Category Archives: Historic Sites

Parkside Revisited (Again): A Look Inside 4230 Parkside Avenue

Note: the author has previously covered Parkside in “After the Fair” and “The Slifkin Family.”  A walk-through of the house with the author and University of Pennsylvania lecturer Hanley Bodek will be featured on an upcoming segment of WHYY’s Friday Arts.  On the outside, the houses on the 4200 block of Parkside Avenue are grand […]
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Trolley Barns and Grand Hotels: A Brief Look at the Widener Empire

  At the corner of 41st Street and Haverford Avenue, amidst the rowhouses of West Powelton, stands a cavernous brick building with a pitched roof. Looming over its neighbors, it is one of the few surviving structures of the Widener trolley car empire. Originally, the Philadelphia Traction Company had three massive trolley sheds in West […]
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Frederick A. Poth: Red Bricks and Gold Beer (Part 2)

In 1887, the brewer Frederick A. Poth purchased a large corner lot at N.33rd and Powelton Avenue from Quaker industrialist John Sellers Jr.  Sellers was one of Philadelphia’s richest men, a manufacturer of machinery and investor in West Philadelphia real estate.  Along with the lumber merchant John McIlvain, Sellers was also a stalwart of West […]
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The Philadelphia Athenaeum: a historical treasure with a seemy underbelly

A film copy image of the Athenaeum dated to 1962. Through May and June, Hidden City Philadelphia hosted the Hidden City Festival and raised a bit of a ruckus about some under-appreciated artifacts of Philadelphia’s history. One of those is the Athenaeum, located at 219 South 6th Street. In the landscape of Philadelphia historical sites, the […]
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Where did Breyer’s Ice Cream Go?

Ice cream wasn’t invented in Philadelphia, but that much is true for wholesome, all-natural Breyer’s brand (first, a Philadelphia family business). A recent article in the New York Times bemoaning the latest corporate iteration of Breyer’s — “frozen dairy dessert” — reminded many of this bittersweet fact. The Breyer’s factory at 700 South 43rd Street […]
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The Carriage Houses of Van Pelt Street

Two months ago, while giving a book talk at Bucknell University, I was fortunate to tour an actual working carriage house, attached to an 1840s brick mansion in the small town of Mifflinburg.  My host Karl Purnell had restored his family’s carriage house to its original condition and configuration. Within its walls were a horse […]
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Before the Academy: Classical Music in the Quaker City

During the late eighteenth century, Philadelphia’s Quaker elite had a dim view of the performing arts.  For a sect that prized plainness, industry, and silence, European high culture represented frivolity and unnecessary “fanciness.”  Having a harpsichord or fortepiano in one’s house could mean being “read out” of meeting, and Friends schools forbade keyboard instruments until […]
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The First and Only to One of Many: How a Coffee Shop Helped Transform Spruce Hill

Soon after moving to West Philadelphia in 1995, Douglas Witmer joked with his brother-in-law Dan Thut that one day they would open up a coffee shop in the Spruce Hill section of West Philadelphia. Neither had business experience. Douglas studied at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts. His wife’s brother Dan had a background in […]
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Gothic Ruins: A Last Glimpse Inside Northeast Manual Training High School

The former Northeast Manual Training High School looks as if it had been plucked from the Princeton campus and dropped into the middle of North Philadelphia.  Constructed in 1903 at the intersection of North 8th Street and West Lehigh Avenue, the “Collegiate Gothic” building has walls of granite, traceried windows, and gargoyles sprouting from the […]
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“The Cliffs”: Fairmount Park Ruins with a Link to Joseph Wharton

During the winter months, drivers along the Schuylkill Expressway may notice the broken shell of a house near the Girard Avenue Bridge.  Its battered, honey-colored walls are marred by bright graffiti. Its roof is gone, windows vacant. This forlorn ruin, once known as “The Cliffs,” was long ago the childhood home of one of America’s […]
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