Category Archives: Uncategorized

The Never-Seated U.S. Senator from Philadelphia

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, […]
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The Demise and Demolition of Horticultural Hall

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 […]
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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 […]
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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 […]
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Praising Horticultural Hall in Fairmount Park

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

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

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 […]
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Sculptural Meaning vs. Carved Ornament

Philadelphia’s first bridge over the Schuylkill River, confidently named “the Permanent Bridge,” wasn’t actually. It took only an hour before the bridge was “totally destroyed, consumed by fire and fallen into the river” one Saturday afternoon in November 1875. Only the masonry piers remained. Gone was Timothy Palmer’s giant span of wooden trusses set in […]
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Coleman Sellers, Powelton Village, and the Gilded Age (Part II)

  The real Colonel Sellers, as I knew him in James Lampton, was a pathetic and beautiful spirit, a manly man, a straight and honorable man, a man with a big, foolish, unselfish heart in his bosom, a man born to be loved; and he was loved by all his friends, and by his family […]
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Some Jump Rope Songs from Camingerly, ca. 1959

Not far from his small rented house on Iseminger Street, Roger Abrahams could hear echoes young girls chanting to the distinctive slap of jump rope on pavement. Folklorist antenna up, Abrahams recognized the chance to collect what he guessed wouldn’t be around much longer in his gradually gentrifying neighborhood—a community White newcomers called Camingerly. He […]
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