Category Archives: Snapshots of History

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 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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The Uncertain Future of Germantown High School

It’s been a little over two years since PhillyHistory.org wrote The Rise and Fall of Philadelphia’s Public Schools. In that time, 23 underutilized schools have been officially slated for the chopping block and the Philadelphia School District has only fallen further. As Ken Finkel noted then, many of the institutions being shuttered were built before […]
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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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Happy Holidays from PhillyHistory Blog

The first public tree goes up in Independence Square in 1913. Lists reflecting on the bests and worsts of the waning year are nearly as abundant as egg nog and cardboard-flavored cookies in the weeks leading up to the holidays. But unlike the transience of yearly in memoriams, Philadelphia’s rich tradition of holiday decorations is […]
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When Presidents Come to Town

By Yael Borofsky for the PhillyHistory Blog Jimmy Carter stops off in a classroom in pursuit of a re-election bid. Although Philadelphia’s days as the nation’s capital were glorious, but short-lived, that hasn’t stopped commanders in chief from stopping off in a city that practically oozes with symbols of democracy. As election day and all […]
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Photo Gallery: Dilworth Plaza through the years

Former Mayor Richardson Dilworth (1956-1962) in 1957. Dilworth died in 1974, three years before Dilworth Plaza was completed. Dilworth Plaza is currently a hollowed-out pit of fenced-in concrete on the west side of City Hall, but soon it should be so much more. Center City District’s plans for the new plaza are modern, chic and […]
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Looking back to find hope for the future of Philadelphia’s vacant land

A vacant property as seen in Society Hill in 1959. By Yael Borofsky for the PhillyHistory Blog. Even with recent forward inertia by the Philadelphia Redevelopment Authority (PRA) and the City of Philadelphia to implement a Landbank of vacant lots and the PRA’s recent release of vacant parcel availability map, the problem can seem sometimes […]
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William H. Shoemaker Junior High School

“A school system that is not costing a great deal these days is not worth a great deal.” - The Centennial Anniversary of the Public Schools of Philadelphia: A Recapitulation, March 1918.   During the 18th and early 19th centuries, Philadelphia’s Quaker schools (Friends Select), and its Protestant church schools (Episcopal Academy) provided rigorous education […]
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