Washington Avenue: A Representative Example of Philadelphia’s Industrial Past, Part I

For the historic background of Washington Avenue, please read “Washington Avenue: A Representative Example of Philadelphia’s Industrial Past, Background History.”

We will start our tour at 25th and Washington Avenue and make our way eastward. At the north east corner of 25th and Washington Avenue, we have the Robert Wilson Coal Yard.1 There were numerous coal yards all along Washington Avenue. Not only was there a demand for coal by the surrounding factories, but it should also be remembered that at the turn of the century most of the rowhouses of the surrounding area were also heated by coal. Looking south between 25th and 24th, we see the William Wharton Jr. steel works. The company was the first to manufacture manganese steel for street railway tracks and later manganese steel frogs used in railroad switches. Despite the size of the complex as viewed in a 1930 photograph looking west from 24th Street, Wharton decided the company required larger facilities and in 1915 moved the company to Easton, PA.2 This is an early example of an industry moving due to an inability to expand within the confines of its urban setting.

Not surprisingly the vacated buildings were then occupied by another steel company, The Philadelphia Roll and Machine Co., which already had a substantial operation on the north side of Washington Avenue between 24th and 23th Streets. Eventually this company left as well and, according to the 1942 Land Use Map, the Pennsylvania Range Boiler Co. had occupied at least some of the space. In the 1960 photograph the building looks the same as when it had William Wharton’s name painted on its side. Note also in this relatively late view the railroad boxcar “parked” right on Washington Avenue.

The manufacturing of steel and other metals was becoming a significant industry during this time period and Philadelphia had numerous small foundries. Between 23rd and 22nd Streets on the north side of Washington Avenue was the Belmont Iron Works. If one carefully examines the company sign, one can see that the company made structural steel for bridges. The other item to note from this 1916 photograph is that the railroad had as many as four tracks running down Washington Avenue with little space for other vehicular traffic. About this time the city proposed elevating the entire railroad but funds for this project never materialized and the railroad tracks remained in Washington Avenue for many years.3 Across the street from the Belmont Iron Works was the Phosphor Bronze Smelting Co. which had foundry buildings on either side of 22nd Street.

So as not to leave the impression that the only type of industry along Washington Avenue was metal manufacturing industries, we will end the first part of our tour in the 2100 block of Washington Avenue. On the north side was a large factory owned and operated by the retailer John Wanamaker.

Inspection of the Sanborn Insurance maps indicates that furniture was manufactured here with a rail siding from Washington Avenue used to deliver lumber. Across the street on the south side was the massive Continental Brewery built in 1879. A drawing of the building can be found in the Hexamer Survey of 1880 at the Free Library in Philadelphia. This was a very successful Philadelphia brewery and at its peak produced some 80,000 barrels of beer per year. Unfortunately like many of the breweries located in Brewerytown section of Philadelphia, Prohibition brought the demise of the business and even upon the repeal of Prohibition many breweries like Continental never reopened.

References:

[1] Atlas of the City of Philadelphia, 1901. George W. & Walter S. Bromley, Civil Engineers. http://www.philageohistory.org/geohistory/

[2] Maintenance of way cyclopedia: a reference book by E. T. Howson, E. R. Lewis, K. E. Kellenberger, American Railway Engineering Association, New York,Simons-Boardman, 1921.

[3] Messer, David W. (2000). Triumph III: Philadelphia Terminal 1838-2000. Baltimore, Maryland: Barnard, Roberts & Co. p. 287.

Additional Resources:

  • Scranton, Philip, Walter Licht. Work Sights: Industrial Philadelphia, 1890-1950. Philadelphia, Temple University Press, 1986.
  • Penrose, Robert L. (1988) “The PRR’s Delaware Avenue Branch”. The High Line (Philadelphia Chapter, Pennsylvania Railroad Technical and Historical Society) 9 (1), p. 7.
  • Ibid., p. 8.
  • Atlas of the City of Philadelphia, 1901. George W. & Walter S. Bromley, Civil Engineers. http://www.philageohistory.org/geohistory/
  • Hexamer General Surveys, 1866-1896. Ernest Hexamer. http://www.philageohistory.org/geohistory/
  • Baist’s Property Atlas of the City and County of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, 1895. G. Wm. Baist. http://www.philageohistory.org/geohistory/
  • Philadelphia Land Use Map, 1942. Plans & Registry Division, Bureau of Engineering Surveys & Zoning, Department of Public Works, Federal Works Progress Administration for Pennsylvania. http://www.philageohistory.org/geohistory/
  • Philadelphia Land Use Map, 1962. Plans & Registry Division, Bureau of Engineering Surveys & Zoning, Department of Public Works, Federal Works Progress Administration for Pennsylvania. http://www.philageohistory.org/geohistory/
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