The Never-Seated U.S. Senator from Philadelphia

Thomas W. Cunningham and William S. Vare in 1931 (

In 1926 William Vare was elected to the United States Senate, defeating Democrat William B. Wilson by more than 180,000 votes. But when the new Congress began, the Senate voted to refuse Vare his seat.

Thus began “a bitter and gigantic struggle.”

Wilson charged “massive corruption,” alleging “Vare and his supporters used padded registration lists, misused campaign expenditures, counted votes…from persons who were dead or never existed, and engaged in intimidation and discouragement of prospective voters.”

“The fraud pervading the actual count by the division election officers is appalling,” a Senate committee would conclude. “The average Philadelphia voter had a one-in-eight chance of having his ballot recorded accurately on Election Day.”

William S. Vare, “the youngest of a trio of brothers who had intermittently ruled Philadelphia in the name of the Republican Party since the turn of the century” had been the city’s “undisputed boss” through most of the 1920s. According to the Encyclopedia of Greater Philadelphia, Vare “commanded more political power than any other single Philadelphian before or since.”

The Vare family came to power and fortune “by way of the contracting business, particularly municipal contracts for such work as cleaning streets, collecting garbage, and erecting public buildings” wrote Samuel J. Astorino. Their machine “was closely-knit, slick, and loyal.”

“Bill Vare was at the head of this once almost impregnable Republican organization not because of any unusual intellectual or social acumen,” explained J. T. Salter in 1935. “He was in no sense a cultured or highly civilized person. He had never had time to read, and he knew nothing of the liberal arts. … But he was an ultra-specialist in ward and city politics. … He saw with an eye single to the fifty wards in Philadelphia, and the 1,283 divisions of these wards. He was a prototype of his people—the conservative, matter-of-fact, uneducated, hard-working people that actually lived in the fifty wards of that interminable city of small homes, block on block of duplicate houses, wall to wall on narrow, treeless streets. If the boiled-down psychic residue of all these people could be put into one test-tube…and that of Vare be put in another, and both tubes held to the light, they would have looked the same…”

“Not only was he like the mass of voters in his city,” Salter continued, “he was never ashamed of his humble beginnings as the tenth and youngest son of an English farmer in “The Neck,” who went to work as a cash boy at Wanamaker’s when he was twelve-and who spent his youth as a huckster and a hauler of ashes and garbage. None of the Vares were ever ashamed of this. Once [rival politician Boies] Penrose called William S. ‘the ash-cart statesman,’ and he accepted the appellation; it became part of his political capital and was worth votes at the polls.”

Vare’s Philadelphia base loved his gritty, everyman style. That appeal and the funds raised for his campaign from allies of all stripes were intended to secure his seat in the U.S. Senate. Real estate broker, developer and banker Albert M. Greenfield happily donated $125,000 to support Vare’s “life’s ambition.” Greenfield had the money to give.

But how Philadelphia Sheriff Thomas “Big Tom” Cunningham managed a $50,000 donation on his salary of $8,000 would remain a curious mystery, one that even the Senate investigation and the courts could not crack.

No matter. Vare’s corruption was exposed; he never did make his way to that seat in the U. S. Senate.

(Sources: Samuel J. Astorino, “The Contested Senate Election of William Scott Vare,” Pennsylvania History, 28 (April 1961), 187-201; Mark Grossman, “William Scott Vare.” Political Corruption in America: An Encyclopedia of Scandals, Power & Greed, 2nd edition. (Grey House Publishing, 2008); Thomas H. Keels, “Contractor Bosses (1880s to 1930s),” The Encyclopedia of Greater Philadelphia, 2016; J. T. Salter, ”The End of Vare,” Political Science Quarterly, Vol. 50, No. 2 (Jun., 1935), pp. 214-235; Russell Weigley, Philadelphia: A 300 Year History (W. W. Norton & Company, 1982).

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The Demise and Demolition of Horticultural Hall

Horticultural Hall, Fairmount Park, 1876. Centennial Photographic Company ( Library of Philadelphia)

Distaste for Victorian architecture blossomed in the first half of the 20th century into unmitigated disgust. By the time the waves of demolition subsided, it was too late for many masterpieces that had been pulled down with confidence and even glee.

We saw this before, with Frank Furness, who “embodied the worst of Victorian excess in the eyes of modernists.” His buildings fell as if in a losing war; and so did many others that dared display individualism or a lack of restraint. Wreckers worked relentlessly through the 1950s and 1960s as preservationists searched for their voices. By the time a reappraisal of the Victorian finally changed minds, it was too late; so much was already gone. Words of regret and mourning seemed flimsy; too little; too late.

One of the earliest voices, that of George B. Tatum in Penn’s Great Town, wrote in 1961 of Horticultural Hall’s demise: “by any standard a major monument of American architecture of the 19th century.” In time, others would join the chorus with ever more strident tones. By 1976, almost 18 years too late, Edmund Bacon commented on the demolition of another “major monument,” the Jayne building, “as the worst single act of architectural vandalism.” Words too late. Words as soundbites. Meanwhile, Philadelphia’s high Victorian buildings had slipped from cultural treasure to architectural albatross.  Then they were gone.

Horticultural Hall , south entrance. Centennial Exhibition, 1876. Centennial Photographic Company. ( - Free Library)

Horticultural Hall, south entrance, 1876. Centennial Photographic Company. ( Library of Philadelphia)

The campaign to establish existential doubt for Horticultural Hall, began just after the turn of the 20th century with squawks about the burden of repairs. By mid-century, these cries had risen to a cacophony leading to, inevitably, a call for the wrecking ball. Horticultural Hall’s narrative arc, urged on by the city itself, lasted for more than a half a century before the contract was finally put out. Slowly, surely, over nearly half a century, the language of demise exercised its ever firming grip. Hurricane or not, the victim was doomed.

The calls came as early as 1910, when City Council appropriated $30,000 for a major renovation. Horticultural Hall was then thought to be “in such bad condition that the Park Commissioners feared that it would collapse and injury [sic] many persons.”

By 1937, the building had become a “gray, friendly ghost of a fading age,” if still “quickened by wild, exotic plant life from far corners of the world…”

Sixteen more years pass. “Originally gaily polychrome, in reds, greens, and yellows,” Horticultural Hall in 1953 “has lost this finery and much of its original iron embellishment and in many places is rusting… It is still standing, but is in need of extensive repairs.”

“Historic Hall In Park Held ‘Dangerous’” read an unapologetic headline in the Spring of 1953, more than a year before Hazel. “A showplace when it was opened,” halfway into the 20th century it was now “in ‘dangerous condition,’ and the place should be closed, Charles I. Thompson, president of the Fairmount Park Commission declared…”.

“’Badly rusted framework holding heavy glass panes in the vaulted roof make it likely that the panes will come loose in the near future and fall to the floor,” said Thompson. “This condition is dangerous and we’d better do something about it before somebody gets hurt.” The Commission concluded: “’we’re just throwing good money after bad,’ and that it would be ‘better to start over again with a new building.’”

Broken panes made “the whole place like a sieve when it rains,” an engineer chimed in.

And we know what happens when it rains: it pours.

In October 1954, Hurricane Hazel brought not only rain, but 50 to 60 mile per hour winds and gusts of 94 miles per hour. Fifteen people were killed in the Philadelphia area.

Wreckers Ready to Move into Horticultural Hall, Spring 1955. Charles Newman, Philadelphia Evening Bulletin (Temple University Paley Library – Special Collections Research Center)

“Hazel Hit Historic Hall” read the headline on October 16th.  “Park Director Paul MacMurray…disclosed that hundreds of panes of class were blown from the roof of the central hall of the massive structure, a relic of the Centennial Exposition.”

No one ever documented exactly how many panes were broken, but both the “danger” and the “relic” cards had been played.

“Hazel Death Death Blow to Horticultural Hall,” confirmed an October 22nd headline. “The ornate building…is now in such condition that authorities feel it is imperative to begin tearing down the structure as a safety measure.”

“We’re now faced with the problem of tearing it down or it falling down,” claimed MacMurray.

“It would be a great pity to tear it down,” retorted preservationists. “If it was in such a dilapidated state why didn’t the hurricane level it to the ground, instead of blowing out a few panes of glass? … “Other cities take pride in preserving their landmarks.” … Where is Philadelphia’s pride now?” This is nothing more than “willful neglect.”

Wreckers competed with one another for the “Dismantling, Demolition and Disposition” of Horticultural Hall. Bids arrived in room 313, City Hall Annex, before 2:30PM February 7, 1955.

And by April Fool’s Day a classified advertisement described and offered what remained: “2000’ rare ornamental railings & stairs. Greenhouse. 10,000’ steam pipe from ½” to 5”. Steel beams 8 to 12” from 12 to 30’ in length. Numerous other items dating back over 100 years.”

“Salesman on site at all times,” assured the ad.

[Sources: Philadelphia, A Guide to the Nation’s Birthplace, compiled by the Federal Writers’ Project, Works Progress Administration, for the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania by Federal Writers’ Project (Pa.), 1937; Theo. B. White, Philadelphia Architecture in the Nineteenth Century (Philadelphia Art Alliance, 1953); George B. Tatum, Penn’s Great Town: 250 Years of Philadelphia Architecture Illustrated in Prints and Drawings (University of Pennsylvania, 1961); The Philadelphia Inquirer: “Park Exhibit to Open,” September 15, 1910; “Historic Hall In Park Held ‘Dangerous,’” May 24, 1953; “Hurricane Kills 15 in Phila. Area, Leaves Path of Ruin in 8 States,” October 16, 1954; ”Hazel Hit Historic Hall,” October 21, 1954; “Hazel Death Death Blow to Horticultural Hall,” October 22, 1954; “Garden Under Glass, Letter by “E.C.” October 27, 1954; January 27, 1955 (letter to the editor); April 1, 1955  (classified advertisement)].

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Philadelphia City Archives – We’re Moving!

The Philadelphia City Archives is relocating to 456 N. 5th Street! As of December 15, 2017, our site will temporarily close to the public to facilitate our relocation. We will continue to fulfill requests for copies of deeds, except for requests that are for historical research and/or academic research purposes. This temporary service disruption will extend through August 2018 to allow our staff adequate time to prepare for and execute the relocation. We expect to reopen at our new home on September 1, 2018.

Please mail deed requests and payment to: City Hall, Room 156, Department of Records, Philadelphia, PA 19107

If you would like to contact our main office please email: or call (215) 686-2261. We apologize for any inconvenience this may cause. We look forward to serving you at our new location.


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Stand in line, Frank Rizzo. Others have come and gone before you.

For more than a century, Philadelphia’s been playing a game of musical chairs with statues around City Hall. And it’s sure to continue, so long as we continue to ask monumental questions.

Actually, sculptural comings and goings started a century before they cut the ribbon at City Hall. William Rush’s Nymph and Bittern stood for a time as one of the city’s earliest pieces of public art.

We’ve previously written about the monument to Major General Peter Muhlenberg, colonial preacher and Revolutionary War hero. In 1910, a “monster parade” preceded Mulhenberg’s dedication on the south side of City Hall. Everyone thought it would be there forever. While the heroic story didn’t change, location did—twice. Patriots paying respects to the general would have to track him down. For a time, Muhlenberg stood his ground at Reyburn Plaza. Then he trekking out to Fairmount Park, where he can be found today.

The replica Statue of Liberty temporarily occupied a patch of pavement during part of the first World War. For all that fanfare, and there was much, she’s long gone.

So much bronze has been in flux over the years, enough to suggest there’s no shame in being uprooted.

Augustus Saint-Gaudens’ stoic Puritan, a full-scale likeness of Samuel Chapin, a New England settler who died before Philadelphia was even a sparkle in William Penn’s eye, commanded the concrete at Penn Square from 1905. Maybe Saint-Gaudens’ knew something. His statue looks like he’s about to walk off his pedestal. And in 1920, “The Pilgrim” as Chapin became known, did take a hike, in a manner of speaking, also making his way to Fairmount Park.

“The Pilgrim,” by Augustus Saint Gaudens (PhillyHistory)

Scientist Joseph Leidy came and went, too. If his biography, The Last Man Who Knew Everything, was correct, Leidy should have known enough to secure a permanent place of honor in the center or town. Find him today, still holding the jaw of an Ice Age lion amidst the dinosaurs at the Academy of Natural Sciences.

Curiously, there’s one figure, below, that remains. When 21st-century pedestrians even notice “Baldwin,” as the granite pedestal tersely explains, they have to wonder: “Who is this? Why is he here? Why should I care?” Baldwin’s story was good enough to justify his installation in 1902 across from his locomotive factory at Broad and Spring Garden Streets. (That place was something to behold, turning out a finished locomotive every two-and-a-half hours.) When the plant left town in 1928, rather than having its founder stare at the vacant factory, the powers that be moved Baldwin to the north side of City Hall.

Matthias W. Baldwin Statue, Januaary 17, 1936 (

And there he stands today.

Maybe it’s time to pose the monumental question in this case, too. Does Baldwin measure up to holding a spot on our most prime civic real estate?

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Praising Horticultural Hall in Fairmount Park

Horticultural Hall – Floral Hall – East End, September 15, 1875. Centennial Photographic Company ( Library of Philadelphia.)

“In just under two years,” John Maass explained in The Glorious Enterprise, his book about the Centennial Exhibition in 1876, “architects Hermann J. Schwarzmann, assistant Hugo Kafka and five engineers transformed 285 acres of fields of West Fairmount Park, mostly “swamps and ravines, into building lots, gardens and landscaped grounds.” Schwarzmann’s team “moved over 500,000 cubic or yards of earth; graded and surface 3 miles of avenues and 17 miles of walks; build a railroad with 5 1/2 miles of double track; corrected 16 bridges; put up 3 miles of fence with 179 stiles and gates; constructed 7 miles of drains, 9 miles of water pipes, 16 fountains, and water works with a daily pumping capacity of 6 million gallons; laid 8 miles of gas pipes; installed three separate telegraph systems with underground cables; planted 153 acres of lawns and flowerbeds, and over 20,000 trees and shrubs. Every one of 249 large and small structures was completed; Schwarzmann had designed 34 of these himself, including the two permanent buildings,” Memorial Hall and Horticultural Hall.

“Horticultural Hall was the smallest of the Centennial’s five principal buildings, but it was the largest conservatory built up to that time, bigger than the famous hothouses in the Botanical Gardens of London and Paris. Schwarzmann begin to prepare plans on April 11, 1874… On June 11, 1874, the Committee on Grounds Plans and Buildings approved his plans. Construction began in December 1874, and the elaborate building was completed on April 1, 1876. The City of Philadelphia bore the cost of $367,073.47.”

Horticultural Hall, Interior, 1876. Centennial Photographic Company. ( - Free Library)

Horticultural Hall, Interior, 1876. Centennial Photographic Company. ( Library of Philadelphia.)

According to Schwarzmann, “the design is in the Moresque style of architecture of the twelfth century, the principal materials externally being iron and glass. The length of the building is 383 feet, width 193 feet, and height to the top of the lantern 72 feet.”

“The east and west entrances are approached by flights of blue marble steps from terraces 80 by 20 feet, in the center of each of which stands and open kiosk 20 feet in diameter,” Maass tells us. “The angles of the main conservatory or adorned with eight ornamental fountains. The corridors which connect the conservatory with the surrounding rooms open fine vistas in every direction.”

“No such building and no such horticultural display had been seen in an International Exposition before.  The visitors passed under horseshoe arches of black, cream and red bricks to enter the grand hall, flooded with light and filled with tropical palms, trees and shrubs. Spectacular chandeliers glittered above and in the center played a marble fountain, designed in Rome by the American sculptress Margaret Foley.”

“Horticultural Hall won the praise of professionals and public, of Americans and Europeans alike. The international jury gave Schwarzmann and award for its architectural design.”

Horticultural Hall, Autochrome by Emil P. Albrecht,  ca. 1910.  (The Library Company of Philadelphia)

“The building was surrounded by flowerbeds and the trees grew up around it. Horticultural Hall was a fine sight in the moonlight, gleaming by its reflecting pool. The interior was magic: Victorian statuary nestled in the moist tropical foliage, the stillness only broken by the drip of water on the floor of patterned grill work. The Park Commission skimped on proper building maintenance; in 1911 its engineers reported that the iron, glass, brick and woodwork were all in a hazardous condition of disrepair, but Horticultural Hall was still standing 43 years later when it was slightly damaged by a hurricane.”

According to some accounts, Hurricane Hazel broke hundreds of glass panes. According to others, the number was only 29. In either case, Hazel’s impact was considered a “death blow” to the meant-to-be-permanent, once-treasured Horticultural Hall.

[Sources: “Hazel Death Death Blow to Horticultural Hall,” The Philadelphia Inquirer, October 22, 1954; John Maass, The Glorious Enterprise: The Centennial Exhibition of 1876 and H. J. Schwarzmann, Architect-in-Chief (American Life Foundation, 1973).]

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“The only large building in the world entirely devoted to telephone purposes”

Bell Telephone Building, 406-408 Market Street, 1972 (

Third and fourth floor of the Bell Telephone Building, 406-408 Market Street [1972] (

How did the thousands of Philadelphians wired for telephone service connect with one another? How would they talk with early adopters in other cities? Connectivity for the ever increasing numbers of subscribers was the ongoing challenge. As told recently in a post illustrated with the horse-drawn telephone parade float, Philadelphia’s telephone industry served less than 5,000 in 1895 but would balloon to more than 100,000 a dozen years later.

The American telephone industry needed investment and innovation. In 1901, the world’s total mileage of phone wire stood near five million. Just over a decade later the total stood at more than 29 million miles—half of the world’s total. Americans had poured more than one billion dollars into infrastructure, and it was paying off. By 1912, there were nearly 12.5 million telephones in the world; 67% were in American homes and businesses.

But none were useful without innovations that would enhance connectivity. That’s where Bell Telephone’s building 406-408 Market came in. After alterations by architect Addison Hutton in 1891, this purpose-built, four-story structure would accept 250 underground cables from the surrounding streets. “Believed to be the only large building in the world entirely devoted to telephone purposes,” 406-408 Market was expected “to meet every requirement of the present, and all the possibilities of the future.”

On the top, sun-lit fourth floor Bell installed a new Law switchboard, “the most wonderful of all of the many wonderful appliances for securing prompt and efficient service.” This 80-foot long “Law board” contained 2,500 mile of wire configured for 10,000 circuits allowing as many as 90 operators “to make any desired connection instantly.”

John F. Casey, an inventor from St. Louis, had patented this telephone system in December 1888. “The methods now in vogue,” read Casey’s discussion of his improvement, resulted in “great delay and embarrassment” when subscribers from different central offices want to speak with one another. A subscriber would call their central office and that office would connect with the second central office. Once connected, operators at both central offices would have to call and then reconnect the two subscribers before making the connection between them. Such bottlenecks wasted “a great deal of time” and were “very unsatisfactory.”

Casey’s invention required that central offices had permanent, open circuits with one another so that “both operators that make the connections in each office hear the call at the same time. This obviates the necessity of central office A first making connection with central office B, then calling up central office B and waiting until said central office B makes the connection.”

A Law Switchboard, ca. 1888 in Saint Louis Missouri. (

“By my invention.” claimed Casey, conversations can take place “between subscribers connected with different central offices as expeditiously as between subscribers belonging to the same central office.”

But the success of America’s telephone industry’s would literally be in the hands of an army of efficient operators.

Want ads called for young women “of unquestionable character [with] 12th grade public school education” to apply in person. Fresh hires would “learn long distance telephone operating” at the Market Street facility while being paid. Graduates would be placed in telephone offices “convenient to home.” In 1912, the Bell Telephone bragged of its “enlarged operators’ school, second to none in the country in completeness… receiving more than 1100 students a year.”

With investment, invention, technology and training, American telephony had found its stride. But that didn’t stop company executives from looking for additional ways of to improve service, and the company’s bottom line.

“Courtesy Too Costly” read a New York Times headline in 1907, The Keystone Telephone Company’s top traffic manager in Philadelphia, A. J. Ulrich, insisted on dropping the word “please.” Ulrich had studied the situation and “found that patrons making calls and operators answering them” uttered the word “please” 900,000 times every day. He calculated that Keystone’s 450 “girl operators” and the subscribers they served wasted 7,500 minutes, or 125 hours, each and every day.

The Keystone Company banned use of the word “please.”

Not long after, AT&T attempted to dissuade its employees and customers from using the word “Hello.”

We know how that initiative on behalf of hyper-efficiency worked out.

[Sources: John F. Casey, A New Telephone System, U.S. Patent #394, 832, December 18, 1888. (PDF); Philadelphia and Popular Philadelphians, (Philadelphia, The North American, 1891); Want Ads, The Philadelphia Inquirer, October 8, 1905; “Courtesy Too Costly,” The New York Times, September 6, 1907; Telephone Statistics of the World (American Telephone and Telegraph Company, 1912);  “A Year in the Bell Telephone Plant Department” (Advertisement) The Philadelphia Inquirer, October 18, 1912.]

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Andrew Eastwick: Savior of Bartram’s Garden


Bartram’s Garden, 54th Street and Eastwick Terrace, as photographed by Widoop and Carollo, dated January 1, 1960.

Famed Bartram’s Garden, homestead of Philadelphia’s 18th century botanist John Bartram, is going through a renaissance today. The gardens are lushly planted and the main buildings restored.  The parking lot is full on warm summer Saturdays. New bike trails connect this pastoral sanctuary to Center City and University City.  The renovated barn offers programs for schoolchildren. After wandering through the botanical gardens–the nerve center of the Bartram family’s North American seed empire–visitors can rent kayaks and canoes at the river landing and paddle up and down the Schuylkill River. Picnickers relax under groves of old growth trees.  A wildflower-bedecked walking path flows down to the river’s edge.

The whole ensemble is gloriously incongruous: a pristine and beautifully-maintained vestige of Philadelphia’s colonial era, hemmed in by housing projects, oil tanks, and railroad trestles.  The shimmering glass-and-steel skyline of Center City looms in the distance, a dreamy reminder of the modern age.

What saved Bartram’s Gardens from destruction?  A larger and even grander mansion, built with the very proceeds of 19th century industry that gobbled up much of the surrounding riverbanks.  Andrew McCalla Eastwick (1806-1879) was a Philadelphia engineer credited with the invention of the steam shovel.  As a partner in the firm of Harrison, Winans, and Eastwick, he made a tremendous fortune building railroads for Czar Nicholas I of Russia.  In 1850, he purchased the 46-acre Bartram property from John Bartram’s granddaughter Ann Bartram Carr. Yet unlike many other rich men before and after him, he decided not to tear down the existing house on his property.  Rather, he left modest Bartram family homestead alone as a museum piece, and built his own mansion off to one side. According to one report, he vowed not to harm “one bush” on the Bartram family compound.

“Franklinia Altamaha,” as illustrated by William Bartram in 1762. Source: Wikipedia

Eastwick’s own house stood in stark contrast to the simple stone Quaker farmhouse lived in by three generations of Bartrams.  Bartram Hall, completed in 1851, was the first major commission of architect Samuel Sloan, who went on to design the houses on Woodland Terrace and the Institute of the Pennsylvania Hospital for Mental and Nervous Disease. Built the so-called Norman revival style, it cost $30,000 (over $2 million in modern currency), and rivaled the grand estates on New York’s Hudson River, boasting 34 rooms and surrounded by formal gardens.  Its four-story tower and crenelated roofline rose high above the flowering Franklinia trees so lovingly cultivated by John Bartram.  On warm summer nights, the rich industrialist’s family and houseguests could wander through the adjacent Bartram family homestead, kept just as America’s founding botanist knew it.

A rendering of Bartram Hall, as portrayed in Samuel Sloan’s “The Model Architect.”

Yet even a man as rich as Andrew Eastwick couldn’t stem the tide of industry on the Schuylkill River.  By the time of his death in 1879, his property was completely surrounded by factories, and the river befouled by pollution.   Yet the Eastwick heirs resolved that their family home would not succumb to the same fate as the rest of the lower Schuylkill valley. In 1890, they deeded both Bartram Hall and Bartram’s Gardens to the city of Philadelphia for use as a public park.  Sadly, only six years later, the grandiose and ponderous Bartram’s Hall caught fire and burned to the ground. Today, a pavilion sits on the site of the mansion.  It is a popular site for weddings.  A community garden serving Southwest Philadelphia flourishes nearby.

The original Bartram house and garden remain, a monument not just to America’s earliest botanist, but also to Andrew McCalla Eastwick, one of the founders of the American historic preservation movement.


“Bartram Hall, The Andrew M. Eastwick House, Philadelphia PA,” Picturesque Italianate Architecture, July 18, 2016.

Kenneth Hafertepe and James F. O’Gorman, eds. American Architects and Their Books, 1840-1915 (Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 2007), p.114.

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The Derham Body Company: Dignified Simplicity on Four Wheels

A 1920s advertisement for the Derham Body Company of Rosemont and Philadelphia, featuring a Locomobile owned by Rodman Wanamaker II. Locomobile, based in Bridgeport, Connecticut, claimed theirs was the “best built car in America.”  Edward T. Stotesbury, flamboyant owner of Whitemarsh Hall in Wyndmoor, owned a similar Locomobile.

The so-called annual model change (also known as “planned obsolesce”) dates back to the 1920s, when General Motors transformed automobile styling from an afterthought into high fashion.   Dazzling new body styles, vibrant colors, and powerful engines enticed the aspiring American middle class, who began going into debt to buy a lifestyle accessory rather than a mere vehicle.

Yet between 1895 and 1930,  car buyers were often more attached to their car’s body than the actual machine , a holdover from the days of the horse-and-carriage, when highly-skilled artisans produced a variety of open and closed bodied coaches: landaus, victorias, phaetons, brakes, and cabriolets, to name a few.

Philadelphia was never much of a car-manufacturing city, with the minor exception of the short-lived Biddle Motor Car Company. Yet Philadelphia’s custom car coachwork was famous throughout the world.  John Joseph Derham, an Irish immigrant, set up shop in 1887 in the new Main Line community of Rosemont, building fine carriages for the horse-loving residents. By the early 1900s, J.J. Derham’s well-heeled customers were buying their first automobiles. Rather than buying a factory-built car body, a Derham client like department store heir Rodman Wanamaker II would opt to purchase only the chassis.  Wanamaker would then have the car (consistenting of only a wheels, frame, engine, and radiator) delivered to Derham, where he would then work with master craftsmen to come up with the car of his dreams.

This could be a daunting undertaking.  The cars that Derham’s customers chose sold for around $5,000 for the chassis alone ($100,000 in today’s money): Locomobile, Cadillac, Rolls-Royce, Lincoln, Peerless, Pierce-Arrow, Mercedes, Minverva, and Packard.  Building a custom-built body for hat chassis could set the owner back another $10,000 to $20,000. The body styles boasted the same names as the horse-drawn carriages they replaced.  A sporty two seater body, for example, was known as a cabriolet.  An enclosed formal body for opera night at the Academy of Music was a brougham.  An four door car open body, good for summer driving on winding suburban roads, was a phaeton.  Although some very rich customers owned several cars, others preferred to use two or more bodies on the same car.  According to a history of J. Gibson McIlvain & Company, Derham’s principal wood supplier in the 1910s and 20s:

“Largely because most early automobiles were manufactured with open, touring car bodies, the business prospered. Wealthy citizens of Philadelphia who wished to drive their cars in winter would come to the Derham company to a have a closed body custom-built. Every Spring the closed body would be removed and stored with Derham. In the Fall, the body would be installed in time for the cold weather.”

In an era before government-mandated safety standards, coachbuilders were free to indulge their client’s wildest fantasies.  Body panels were aluminum, and the frames constructed of seasoned ash.  Interiors were lined with velvet and leather, and accented with strips of rosewood, walnut, and mother of pearl.  To keep up with demand, every spring Derham would send a representative to the McIlvain yard to “make his selection of the finest oak, northern ash, and hickory.”

There was at least one Philadelphia lady who took the attachment to a specific body style to an extreme. Louise Audenried’s first car was a 1907 Zeidel, with a custom-built Derham body.  When Audenried bought a new car several years later, she demanded that the old body be transferred to the new chassis. Derham gave her the bad news that the old body wouldn’t fit onto the new chassis.  Louise Audenried refused to budge — she wanted exactly the same type of body.  So, Derham built a replica body that fit onto the new chassis.  In the 1920s, Audenried purchased a new Pierce-Arrow, and once again, Derham obliged.  Finally, in 1938, Audenried purchased a magnificent Packard Super Eight.  Yet rather than fashion a modern, streamlined body for this chassis, Derham did exactly as the client wished: constructing a boxy, Edwardian body on top of a powerful Art Deco drivetrain.

The J.J. Derham & Company had an office at 237-45 S.12th Street, nearby another auto body shop. Photograph dated January 10, 1917.

For coachbuilders like Derham, the good times ended with the stock market crash of 1929, which wiped out the fortunes of many of their loyal clients. Even those who still had money opted to simply buy a Cadillac or Lincoln with standard, factory-built bodies.  Most of the old line, East Coast coachbuilders  went out of business.

During the lean years of the 1930s, Derham miraculously held on, designing formal cars for the King and Queen of England, Pope Pius XII, Gary Cooper, and even Josef Stalin.

After surviving on custom jobs and classic car restorations, including a presidential limousine for Dwight Eisenhower, Derham’s Rosemont shop finally closed its doors in 1971.

A Duesenberg advertisement featuring a convertible town car body built by the Derham Body Company of Rosemont, Pennsylvania.


“Derham Body Company,” Coachbuilt,, accessed September 28, 2017.

William Barton Marsh, Philadelphia Hardwood: The Story of the McIlvains of Philadelphia, 1798-1948 (Philadelphia: William E. Rudge’s Sons, 1948), p.63.



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“To be, or not to be?” That was no longer the question.

Bell Telephone Company Founder’s Week Parade Float, Broad and Spruce Streets, October 7, 1908. (

Alexander Graham Bell found only fifteen customers in all of Philadelphia the year after he demonstrated his telephonic invention at the Centennial. The question he transmitted: “To be, or not to be?” was still very much unanswered in 1877.

By 1890, the telephone’s prospects were looking somewhat less dire. More than 3,000 Philadelphians had gotten wired up. It looked as if the telephone might be on its way to becoming useful. Indispensable and omnipresent would have to wait.

When the city threw itself a massive, self-congratulatory celebration in 1908, the telephone industry jumped at the chance to brag about their 102,000 early adopters. In three lavish floats, Bell Telephone pitched their services to the hundreds of thousands of holdouts who lined Broad Street from Diamond to Snyder.

“The Founders Week celebration,” sniffed the New York Times, “is the most pretentious undertaking this city has ever attempted.” The daily parades illustrated “progress of the city from its founding…down to the present day.” Re-enactors created 68 scenes from Penn’s Treaty with the Indians to “The City Beautiful.”

From Telephone Statistics of the World, American Telephone and Telegraph Company, 1912. (

Wednesday October 7th was entirely dedicated industry. Organizers had hoped to limit the number of floats to 100 but they ended up with twice that many. “Every phase of industrial activity, labor, agriculture, science, and all the applied arts, weaving, spinning, soap making, transportation, fortune, cigar making, the manufacture of crude and partly finished materials into the finished product, were shown with wonderful reality in the procession which moved down Broad Street between two walls of closely packed humanity.” The Tacony saw manufacturers Henry Disston & Sons had five floats; the city’s lager brewers had four; Baldwin Locomotive Work had two. Bell Telephone had three.

Twenty red and gold-trimmed horses pulled the first and largest, a 46-foot display divided into eight room-like sections. The first presented “a woman in her boudoir using the telephone.” Next came a manufacturer’s office illustrating “the benefits of telephone service;” then a lawyer and a broker’s office, “each showing the convenience of telephone facilities.” On the opposite side of the float we’re four more scenes, “each fitted up in a similar manner to illustrate the uses of the phone.” Above, on the roof of a house portion of the float, were “two boys, talking over the string and tin can methods of voice transmission,” a reminder of the primal, universal appeal of voice communication. “On the ends of the float there will be three young women switchboard telephone operators, showing the system of today.”

Bringing up the rear of the telephone float trio was a horse-drawn bar graph with giant model telephones representing “the rapid rise of adoption.” Bell Telephone proudly celebrated the numbers with increasingly large model telephones from 1883 when there were 3,674 subscribers to 1908, when there were 102,193.

By 1917, Philadelphia would have 175,000.

Comparing Philadelphia with, say, Paris: Philadelphia had lagged behind through the 1890s. But by 1905, the American city had more than double the telephones per capita of its European counterpart. By 1911, Philadelphia had close to three times the phones of Paris.

The American investment in infrastructure had paid off. From 1901 to 1912, the total telephone wire mileage on earth increased from five to 29 million miles. Half had been unspooled in the United States. In 1908, there were four million American telephones in use. By 1912, there would be eight million. Total American telephone conversations topped 14 billion, more than double what the rest of the world could claim.

The American love affair with the telephone—and with winning—was only getting revved up.

[Sources: “Founders Week Industrial Day,” The Philadelphia Inquirer, July 24, 1908;  “Philadelphia Opens Its’ Founders Week,” The New York Times. October 5, 1908;  “Miles of Float Show Industries’ Progress March – Nearly two hundred displays on wheels delight thousands,” The Philadelphia Inquirer, October 8, 1908; Telephone Statistics of the World (American Telephone and Telegraph Company, 1912); David Glassberg, “Public Ritual and Cultural Hierarchy: Philadelphia’s Civic Celebrations at the Turn of the Twentieth Century.” The Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography, Vol. 107, No. 3 (Jul., 1983); “Telephones,” by Lucy Davis in The Encyclopedia of Greater Philadelphia.]

Bell Telephone Company Founder’s Week Parade Float, Broad and Spruce Streets, October 7, 1908. – detail. (

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Dr. Kirkbride’s Country Cure

Entrance to the Pennsylvania General Hospital (Old Blockley), c.1900. Source: Wikipedia.

Before it became a fashionable streetcar suburb, West Philadelphia was infamous as as place where the city’s indigent, and mentally ill were warehoused out of sight and mind. As historian Robert Morris Skaler wrote, “if one was incurable, insane, consumptive, blind, orphaned, crippled, destitute, or senile, one would most likely end up in a faith-based charitable institution or asylum somehwere in West Philadelphia, beyond the pale.”  It’s famous institution was the Blockley Almshouse, a charity hospital founded in 1797 and for many years located at the intersection of 34th and Walnut Street.  Although Blockley sold a large chunk of land to the University of Pennsylvania for its new campus in 1871, the institution continued to operate as the Philadelphia General Hospital until the 1977, when it went bankrupt.  Nonetheless, a group of dedicated physicians and reformers lobbied the Commonwealth to make mental asylums more humane and aesthetically pleasing, hoping that beauty, air, and natural light would help improve the patients’ condition.  This part of the “Romantic” aesthetic that was sweeping the nation. One example of this aesthetic was Laurel Hill Cemetery, a pastoral urban park meant to elevate the spirits of the bereaved.  Opened in 1836 on the banks of the Schuylkill, this burial ground was a departure from the crammed, bleak urban cemeteries of the past.

Samuel Sloan, one of the city’s most prolific architects of the so-called “Picturesque style,” was best known for his suburban villas and country homes.  His charming Italianate residences can be found all over West Philadelphia, most notably on Woodland Terrace.   These homes radiated Victorian propriety, yet also had a splashes of whimsy: gingerbread porches, glass cupolas, and Tuscan eaves. Yet Sloan’s largest surviving commission in Philadelphia is not a mansion, but rather the sprawling Institute of the Pennsylvania Hospital for Mental and Nervous Disease, completed in 1859. Also known as Kirkbride’s Hospital, it originally occupied a vast swath of land bounded by 46th Street to the east, 50th Street to the west, Market Street to the south, and Haverford Avenue to the north.

The original Samuel Sloan building for the Institute of the Pennsylvania Hospital, c.1860. Source: Wikipedia

The institute was founded by Dr. Thomas Kirkbride, a physician at the Pennsylvania Hospital who treated  the mentally ill in an age before depression, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder were medical mysteries, not diagnosed conditions. As a young medical student, Kirkbride saw the mentally ill treated (and punished) like convicts. As he built his own practice, Kirkbride theorized that in order to find the root cause of insanity, “we would have to go back to a defective early education the want of proper parental discipline,’ in which…(his) mind was always linked to parental affection.”  For him, the best treatment was compassion.  “It is only by a constant remembrance of the principles of an enlightened religion, and by untiring efforts to elevate, in every rational mode, and character of all these institutions, and by leaving nothing undone to extend and improve their facilities for treatment, that we shall be found practically to adopt that golden maxim which should be seen, or it not seen, at least practices in hospitals for the insane everywhere, ”all things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even to them.”

Kirkbride’s plan for mental hospitals set the standard for over half a century.  Hospitals built according to the “Kirkbride Plan” had a so-called “batwing” floor plate.  The central administration block was located at the center of the structure, and was usually topped by a dome or tower.  The patient dormitories radiated out from this main block.  The more independent patients of the institution would be in the wings closer to the center of the structure.  The less independent ones would be placed in the more remote wings.  Each wing had its own parlor and restrooms, as well as dumbwaiters and speaking tubes to ensure smooth communication between the wards.

Dr. Thomas Story Kirkbride (1809-1883). Source: Wikipedia

The resulting structure resembled a British stately home more than a traditional mental institution. The buildings were surrounded by 130 acres of lawns and trees. Inmates could stroll, work in the kitchen garden, or go for carriage rides.  Dr. Kirkbride also set up lecture series for the edification of the residents.

Yet there was one grim reminder of the complex’s purpose: a stone wall encircling the entire site, keeping the residents in and curiosity seekers out.

A Beaux-Arts addition to the original Samuel Sloan campus of the Institute of the Pennsylvania Hospital, 49th and Market Streets, September 11, 1931.

Ultimately, grand architecture and beautiful gardens did not make up for the lack of scientific knowledge of the mentally ill . Despite Kirkbride’s best intentions, abuse and maltreatment ran rampant in even the most beautifully designed mental institutions, most notably at the infamous Pennhurst State School in Spring City, Pennsylvania. By the late 20th century, most of the grand asylums built according to the “Kirkbride Plan” were shuttered, their inmates given medications that, state officials hoped, would allow them to better integrate into greater society.

After the arrival of the Market Street Elevated in 1907, much of the acreage was sold off and developed into rowhouses.  Yet Samuel Sloan’s administration building survives largely intact. It still serves its original purpose: housing the Kirkbride Center, a 250-bed privately-owned treatment center for mental illness and addiction.


Richard S. Greenwood, “National Register of Historic Places Inventory — Nomination Form, Kirkbride’s Hospital, Institute of the Pennsylvania Hospital,” United States Department of the Interior, 1958.

Robert Morris Skaler, West Philadelphia: University City to 52nd Street (Charleston, Arcadia Publishing, 2002), p.7.

“Dr. Thomas Story Kirkbride,” Kirkbride Buildings., accessed September 13, 2017.

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