signed by Mayor John E. Reyburn on May 16, 1911. Following the ordinance, an initial sum of $1,500 was appropriated for the aquarium, which was designed to acquaint visitors with the habitats and activities of freshwater and saltwater fish, especially those native to Pennsylvania.
Under the leadership of William E. Meehan, the Philadelphia Aquarium opened its doors on Thanksgiving Day 1911 and initially featured nineteen small tanks set up in the old engine house of the Water Works. Over time, several of the site’s buildings were refitted to serve the aquarium’s purposes, including the mill houses and administrative offices, and consequently allowed the Philadelphia Aquarium to become one of the four largest aquariums in the world by 1929. In its first year of operation, the aquarium played host to over 260,000 visitors and also held a series of public lectures on marine life. Initially, much to the delight of visitors, the Water Works’ forebay housed seals and sea lions, though the practice was later discontinued when the animals became ill and the forebay was subsequently filled in to become Aquarium Drive. Additionally, the plant’s turbine and pump only supplied the aquarium’s water for a short time before city water was found to be purer and more beneficial for the fish than the water of the polluted Schuykill River.

In its early years, some of the aquarium’s creatures were also preserved for posterity and displayed at the Academy of Natural Sciences. According to the 1913 Proceedings of the Academy of Natural Sciences, additions to the museum’s collection included a harbor seal, loggerhead turtle, and calico bass from the aquarium.

A few months after the aquarium opened, it officially became part of Fairmount Park, the municipal park system that oversees Philadelphia’s sixty-three neighborhood and regional parks. Unfortunately, under Fairmount Park, the aquarium struggled to maintain adequate funding over the course of its existence and, despite the efforts of dedicated advocates, closed in December 1962. Following the closure of the aquarium, the Fairmount Water Works briefly housed an indoor swimming pool, which also closed in 1973, and more recently has been used for banquets and public tours. In 1977, the Water Works was designated an ASME Historical Mechanical Engineering Landmark and, after years of fundraising and repairs to the site, opened a new educational interpretative center in 2004. Through the interpretative center and these historic photographs on, the Philadelphia Aquarium has regained its place as part of the storied history of the Fairmount Water Works and the city of Philadelphia.




W.E. Meehan, “Building an Aquarium for Philadelphia,” Transactions of American Fisheries Society 43 (1914): 179-181.

Jane Mork Gibson, “The Fairmount Water Works,” Bulletin, The Philadelphia Museum of Art 84 (Summer 1988): 40.

Charles Beardsley, “Input Output: Philadelphia Lights a Landmark,” Mechanical Engineering (March 2004): 68.

Historic Sites

The Corliss Engine

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On May 10, 1876, the crowd held its breath as President Grant and Emperor Dom Pedro of Brazil started the massive Corliss engine, which stood at the center of Machinery Hall. Nearly 190,000 visitors had flooded the fairgrounds on opening day, and a choir of 1,000 sang the “Centennial Hymn,” composed for the occasion by John Greenleaf Whittier.

With a hiss of steam and the clank of pistons, the Corliss engine shook to life, as did the fair it powered. The great engine, according to historian Esther M. Klein, “symbolized the nation’s growth.” i  Journalists like William Dean Howells saw it in poetic terms. “It rises loftily in the centre of the huge structure,” he wrote, “an athlete of steel and iron with not a superfluous ounce of metal on it; the mighty walking beams plunge their pistons downward, the enormous flywheel revolves with a hoarded power that makes all tremble, the hundred life like details do their office with unerring intelligence.” Howells also felt that technology was America’s answer to the art and culture of Europe. “Yes, it is still in these things of iron and steel that the national genius most freely speaks,” he concluded, “by and by the inspired marbles, the breathing canvases, the great literature; for the present America is voluble in the strong metals and their infinite uses.” ii

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The unveiling of the Corliss engine in 1876 was the equivalent to the release of the iPad in 2010. The Corliss engine was not just a demonstration piece: through a system of shafts and underground tunnels, it directly powered 800 machines throughout the Centennial Exposition. One of the marvels on display would revolutionize the world: a new invention by Alexander Graham Bell. Emperor Dom Pedro of Brazil put his ear to its speaker and heard Bell reading Hamlet’s Soliloquy. “My God, it talks!” the emperor spluttered. iii

The steam engine was hardly new technology: it had been in practical use since the early 1700s, when it was first used in British coal mines.  John Fitch operated America’s first commercial steamboat between Philadelphia and Camden, but he did not attract enough backing to continue his business. Starting in 1802, two Watt steam engines powered the first Philadelphia Waterworks at Centre Square. Five years after that, Robert Fulton built the first commercially viable steamboat, which plied the Hudson River between New York and Albany. Much progress had been made in the decades leading up to the 1876 Centennial. The Corliss engine in Machinery Hall was of a type used to power large, fast coastal and river steamers. It’s variable valve timing, an idea patented by inventor George Henry Corliss in 1849, made this engine 30% more efficient than earlier steam engines. The Centennial engine towered 45 feet in the air and boasted a flywheel 30 feet in diameter. Its two cylinders, each nearly four feet in diameter, contained two rotating steam and two rotating exhaust valves. The pistons turned a crankshaft at 36 revolutions per minute, and the engine itself was rated at 1,400 horsepower. iv

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On a ship, the beam that connected the pistons to the flywheel stuck up above the superstructure, and the flywheel then spun a pair of paddlewheels. Because of the beam’s rocking motion, passengers called these “walking beam” engines. Outside of steamship use, Corliss engines freed America’s burgeoning industry from dependence on waterpower. Corliss engines powered textile looms, rolling mills, saw mills, and pumping stations. They were also remarkably durable machines, often lasting decades before wearing out.

Nearly three decades after the Centennial, steam power spawned and was eventually supplanted by a new force: electricity. Historian Henry Adams spent hours gazing at another massive Corliss engine at the 1893 Columbian Exposition in Chicago. This time, the Corliss engine did not directly power the fair’s machinery. It powered an electrical dynamo, which in turn powered thousands of incandescent bulbs and electrical appliances.

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Unlike the steam engine, with its visible mechanical components, electricity was invisible to the naked eye. To Adams, it appeared the dynamo was replacing the Virgin Mary as the “greatest force the Western world ever felt,” and the prospect was frightening. “The dynamo itself was but an ingenious channel for conveying somewhere the heat latent in a few tons of poor coal hidden in a dirty engine-house carefully kept out of sight,” he continued, “but to Adams the dynamo became a symbol of infinity.” v

As for the Centennial Corliss engine, it remained in service long after the exposition closed. George Pullman, president of the Chicago-based railroad car manufacturer, purchased the engine to power one of his factories. The old engine was not scrapped until 1910, after thirty four years of service. By then, the old fashioned Corliss engine, with its clunky pistons and cumbersome “walking beam,” was completely obsolete. It had been supplanted by Charles Parsons’ compact, much more efficient steam turbine, which are still used in power plants and ships to this day.


[i] Esther M. Klein, Fairmount Park: A History and Guidebook, World’s Largest Municipal Park (Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania: Harcum Junior College Press, 1974), p.29.

[ii] About the Corliss Engine, Dr. George F. Corliss, MU EEC Accessed May 16, 2010.

[iii] “More About Bell,” The Telephone, The American Experience, PBS. Accessed May 16, 2010.

[iv] About the Corliss Engine, Dr. George F. Corliss, MU EEC Accessed May 16, 2010.

[v] Henry Adams, The Education of Henry Adams, 1918.

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.

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.

Historic Sites

Washington Avenue: A Representative Example of Philadelphia’s Industrial Past, Background History

Philadelphia was once a major industrial center in the late 1900’s and the first part of the 20th century, deservedly earning the title “workshop to the world”. Unlike other cities that were centered around a single industry, i.e. Pittsburgh and steel or Detroit and automobiles, Philadelphia had a spectrum of different industries. There were knitting mills in Kensington, steel mills in Nicetown and breweries in Brewerytown to name a few representatives.1 Today much of the manufacturing activity in Philadelphia is gone. Competition from overseas and limited capability for expansion within the confines of an urban setting are some of the contributing factors that have led to this demise. While many of the buildings that housed these industries have either been demolished or lie vacant, photographs from the City Archives displayed by serve as a wonderful reminder to us of what once was a thriving manufacturing city. To gain an appreciation of the diversity of Philadelphia’s industrial past, there is probably no better place to start than on Washington Avenue which runs east to west across the city.

Before commencing on our journey down Washington Avenue, a little history is in order as to why this became an industrial area for Philadelphia. In 1838, the Philadelphia Wilmington and Baltimore Railroad (PW&B) entered the city of Philadelphia via a railroad bridge at Grays Ferry and proceeded to lay track down Washington Avenue to Broad Street.2 The ability to ship goods by rail, particularly to other major cities such as Baltimore, immediately attracted various industries who located adjacent to the railroad. Concomitant with industries locating along the line, housing for workers in the form of the Philadelphia rowhouse quickly sprang up in the surrounding area. Nice examples of this architecture can be found along Federal Street and other streets that ran parallel to Washington Avenue. By 1881, the rail line was absorbed by the Pennsylvania Railroad who had gained controlling interest of the PW&B. At about the same time, the rail line originally built by the Southwark Railroad running along Washington Avenue from Broad Street to the Delaware River was also absorbed by the Pennsylvania Railroad.3

As we begin our journey it is probably worth noting additional source material that is useful for identifying the industries along Washington Avenue. Of particular value are maps noting where various industries are located. Many of these maps can be viewed online by going to and clicking on Resource Browser. From there, one can access many useful maps including ones created by Bromley,4 Hexamer,5 and Baist6 as well as maps that date back to the turn of the century or earlier. More contemporary maps include the Land Use Maps of Philadelphia from 19427 and 1962.8 Perhaps the most accurate maps are the Sanborn Insurance Maps that can be viewed at the Free Library in Philadelphia. One other useful tool is a Pennsylvania Railroad publication called the CT1000. In these books, every railroad siding and the company that used the siding are listed. While not all industries have a railroad siding, many along Washington Avenue did. It should be remembered that industries along Washington Avenue were constantly changing; some would move to other locations and be replaced by yet other industries. In many ways the industrial flux on Washington Avenue very much reflected what was happening citywide.

For more information about industry on Washington Avenue, please read “Washington Avenue: A Representative Example of Philadelphia’s Industrial Past, Part I.”


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

[2] Penrose, Robert L. (1988) “The PRR’s Delaware Avenue Branch”. The High Line (Philadelphia Chapter, Pennsylvania Railroad Technical and Historical Society) 9 (1), p. 7.

[3] Ibid., p. 8.

[4] Atlas of the City of Philadelphia, 1901. George W. & Walter S. Bromley, Civil Engineers.

[5] Hexamer General Surveys, 1866-1896. Ernest Hexamer.

[6] Baist’s Property Atlas of the City and County of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, 1895. G. Wm. Baist.

[7] Philadelphia Land Use Map, 1942. Plans & Registry Division, Bureau of Engineering Surveys & Zoning, Department of Public Works, Federal Works Progress Administration for Pennsylvania.

[8] Philadelphia Land Use Map, 1962. Plans & Registry Division, Bureau of Engineering Surveys & Zoning, Department of Public Works, Federal Works Progress Administration for Pennsylvania.

Historic Sites

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

For the historic background of Washington Avenue, please read “Washington Avenue: A Representative Example of Philadelphia’s Industrial Past, Background History.”

We will start our tour at 25th and Washington Avenue and make our way eastward. At the north east corner of 25th and Washington Avenue, we have the Robert Wilson Coal Yard.1 There were numerous coal yards all along Washington Avenue. Not only was there a demand for coal by the surrounding factories, but it should also be remembered that at the turn of the century most of the rowhouses of the surrounding area were also heated by coal. Looking south between 25th and 24th, we see the William Wharton Jr. steel works. The company was the first to manufacture manganese steel for street railway tracks and later manganese steel frogs used in railroad switches. Despite the size of the complex as viewed in a 1930 photograph looking west from 24th Street, Wharton decided the company required larger facilities and in 1915 moved the company to Easton, PA.2 This is an early example of an industry moving due to an inability to expand within the confines of its urban setting.

Not surprisingly the vacated buildings were then occupied by another steel company, The Philadelphia Roll and Machine Co., which already had a substantial operation on the north side of Washington Avenue between 24th and 23th Streets. Eventually this company left as well and, according to the 1942 Land Use Map, the Pennsylvania Range Boiler Co. had occupied at least some of the space. In the 1960 photograph the building looks the same as when it had William Wharton’s name painted on its side. Note also in this relatively late view the railroad boxcar “parked” right on Washington Avenue.

The manufacturing of steel and other metals was becoming a significant industry during this time period and Philadelphia had numerous small foundries. Between 23rd and 22nd Streets on the north side of Washington Avenue was the Belmont Iron Works. If one carefully examines the company sign, one can see that the company made structural steel for bridges. The other item to note from this 1916 photograph is that the railroad had as many as four tracks running down Washington Avenue with little space for other vehicular traffic. About this time the city proposed elevating the entire railroad but funds for this project never materialized and the railroad tracks remained in Washington Avenue for many years.3 Across the street from the Belmont Iron Works was the Phosphor Bronze Smelting Co. which had foundry buildings on either side of 22nd Street.

So as not to leave the impression that the only type of industry along Washington Avenue was metal manufacturing industries, we will end the first part of our tour in the 2100 block of Washington Avenue. On the north side was a large factory owned and operated by the retailer John Wanamaker.

Inspection of the Sanborn Insurance maps indicates that furniture was manufactured here with a rail siding from Washington Avenue used to deliver lumber. Across the street on the south side was the massive Continental Brewery built in 1879. A drawing of the building can be found in the Hexamer Survey of 1880 at the Free Library in Philadelphia. This was a very successful Philadelphia brewery and at its peak produced some 80,000 barrels of beer per year. Unfortunately like many of the breweries located in Brewerytown section of Philadelphia, Prohibition brought the demise of the business and even upon the repeal of Prohibition many breweries like Continental never reopened.


[1] Atlas of the City of Philadelphia, 1901. George W. & Walter S. Bromley, Civil Engineers.

[2] Maintenance of way cyclopedia: a reference book by E. T. Howson, E. R. Lewis, K. E. Kellenberger, American Railway Engineering Association, New York,Simons-Boardman, 1921.

[3] Messer, David W. (2000). Triumph III: Philadelphia Terminal 1838-2000. Baltimore, Maryland: Barnard, Roberts & Co. p. 287.

Additional Resources:

  • Scranton, Philip, Walter Licht. Work Sights: Industrial Philadelphia, 1890-1950. Philadelphia, Temple University Press, 1986.
  • Penrose, Robert L. (1988) “The PRR’s Delaware Avenue Branch”. The High Line (Philadelphia Chapter, Pennsylvania Railroad Technical and Historical Society) 9 (1), p. 7.
  • Ibid., p. 8.
  • Atlas of the City of Philadelphia, 1901. George W. & Walter S. Bromley, Civil Engineers.
  • Hexamer General Surveys, 1866-1896. Ernest Hexamer.
  • Baist’s Property Atlas of the City and County of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, 1895. G. Wm. Baist.
  • Philadelphia Land Use Map, 1942. Plans & Registry Division, Bureau of Engineering Surveys & Zoning, Department of Public Works, Federal Works Progress Administration for Pennsylvania.
  • Philadelphia Land Use Map, 1962. Plans & Registry Division, Bureau of Engineering Surveys & Zoning, Department of Public Works, Federal Works Progress Administration for Pennsylvania.

Historic Sites

The Widener Mansion

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During the second half of the nineteenth century, prominent businessmen throughout the United States amassed great fortunes through the development of new industries including railroads, steel production, and mining. Men such as Carnegie, Rockefeller, Morgan, and Vanderbilt became wildly wealthy and often spent that wealth on lavish houses, yachts, and travel as well as philanthropic endeavors such as universities, museums, and charitable organizations. The era became known as the Gilded Age, and many critics accused the wealthy of wielding unchecked power and taking advantage of poor workers.

During this time, there were few people in Philadelphia who could rival the wealth of Peter A.B. Widener. Born on November 13, 1834 to a bricklayer, Widener worked as a butcher and saved enough money to start one of the first meat store chains in the country. He also began buying stocks in street railways. Together with his friend William L. Elkins, Widener eventually controlled the streetcar system in Philadelphia. His wealth grew even more as he became involved in public transportation systems in Chicago and other cities. He later expanded his power by purchasing large blocks of stock in the United States Steel Corporation, Standard Oil, and Pennsylvania Railroad.

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In 1887, Widener had a large mansion built at the intersection of Broad Street and Girard Avenue. Designed by architect Willis G. Hale, the residence was four and a half stories high and included an arched entrance with a double staircase, a banquet room, and original murals and frescoes by artist George Herzog. In 1900, Widener transferred ownership of this mansion to the Free Library of Philadelphia. The building was designated as the Josephine Widener Memorial Branch of the Free Library in honor of Widener’s wife who had died in 1896. The mansion served as a branch of the Free Library until it was sold in 1946. With the proceeds from the sale, a former bank at 2531 West Lehigh Avenue was purchased and remodeled as the new location for the library branch. In 2005, the Widener Branch of the Free Library moved to its current location at 2808 West Lehigh Avenue. The Widener Mansion was destroyed by fire in 1980.

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In addition to his support for the Free Library of Philadelphia, Widener contributed to other charitable organizations in Philadelphia. He founded the Widener Memorial Home for Crippled Children in memory of his late wife. After his son and grandson died on the Titanic in 1912, Widener provided funds for an additional building at the Home in honor of his son.

After donating his mansion to the Free Library, Widener took up residence at Lynnewood Hall, his newly constructed 110-room mansion located in Elkins Park. Designed by Horace Trumbauer, the mansion was based on a palace in Bath, England and featured numerous outbuildings and gardens. Widener also used Lynnewood Hall as a gallery for his valuable art collection which included works by Raphael, Rembrandt, Van Dyck, and El Greco. After Widener’s death on November 6, 1915, his son Joseph continued to add to the art collection. In 1939, Joseph agreed to donate the collection to the newly formed National Gallery of Art in Washington D.C.

Historic Sites

Staying in Philadelphia: The Hotel Stenton and Hotel Walton

At the end of the nineteenth century and beginning of the twentieth century, Philadelphia was home to several large and elaborate hotels. These hotels, including the Hotel Stenton and the Hotel Walton, provided lodging for travelers, apartments for Philadelphia residents, fine cuisine for both local residents and visitors to the city, and a meeting place for clubs and conventions.

The Hotel Walton, located on the southeast corner of Broad Street and Locust Street, opened in February 1896 and incorporated the Hotel Metropole, an earlier establishment on the same site. Upon its completion, the hotel featured a ladies’ restaurant, a gentlemen’s café, several parlors, a banquet hall, and 400 guest rooms (200 of which had separate baths). The hotel would eventually be known as the John Bartram Hotel before being demolished in the 1960s. The history of the Hotel Stenton is harder to determine. Located on the northeast corner of Broad Street and Spruce Street, photos of the hotel date to the 1890s. A 1942 city atlas, however, does not show the hotel at that location, likely indicating that it had been demolished or gone out of business by that time.

Several articles from the New York Times give insight into the clientele who frequented the hotels. On May 28, 1894, Miss Julia Marlowe, an actress, quietly married Robert Taber, an actor, at a small ceremony at St. James’s Protestant Episcopal Church in Philadelphia attended by seven friends of the couple. While making preparations for the wedding, the reporter notes that Mr. Taber stayed at the Hotel Stenton. After the ceremony, the wedding party returned to the Hotel Stenton for a wedding breakfast before departing for New York. On September 17, 1901, the paper reports that a visiting English cricket team would reside at the Hotel Stenton while they spent time in Philadelphia for games with the local cricket club. In 1909, a group of female motorists on a two-day automobile run from New York to Philadelphia finished their competition at the city line. They were then escorted to the Hotel Walton for a reception where they were given an address of welcome by Mayor Reyburn.

Local hotels also provided housing and meeting space for individuals traveling to Philadelphia for conferences and conventions. From June 1-4, 1897, the American Medical Association held a semi-centennial meeting in Philadelphia. In a letter to The Medical News, a member of the organizing committee urged those planning to attend the meeting to make arrangements at one of the local hotels and provided a list of hotels and prices. The Hotel Walton offered lodging for $1.50 and upward per day on the European plan and $4 and upward per day on the American plan. The Hotel Stenton offered lodging for $2 and upward per day on the European plan and $4 and upward per day on the American plan. The European plan usually covered the cost of the room whereas the American plan covered the cost of both the room and meals at the hotel. The Hotel Walton also served as the headquarters for the Association during the meeting, and meetings of the Section of Physiology and Dietetics were held at the Hotel Stenton.

As they still do in the twenty-first century, hotels in Philadelphia in the nineteenth century provided lodging, both for travelers and city residents, and also served as social places where people could find a meal or gather for meetings and discussions. In the twentieth century, many of the older, independently run hotels would be purchased by larger business entities and change to reflect the desires of different generations of travelers.