Category Archives: Public Services

Irving T. Catharine, Philadelphia’s School Design Czar

The buildings of Frank Furness and Louis Kahn are known world-wide. Yet below the architectural superstars were the work-a-day architects who made their livings designing prominent structures that still dot the city. These included department stores, theaters, police and fire stations, parish churches, and warehouse blocks.  These architects saw their business as a service, and […]
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Public Education in Philadelphia: Philadelphia High School for Girls

The history of the Philadelphia High School for Girls, known by most Philadelphians as simply Girls’ High, can be traced back to 1848 when the city built what was called the Girls’ Normal School at the intersection of Chester Street and Maple Street, an intersection long since paved over and now covered by a parking […]
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Founder’s Week in Philadelphia

  In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, the city of Philadelphia hosted several large celebrations. Events such as the 1876 Centennial and the 1898 Peace Jubilee connected Philadelphia residents to the anniversary of the founding of the United States and the end of the Spanish-American war. From October 4 to 10, 1908, however, […]
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Public Education in Philadelphia: Central High School

  The founding of a free public school system in the United States is the result of much discussion over several decades. In the early 1800s, Philadelphia and the state of Pennsylvania debated and tested different ideas for establishing a public school system that would provide an education for those who could not afford the […]
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“Conservation is Everybody’s Business”

  On April 4, 2009, Mayor Michael Nutter hosted the 2nd Annual Philly Spring Cleanup. Around 10,000 volunteers worked together to collect 692,560 pounds of trash, complete projects at 12 recreation centers and 24 Fairmount Park sites, and plant 152 native trees and shrubs. The Philly Spring Cleanup continues a tradition of local residents becoming […]
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Immigrant Jewish Philadelphia: School Days

  Going through photographs on, I was struck by the number of photos showing Philadelphia public grade schools from years ago, most now torn down although some still remain. These photographs show the construction of new schools during the period of heavy immigration into the country at the end of the 19th and beginning of […]
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Take Care of Him and I will repay Thee: A Luxurious Philadelphia Asylum

  Since the establishment of Pennsylvania Hospital at 8th and Pine Streets “to care for the sick-poor of the Province and for the reception and care of lunaticks,” Philadelphia was a leading center of psychiatric care. The city is, after all, the birthplace of Declaration of Independence signer Benjamin Rush, widely regarded as the father […]
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The Life of the Schuylkill: Part Two

  Jaundice. Vomiting. Kidney failure. Bleeding from the mouth, eyes, nose and stomach. Death. Many Philadelphians today would probably not have a hard time believing that the list above is a catalogue of consequences one might reasonably expect to suffer after drinking out of the river. Yet it was precisely these agonies – the agonies […]
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The Life of the Schuylkill: Part One

  The Schuylkill is not an unattractive river. Reflections of the illuminated arches of the bridges above it gleam on its dark surface at night, while the lights of Boathouse Row have given commuters on I-76 and Amtrak and Septa passengers something to enjoy as they speed past. The Fairmount Waterworks, newly restored and featuring […]
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Fires, Fights and Benjamin Franklin: Philadelphia’s Volunteer Firemen, Part Two

  By 1752, there were already eight active fire companies in Philadelphia. That same year, Franklin built on his own achievement by helping to found the Philadelphia Contributionship, the oldest fire insurance company in America. Interestingly, though Franklin modeled his creations after their English counterparts, the American system was fundamentally different. In England, fire brigades […]
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