Standing His Ground: Abraham Lincoln in Philadelphia

President-elect Abraham Lincoln raising flag in front of Independence Hall in honor of admission of Kansas to the Union, February 22, 1861. Photograph by Frederick DeBourg Richards.

Weeks after Abraham Lincoln won the presidency on November 6, 1860, South Carolina seceded from the Union. And in the months before his inauguration in Washington, D.C. in March, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia and Louisiana followed. Jefferson Davis would be elected and inaugurated as the Provisional President of the Confederacy.

A burdened Lincoln timed his trip to the Capital, and to his presidency, with a visit to Philadelphia on Washington’s birthday in 1861. At Independence Hall, he raised a flag with 34 stars, one for each recognized state plus a new one for the recently-admitted Kansas. And as he raised the flag that cold February day, Lincoln spoke of the nation’s dire situation:

“I am invited and called before you to participate in raising above Independence Hall the flag of our country, with an additional star upon it. I propose to say that when that flag was originally raised here it had but thirteen stars. . . . under the blessing of God, each additional star added to that flag has given additional prosperity and happiness to this country until it has advanced to its present condition; and its welfare in the future, as well as in the past, is in your hands. . . . I think we may promise ourselves that not only the new star placed upon that flag shall be permitted to remain there to our permanent prosperity for years to come, but additional ones shall from time to time be placed there . . .”

During his lifetime, Lincoln visited Philadelphia four times. And this visit on February 21-22, 1861 was by far the most meaningful. He arrived from New York via Newark and Trenton about 4PM on the 21st to stay at the new Continental Hotel at 9th and Chestnut Streets. There he talked with advisers about the rising tensions and learned of a newly-discovered assassination plot. The following morning, Lincoln went to Independence Hall to ceremoniously raise the nation’s new flag. He hadn’t prepared a speech but spoke to the issues of the day, and of his own demise:

“I am filled with deep emotion at finding myself standing here, in this place, where were collected together the wisdom, the patriotism, the devotion to principle, from which sprang the institutions under which we live. … in my hands is the task of restoring peace to the present distracted condition of the country. …  all the political sentiments I entertain have been drawn, so far as I have been able to draw them, from the sentiments which originated and were given to the world from this hall. I have never had a feeling politically that did not spring from the sentiments embodied in the Declaration of Independence. I have often pondered over the dangers which were incurred by the men who assembled here, and framed and adopted that Declaration of Independence. I have pondered over the toils that were endured by the officers and soldiers of the army who achieved that Independence. … It was not the mere matter of the separation of the Colonies from the motherland; but that sentiment in the Declaration of Independence which gave liberty, not alone to the people of this country, but, I hope, to the world, for all future time. It was that which gave promise that in due time the weight would be lifted from the shoulders of all men. This is a sentiment embodied in the Declaration of Independence. Now, my friends, can this country be saved upon that basis? If it can, I will consider myself one of the happiest men in the world, if I can help to save it. If it cannot be saved upon that principle, it will be truly awful. But if this country cannot be saved without giving up that principle, I was about to say I would rather be assassinated on this spot than surrender it.”

Lincoln’s Funeral Procession on South Broad Street, April 22, 1865. (Credit: The Library Company of Philadelphia)

Then Lincoln spoke clearly of the coming war:

“Now, in my view of the present aspect of affairs, there need be no bloodshed and war. There is no necessity for it. I am not in favor of such a course, and I may say, in advance, that there will be no bloodshed unless it be forced upon the Government, and then it will be compelled to act in self-defense.”

Lincoln turned to go to the platform outside on Chestnut Street, raised the 34-star flag and left for Washington, D.C. and his presidency. Before he arrived, Texas had voted to approve secession. Five weeks after his inauguration, Southern forces bombarded and captured Fort Sumter. The Civil War was underway.

Lincoln visited Philadelphia one more time—to support fundraising efforts for Army Hospitals in June, 1864. In another year, the assassinated President’s remains would ceremoniously, somberly return to Independence Hall to lay in state, before a final trip to Springfield, Illinois.

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“The Cliffs”: Fairmount Park Ruins with a Link to Joseph Wharton

Joseph Wharton (1826-1909). Source: Wikipedia Commons.

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 great industrialists, whose name is known throughout the world today.

Joseph Wharton was born in 1826, the scion of a wealthy Quaker family.   Despite his privilege, his parents put a damper on  extravagance.  They were members of the progressive Hicksite Quaker sect, founded by itinerant preacher Elias Hicks.  Along with a strict doctrine of simplicity, Hicks preached the abolition of slavery, and argued that the guidance from “Inner Light” was more important that strict adherence scripture.  Hicks wrote that, “the Scriptures can only direct to the fountain from whence they originated – the spirit of truth: as saith the apostle, ‘The things of God knoweth no man, but the Spirit of God;’ therefore when the Scriptures have directed and pointed us to this light within, or Spirit of Truth, there they must stop – it is their ultimatum – the top stone of what they can do. And no other external testimony of men or books can do any more.”

Hicks’s radical theology lead to a split between conservative “Orthodox” and progressive “Hicksite” Philadelphia Quakers in the 1820s. Among the leaders of the Philadelphia Hicksite community was Lucretia Mott (1793-1880), who worked closely with 19th century civil rights activists Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Frederick Douglass.

As a child, Wharton was deeply shaped by the Quaker faith, especially its doctrines of simplicity and practicality. His boyhood summers were divided “The Cliffs,” his mother Deborah Fisher Wharton’s family country house on the Schuykill River, and “Bellevue,” the Wharton river estate to the west. Built by his great-grandfather Joshua Fisher in 1745, “The Cliffs” was a Georgian house in the classic “Quaker plain” vein, an informal retreat where the Fishers escaped the city’s miserable, disease-ridden summers.  “Bellevue” was a somewhat more spacious and elaborate structure, compete with a ballroom that, according Wharton’s daughter Joanna Wharton Lippincott, “served the young Quakers as a delightful place for games of various kinds.”

Fireplace at “The Cliffs,” 1971.

Yet a life of leisure was not for  Joseph Wharton.  Choosing not to go to college, he apprenticed himself to an accountant to learn the basics of business.  After marrying fellow Quaker Anna Corbit Lovering in 1854, he struggled in his early ventures.  Then, working with master craftsmen, Wharton learned the new science of metallurgy, and prospered forging zinc, nickel, and iron.

Wharton didn’t stop there. He kept his eyes peeled for the next big thing, which was the metal of the future: steel: Under his management, Bethlehem Steel became one of America’s largest integrated steel and mining ventures.  Wharton crisscrossed Europe looking for the newest and best technologies, and built personal relationships with his managers. Supplying steel for skyscrapers, ships, and bridges made Joseph Wharton a millionaire many times over, on par with Rockefeller and Carnegie.

Something of an amateur scientist, Wharton also published a number of well-received articles — including ones on the Doppler effect and another on the global spread of volcanic pumice from the eruption of Mount Krakatoa near Manila.  He also tried his hand at verse. His daughter Joanna claimed that Ralph Waldo Emerson once praised his poem “Ichabod” (written in honor of Daniel Webster) at a dinner for Atlantic Monthly contributors:

So fallen! so lost! the light withdrawn

Which once he wore;

The glory from his gray hairs gone,

For evermore.

Like many self-taught businessmen, he remained intensely interested in the day-to-day workings of his enterprises. As an old man, he led a canoe trip down the Colorado River to inspect one of his Nevada silver mines, and insisted on being lowered down the mineshaft in a bucket to inspect it.

A good Quaker to the end, Wharton believed that wealth was not just an end in itself, but should be used as a force for good in the world.  In 1881, he set aside $100,000 to start a school that would be the first of its kind — a business school — and chose his native city’s University of Pennsylvania as the beneficiary.  Wharton realized that America’s corporations needed trained professionals to guide them through the complex industrial economy that he had helped create. As Penn’s medical faculty trained future doctors, business scholars could train future business executives.

What wisdom did Wharton want to impart to his new school’s graduates? Business to him did not mean routine, but turbulence and change, and he hoped that his school would prepare them for, as he said, “immense swings upward or downward that await the competent or the incompetent soldier in this modern strife.”  The best schools, he observed, “have endeavored to do more than keep up the respectable standard of a recent past; they have labored to supply the needs of an advancing and exacting world…”

Yet it appears that Wharton became disappointed with the business school he founded. As he grew older, Wharton became more involved with Swarthmore College, a Hicksite Quaker liberal arts school that he co-founded in 1869   Unlike the Wharton School, Swarthmore College was a coeducational institution and was not strictly vocational.  It’s possible that Wharton, who did not receive a college education himself, lived vicariously through this school, frequently addressing the student body at commencement. “Not only, therefore, will you by obediently following your inward guide find for yourselves the right path,” he addressed one graduating Swarthmore class. “Each of you may thus be the grain of wheat or the dock seed, corn, or weed, to bless or ban future generations.  Therefore, as George Fox said, ‘Friends, mind the light.'”

Wharton died in 1909.  The two schools he founded continue to thrive, but the two country houses where Wharton spent his childhood summers did not fare as well.  In the 1870s, the city of Philadelphia confiscated “Bellevue” and “The Cliffs” and integrated them into Fairmount Park as part of the plan to protect the Schuylkill River from pollution.  “Bellevue” was demolished around 1900 and replaced by rowhouses.  “The Cliffs” remained intact until the 1960s, and then suffered from neglect and vandalism. In 1986, fire gutted it.

Today, the stone ruins of “The Cliffs,”still poke above the trees on the east bank of the Schuylkill River, just north of Girard Avenue.

Two women in front of “The Cliffs,” 1971.

The burned-out shell of “The Cliffs,” 2006. Source: Wikipedia.


Joanna Wharton Lippincott, Biographical Memoranda Concerning Joseph Wharton, 1826-1909. (Philadelphia, PA: J.P. Lippincott Company, 1910). Collection of the Pennsylvania Historical Society.

Samuel M. Janney, “The Doctrines of Elias Hicks,” The History of the Religious Society of Friends, from Its Rise to the Year 1828. (Quaker Heron Press, 2008, originally published 1869.

“Wharton School of Business: A Brief History.”

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When Myth Prevails and History Fails

Independence Hall, Rear View, June 24,1931. Photograph by Wenzel J. Hess.

Philadelphia, we too-often think, has a corner on history when it comes to Liberty, Freedom and all that was right with America. We have historical sites to prove it, so it must be true.

But what happens to the sites that tell the downside of history, sites that contradict the prevailing and preferred narrative? Well, those sites tend to disappear from the cityscape and from the public imagination. They become forgotten, and so are their stories—even when those stories would be valuable to illustrate a point.

Take, for example, the turning point in Barack Obama’s first presidential campaign, his March 18, 2008 “A More Perfect Union” speech at the National Constitution Center. The constitution, said Obama, was “stained by this nation’s original sin of slavery.” “In a hall that still stands across the street,” he explained, “a group of men gathered and … launched America’s improbable experiment in democracy.” Obama was referring to Independence Hall, which is actually two blocks from where he spoke. The hall across the street that the President didn’t know about, but would have wanted to, was Pennsylvania Hall. It, too, was an embodiment of an “improbable experiment in democracy”—and a failed one, at that. But Obama had no idea about this sordid chapter in American intolerance. He made do with what he could point to.

Unlike Independence Hall, Pennsylvania Hall no longer stands.  It lasted only three days before a rioting mob burned it down. Pennsylvania Hall doesn’t stand, and isn’t remembered. You won’t find an image here at and you don’t often find it talked about in the Philadelphia narrative of freedom, liberty and independence. And we didn’t hear about it in Obama’s speech.

The destruction of Pennsylvania Hall flies in the face of the preferred Philadelphia mythology. But the fact that the building doesn’t survive to remind us of its story is no  excuse. The lack of a site doesn’t make the incident any less true, or less potent. What we have in the story of Pennsylvania Hall is nothing less than a  reality check in a city where the past is sometimes framed in myth more than fact.

The Burning of Pennsylvania Hall, May 18, 1838. Credit: The Library Company of Philadelphia.

And what are those facts? Advocates for the abolition of slavery had been turned away from every other meeting place in the city, even those run by Quakers. So the abolitionists raised funds and built their own meeting hall. On May 14, 1838, Pennsylvania Hall opened on Sixth Street, south of Race. Free speech ran rampant as men and women of both races met and conversed in a place devoted to American ideals.

As discussions took place inside, angry crowds gathered outside. Night after night, the mob grew. On May 18th, shouts and threats gave way to rocks and flames and the mob set Pennsylvania Hall on fire. Philadelphia’s fire companies came out—but only to douse the roofs of nearby properties.

In the Spring of 1838, and for years to come, every American knew what happened in Philadelphia that night. The Athens of America had fallen. Pennsylvania Hall’s charred ruins stood for years as an eloquent scar in the now ironically intolerant City of Brotherly Love. Visitors at Independence Hall looked up Sixth Street and saw the ruins. The burning of Pennsylvania Hall would forever be associated with Philadelphia, or so it seemed.

Today, the ruins are long gone and their memory has faded. At the site of Pennsylvania Hall, where WHYY stands, we make do with the terse message cast on a blue and gold historical marker. But real, resonant history calls for more than a sentence on a sidewalk. Pennsylvania Hall has a story that deserves to be remembered.

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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 the associated controversy approaches (make sure to vote!), we wanted to give you a look at a few of the former Presidents who have come to Philadelphia — to campaign, rally support, sign legislation, and otherwise attempt to harness the force of Philadelphia’s great political history — and a reminder of what they said.

Technically, President Jimmy Carter isn’t campaigning in this 1980 photo, but he might as well be. Here, Carter is on a trip to Philly which took him to the Italian Market and beyond in his effort to drum up support for his re-election bid. Things didn’t work out for Carter, who lost out to President Ronald Reagan that year. Still, it’s nice to know that picture perfect visits to elementary schools are not a new thing.

President Gerald Ford shared a table with then-Mayor Frank Rizzo [Photo], likely during or after the dinner celebrating the reconvening of the first Continental Congress on September 6, 1974. Ford celebrated the city in his remarks that day, saying “Philadelphia, the City of Brotherly Love, was the cradle of American liberty. “Love” and “liberty” are two pretty good words with which to start a nation.”

Nixon looks out his car window onto Independence National Mall.

About three years after President Richard Nixon took office in 1969, the president of privatization and Watergate infamy came to Philadelphia to sign a revenue-sharing bill — the State and Local Fiscal Assistance Act of 1972 — at Independence Hall. The bill redirected tax revenue to states and municipal governments who could manage the money as they needed. Nixon, in his remarks given at Independence Square, said:

“The signing today of the State and Local Fiscal Assistance Act of 1972–the legislation known as general revenue sharing-means that this new American revolution is truly underway. And it is appropriate that we launch this new American revolution in the same place where the first American Revolution was launched by our Founding Fathers 196 years ago-Independence Square in Philadelphia. It is appropriate that we meet in this historic place to help enunciate a new declaration of independence for our State and local governments.”

President Lyndon B. Johnson came to Philadelphia in 1967 [Photo] to visit the Philadelphia Opportunities Industrial Center at 19th and Oxford St., which had recently been opened by Reverend Leon H. Sullivan in 1964 to offer job training and educational support to minority groups in the city.

President John F. Kennedy at Independence Hall in 1962.

In his remarks at the POIC, Johnson lauded the work of the institution to lift up Philadelpia’s African American and minority population during a time when discrimination and inequality were destroying the fabric of cities across the country:

“Now when you really talk about what is right, you don’t appear to be nearly as interesting as you are when you talk about what is wrong. But I have seen so many things that are right here this morning that I wish everyone in America could not only see them, but emulate them–and follow them … What I have seen here with Reverend Sullivan is not just an institution–it is a unique training program. I have seen men and women whose self-respect is beginning to burn inside them like a flame–like a furnace that will fire them all their lives.”

On July 4, 1962 President John F. Kennedy was celebrating Independence Day in arguably the most important place to celebrate the holiday — Independence Hall. In an address to Philadelphia city leadership and the 54th National Governors Conference Kennedy remarked:

“Our task–your task in the State House and my task in the White House–is to weave from all these tangled threads a fabric of law and progress. We are not permitted the luxury of irresolution. Others may confine themselves to debate, discussion, and that ultimate luxury-free advice. Our responsibility is one of decision–for to govern is to choose.

Thus, in a very real sense, you and I are the executors of the testament handed down by those who gathered in this historic hall 186 years ago today.”

President Herbert Hoover addresses a crowd in Reyburn Plaza.

It’s not possible to see President Herbert Hoover in this picture taken in Reyburn Plaza at City Hall in October of 1932, but the scene is impressive. Hoover was stopping off in Philadelphia that day as part of a campaign tour through the mid-Atlantic region on his way to New York City and drew what looks to be a sizable crowd. Hoover, however, was not to be reelected.

This somewhat famous photo of President Abraham Lincoln [Photo] (JFK referenced it in the speech mentioned above) raising the American flag in front of Independence Hall could only be made better if you could actually see the man whom nearly every American could recognize with hesitation. Here, on February 22, 1861, Lincoln came to Philadelphia to welcome the state of Kansas to the Union in front of a crowd on the ground and in the trees.


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“The Quintessential Object of Industrial Philadelphia”

Looking East on McKean Street from South Second Street, July 20, 1901. Photo from PhillyHistory,org

Philadelphia’s most effective tool in its industrial transformation during the late 19th century wasn’t a tool at all, although it could be considered a machine for living. As architectural historian George Thomas put it, the rowhouse was “the quintessential object of Industrial Philadelphia.”

But the Philadelphia rowhouse had far older roots. In 1800, Scottish-born “architect and house-carpenter” Thomas Carstairs took the idea of a row and stretched it out for a full city block on Sansom between 7th and 8th Street, turning real estate into revenue and meeting the city’s ever-growing appetite for housing. Over the next several decades, as the city grew across its 17th-century grid, the rowhouse evolved into an upscale solution for urban living. Architects John Haviland and Thomas U. Walter demonstrated how the repeated form could also become something chic and generous. But as the city’s population soared past one million in 1890, the rowhouse was effectively reclaimed for the working class. By the end of the century, Thomas writes, “as far as the eye could see, there were some fifty square miles of row houses and factories, most of which had been built in the previous generation.”

The two-and three-story rowhouse had become part the city’s successful mix of immigration, employment, coal, real estate and banking. Between 1887 and 1893, no fewer than 50,288 rowhouses were built, enough for a quarter million people. Rowhouse construction had seen a boom before, with more than 50,000 built between 1863 and 1876. But now, in the last decade of the 19th century, the Philadelphia rowhouse had grown more compact, more simplified and even more adapted to the lives of  the working family. With the help Philadelphia’s 450 savings and loan associations, a two-story  “Workingman’s House,” as it became known, could be had for about $3,000 and paid off in about a decade.

Sure, other cities—New York, Boston, Brooklyn and Baltimore—had rowhouses, but Philadelphia’s were more efficient, plentiful and affordable. More than anything else, the late-19th century Philadelphia rowhouse propelled Philadelphia to become the Workshop of the World.

2801 Brown Street, January 6, 1932. Andrew D. Warden, photographer.

In 1893 the world took notice. The Columbian Exposition in Chicago exhibited a single specimen, a two-story “Workingmen’s House” designed by Philadelphia architect E. Allen Wilson. Other models of American housing on display included an Eskimo house and a logger’s cabin. The Philadelphia exhibit in Chicago was so popular, legend has it, that curious visitors wore out the floorboards.

The Philadelphia model was more than a mere solution to a housing problem; it became an effective tool for a modern society. “The two-story dwellings of this city are, beyond all question, the best, as a system, not only owing to the single family ideas they represent, but because their cost is within the reach of all who desire to own their own homes,” glowed a rowhouse proponent in the early 1890s. “They have done more to elevate and to make a better home life than any other known influence. They typify a higher civilization, as well as a truer idea of American home life, and are better, purer, sweeter than any tenement house systems that ever existed. They are what make Philadelphia a city of homes, and command the attention of visitors from every quarter of the globe.”

Between 1890 and 1910 Philadelphia grew from a city of a million to 1.5 million and added miles more rowhouses with ever greater repetition and monotony. Variations of one sort or another added to the city’s grammar of forms. Over time, some rows would be demolished to make way for new schools, while others would have their brick facade veneered with permastone, a literal interpretation of the romantic idea that even in a modern industrialized city, home is castle.

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Collapse of The South Street Bridge

South Street Bridge-Looking West Across Ruins, 1878. Photo from

When poet Beth Feldman-Brandt wrote Taking Down the South Street Bridge in 2009, she had no idea how powerfully her final line, “We are used to finding our way among ruins,” resonates in PhillyHistory.

The original South Street Bridge was supposed to be a marvel of Philadelphia’s Iron Age. Giant iron columns, versions of a design innovated by the Phoenix Iron Company of Phoenixville, Pennsylvania, supported sections spanning the Schuylkill River. The manufacturer had hoped for more of a splash in Philadelphia at the Centennial Exhibition in 1876. For the grounds of the first American world’s fair, they proposed a 1,000-foot observation tower. If built, this would be about twice the height of City Hall, then under construction, and about as tall as the Eiffel Tower, started a decade later. Metaphorically, the Phoenix Tower would rise from the ashes of the bitter, bloody Civil War. Had the proposal been approved, the Phoenix Tower would literally have been cast from recycled government military canon. But it wasn’t approved. Instead, the biblical sentiment of beating swords into plowshares would play out at the South Street Bridge, which opened for traffic months before, and miles away, from the Centennial grounds.

Just a few seasons later, the bridge’s columns began to crack. Engineers diagnosed the cause as moisture in the rubble fill packed inside, expanding as it froze. They strapped on a series of iron belts that kept the cracks from spreading, but there wasn’t anything engineers could do to retrofit a design flaw at the bridge’s western approach. Beneath the roadbed, brick arches resting on granite piers which, in turn, rose from hundreds of wooden piles driven into the muddy riverbed. Problem was, in critical places, the piles had been driven down through only fifteen feet of mud, as far as packed gravel.

When the gravel shifted, piles slipped, piers tipped and arches cracked. Then, early one February Sunday morning in 1878, “the crippled arches gave way at the haunches and fell,” as assistant project engineer David McNelly Stauffer later put it. Like dominoes, “arch after arch went down, and the bridge was not much more than a wreck.”  There had been no casualties, but the two-year-old South Street Bridge was now useless.

South Street Bridge, Looking West, 1877. Collection of the Wagner Free Institute of Science Library & Archives.

Having died a year before the bridge was completed, project engineer John W. Murphy wasn’t around to present his side of the story. Stauffer stepped in, blaming “the tremor produced in the piles by travel on the bridge” allowing “percolation of water down their sides.” Stauffer admitted “the ground underlying this approach is an alluvial deposit, treacherous and unstable in character” but defended the project’s construction. “It is a matter of record that the piles under pier No. 2 were from 28 to 30 feet long,” he wrote. Possibly so, but that wasn’t enough to compensate for the fact that the piles under the pier that failed first were only half that length.

Stauffer’s reputation didn’t seem to suffer much, if at all. Before and even after the collapse, he had capitalized on his bridge expertise. He had written of the innovative construction technique (the Plenum-pneumatic process in sinking the cast-iron columns) in the Journal of the Franklin Institute. After the collapse, in a markedly different tone, Stauffer promoted his services for City Council’s investigations in order that “the public may be enabled to form a correct judgment as to the methods actually pursued by the builders.” Later, he continued to boast about the bridge’s successful arches at its eastern approach. Decades later, Stauffer was still in the business, having included tunnels in his repertoire. But he also pursued another passion, collecting historical prints and compiling a four-volume dictionary of their artists. Stauffer’s American Engravers Upon Copper and Steel, published in 1907, soon became a classic research tool.

In all of the discussion of the new, new, South Street Bridge, the collapse of the first South Street Bridge in 1878 drifted from memory. Today, we find some comfort in the claim made of Street Department’s chief engineer and surveyor, that here is “the largest and most complex project in the history of the Streets Department.” It’s bicycle-friendly, pedestrian-friendly and has a wild lighting scheme. But history compels us to ask: does all of this rest on a foundation of solid rock?

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Philadelphia Phillies: the Movingest (not the Losingest) team in baseball

Citizens Bank Park from a Wikipedia photo

By Yael Borofsky for

The thing about October is that the weather is like the baseball — sometimes it’s hot for most of the month, and sometimes it’s very, very cold. After quite a few years of some very “hot” Octobers for the Philadelphia Phillies, this year’s tenth month seems like it will be a chilly one.

But even if the Phillies miss out on a chance at the national title this year, they may deserve another title: the Movingest Team in Baseball.

Although the Cincinatti Reds and a few other legacy baseball teams may be close runners-up, the Phillies have switched major home parks at least five times within the same glorious city throughout their tenure.

The superlative illustrates their unique legacy and could, by way of a jaunt through history, distract from what will otherwise be a decidedly disappointing October.

The Parks

Recreation Park, also known as Centennial Park (among other monikers), was adopted as the first true home of the Philadelphia Phillies in 1883.

A shot of the Baker Bowl Police Annual Review taking place
on the Phillies’ field.

Recreation Park was outlined by 24th Street, 25th Street, Columbia and Ridge Avenue, in what baseball author Rich Westcott described as “the most irregularly shaped piece of land imaginable,” in his book Philadelphia’s Old Ballparks. To add to its physical oddity, though the park was previously called Columbia Park — it had been used as a baseball field by other teams since 1860 — it was also briefly occupied by a cavalry of the Union Army in 1866. One can only assume that they didn’t squeeze a few recreational innings in. The spot was renamed again in 1871 when the Philadelphia Centennials improved the baseball facilities and named it Centennial Park after the team.

Albert Reach, formerly a hot shot second baseman for the Philadelphia Athletics credited with taking that team to the 1871 pennant, brought major league baseball and the Phillies to the bizarre spot he renamed Recreation Park.

But, according to Westcott, the fans and the Phillies outgrew the park quickly and the team moved to a new home park, the Philadelphia Base Ball Park (eventually known as the Baker Bowl), in 1887.

Philadelphia Park met its untimely demise in 1894 when a fire killed 12 fans and injured more than 200 others, according to Westcott.

An aerial view of Connie Mack, which opened in 1909, but was
razed in 1976.

In the aftermath, the Phillies played in a couple other city parks until making their next big move to Columbia Park, the original home of the Athletics and first American League stadium in Philadelphia. In addition to hosting both the Phillies and the Athletics, the wooden park managed to contain the City Series, in which the two Philly teams went head to head. Coincidentally, in 26 total City Series match-ups, each team won an even 13 times.

After Philadelphia Park was reincarnated as the Baker Bowl, the Phillies stayed put for until 1938. Despite the fire and the new park’s infamously low, tin right field wall, it’s no surprise they stuck around – the Phils went to their first World Series there in 1915, not to mention sustained a run of nine consecutive first division finishes.

Westcott writes in his book of the Phillies’ success in the park: “Between 1911 and 1938, Phillies players led or tied for the National League in most home runs hit at home 19 times.”

In total, the Philles hit 1,314 home runs in nearly 52 years at their odd little hitter’s park at Broad Street and Lehigh.

You can read a fuller history of the infamously weird Baker Bowl at by clicking here.

The dedication of Veterans Stadium. The stadium was demolished
in 2004.

The Phillies next set up shop at 21st and Lehigh. Shibe Park, known as Connie Mack after 1953, housed the team for nearly 33 years. The park, named after former catcher and A’s manager Cornelius McGillicuddy, was also a nesting ground for the Philadelphia Athletics for 46 years and the Philadelphia Eagles for 17 years before being razed in 1976.

After Connie Mack closed in 1970, the Phillies moved on to Veterans Stadium where they finally claimed their first World Series title in 1980.

They wouldn’t see another national victory like that until 2008, after moving to their current home, Citizen’s Bank Park, in 2004.

Over the course of more than five different home stadiums, the Phillies traveled from North to South Philly, nabbing themselves a title as unusual as their journey and one that tells a story of adaptability, determination, and maybe, just a little bit of faith.


Wescott, Rich, Philadelphia’s Old Ballparks, Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1996.

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“A building that should be treated tenderly and remain undisturbed”

521 Spruce Street, just before restoration in 1964.
Photo from

“Immediately south of Independence National Historical Park,” wrote historian Louis Mumford  in 1956, “down as far as Lombard Street…is a district that should not be left to time, change and the conflicting aims of real-estate operators. This district has become nondescript—a mixture of seedy residences, lunchrooms, factories, lofts, tombstone-makers’ sheds, old burial grounds and historic churches… This part of Philadelphia is still known as Society Hill, and it still contains many houses that justify the name… rows of elegant dwellings of impeccable craftsmanship, which only need a little loving care to be nursed back to life.”

Mumford imagined more of what was already underway—a sweeping and positive transformation of an inner city when the very term was synonymous with decay.  Philadelphia had discovered its lightning-in-a-bottle solution, the key to Center City’s turnaround and Society Hill’s success. It wasn’t so much about historic landmarks or landmark developments, although these would be part of the mix, but hundreds (and thousands, city wide) of residential properties with age and character where Philadelphians could  make history theirs.

The city planner behind Philadelphia’s array of projects, including this calculus, knew he was onto something. And by November 1964, Edmund Bacon had parlayed success into fame with a TIME magazine cover story featuring his own façade framed by old and new icons of Society Hill. “Renewers of the city want not only to bring people back from the suburbs to shop, but back to town to live,” wrote TIME. “Society Hill is studded with 18th-century houses and historic landmarks, and Bacon opened up vistas around them by chopping out the factories and dingy warehouses, threading greenery through them and building new houses in harmony with the 18th-century beauties.”

By the fall of 1964, Ford and Mary Jennings had snagged their diamond-in-the-rough at 521 Spruce Street and were well on their way to a state-of-the-art renovation and restoration. As Bacon held forth for TIME, the Jennings’ held hopes that their plans would be approved by the Philadelphia Historical Commission. Construction began shortly after, and soon 521 Spruce was awarded the city’s 289th historic plaque. The Jennings installed it with pride beside their brand new front door.

If the door wasn’t historic, the doorway was. Five-twenty-one Spruce seemed liked any many other houses in Society Hill—but this one carried an extra-added association with its first resident, John Vallance. In 1792, the year the house was built, Vallance, Philadelphia’s leading artist/engraver was at work on illustrations for America’s first encyclopedia and the famous L’Enfant plan of the soon-to-be-new national capital in Washington D.C.

Renovated and ready for its historic plaque.
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Twentieth-century Philadelphians had come to expect as much of their past. Everywhere you turned in Society Hill stood something remarkable, but just as remarkable was the success of the neighborhood’s revival. The sheer scale of this turnaround was one of the main reasons why Society Hill earned a place on the National Register as “the first large-scale urban renewal project to plan for historic preservation.”  No single project, or even collection of developments, could have surpassed the crowd-sourced community building achieved in Society Hill in the third quarter of the 20th century.

But in all this renewal, something special about these gems was getting lost. It had tugged at Mumford in the 1950s when he wrote of the nearby Headhouse at 2nd and Pine Streets: Here was “a building that should be treated tenderly and remain undisturbed.” An appreciation of the nuances of patina and accrued features  had fallen by the wayside. Now something harsh and hard had replaced it. In the rush to restore, preservationists purged all but the distant past, or a facsimile of it, anyway. Evidence of intervening time, and, by default, the building’s sense of itself—its very authenticity, was compromised. That’s the irony of Society Hill: buildings that had survived in spite of preservation were suddenly being “saved” at the hands of it.

Nuance didn’t have much of a chance as this dynamic played out. At the Headhouse, which underwent restoration as well, a feel for the complex past gave way to a simpler, cleaner, and ultimately less interesting interpretation. At 521 Spruce, and at hundreds of other properties, the elusive patina and the authenticity of acquired age wouldn’t–and didn’t—stand up to the untender restoration aesthetic that came to define Society Hill.

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Why We Love Frank Furness

Chestnut Street from Third, looking West, with Frank Furness’ National Bank of the Republic (right) and Guarantee Trust and Safe Deposit Company (left). Both are demolished.

We didn’t always. Love Frank Furness, that is.

“The man came out of the [Civil War] a swearing, swaggering, bewhiskered figure of martial bearing, a bulldog personality ready to challenge the architectural status quo,” James O’Gorman tells us in a review of Michael Lewis’ book, Frank Furness: Architecture and the Violent Mind. “He organized his office like a military unit. Having waged war, Furness would now ‘wage architecture,’ charging headlong at building programs, competitors, and critics alike. The impact of his war experiences coursed through his professional life.”

“But there was more to his work than militaristic fury,” O’Gorman assures us. For those same late-19th century decades when technology, industry and railroading dominated Philadelphia on its own terms, Furness’ work connected truth and beauty. His buildings, according to George Thomas, had “the raw impact of giant machines, even as they transcended their materials.” All of his buildings, certainly his railroad stations, but also his libraries and schools, operated as grand mechanical-aesthetical projects. Furness’ library at the University of Pennsylvania, Lewis tells us, “has been called a collision between a cathedral and a railroad station;” his Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts “a laboratory for experimenting with new technology” with machine-like balusters working their eccentric charms.

We are reminded that Furness’ clients were engineers in a world newly-refashioned by their innovations, folk who relished “visible iron trusses or riveted iron girders, the industrial repertoire.” Furness gave them that, and more. He considered the interlocking elements of his buildings “legible pieces of machinery” and he moved them, as Lewis put it, “from the train shed to the lobby and the salon.” But these buildings didn’t feel like machines. Exuberant expression was the heart and soul of Furness. As the 17-year old Louis Sullivan, a “father of modernism” put it after his first encounter with a Furness building: “Here was something fresh and fair…a human note, as though someone were talking.”

But Furness’ individualistic work, his “overscaled and willfully distorted details,” his “clashing colors,” his decorative “wry comments on mechanical details, exposed industrial materials, muscular massing, top-heavy loading, dizzying compositional juxtapositions” soon became too much exuberance for an age of rising restraint. Furness not only grew out of style, he grew to be despised—and demolished. “He  was  for  all practical  purposes consigned to  the junk  heap of history for  the  first  half  of  the  twentieth century, wrote Ian Quimby, because he embodied the worst of Victorian excess in the eyes of modernists.”

One early 20th-century critic wrote off Furness’s buildings as “the low-water mark in American architecture.” Another damned his work as a corrupting influence, citing the Provident Life and Trust Building for “meretricious ugliness.” Robert Venturi remembered “loving to hate those squat columns as my father drove me past the Provident Life and Trust Company on Chestnut Street in the thirties”–not long before its demise. No matter that this building and the nearby National Bank of the Republic were two of Philadelphia’s most interesting, most compelling structures. Public opinion had swung against “strident individualism” and the kind of “directness of expression” that would later come to define the best architecture of the late 20th century. No matter, as Lewis put it, that Furness “aspired to truth as much as beauty.”  No matter that Venturi and others would soon find Furness’ forms “tense with a feeling of life and reality” and develop an “absolute unrestrained adoration and respect for this work.” In mid-20th century Philadelphia, the days of buildings audacious enough to “echo mannerism and predict postmodernism”—buildings that fit “somewhere between Michelangelo and Michael Graves”—were numbered.

But the days when Furness’ ideas and the memory of his masterpieces, both extinguished and extant, mean something are not numbered—nor will they ever be again. We now know what Furness achieved. Like Walt Whitman, “he turned the process around.” Writes Lewis: he “looked for the poetry in the vital forces of the modern age, and sought the flower in the machine.”

A century later, Philadelphians find confidence in the truth and a healthy appetite for such poetry. Today we celebrate the genius of Frank Furness.

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Landmark or Not: The Musical Fund Hall is a Site of Conscience

The Musical Fund Hall, 808 Locust St. Designed in 1824 by William Strickland, renovated in 1847 by Napoleon LeBrun and again by Addison Hutton in 1891.

Philadelphia’s got a raft of National Historic Landmarks, the crème de la crème of historic sites. The list is long here: 65 in all, from Independence Hall to Eastern State Penitentiary to the John Coltrane House. And it would have been longer had the National Park Service let stand their original, 1974 ruling in favor of the Musical Fund Hall. But they didn’t, and it isn’t. In 1989, shortly after developers converted the hall’s auditorium into condominiums, the feds withdrew the coveted designation. In America’s most historic city, the Musical Fund Hall is the only site to hold such a dubious distinction.

No matter. Violated or not, this building stands as a genuine American site of conscience, and that’s something that can’t be taken away. Sure, the building was home to one of the nation’s earliest musical organizations and the preferred performance venue of soloists including Jenny Lind (“The Swedish Nightingale”), lecturers including Charles Dickens and political events including the first Republican National Convention. Maybe we’ve been spoiled, jaded even: in a city chock full of the past, this seems like everyday history. What makes us want to take a good, hard, second look at the Musical Fund Hall is an account revealed by Scott Gac in a book entitled Singing for Freedom: The Hutchinson Family Singers and the Nineteenth-Century Culture of Reform.

The New Hampshire -based Hutchinson Family performed 12,000 concerts across the United States and abroad, effectively morphing abolitionism into popular culture. In their concerts, the Hutchinson’s performed original and provocative songs, including Get Off The Track of 1844 which warns: “Jump for your lives! Politicians, / From your dangerous false positions.” (Listen here.) Wherever they went, the Hutchinsons attracted a large following, and an interracial one.

Three years after their first popular performances in Philadelphia and a few months after their successful tour in England (with their friend Frederick Douglass) the Hutchinsons returned in the Spring of 1847. After several performances before “amalgamated” audiences at the Musical Fund Hall, Philadelphia Mayor John Swift stepped in and demanded the singing stop. (This is the same Mayor Swift who was unable, or perhaps unwilling, to stop rioters who destroyed the Abolitionist’s new Pennsylvania Hall in 1838.) Swift assured Musical Fund Hall management that more shows would certainly result in rioting there, too. Starting immediately, the Hutchinsons (and all future lessees) had to agree to two conditions: “That no Anti-Slavery lecture shall be delivered” and” That no colored person may form a portion of any audience.”

Silence followed. No riot. No performance. “The Hutchinson Family Singers refused to play for white patrons alone,” writes Gac. Never again would America’s original group of protest singers hear applause in the City of Brotherly Love. Never again would Philadelphians hear the Hutchinsons’ sing:”Men of various predilections, / Frightened, run in all directions / Merchants, Editors, Physicians, / Lawyers, Priests and Politicians. / Get Out of the Way! Get Out of the Way! / Get Out of the Way! Every station / Clear the track of ‘mancipation.

But a dozen years before the Civil War and 15 years before Black and White together, fifteen years before the Emancipation Proclamation, Philadelphians did hear, and rejoice in these prophetic lines – at the Musical Fund Hall.

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