As early Philadelphia expanded, the city’s spine of market shambles kept up. “The market could…be conveniently extended in the same plan,” wrote an observer in 1809, almost giddy that Philadelphia might be able to maintain its century-old shopping traditions in the new century. But 19th-century growth would outpace everyone’s expectations, rendering the last remaining shambles a quaint, shabby, vestige.
The city mid-century “market mania” ushered in an era of grand market halls that modernized food buying with a collection of block-long, light-filled, state-of-the-art venues for hundreds of vendors and thousands of shoppers. Many Philadelphians liked these markets, as well as the bragging rights they offered, but others preferred to shop at the city’s vestigial vintage shambles.
“There were three phases in the logical development of a market,” explained the author of a 1913 study, “first, the curbstone market; second, the open shed; and third, and the modern enclosed market house. Strange as it may seem, Philadelphia’s municipal markets are in the second phase—namely open sheds. The North and South Second Street markets are all that remain to us of Philadelphia’s once well-developed market system.” The 18th-century design had been updated with “sheet iron roofs, cement floors and the systematizing of the numbering of the stalls.” Otherwise “they stand as they were built.” Just the way many Philadelphians, who were exceedingly proud of their old market shambles, and their old marketing ways, had always liked it.
“Few cities can boast of markets better supplied with the bounties of nature than Philadelphia,” claimed one mid-19th-century guidebook. “Let the reader, particularly if a stranger, take a tour of observation through them, especially on Wednesday and Saturday mornings, and he will behold an exceedingly interesting and gratifying spectacle. He will find those buildings well supplied with all kinds of meat, poultry, game, fish, vegetables, fruit, &c., while the streets in the immediate vicinity are crowded in all directions with well-filled baskets.”
“These markets, distributed throughout the city, embrace altogether over forty entire squares, in addition to the range of wagon stands on Market Street and Second Street, which of themselves form a line equal in extent to three miles.”
Here’s where the shambles stood:
“High Street Market. — Those long ranges of buildings that line this noble avenue, were not contemplated in the original plan of the city. Penn designed Centre Square for this purpose. The first of these houses was erected in 1710; it extended half way up from Second Street. In 1729, it was carried up to Third Street, where, for a long period, it was marked with the appendages of Pillory, Stocks, and Whipping Post. … Before the Revolution, the markets were extended to Fourth Street and eventually stretched all the way to Eighth Street. “In 1836, the old market-houses were torn down, and the present light and airy structures were erected.” At the easternmost end stood a fish market and a New Jersey Market with a domed head house flanked by cornucopia. West of Broad Street, the markets extended from two more blocks.
“South Second Street Market extends from Pine to Cedar (South) Street.
“North Second Street Market extends from Coates (Fairmount Avenue) to Poplar Street.
“Callowhill Street Market is situated in Callowhill Street, between Fourth and Seventh Streets.
“Shippen (Bainbridge) Street Market extends from Third to Fifth Street.
“Maiden (Laurel) Street Market, Kensington, Maiden Street, between Broad and Manderson Streets. This is Laurel and Frankford Ave at Delaware Avenue.
“Spring Garden Market, Spring Garden Street. Extensive ranges of light and graceful market-houses line this elegant avenue, from Sixth to Twelfth Street.” The 1862 Philadelphia atlas shows another block of market sheds from 13th to Broad.
“Girard Market, Girard Avenue, between Tenth and Lewis (Warnock) Streets.” The 1862 Atlas shows market sheds from Lawrence Street (between Fourth and Fifth) to Seventh and then also from Tenth to Twelfth.
“Moyamensing Market, extends from Prime (Ellsworth) to Wharton Street.”
“Franklin Market, Franklin (Girard) Avenue…consists of two ranges; one extending (a block east to) Hancock Street to the Germantown Road (now Avenue), the other from Crown (Crease) Street to the Frankford Road (Avenue).”
“Eleventh Street Market, Moyamensing. Eleventh Street, extends from Shippen (Bainbridge) to Fitzwater Street.” The 1862 atlas shows four blocks, from Bainbridge to Carpenter Streets.”
By 1917, market watchers knew that more than 1,500,000 Philadelphians, living in hundreds of miles of new and old blocks of rowhouses made 25,000 market visits every day. More and more, these visits were shifting to a new market genre: the corner grocery store. Philadelphia had 5,266 retail grocery stores as well as 2,004 butchers and retail meat dealers and 257 delicatessens—approximately one store for every 54 families.
“If retail markets are to succeed,” worried Clyde Lyndon King in 1917, “they must change their locations as population centers shift. Public markets have evidently not adapted themselves to these changes as quickly as have private stores.”
And to further disrupt the old market system, buyers began to use their newly-acquired telephones as shopping aides, leading some market experts to believe “there can be no public market in the day of the telephone.”
“Can we, in this day of the telephone and the corner grocery store,” wrote Achsah Lippincott, “bring back the old custom of marketing?” Many Philadelphians still appreciated the idea, but more as wistful sentiment than serious possibility. “The corner grocery has come to stay,” admitted Lippincott. And so had the telephone. If the city’s remaining vintage market shambles were going to survive, they’d do so as quaint relics at the margins of the city’s increasingly massive food distribution system.
[Sources include: Some Account of the Markets of Philadelphia,” The Port Folio, (1809), pp. 508-511; Clyde Lyndon King, Public Markets in the United States (Philadelphia, The National Municipal League, 1917); Achsah Lippincott, Municipal Markets in Philadelphia (The Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science) Vols. 49-50, 1913; R. A. Smith, Philadelphia as it is in 1852, (Lindsay and Blakiston, 1852); E. M. Patterson, Co-operation among Grocers in Philadelphia, University of Pennsylvania, Dissertation, 1915.]