Category Archives: Neighborhoods

The Carriage Houses of Van Pelt Street

Two months ago, while giving a book talk at Bucknell University, I was fortunate to tour an actual working carriage house, attached to an 1840s brick mansion in the small town of Mifflinburg.  My host Karl Purnell had restored his family’s carriage house to its original condition and configuration. Within its walls were a horse […]
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Alexander Johnston Cassatt: The Man Who Spanned the Hudson

Alexander J. Cassatt (1839-1906) was not a Philadelphian.  He was a Pittsburgh transplant who had started his career as an engineer with the Pennsylvania Railroad, and proved himself to be a master of transportation logistics.  As vice president of “The Railroad,” Cassatt enjoyed the good life.  He was the proud owner of a Frank Furness-designed […]
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1601 Locust Street and “The Perfect Square”

The imposing Daniel Baugh mansion, which once stood on the northwest corner of 16th and Locust, was one of dozens of grand residences built to last the ages but only lasted a few decades.  Its ephemeral presence is a contradiction: perhaps no American city is more conscious of its past and traditions.  Yet at the […]
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The First and Only to One of Many: How a Coffee Shop Helped Transform Spruce Hill

Soon after moving to West Philadelphia in 1995, Douglas Witmer joked with his brother-in-law Dan Thut that one day they would open up a coffee shop in the Spruce Hill section of West Philadelphia. Neither had business experience. Douglas studied at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts. His wife’s brother Dan had a background in […]
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William Warren Gibbs: The Rise and Fall of A Gilded Age Promoter

William Warren Gibbs arrived in Philadelphia around 1880 with little more than a smooth tongue and gas-making equipment for sale.  Born in 1846 in the small town of Hope, New Jersey, Gibbs dropped out of school to work in a local store, and then married Frances Ayres Johnson, the daughter of a prominent Hackettstown merchant. […]
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Gothic Ruins: A Last Glimpse Inside Northeast Manual Training High School

The former Northeast Manual Training High School looks as if it had been plucked from the Princeton campus and dropped into the middle of North Philadelphia.  Constructed in 1903 at the intersection of North 8th Street and West Lehigh Avenue, the “Collegiate Gothic” building has walls of granite, traceried windows, and gargoyles sprouting from the […]
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The Bernsteins Move to Wynnefield

This is a continuation of the story of the Slifkin family, which had settled in Parkside in the early 1900s.  By the end of the 1920s, many upwardly-mobile Jewish families were leaving Parkside-Girard and moving to the Wynnefield neighborhood, nestled to the south of City Avenue.  Unlike the rambling (and increasingly outdated) Victorian mansions and […]
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Parkside Revisited: The Slifkin Family

To see my original article on the development of Parkside, click here. During the early 1900s, Parkside-Girard evolved from being an upper-class German and Protestant neighborhood to a middle-class Eastern European Jewish one.   The neighborhood’s first synagogue opened in 1907 at 3940 Girard Avenue.* Many of the Jewish families who purchased the large Victorian […]
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William H. Shoemaker Junior High School

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

Hidden behind a high brick wall stands a forgotten masterpiece of American architecture, designed by the same firm responsible for New York’s Pennsylvania Station and the Boston Public Library. The Germantown Cricket Club, a National Historic Landmark, is one of the few surviving structures in Philadelphia designed by McKim Mead & White. It is a […]
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