Category Archives: Events and People

Joe Sweeney: Legend of Boathouse Row (Part II)

After spending several years in the Navy, Joe Sweeney came back to Philadelphia in the late 1950s to go to college on the GI Bill. His widowed mother continued to work as a nurse, rising to become the head of Student Health Services at the University of Pennsylvania. The day he started his freshman year […]
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Joe Sweeney: Legend of Boathouse Row (Part I)

Gray, lanky, and serene-faced, Joe Sweeney is now 80 years old.  The former Commodore of the Schuylkill Navy grew up in the Powelton Village section of West Philadelphia. His father was a prominent physician at Pennsylvania General Hospital, his mother a nurse.  His mother, born into a well-to-do North Carolina family, converted to her husband’s […]
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West Philadelphia’s Satterlee Hospital (Part I)

Excerpt from “The Wound-Dresser” by Walt Whitman Bearing the bandages, water and sponge, Straight and swift to my wounded I go, Where they lie on the ground after the battle brought in, Where their priceless blood reddens the grass, the ground, Or to the rows of the hospital tent, or under the roof’d hospital, To […]
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Jack Thayer’s Demons: A Philadelphia Survivor’s Tale

“There was peace and the world had an even tenor to its way. Nothing was revealed in the morning the trend of which was not known the night before. It seems to me that the disaster about to occur was the event that not only made the world rub it’s eyes and awake, but woke […]
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Philadelphia’s Central High School in Perspective (Part 2)

This past January, I spent an hour speaking with Ron Donatucci, a native South Philadelphian and long-time Register of Wills. He has been a fixture at City Hall for the past three thirty-five years.    Before that, he was a member of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives, a Democratic ward leader, and a lawyer in […]
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Tony Drexel Goes for a Walk (Part II)

Although born a Roman Catholic, Drexel migrated to the Episcopal church and helped fund the construction of the Church of the Savior at 38th and Ludlow, today’s Philadelphia Episcopal Cathedral.  To honor his patronage, a stained glass window was installed in his honor. He purchased and developed vacant land with homes as the streetcar lines […]
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Tony Drexel Goes for a Walk (Part I)

Anthony J. Drexel was one of the wizards of late 19th century finance.  He also had big shoes to fill. His Austrian-born father Francis Martin Drexel emigrated to America at the dawn of the 19th century to seek his fortune as a portrait painter.  The elder Drexel found that he was more skilled at bond […]
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The Ginkgo Tree of Chestnutwold

The present day Penn Alexander School was once the site of one of West Philadelphia’s great estates: Chestnutwold, built by Clarence H. Clark. In its time, Clark’s banking concern was one of the most powerful in the nation. And like many businesses in Philadelphia, it was a family affair. Clarence Clark was the son of banker […]
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The Butler Family Feud (Part III)

Part I and Part II The Virginian was a tremendous success, selling 1.5 million copies during Wister’s lifetime, and became a template for countless Western novels and movies to follow. Despite his newfound fame, Wister found subsequent literary success elusive. Like most authors, he did not want to become a one-hit wonder. Once he was back in […]
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The Butler Family Feud (Part II)

Pierce Butler II did not reform his ways after his wife left him. Rather, he drank, gambled, and philandered his way through his remaining $700,000 fortune. To pay his debts, he sold nearly 500 slaves at auction in 1859.  According to one observer: On the faces of all [the slaves] was an expression of heavy […]
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