Category Archives: Historic Sites

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

The effort of a free people to provide for the education of their children as a necessity for the maintenance of the their political institutions makes a story of interest and importance. Especially is this true when the movement meets with criticism and opposition, when its leaders are hampered by the absence of any general […]
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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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The Curious “Afterlife” of the Chicago World’s Fair

Chicago’s “World’s Columbian Exposition” closed its doors in October 1893 . Its magnificent neoclassical buildings, designed by McKim Mead and White and recently made infamous in Erik Larson’s narrative history The Devil in the White City, quickly vanished.  For all its grandeur, the “White City” was a mirage of plaster and lathe. For a few […]
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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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The Butler Family Feud (Part I)

Although outlawed after the Revolution, slavery continued to be a critical part of the Pennsylvania economy virtually up to the Civil War. In an era before joint stock corporations, businesses were family affairs. A successful merchant or landowner would pass along his enterprises directly to his descendants, not to trained professional executives. Many prominent Philadelphia […]
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Powelton Avenue: The First Stop on the Main Line?

Footage of the last steam trains of the Pennsylvania Railroad, 1954. For those who regularly ride the Main Line trains: have you ever wondered why there are no stops between 30th Street Station and Overbrook?  After Overbrook, however, the train stops nearly every two minutes. There’s an old  — and very politically incorrect — mnemonic device […]
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Nicholas Biddle, Philadelphia Hellenophile

Before he locked horns with President Andrew Jackson over the fate of the “many headed monster” (a.k.a. The Second Bank of the United States), banker Nicholas Biddle fancied himself something of a poet and aesthete.  Born to wealth and blessed with brilliance, Biddle graduated from Princeton University — at the head of his class — […]
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