The Snow Piled Six Feet High


This year, local meteorologists are predicting a very snowy winter for Philadelphia. With such a forecast looming in the future, snow is probably the last thing that residents of this city want to think about. It is likely that Philadelphians did not want to think about the prospect of snow in 1914 either, especially as spring was nearing.

However, March 2 and into the early morning of March 3, 1914, the snow was practically all people were talking about. On that night, a storm blew in from the Atlantic Coast, causing great troubles in New York and Camden. It did not spare Philadelphia from the problems of frozen precipitation either.

In New York, winds of up to 72 miles per hour were reported to accompany the storm as it made its way through the region. By the end, it dropped only 7 inches of snow in the Philadelphia area, however combined with the wind and the snow remaining from a snowstorm the previous week, drifts of 6 to 10 feet in some areas occurred. These conditions shut down the city, cutting off communications with neighboring areas as well as the influx of food from nearby farms. The blizzard was particularly destructive across the river in Camden, where it was reported that:

‘fierce winds from the northwest whipped through the street, tearing off roofs, blowing down chimneys, sending signs clattering away into the darkness, and punishing pedestrians with cutting, stinging, particles of ice-laden snow. Electric lights were torn from their fastenings in all sections of the city. Poles gave way under the best of the winds and collapsed, falling into the street or upon the roofs and sides of houses. Twisted masses of live wires emitted sparks which set the poles blazing and the snake-like shattering imperiled the people struggling through the blinding storm.’ (“Winds Tear Off Roofs”, p. 1).

The snow also caused problems for travelers. Several trains stalled on the way to Philadelphia from New York, not being able to plow through the snow drifts. The Philadelphia Inquirer told stories of people who had become stranded on the trains overnight, some not making it to Broad Street Station until 20 hours after they were expected. Travelers told of being hungry, cold, and tired while imprisoned on the train by snow and ice. One traveler in particular spoke of sending out an expedition to ask for food at a nearby farmhouse he and fellow train riders spotted through the windows of their car. He was quoted in the Inquirer:

‘We fought our way to it [the farmhouse], at times through drifts above our waist. I obtained the name of the kindly lady who opened the door for us, when we had finally swept her deeply-covered porch free.She had little enough in the house, but what she had she gave freely. She supplied us with bread, butter, bacon and a great steaming pot of tea. We carried these things back to the train, and mighty welcome they were. Many of the day coach passengers had not had a thing to eat since noon of the day before and they were half starved.’ (“Passengers Tell Stories of Snow-Bound Trains,” p.2)

Philadelphia spent the next few days digging out from the storm. A 600 man team worked to clear the streets in the central business district by the morning of March 3. Life in the city was beginning to get back to normal at that point, with many of the trolley lines clear and running on schedule and churches and schools reopening.


  • “600 Men and 300 Teams Clearing City Streets.” The Philadelphia Inquirer. 3 March 1914. 3.
  • “Deserting City Storm Travels Off Into Ocean.” The Philadelphia Inquirer. 3 March 1914. 1.
  • “New York Isolated by New and Severe Blizzard.” The Philadelphia Inquirer. 2 March 1914. 1.
  • “Passengers Tell Stories of Snow-Bound Trains.” The Philadelphia Inquirer. 3 March 1914. 2.
  • “Traffic Tied Up Under Seven Inches of Snow-Houses Unroofed by Forty-three-Mile Gale-Worst Storm Since 1909.” The Philadelphia Inquirer. 3 March 1914. 1.
  • “Trains Arrive After 24-Hour Fight With Snow.” The Philadelphia Inquirer. 3 March 1914. 1.
  • “Winds Tear Off Roofs, Sections in Darkness, Trains Tied Up.” The Philadelphia Inquirer. 2 March 1914. 1.

Public Services

Learning for the Real World


Late in the 19th century and early in the 20th, child labor reformers were busy trying to devise a plan for keeping the nations children out of the factories and in the schools for as long as possible. However, the things they were doing to extend the amount of time a child spent in the school system failed to keep all children in school. They wondered why, until the idea was presented that perhaps the children continually left school early because they did not understand the value an education in traditional academic disciplines (writing, math, or foreign language, for example) would have in their everyday lives after they graduated. What good did learning French do for the child who, after all, would be spending his days constructing buildings? From this idea, school administrators devised a plan. Perhaps the way to keep children in school until their teenage years was to offer vocational education, or more classes that prepared students to be successful in the work they would actually face after finishing school.


The idea of vocational, or industrial, education was introduced to Philadelphia by Murrel Dobbins, a member of the Board of Public Education. Soon after his introduction, an investigation was conducted in the city to discover what the most popular trades in the city were and to find a location for a new school. The Philadelphia Trades School then opened in 1906 in an abandoned elementary school at the corner of 12th and Locust Streets. The goal of the school was to create intelligent, skilled young men who were well prepared to enter the workforce upon their graduation.

Originally the school offered 13 trades, ranging from sign painting to sheet metal working. However, due to a lack of enrollment, only seven were offered in the day school. The trades offered to students during the day included: carpentry, architectural drawing, mechanical drawing, electrical construction, pattern making, and printing. Students spent half of their time studying these trades in the shop. The other half was spent studying academic subjects such as English and Mathematics, however these too were taught with the trades in mind. In these courses, teachers attempted to relate the skills being learned to their application in the work of the various trades. In the third year, the students participated in an internship program, working at various locations throughout the city.


Night classes were also offered by the school, and these became more popular than the daytime classes. The demand for the evening classes was so great that the city opened another school, the Northeast Manual Training School, to handle some of the overflow. Many other prospective students remained on a waiting list. In the evening school only the trades were taught. There were no classes for the academic subjects. However, the evening school did offer more trades than were taught during the day

Eventually, the Trades School was abandoned as the workforce continued to change. The courses offered by the Philadelphia Trades School were replaced by mechanical arts courses in Central High School and others.


  • Ash, William C. “The Philadelphia Trade School.” Annals of the American Academy of Political Science 33(1), Industrial Education. (January, 1909) 85-88.
  • Cohen, Sol. “The Industrial Education Movement, 1906-1917.” American Quarterly. 20(1). (Spring, 1968) 95-110.
  • Neville, Charles E. “Origin and Development of the Public High School in Philadelphia.” The School Review. 35(5) (May, 1927) 363-375.
  • Edmunds, Franklin D. A Chronological List of the Public School Buildings of the City of Philadelphia, PA. Philadelphia: Board of Public Education, 1934.

Historic Sites

A City of Firsts


Philadelphia is a city of firsts. One area where this is exemplary is in the list of accomplishments for its churches. Philadelphia is home to Gloria Dei (Old Swedes’ Church), which is located at 916 Swanson St (Columbus and Christian) in South Philadelphia. The original church was founded as part of the New Sweden settlement on Tinicum Island in 1646. Later, the church was moved to its present location, and was consecrated on July 2, 1700. This early lineage makes Gloria Dei, the oldest church in Pennsylvania.

Gloria Dei would have the distinction to several other firsts. Dr. Carl Magnus Wrangel was a minister there from 1759-1768. During this time he baptized approximately 20 Africans, which distinguishes Gloria Dei as one of the earliest multiracial churches.

Gloria Dei also lays claim to the first Lutheran ordination in the nation. Justus Falckner, a theology student from Germany was ordained in 1703. Furthermore, this may have been the first Christian ordination on the continent, because prior ordinations were confirmed in Europe.

The church has gone through a number of renovations and additions over the years, but in one of its earliest, a marble baptismal font added in 1731 is one of the oldest still being used. This is all the more impressive considering that the church was without a pastor from 1733-1737. It is surprising the church has lasted.

Like the heart of Philadelphia which continues to change and grow, Gloria Dei stands as an example par excellence of this spirit. Even today, the church remains active, and is open for visitors.


  • Williams, Dr. Kim-Eric, “The Eight Old Swedes’ Churches of New Sweden.” (1999) The Swedish Colonial Society. (accessed October 25, 2006).
  • Gloria Dei ‘Old Swedes’ Church. (accessed October 25, 2006).

Public Services

Natural Healing


In its most recent past, the buildings of the Philadelphia State Hospital at Byberry, pictured here, were in a state of ruin. These ruins, combined with the less than desirable reputation the hospital had come to possess, attracted thrill seekers and urban explorers alike. It was rumored to have been the site of numerous activities ranging from satanic rituals to dance parties complete with DJs. However, all of this changed in 2004 when the site was sold to the Philadelphia Industrial Development Corporation, which intended to use the site for office buildings and housing for the elderly.

The hospital’s history was not always so ill regarded, however. It began as Byberry Farm, built in the hometown of Benjamin Rush (1745-1813), who is considered the Father of American Psychiatry. Rush was an advocate of asylums for the mentally ill. He believed that, with proper treatment, they too could be cured of their illnesses. As such, Rush would probably have approved of the farm started in Byberry to treat those with mental problems. Byberry Farm was self-sustaining, as patients did much of the work needed to tend the crops grown there. At the time, gardening was believed to be a cure for “mild cases of lunacy.”

Later, the facility was renamed the Philadelphia Hospital for Mental Diseases, although for a time this hospital outside of the city still operated as a work farm. Over time, more buildings were erected to try to solve overcrowding problems that would continually plague the institution. Expansion of the hospital continued into the 1940s. In the end, the hospital would consist of over 50 buildings. It became so large that it was described in a 1946 report to be “among mental institutions, a metropolis.”

This metropolis continued to experience problems, however. In addition to overcrowding, the hospital was faced with personnel shortages and deteriorating buildings. There were also accusations of patient abuse, claiming that residents of the institution were not given clothing and were generally not allowed the attention they required. The situation became so bad that on October 15, 1938 the hospital was taken over by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, at which time it became known as the Philadelphia State Hospital. The site was in such a deteriorated state that it cost over $8 million to rehabilitate. However, the attempts at rehabilitation of the site and expansion to solve overcrowding problems could not overcome its history of mismanagement and patient abuse. In 1990 the hospital was closed permanently, destined to sit as a ruin and site for thrill seekers until its purchase and redevelopment 14 years later.


  • Pennsylvania State Archives, Department of Public Welfare. “A Pictoral Report on Mental Institutions in Pennsylvania.” 1947, pp. 4-9. Accessed online
  • Bostick, Jim. “Philadelphia Hospital for Mental Diseases, A Photo Series.” Gather (12 February 2006) (accessed 12 October 2006).
  • Greenberg, Andy. “Byberry’s Long Goodbye.” Philadelphia City Paper. 16 March 2006.
  • Hall, Bolton. “Gardening as a Cure for Mental Breakdowns.” The Worlds Work…: A History of Our Time. Doubleday, Page and Company, 1900.
  • “Philadelphia State Hospital (Byberry)”. Opacity (2006). (accessed 12 October 2006).
  • Wikipedia. “Benjamin Rush.” (accessed 12 October 2006).

Urban Planning

Driveway to the Arts


Cutting diagonally across William Penn’s original grid-like plan for Philadelphia’s streets, the Benjamin Franklin Parkway is center city’s connection to recreation and cultural resources.

When planners first entertained the idea of building a parkway through the city, this street was intended to be a direct and interesting link between City Hall and the Art Museum. It would be at the same time an enjoyable drive down a wide grass and tree lined street as well as a quick way to escape the congestion of the city. Drivers could use this road to take in the healthy fresh air of Fairmount Park (interestingly, the parkway is a part of the Fairmount Park system), to view art, or later to peruse the holdings of the Free Library.

Originally, the parkway was expected to be lined with large civic buildings and centers of education, much like Paris’ Champs d’Elysee. Some even went so far as expecting to one day have new campuses for Temple University and the University of Pennsylvania lining this new thoroughfare. However, this did not happen.

Construction began on the Parkway in 1917 following the plans of urban Planner Jacqués Gerber, who went on to become the chief architect and planner for the 1937 World Exposition in Paris. The parkway was completed in 1926.

Eventually more impressive buildings were added to the path of recreation, education and culture created by the parkway. The Free Library opened its doors at its current location along it in 1927, followed by the Franklin Institute’s move from its location on 7th street (now home to the Atwater Kent Museum) to its current site on the parkway at 20th street in 1934.



Nearly Everybody Read the Bulletin


“Nearly Everybody Reads the Bulletin.” Or, so claimed one of Philadelphia’s oldest and most revered newspapers, The Evening Bulletin. Factory workers and businessmen streamed down the streets of Center City during the hustle-bustle madness of Philadelphia’s evening rush hour. Hurrying to catch the next train or trolley, they often found the time to stop at a sidewalk newsstand and pick up the latest edition of the “The Bulletin.” Indeed, by the 1960s, the paper stood as America’s largest evening daily with a circulation over 750,000.

The Bulletin occupies a special place in the history of Philadelphia newspapers. Founded by Alexander Cummings in 1847 under the moniker Cummings’ Evening Telegraphic Bulletin, the newspaper gained notoriety for its balanced and thorough coverage of the Civil War. After an extended downturn, the Bulletin again hit its stride during the industrial period. Under the guidance of new owner William L. McLean, the Bulletin became popular with the city’s working-class residents and by 1915 the paper ranked first in circulation among Philadelphia’s 13 dailies. The Bulletin was the evening news source for thousands of workers. Through its coverage of World Wars and World Series, stock market booms and stock market crashes, the Bulletin linked Philadelphians to the world beyond the city’s borders.

Despite its popularity during the 1960s, the Bulletin encountered numerous obstacles in its drive to remain an integral part of Philadelphia’s news community. Television began siphoning customers away from newspapers in large quantities during this period. And, though all newspapers felt the crunch from the new medium, evening dailies like the Bulletin took the brunt of the blow. The televised local and national evening news programs removed the need to pick up a paper on the way home. And, as workers left the city in droves for the greener pastures of the suburbs, fewer commuters took public transportation. Rather than read the paper as they had on the train ride home, automobile commuters instead tuned their radios to one of Philadelphia’s numerous radio stations to fill up on local and national events.

The consolidation of media outlets was another hurdle for the Bulletin to overcome. The Bulletin remained a family-run paper in the 1960s and 1970s. This bucked both local and national trends. Most of Philadelphia’s independently owned newspapers had folded or been bought out and incorporated into larger corporate bodies. Despite the odds, the McLean family held out, a fact that no doubt further endeared the paper to Philadelphians. In the end, however, the challenge proved too great. In the face of increased competition from the revamped and corporately backed Philadelphia Inquirer, the Bulletin folded on January 29, 1982.

Yet, the demise of the Bulletin was not to be permanent. On Monday, November 22, 2004, The Evening Bulletin reappeared on newsstands throughout Philadelphia. A local entrepreneur bought the rights to the name from the MacLean family and gave the defunct paper a second life. Spurned on by the renewed interest in locally owned and independent news sources, The Evening Bulletin is once again bringing the news to those commuting in and out of Philadelphia.



Chinatown at a Glance


Despite years of transition, Philadelphia is still a city of neighborhoods. South Philadelphia, Germantown, Brewerytown, Fishtown, Eastwick, and Strawberry Mansion are just a few of the neighborhoods that give the city its distinctive and diverse feel. One of its most unique areas lies within Center City. It stretches from Arch to Vine Street, and from 8th to 11th Street. Pass through the “Friendship Gate” at 10th and Arch Streets and you will find yourself in Chinatown.

Philadelphia’s Chinatown, like those in other American cities, has sad beginnings. Chinese immigrants came to America seeking refuge from political upheavals and economic woes. They encountered a veritable wall of racism in the form of the Chinese Exclusionary Act of 1882, which severely restricted immigration. This act created a “bachelor society” of male laborers, many of whom gathered in small, ethnic enclaves. These men found limited job opportunities and suffered from money shortages because they often had to support families back home.

Chinese Americans’ social standing improved during World War II when the United States softened its anti-Chinese views. The country redirected its vilification of the Chinese onto the Japanese, although many Americans had difficulty differentiating between the two ethnic groups. In 1943, the U. S. government repealed the Chinese Exclusionary Act and began to allow the increased, but still restricted, entry of Chinese into the country.

Family and community life in Philadelphia’s Chinatown expanded after World War II. Numerous churches, businesses, and social and cultural institutions opened in the area, further reinforcing the presence of native traditions. Once decried as a red-light district, full of opium dens and other iniquities, Chinatown became a stable neighborhood. Beginning in the 1960s, a “Save Chinatown” campaign resisted proposed developments that would have demolished Holy Redeemer Church and School, as well as other buildings. The Philadelphia Chinatown Development Corporation (PCDC) was incorporated in 1969. Drawing on the support of neighborhood, the PCDC fought a successful two-decade battle to prevent the Vine Expressway from severely encroaching upon the community. More recently, the organization won a contentious battle to prevent the construction of the new Phillies stadium on the edge of Chinatown.

When walking in Chinatown, one feels a sense of being in a city within a city. Ten thousand Chinese, Japanese, Thai, Vietnamese people now reside there. Asian-owned restaurants, markets, and other establishments abound. Chinatown began as a closed-off refuge for young, displaced immigrants. Today it retains its distinctive Far Eastern flavor while serving as an open, proud, and indispensable part of the Philadelphia landscape.



An Unusual Display


Although one would never think of displaying such material today, in the past scalps and scalp locks such as those above would have been considered appropriate artifacts for museum exhibits. Until the passing of laws in the 1990’s, scalps were displayed in many museums. This was true, even in Philadelphia. The scalp and scalp locks in this 1921 photo were displayed in Independence Hall (then owned and operated as a museum by the City of Philadelphia) early in the 20th Century.

The scalp and scalp locks were included in a large list of items (like the hatchet and so-called “scalping knife” in this photograph), or Native American “relics” as they were called, borrowed from the Historical Society of Pennsylvania by the City of Philadelphia in 1916 to be displayed in an Independence Hall museum exhibit. The intent of this exhibit was to simply tell a story of the history of the United States, and these particular artifacts were some of the many curators believed would help to do so. As the curator of Independence Hall wrote in 1922 when the Historical Society inquired about the use of the items it had loaned out, the reason the items were requested in the first place was because the City’s curator believed that at Independence Hall the artifacts “could be enjoyed by the public as well as playing an important part in telling the story of the historical periods this group of buildings [i.e. those on Independence Square] covered.”1

Scalping was indeed a part of that story. As uncomfortable as it is to think about now, this practice has been well documented in American history. It was the ancient war practice for some peoples of removing a part of an enemy’s scalp with the hair attached, and was only supposed to be performed on the dead.2 Performed in some cases as a sign of victory and in others as a measure of the number of dead, the practice was, unfortunately, often associated with Native Americans. However, Anglo-Europeans were as guilty as the indigenous peoples of this continent when it came to practicing scalping. Some would even argue that Anglo-European settlers encouraged the practice in addition to participating in it by offering bounties for scalps taken from their Native American enemies.3

The scalp and scalp locks displayed in Independence Hall early in the 20th century were labeled as either “human” or “Indian” at different points in the past (indicating that the source of this material was, ironically, unknown). Although the identities of the scalp and scalp locks are unclear, it is very clear that these items are no longer in the possession of either Independence Hall or the Historical Society of Pennsylvania (to whom the items were returned in 1960).*4 The present whereabouts of this material is unknown. Had either of these institutions, or any institution for that matter, still had this material after 1990, it would have most likely fallen under the control of the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act of 1990 (NAGPRA). This act protects Native American cultural items and burial sites. Included among “cultural items” are human remains, excluding things such as hair that was naturally shed or was freely given. When these items were determined to fall under the protection of NAGPRA, they would have been returned to the appropriate tribes.5

Independence Hall has been under the stewardship of the National Park Service since 1950. National Park Service policy forbids the display of human remains, and as such, no artifacts such as the scalp and scalp locks in this historic photo would ever be displayed at a facility owned or managed by the National Park Service.

* We would like to emphasize again that this is a historic photo, dating back almost 90 years. Neither the Historical Society of Pennsylvania nor Independence Hall is in possession of the materials pictured.


  • 1[17 March 1922 Letter from Curator, Independence Hall to Edward S. Sayers, Esq., Series 9: Museum-Loans, 1889-1974/75], The Historical Society of Pennsylvania, with the Balch Institute for Ethnic Studies Institutional Records, 1824-2005. The Historical Society of Pennsylvania.
  • 2 James Truslow Adams. The Founding of New England (Boston: Atlantic Monthly Press, 1921), 15.
  • 3 The Readers Companion to American History ed. Eric Foner and John Arthur Garraty (New York: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1991).
  • 4 Karie Diethorn, “1921 Scalp Exhibit-Independence Hall,” 17 August 2006, personal email (21 August 2006).
  • 5 San Francisco State University Department of Anthropology,The ABCs of NAGPRA,2005, (accessed 5 September 2006)

Urban Planning

The Convention City


The 2008 presidential election already looms on the horizon. In addition to selecting candidates, the two major parties must decide where to hold their nominating conventions. Although it is not in the running for 2008, Philadelphia has a strong history of welcoming presidential conventions, most recently in 2000, when the Republican Party nominated George W. Bush at the First Union Center (now the Wachovia Center). The Republicans have met in the city six times. They held their first presidential convention here in 1856.

Why this strong legacy? Because of Philadelphia’s overwhelming support for Democratic candidates today, it is easy to forget that Republicans dominated city politics from the mid-nineteenth century until the mid-twentieth century. The city voted for Herbert Hoover in 1932, and although Democratic support increased in response to Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal policies, voters continued to elect Republican mayors until 1952.

During this period of transition, the Republican, Democratic, and Progressive Parties held their 1948 conventions in Philadelphia. They met at Municipal Auditorium, or Convention Hall: the Republicans in June and the Democrats and the Progressives in July. The hall had last held a presidential convention in 1936, when the Democrats renominated FDR. The Art Deco-style building, located on the campus of the University of Pennsylvania, southwest of Franklin Field, was completed in 1931.

The City wooed both major parties in 1948 with donations of $200,000. The accommodations proved less than ideal; not enough hotel rooms were available, prompting approximately half of the attendees to seek lodging in college dorm rooms and private residences. Other participants had to stay as far away as Trenton and Atlantic City. Even worse, the summer of 1948 was a scorcher. One hundred eight people fell victim to heat exhaustion at the Democratic meeting.

Still, the delegates soldiered on. The active, unscripted nature of these conventions contrasts with the rubber-stamping of nominees that occurs today. Take civil rights, a major issue of contention within the Democratic Party. Minnesota’s Hubert Humphrey pressed the delegation to “get out of the shadow of states’ rights and walk forthrightly into the bright sunshine of human rights” (quoted in Niemela). Southern Democrats resisted a plank calling for strong civil rights legislation and subsequently walked out. They formed the short-lived and staunchly segregationist States’ Rights Democratic, or Dixiecrat, Party. Their candidate Strom Thurmond went on to carry four Deep South states.

Demonstrating the political sea change wrought by the New Deal, the Republican platform included a variety of proposals involving government aid. Republicans called for civil rights legislation, including an anti-lynching law and a measure abolishing poll taxes. They also supported an extension of Social Security benefits and federal funding for slum clearance and low-cost housing. The party nominated Thomas E. Dewey for the second election in a row. In light of a divided Democratic Party, election watchers expected that Dewey would coast to an easy victory. The presence of the Progressive Party, which siphoned off some of the Democrats’ most left-leaning constituents, looked like more bad news for the Democratic nominee, Harry S. Truman.

The Progressives’ Philadelphia convention showcased their emphasis on major reforms. It was an enthusiastic affair attended by delegates from ordinary backgrounds. Many of them had no previous political experience. Observing the attendees at Convention Hall, CBS News correspondent Howard K. Smith noted, “The throng certainly was not affluent. It included hundreds who had hitch-hiked to the convention; scores who lived in tent-towns on the convention hall parking lot” (quoted in Epstein). The Progressive Party platform promoted a broad leftist agenda, including a women’s rights amendment to the Constitution, federal funding for education, the end of Jim Crow laws, and an expansive, nationwide system of Social Security, health, and unemployment insurance. Nominating Henry A. Wallace, former Secretary of Agriculture, Secretary of Commerce, and Vice-President, the Progressives also called for rapprochement with the Soviet Union, a policy that contradicted the prevailing Cold War mindset. Wallace received the endorsement of the Communist Party, prompting a smaller number of left-wing Democrats than expected to support his campaign.

The convention summer marked perhaps the most exciting period in Convention Hall’s history, although fans of the 76ers and the Warriors, who played in the building before the construction of the Spectrum, may disagree. American politics has rarely been more vital and rough-and-tumble. On Election Day, Truman lost Pennsylvania, but his “give ’em hell” candidacy carried 28 states, garnering 49 percent of the popular vote and 303 electoral votes.


Further Reading

  • Donaldson, Gary A. Truman Defeats Dewey. Lexington: University of Kentucky Press, 1999.
  • Gullan, Howard I. The Upset That Wasn’t: Harry S. Truman and the Crucial Election of 1948. Chicago: Ivan R. Dee, 1998.

Urban Planning

Views from Center City

As the geographic heart and Central Business District (CBD) of Philadelphia, Center City is busy hub of activity. It is bounded by South Street to the South, the Delaware River to the east, the Schuykill River to the West, and either Vine Street or Spring Garden Street (depending on whom you ask) at the North. While Center City continues to grow and transform, the following images from the past offer unique glimpses of the area’s physical continuities and changes.

The first markets were held at the corner of Front and High (Market) Streets during Philadelphia’s early years. The location of market houses shifted and expanded over time. One impressed traveler wrote in 1824, “The market house, which is nothing more than a roof supported by pillars and quite open to each side, begins on the banks of the Delaware, and runs more than one mile, that is eight squares in length!” (Alotta 150). This photograph, taken almost 90 years later, shows the inside of the market house at 2nd and Pine Streets.

At the City Archives, there are many photographs taken from the heights of City Hall. This spectacular shot demonstrates why, as it captures parts of Center City and Fairmount in gorgeous detail. Aside from its world-class collection, the Art Museum, of course, brings to mind Rocky, but this photo was taken many years before the first bad imitation of the fictional boxer’s run up the museum steps.

Heat indexes of over 100 degrees may leave us begging for cold weather. This 1914 image, which looks north from Broad and Walnut Streets, offers a reminder that Philadelphia winters can be as equally punishing. The caption says it all: “Snowing Like Hell.”

Here is a portrait of (controlled) chaos. The landscape around North Broad Street goes up in smoke in this 1913 photograph depicting a fire demonstration.

The Drake rises imposingly from its location on the 1500 block of Spruce. Built in 1929 as a luxury hotel, its 32-story structure is now restored to its former glory. It has been placed on the National Register of Historic Places and operates today as an apartment building–with a great view.


  • Alotta, Robert I. Mermaids, Monasteries, Cherokees and Custer: The Stories behind Philadelphia Street Names. Chicago: Bonus Books, 1990.