WEST PHILADELPHIA: THE BASIC HISTORY
In 1865, Robert D. Work, a hat and cap merchant, bought a home in West Philadelphia at 3803 Locust Street for $5000. Work operated a store at 51 N. 3rd Street in downtown Philadelphia, more than three miles from his new residence. Previously, he had lived on 4th Street and Callowhill in easy walking distance to his business. Robert Work was now a commuter.1
Robert Work was not the first person of means to establish a residence in West Philadelphia on a house-size lot of land at a distance from his work. As early as 1808, William Hamilton had subdivided his family’s estate to create a village of potential commuters with a grid of streets that extended on Philadelphia’s street system. By 1850, formidable mansions lined Chestnut, Walnut, Locust, and Spruce Streets between 34th and 40th Streets--with smaller row houses on the numbered streets of Hamilton Village (Robert Work’s home in West Philadelphia had been built a decade before he occupied it by real estate investors Samuel A. Harrison, a tile manufacturer, and Nathaniel B. Brown, a lawyer and local landowner; they commissioned Samuel Sloan to design the Gothic Revival cottage that still stands today on the campus of the University of Pennsylvania).
Hamilton Village had become so developed that in 1852, it could be described by local officials in these words:2
Robert Work was among the pioneer home owners of a new residential West Philadelphia and he would soon be joined by tens of thousands of others. West Philadelphia’s population stood at 13,265 in 1850 and 23,738 ten years later on the eve of the Civil War. And then in a ten-fold increase across the second half of the nineteenth century, the area’s population mushroomed to 129,110 by 1900.4 Although the great majority of these "suburbanites within a city" could afford private residences and the costs of commuting, people from all walks of life, native and foreign-born, comprised the whole. Businessmen, such as Robert Work, doctors, lawyers and other professionals and members of the middle class claimed West Philadelphia as their home as did craftsmen and lesser skilled workers who served the better off. A small community of thirty-six African Americans families (with their own church) had even emerged by the 1850s in Hamilton Village near 40th Street and the African American presence in West Philadelphia would grow to 7,137 by 1900.5
Transportation innovations and real estate speculation enabled a new residential West Philadelphia to emerge. But developments did not unfold instantly or uniformly. The building of homes did not proceed as a sequential push westward to the area’s western boundaries, but rather in pocketed ways. An even within pockets of development, the filling-in of home building occurred gradually.
As before 1854 and the incorporation of West Philadelphia into a greater municipality, institutional formation continued to be an important facet of the area’s history (and went hand-in-hand with real estate development and population growth). In the second half of the nineteenth century, the building of institutions of higher learning was noteworthy, including the relocation of the University of Pennsylvania to the vicinity of Hamilton Village and Blockley Almshouse. But, the new residents of West Philadelphia contributed in the own ways, most notably by establishing houses of worship that became neighborhood bedrocks. The blossoming of the area after 1854 did not just reverberate locally; a series of events in West Philadelphia, including the great Centennial Exposition of 1876, brought national attention.
Transportation innovation prior to 1854 largely aimed at connecting William Penn’s Philadelphia with agricultural settlements far west of the city. Citizens of Blockley Township were served by the four main wagon-ways blazed in the 1700s—Lancaster Pike heading slightly northwest, Market Street due west, and Baltimore Pike and Darby Road, southwest—but these thoroughfares mainly handled the transport of farm goods from counties west of Blockley to Philadelphia via the ferries and bridges that traversed the Schuylkill River. Individual residents could travel back and forth to Philadelphia on horseback or by wagon, but the roadways were not meant for daily mass commuting. Even the Pennsylvania Railroad that came to occupy sizable terrain in West Philadelphia was intended for the long distance transport of goods and people from Philadelphia to far points west.
The permanent bridges constructed across the Schuylkill in the first decades of the nineteenth century did provide the potential for commuting and horse-drawn omnibuses soon began to carry the first commuters (who were charged substantial fares by private operators, the cost amounting to more than 10 percent of the daily wage of most workers).6 A more mass form of transportation emerged after 1854, a mark of the promise of political consolidation for an expanded metropolis with efficient services (progress not handicapped, for example, by a labyrinth of political jurisdictions).
On July 2, 1858, the West Philadelphia Passenger Railroad opened for business after the completion of the laying of tracks from 3rd Street along Market across the Permanent Bridge to 41st in West Philadelphia; further track extended north to a depot at Haverford Avenue and along Haverford to the city’s western boundary.7 Horse-drawn omnibuses on the tracks now carried numbers of passengers in a regular and swift fashion.
Within months, other lines opened serving other parts of West Philadelphia. In late 1858, the Philadelphia and Darby Railroad Company began transporting commuters along Darby Road (today’s Woodland Avenue) and the Hestonville, Mantua and Fairmont Passenger Railway along Lancaster Pike (the former crossed the Schuylkill at Market Street, the latter at Spring Garden). In 1866, another bridge would be built across the river at Chestnut Street that included the tracks of the Philadelphia City Passenger Railway (with the completion of a bridge at Girard Avenue in the mid-1870s—constructed to handle visitors to the 1876 Centennial Exhibition—another track-based, horse-drawn omnibus line would facilitate commuting). Although the railways ran east and west, the West Philadelphia Passenger Railroad instituted the first lateral line running north and south along 40th Street from Market to Baltimore Pike (however, to this day, public transportation routes in West Philadelphia better serve east-west travel).8
Horse-drawn wagons on tracks may not appear as a great innovation. Steam-powered locomotives had been suggested, but widespread opposition existed in Philadelphia to their adoption; they were considered too dangerous as sparks from the engine frequently set buildings along the tracks on fire and the speeds of the engines threatened pedestrians and animals in downtown streets.9 The horse-drawn omnibuses served the first generation of urban commuters well in Philadelphia; with their numbers relatively low due to the high cost of fares, little pressure prevailed for a mass transportation system. In the 1890s, electric trolleys would replace horses on the urban railway tracks of West Philadelphia (and other urban areas) ushering in a next stage in commuting and residential dispersion.10
Transportation innovations enabled commuting, but it was real estate developers who provided the actual lures: pleasant, stately (though not palatial) homes in pleasant environs. The developers included a host of actors: estate owners ready to divide and sell their family properties; land speculators; building contractors; building tradesmen; and government officials (the buyers of the new suburban homes can be added to the mix). Complicated financing and mortgage arrangements shaped the process.
Charles M. S. Leslie provides an interesting example. In 1857, Leslie began purchasing land west of 40th Street and south of Darby Road (most likely in anticipation of the completion of track construction for the Philadelphia and Darby Railroad and following the lead of Samuel Harrison, who had built a set of elegant homes for commuters a block westward on what he named Hamilton Terrace in 1856). Subsequent to his securing title to the land, Leslie successfully petitioned the State General Assembly to close 40th Street which at the time angled southwest through his property and laid out a new north-south street between Darby Road and Baltimore (which he named Woodland Terrace). Public officials in this way played an important role in the residential development of West Philadelphia through the securing of land for street thoroughfares and their construction and maintenance, thus extending the city’s grid of streets.
Leslie worked with the architect Samuel Sloan to design twenty impressive Italianate villas along Woodland Terrace, but with a deceptive look. What appeared as single mansions were actually twin houses with separate entrances and porches on the sides. Leslie oversaw the building of the homes between April 1861 and June 1862, during the Civil War and at time of high interest rates on loans. He financed the project by temporarily selling the properties to the building contractor or even tradesmen (individual carpenters, for example). These men remained responsible for the costs of construction and could sell the buildings on their own if Leslie could not find real estate investors or direct occupiers and had to default on payment to the builders. Risks were thus hedged and Leslie operated as a developer without great personal investment. In spite of the complexity of financing, Woodland Terrace had a unified look and the families who came initially to live on the street were also homogeneous in social standing, the majority of households headed by merchants who owned and managed stores in downtown Philadelphia.11
Annesley R. Govett, a lumber merchant, also developed a whole block project, but in a different manner. In 1866, he purchased land between 34th and 36th Streets and Walnut and Sansom. He parceled lots so that large homes graced Walnut Street and smaller row houses on Sansom and the numbered streets (thus appealing to different segments of the middle class). Govett then sold small numbers of lots to builders. Rather than a unified look, the streets in Govett’s plan included series of three and four homes that had different designs (ones determined by the builders)—that pattern became typical throughout West Philadelphia. Govett’s mixed-home plan shaped the social composition of the residents on Walnut and Sansom between 34th and 36th Streets. On Sansom Street in 1880, for example, bookkeepers, salesmen and other white collar workers were among the heads of households, while on Walnut, men of more upper middle-class status, as on Woodland Terrace, owned homes.12
Charles Leslie and Annesley Govett represent unusual cases of real estate development in West Philadelphia in the second half of the nineteenth century. They initiated entire block complexes. The construction of pockets of homes by real estate investors was the norm (few developers had the means or access to credit for larger projects). The unevenness of home building—within blocks and across West Philadelphia--can be illustrated and appreciated by studying street maps and atlases of the period.
The detailed mapping of West Philadelphia accompanied the area’s development as a dense residential community in the last half of the nineteenth century. City agencies as well as private companies published maps for planning and insurance purposes. Several maps created during the period are particularly illustrative of the dynamics of urban growth (and can be viewed and studied macro- and microscopically in the "Map Library" of the West Philadelphia Community History Center); they include:
For illustrative purposes, seven communities will be surveyed: Hamilton Village, Powelton Village and Mantua in close proximity to the bridges across the Schuylkill River; Hestonville (now called Cathedral Park) along Lancaster Pike between 48th and 52nd Streets; two other communities that developed along transportation and commercial corridors, 52nd Street below Market and Baltimore Avenue between 43rd and 47th Streets; and furthest west, the village of Haddington.
Ellet’s 1843 Map, and then Rea & Miller’s ca. 1851 Map, reveal Hamiltonville, or Hamilton Village, a community laid out by William Hamilton in 1808, as a definitive suburban community by mid-nineteenth century with nearly one hundred houses in the area bounded by the modern streets of 34th, Spruce, 42nd to just north of Market Street. Plate C of Hopkins’ 1872 Atlas documented the rapid development of Hamilton Village in the twenty years between 1850 and 1870. Houses--both row and detached--lined every street in the Village and churches, publicschools, and retail shops anchored the neighborhood. Two horse-drawn, trolley-car railways served the Village, one on Market Street and the other on Chestnut. Development was more intense on the north and east sides of the Village, that is, along Market Street and the numbered streets towards the Schuylkill River. While a few lots were still undeveloped, little open space remained in Hamilton Village. The direction in Hamilton Village toward full urbanization was certainly confirmed by plates 3 and 4 of Bromley’s 1892 Atlas, which showed that every street was built up solidly with row, twin, and detached houses.
A few of the mid-19th century mansions survived--such as the Drexel family compound at 39th and Walnut Streets--but most had given way to smaller brick houses. The local churches and schools thrived, including the newly relocated campus of the University of Pennsylvania, which was just beginning to expand south of Spruce Street and east of 34th.
Penn’s expansion accelerated over the next twenty years as clearly evident in E.V. Smith’s 1909 Atlas. Between 1892 and 1909, Penn built eight new buildings east of 34th Street and six more south of Spruce Street, manifesting the University’s emerging dominant presence in William Hamilton’s original suburban haven. The remainder of Hamilton Village--already filled in by 1892--remained largely unchanged. Brick residences continued to be the most common form of building. A harbinger of things to come, however, was evident in the first construction of apartment houses, particularly Hamilton Court, at 39th and Chestnut Streets, and modern, multi-story hotels, including the "Normandie" at 36th and Chestnut Streets and the "Bartram" on Woodland Avenue, near the corner of 33rd Street.
An analysis of a four-block area of Hamilton Village--bounded by present-day 38th Street on the east, present-day Walnut Street on the north, present-day 40th Street on the west, and present-day Spruce Street on the south--further helps to tell the story of the Village. At the center of this area was the intersection of 39th and Locust Streets and St. Mary’s Episcopal Church. When William Hamilton first laid out the streets of the "Town of Hamilton," he stipulated that building lots be set aside for two churches, one Episcopalian and one Presbyterian. Philadelphia’s Episcopalians responded and St. Mary’s Church was established in 1824. In the first years after the Civil War the neighborhood developed to the point that St. Mary’s congregation outgrew its original church building. In 1871 plans for the present-day building were set forth and by 1873 construction was complete.
Hopkins’ 1872 Atlas showed sixty-three houses on the four blocks, nearly half of which were single (or detached) family dwellings on suburban-sized lots of ground. The neighborhood was served by the "Philadelphia City Horse Car Passenger Railway," which came west on Chestnut Street as far as 41st Street, and by the "Market Street Horse Car Passenger Railway," which came west on Market Street to 41st Street and then turned north on 41st Street as far as Haverford Avenue. Bromley’s 1892 Atlas showed an increase to 108 houses on the four-block area. Virtually all the new houses were twins, constructed on what had been open space in 1872. St. Mary’s continued as the only institutional presence, with no commercial or industrial use anywhere on the four blocks. Seventeen years later, the total number of houses stood at 124 and E.V. Smith’s 1909 Atlas showed the Free Library of Philadelphia’s West Philadelphia branch at the southeast corner of 40th and Walnut Streets, as well as the "Avondale" apartments at the northwest corner of 39th and Locust Streets. Though the four blocks bounded by 38th, Walnut, 40th, and Spruce Streets remained otherwise owner-occupied residential, the appearance of the first apartment house signaled an essential change, one that would steadily accelerate in the twentieth century.
Ellet’s 1843 Map and the Rea & Miller ca. 1851 Map indicate that Powelton, just to the north and east of Hamilton Village, was hardly developed by the mid-nineteenth century; only a handful of streets had been laid out and land had not yet been divided into building lots. The Pennsylvania Railroad had purchased a ninety-seven-acre property fronting on the Schuylkill River, but residential development would not occur until John Hare Powel began to sell his inherited estate in the early 1850s.
Change is evident in Smedley’s 1862 Atlas. Houses now lined Spring Garden Street and Presbyterians had constructed a church building at the southwest corner of 35th Street and Spring Garden. There were also houses on Hamilton and Baring streets, but fewer in number than those on Spring Garden. South of Baring, there was as yet little development.
Ten years, later, Hopkins’ 1872 Atlas showed a markedly different picture. Powelton Village was now clearly outlined by the boundaries of Market Street on the south, Lancaster Avenue on the southwest, 38th Street on the west, and Spring Garden Street on the north. Within this area was a picturesque residential community of substantial single and twin houses placed on generous-sized building lots. There were, by this time, four churches serving the community: St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church, a German Reformed church, a Methodist church, and the Presbyterian church. No other land use had intruded on the uniform residential development.
Baist’s 1886 Atlas and Bromley’s 1892 Atlas showed that this pattern continued to at least the end of the nineteenth century, as the building lots which remained available in the 1870s continued to be developed solely with high-end housing. Three other churches also appeared in these later years: a Baptist church, a Lutheran church, and a Roman Catholic church. For quiet, secluded living, Powelton Village was the most attractive neighborhood in West Philadelphia. Even by the time of J.L. Smith’s 1911 Atlas little had changed. A large house, however, on the east side of 35th Street, between Race and Powelton, had been converted to apartments and named "Hampton Court." Likewise, the Rush Hospital had taken the place of houses at the northwest corner of 33rd Street and Lancaster Avenue. Still, Powelton Village was virtually uniform in its residential character until the 1920s.
An analysis of a four-block rectangle at the heart of Powelton helps depict the neighborhood’s different evolution if compared to Hamilton Village. Bounded by Hamilton Street on the north, 34th Street on the east, Powelton Avenue on the south, and 36th Street on the west, this small area was anchored by the Northminster Presbyterian Church, located on the southwest corner of 35th and Baring streets. Hopkins’ 1872 Atlas showed that these blocks hosted just fourteen single family houses and sixteen twin houses. In that year, between one-quarter and one-third of the land was still open for development. Eight more twin houses were constructed by the time of Scott’s 1878 Atlas and three single houses by the time of Baist’s 1886 Atlas. When Bromley published his 1892 Atlas, the totals were twenty single family dwellings, thirty-six twin houses, and the church. Three large building lots remained. J.L. Smith’s 1911 Atlas showed twenty-four single-family dwellings, the same thirty-six twin houses, and the church. The three building lots which had been open in 1892 had been developed with single-family dwellings. In the first decades of the twentieth century, Powelton thus remained a stable, residential neighborhood with gracious homes.
Mantua, to the north of Powelton Village, bounded by present-day Spring Garden Street on the south, Lancaster Pike on the southwest, present-day 40th Street on the west, present-day Girard Avenue on the north, and the Schuylkill River on the east, was developed in the 1830s and like Hamilton Village had taken shape by 1850. Ellet’s 1843 Map showed eight streets laid out in Mantua, with home building along the north side of Spring Garden Street and on three of the side streets. The Rea & Miller ca. 1851 Map indicated four east-west streets: present-day Spring Garden Street, Brandywine Street, Haverford Avenue, and Mt. Vernon Street. There were also nine north-south streets laid out at present-day 31st to 39th Streets. Mantua was not as well populated as Hamilton Village in 1850, but perhaps as many as fifty houses dotted the map.
Twelve years later, Smedley’s 1862 Atlas details extensive building and growth in Mantua, with additional streets north of Mt. Vernon and west of 39th. There were also churches--Episcopal, Methodist, Presbyterian, and Roman Catholic--and public schools. In 1872, Hopkins’ Atlas showed row houses being built on vacant lots, as open space began to disappear.
By 1892, Bromley’s Atlas confirmed that Mantua was fully developed, with virtually all ground spoken for. By that year Mantua was also home to three charitable and benevolent institutions: the Friends Home for Children, an orphanage at the northeast corner of Aspen and Preston Streets; the House of the Good Shepherd, which offered social services to unmarried mothers in the 3500 block of Fairmount Avenue; and the West Philadelphia Hospital for Women, which, despite its name, was a general hospital on the north side of the 4000 block of Parrish Street.
J.L. Smith’s 1911 Atlas showed a neighborhood virtually unchanged from that of 1892. Dominated by brick row houses, Mantua was also home to six churches, three public schools, and the three social service institutions just noted. Mantua emerged differently than Hamilton Village and Powelton Village just south and west; it was not suburban in character, but rather a modern urban neighborhood. Urban deterioration would also come to mark the area in the twentieth century earlier and more visibly than its two neighboring communities.
In 1872, when the City of Philadelphia selected a central location in Mantua for the new building of the Mantua Primary School, it chose the northeast corner of 38th and Mt. Vernon (then Story Street) Streets. The history of the four city blocks which surround this intersection is instructive in understanding the development of Mantua generally. Hopkins’ 1872 Atlas was the first to contain detailed renderings of property lines and land use. It showed that the Mantua Primary School shared its block--bounded by present-day Mt. Vernon Street on the south, 37th Street on the east, present-day Wallace Street (then Eadine or Elm Street) on the north, and 38th Street on the west--with two single or detached houses, one twin house, and ten row houses. Immediately to the south, the block bounded by Mt. Vernon Street on the north, 37th Street on the east, Haverford Avenue on the south, and 38th Street on the west, contained the building of the Grace Evangelical Lutheran Church and five detached houses, three twin houses, and eight row houses. Haverford Avenue was serviced by the "Race and Vine Street Horse Car Passenger Railway," which ran from center city Philadelphia across the Spring Garden Street bridge, through Mantua, and as far west as 41st Street and Lancaster Avenue. Looking across 38th Street to the west-- the block bounded by Mt. Vernon Street on the north, 38th Street on the east, Haverford Avenue on the south, and 39th Street on the west--there was an open lot on the northwest corner of 38th and Haverford Avenue, but otherwise the block was filled with fifty-three row houses. Here was the first indication that dense urbanization had reached Mantua as early as the first decade after the Civil War. The northwest block in the quadrant was bounded by Mt. Vernon Street on the south, 38th Street on the east, Wallace Street on the north, and 39th Street on the west. This block contained four twin houses facing 38th Street, but otherwise was built up with thirty row houses. On the west end of the block were buildings of light industry, "A. Gross & Bro."
Two decades later, Bromley’s 1892 Atlas showed these four Mantua blocks squeezed to capacity, with just eight single or twin houses and no fewer than 172 row houses. The Mantua Primary School still stood on the northeast corner of 38th and Mt. Vernon Streets and the Gross family still owned the industrial buildings at 39th and Wallace Streets. The 1900 U.S. Federal census showed that the community was ethnically mixed, with Germans, Irish, Italians, and Jews living side by side in the crowded neighborhood. There were only two African American families, however, and they lived side by side in the 3700 block of Mt. Vernon Street. Ten years later, the U.S. census seemed to document a pattern of racial segregation in the neighborhood. By this time more than two dozen black families lived in these four blocks of Mantua, but all of them on the 3700 and 3800 blocks of Mt. Vernon. None of the surrounding blocks housed any African Americans. It would be interesting to know if the Mantua Primary School became segregated as well. J.L. Smith’s 1911 Atlas showed little or no physical change from 1892. The school, now called the Mantua Public School, still stood at 38th and Mt. Vernon Streets and the light industrial buildings were still present at 39th and Wallace Streets. The closely built row houses continued to define these four blocks. With the available land completely built up, investment in new housing or other buildings came to a standstill. Mantua’s identity as a crowded urban community was fully established.
Transportation corridors anchored residential community building in West Philadelphia during the nineteenth century (providing a different dynamic to Hamilton Village, Powelton Village and Mantua). Development along the Lancaster Pike began almost immediately after its construction in the mid 1790s. One of the major landowners along its path through West Philadelphia was Edward W. Heston (1745 – 1824). Heston was a great-grandson of William Warner, the first European settler of West Philadelphia and he, Heston, inherited nearly 100 acres of land which William Penn had patented to his ancestor in the 1680s. Hestonville took shape in the early nineteenth century.
Ellet’s 1843 Map documented Hestonville as a small, crossroads community of perhaps one or two dozen buildings at the three-point intersection of present-day 52nd Street, Lancaster Pike and the "Old Lancaster Road" (present-day 54th Street). Smedley’s 1862 Atlas contained an inset, which detailed the streets and residents of Hestonville. The village lined Lancaster Avenue from present-day 49th Street to present-day 53rd Street. The "Hestonville, Mantua, and Fairmount Horse Car Passenger Railway" came through Mantua and up Lancaster Avenue as far as a depot at present-day 52nd Street. The tollgate stood on Lancaster Avenue just above the intersection of present-day 53rd Street
In 1862 there was little beyond the tollgate other than farm land. The main line of the Pennsylvania Railroad paralleled Lancaster Avenue on the northeast. The "Park Hotel" stood at the intersection of Lancaster Avenue and present-day 52nd Street. In 1862 there were forty buildings that fronted on Lancaster Avenue between 49th and 53rd Streets and an equal or greater number on the intersecting and adjacent streets.
Ten years later, Hopkins’ 1872 Atlas showed that Hestonville was quite built up, with nearly twice as many houses as had existed in 1862. The "Sheep Brokers Association" had taken over the depot and hotel at 52nd Street and the Pennsylvania Railroad had established a "Hestonville Depot" abutting the railroad tracks just north of 52nd Street. The Hestonville Public School now stood on the east side of 54th Street, just north of Lansdowne Avenue. The First Presbyterian Church of Hestonville occupied land on the southwest side of Lancaster Avenue between 51st and 52nd Streets. Just a few doors away stood the Fletcher Methodist Church. The built-up section of the Lancaster Pike had expanded to the southeast as far as the Rising Sun Hotel at the six-point intersection of Lancaster, 48th Street, and Girard Avenue. As the growth of housing and commerce advanced west and north from the Schuylkill River, Lancaster Avenue served as a vector, with intense development clinging to its path throughout West Philadelphia.
Twenty years later, when Bromley’s 1892 Atlas was published, development covered all five corners of the intersection of Lancaster Avenue, 52nd Street, and Lansdowne Avenue. Two streets which paralleled Lancaster, Warren to the southwest and Merion to the northeast, were also heavily developed. The Sheep Brokers Association and the First Presbyterian Church of Hestonville remained on Lancaster Avenue and 52nd, but the Fletcher Methodist Church had moved off the busy thoroughfare and re-located nearby to the quieter corner of 54th and Master Streets. Hestonville was still a distinct neighborhood, but it was being rapidly surrounded by the surging development of West Philadelphia.
J.L. Smith’s 1911 Atlas showed that the city block formerly owned by the Sheep Brokers Association, bounded by 52nd Street on the west, Merion Avenue on the northeast, 51st Street on the east, and Lancaster Avenue on the southwest, had been sold and developed with fifty-three row houses and a Philadelphia Rapid Transit power house for the new electric trolleys. One block to the southwest, the former property of the First Presbyterian Church was now occupied by St. Gregory’s Roman Catholic Church and the former property of the Fletcher Methodist Church was now occupied by the George Institute, a neighborhood library open to the public. Southeast, along Lancaster Avenue as far as 48th Street, the streetscape was a dense mix of commercial and residential. Only the Heston Public School retained the name of the community’s founder. What had once been a village unto itself was now fully engulfed by the huge urban sprawl of West Philadelphia. The force behind development, though, was the wagon-turned-rail thoroughfare of Lancaster Pike-turned-Avenue.
Market Street, also known as the West Chester Pike, initially did not spur residential development as significantly as Lancaster. This may have been due to Haverford Avenue, which functioned as an east-west thoroughfare through much of the 19th century. Ellet’s 1843 Map showed the "West Chester Road" extending west from the Schuylkill all the way to the Philadelphia county boundary, but west of 40th Street the Road’s course traveled through open country. There were country inns and hotels along the Road, but very few other buildings. Smedley’s 1862 Atlas displayed the city grid pattern extending to Philadelphia’s limits, but the opening of those streets took several decades to accomplish. In the interim, earlier roads, usually at odds with the grid pattern, continued to be utilized.
Hopkins’ 1872 Atlas showed no buildings at 52nd and Market Street. Even twenty years later there was no significant development at the intersection. Bromley’s 1892 Atlas indicated that 52nd Street had been opened at the intersection of Market Street, but the streets which paralleled it--51st and 53rd--were still only laid out and not opened. There was a "brick yard" on the northeast corner of 52nd and Market and a collection of twenty-nine houses and stores on the northwest corner. On the southwest corner were a "nursery" and two houses and on the southeast corner was open land. This was not yet an urban neighborhood. The construction, however, of the Market Street Elevated Railway – and its station stop at 52nd Street – changed everything. E.V. Smith’s 1909 Atlas and J.L. Smith’s 1911 Atlas presented an altogether different picture from just twenty years earlier. The brickyard on the northeast corner of 52nd and Market Streets was gone and in its place were fifty-six row houses and storefronts. The twenty-nine buildings on the northwest corner had swollen in number to eighty-three. The nursery on the southwest corner had survived, at least for a few more years, but the corner itself housed the "Market Street Title & Trust Company." The southeast corner, open land in 1892, was now crowded with over 100 row houses and stores. No open land remained. 52nd and Market Streets became a bustling center of commerce and transportation, but did so in the first decades of the twentieth century (development occurring fifty and sixty years after the emergence of Hamilton Village, just a mile or so to the east and Lancaster Avenue a mile to the north). There would few intersections like it any where in Philadelphia. With the introduction of the Market Street Elevated Railway--which opened in 1907--West Philadelphia became something of a city within a city.
"Darby Road" (currently Woodland Avenue) was the third of the three mid-nineteenth century spokes that radiated westward from the Market Street Permanent Bridge. For about a mile it carried the traffic of all the roads leading to southwest Philadelphia and beyond. Then, at the intersection of present day 39th Street, Baltimore Avenue became the first to break off, heading in a more westward direction than the Darby Road, which turned almost due south. Ellet’s 1843 Map called Baltimore Avenue the "Chaddsford Turnpike" and showed that the Turnpike was a lonely stretch of road from Mill Creek (present-day 43rd Street) to the western limits of Philadelphia County. The Pennsylvania Railroad had yet to build its "West Chester Branch" through West Philadelphia and the farmers and mechanics who populated this area lived in scattered site housing. Twelve years later the railroad was in operation and Barnes’ 1855 Map showed Baltimore Avenue cutting through the streets of the city’s grid pattern, even though most of those streets had yet to be laid out and opened. Barnes also featured the "Cherry Tree Inn" at the intersection of Baltimore Avenue and Warrington’s Lane (present-day 47th Street), but otherwise there was virtually no development in this part of West Philadelphia. Smedley’s 1862 Atlas showed very little change from 1855. The land along both sides of Baltimore Avenue was still open.
Development did come, however, first during the Civil War itself and then, rapidly, in the decade that followed. The chief factor in this change was the decision of the United States Army to locate a large, temporary military hospital on the north side of Baltimore Avenue, between 43rd and 45th Streets. The grounds of the 4,500 bed hospital stretched northwestwardly from Baltimore Avenue as far as 46th and Pine Streets. Named Satterlee Hospital, after Richard S. Satterlee, Medical Purveyor of the United States Army, this sixteen-acre institution remained in operation only until 1865, when it was decommissioned and the land cleared of its temporary buildings. Immediately thereafter suburban single and twin houses began to be built on the site, which was renamed Satterlee Heights. Hopkins’ 1872 Atlas showed more than sixty houses were projected for construction on the Heights, most of them to be built by the firm of Joseph Patton & Brothers. Likewise, upscale housing lined 41st and 42nd Streets, both north and south of Baltimore Avenue. A little farther to the west, buildings lots had been laid out on 45th, 46th, and 47th Streets south of Baltimore Avenue, but only a handful of houses had been completed. The Cherry Tree Hotel still stood at Baltimore Avenue and 47th Street and beyond it the land was still open. Nevertheless, by the early 1870s, it was clear that Baltimore Avenue would be part of the greater residential development of West Philadelphia.
Fourteen years later, however, Baist’s 1886 Atlas showed that "streetcar suburbanization in a city" along Baltimore Avenue had stalled at 47th Street and that development involved institutions rather than housing. This section of West Philadelphia had become home to several charitable and benevolent institutions, which occupied relatively large tracts of land. This included: the "Home for Destitute Colored Children," at 46th Street and Woodland Avenue; the "Philadelphia Home for Incurables," at 48th Street and Woodland Avenue; "The Educational Home" (for American Indians), at 49th Street and Kingsessing Avenue (at the 49th Street station of the Pennsylvania Railroad); and the "Church Home for Children," at 58th Street and Baltimore Avenue (at the Angora station of the Pennsylvania Railroad). At the city limits, the " Angora Cotton Mills" stood, accompanied by a cluster of fifty small houses and a Baptist church. The only new housing planned for this area was several blocks of row houses on 50th, 51st, and 52nd Streets, just south of Baltimore Avenue. Bromley’s 1892 Atlas showed the infilling of row houses along the south side of Baltimore Avenue west of 47th Street (though the north side remained open land). The pattern of urbanization was confirmed by Smith’s 1909 Atlas, which demonstrated the dominance of the row house all along the north side of Baltimore Avenue. By the first decades of the twentieth century, Baltimore Avenue then had a mix of prominent charitable institutions and residences.
Haddington provides a counterpoint to other developments in West Philadelphia, a colonial-age village market center at the western edges of Blockley Township that grew internally and then became absorbed in the residential growth of West Philadelphia while maintaining a somewhat separate identity. Ellet’s 1843 Map presented Haddington as a well developed community. The road from West Philadelphia to Haverford, that is, present-day Haverford Avenue, was Haddington’s east-west thoroughfare. The north-south Merion Meetinghouse and Darby Road crossed Haverford Avenue between present-day 65th and 66th Streets. Ellet depicted about seventeen buildings on his map, which included a school house, a hotel, and a Methodist church. Twenty years later, Smedley’s 1862 Atlas showed Haddington composed of about three dozen buildings. A hotel stood on the southwest corner of Haverford Avenue and the Merion and Darby Road; a country store on the south side of Haverford between present-day 66th and 67th Streets; and the Haddington Methodist Church on the northeast corner of Haverford and present-day 67th. None of West Philadelphia’s first horse-drawn trolley lines came this far west. In the period before the Civil War, Haddington was little affected by the urban development taking place thirty blocks to the east.
By 1872, however, the West Philadelphia Passenger Railway had reached "downtown" Haddington. Hopkins’ 1872 Atlas showed the trolley line originating at 41st Street and Haverford Avenue and proceeding west on Haverford Avenue to 54th Street. At 54th the line turned one block south to Vine Street and then proceeded west again to 65th Street. There it turned north on 65th and returned to Haverford Avenue. At Haverford it turned one block west to its terminus at 66th Street. Development immediately followed the construction of the trolley line. Housing, churches, and schools were all part of the change. There was also new employment in commerce and manufacture.
Bromley’s 1892 Atlas showed the full extent of the new building. The "Major Whitesides Hotel" was gone, but the Haddington Methodist Church and the local public school both had new buildings at 63rd Street and Girard Avenue, one block south and three blocks east of their former locations. Also south of Haverford Avenue, Episcopalians had built St. Barnabas Church at 65th Street and Girard; Presbyterians had built the Patterson Memorial Presbyterian Church at 63rd Street and Vine; and Roman Catholics had built Our Lady of the Rosary Church at 63rd and Callowhill. At 65th Street and Haverford stood the Bellevue Literary Institute and at 65th and Vine, the Home for Aged Couples of the Presbyterian Church. North of Haverford Avenue, on a large tract of land fronting on 64th Street and Lansdowne Avenue, was the "Philadelphia Orphan Asylum." A little east of Haddington, at 61st and Haverford, was the Philadelphia Fire Department and Police Station. A major place of employment was John Sunderland’s "Coquanock Mills," which straddled a tributary of Cobbs Creek known as Indian Creek and was located at 69th Street and Haverford. With the extension of Philadelphia’s grid system of streets, the colonial roads were superseded and vacated. By 1892, the Darby and Merion Road had been closed north of Haverford Avenue and would also soon be closed south of Girard Avenue. By the turn of the century, all that remained of the old road was one block of Atwood Street. Despite the gradual imposition of Philadelphia’s grid system of streets, Haddington, unlike Hestonville, retained its historic identity.
J.L. Smith’s 1911 Atlas showed the historic crossroads of Haddington still independent of West Philadelphia’s urbanization, but the city was certainly near at hand. There was development as far west as 65th Street, but not beyond. The areas to the north, west, and south of Haddington were still mostly open land. The Philadelphia Orphan Asylum had sold its large tract of land for development in 1904, and east of 63rd Street the streets were lined with hundreds of new row houses. The Market Street Elevated Railway was just six blocks south of Haverford Avenue and there was a major station at 63rd and Market Streets. West Philadelphia commuters could easily walk to the El from the vicinity of Haddington and hundreds did, daily. Nevertheless, historic Haddington-- that section of Haverford Avenue between 65th and 67th Streets--had survived into the second decade of the twentieth century and would continue to occupy a neighborhood niche into the twenty-first.
Maps and atlases from the 1840s to the first decade of the twentieth reveal an overall but uneven, pocketed development of West Philadelphia as a dense residential area, as a suburb in the city. Development occurred laterally along transportation corridors and within quadrants. Some neighborhoods like Mantua filled in quickly and densely with row houses; others, like nearby Powelton, maintained a stately quality with detached homes or twins on landscaped plots of land or became occupied in stages (Baltimore Avenue, for example). Some emerged directly from the extension of streetcar lines across the Schuylkill River, like Hamilton Village; Haddington, on the other hand, grew internally and only later merged with westward-moving transportation and real estate developments, though without losing its identity. In all instances, however, West Philadelphia neighborhoods became not just places of homes, but of various institutions as well.
Before West Philadelphia transformed into a dense residential community, the area housed formidable institutions, such as the Blockley Almshouse and the Pennsylvania Hospital for the Insane. Institution building continued to be a critical facet of West Philadelphia’s history after 1854. In the late nineteenth century this involved as in the past, the migration of institutions that had been established in center-city Philadelphia, but also the creation of entire new ones by community members. By the turn of the twentieth century, institutions of higher learning, major hospitals, a myriad of churches, public and parochial schools, and benevolent societies shared the landscape of West Philadelphia with the graceful homes and rowhouses of the area.
Institutions of Higher Learning
The relocation of the University of Pennsylvania to the area after the Civil War was a key development. Benjamin Franklin had founded the University in colonial Philadelphia in 1749 and originally located it in a single building on 4th Street, just below Arch. In 1802, looking for better facilities and more space, the Trustees moved the University to the west of side of 9th Street, between Market and Chestnut Streets. By the mid 1860s, however, the area around the 9th Street campus had become highly congested with commercial and industrial activity and traffic. The Trustees again looked for open space and the opportunity to build better, more modern facilities. They soon decided on City-owned land at 34th and Walnut Streets, in suburban-like West Philadelphia.
The University’s partnership with the City proved very fruitful. Penn was able to expand its campus, slowly at first, but significantly by the end of the 19th century. In 1870 the Trustees purchased ten acres of land on Woodland Avenue, just south and west of 34th and Walnut Streets. A year later they laid the cornerstone for a huge, new College Hall and in 1872 they opened the building to faculty and students. Also in 1872 the Trustees purchased an additional seven acres from the City, this land located at the southwest corner of 34th and Spruce Streets. There they intended to build the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania. The School of Medicine now followed the College to West Philadelphia, building the second major building on campus, Medical Hall (once Logan, now Claudia Cohen Hall), which opened in 1873. The Hospital followed a year later.
Additional purchases grew the campus rapidly in the 1880s and 1890s. In 1882, the Trustees acquired thirteen and a quarter acres on the south side of Spruce Street, on the west end of the Hospital plot. This purchase nearly doubled the size of campus and provided adequate space for the Quadrangle dormitories, which were built in 1895 and 1896 at 37th and Spruce Streets. In 1889 the University purchased another ten acres from the City, this land located east of 34th Street and south of Walnut. Within two decades five buildings were constructed on the 1889 purchase: the Department of Hygiene in 1892 (replaced in 1996 by the Vagelos Laboratories); Franklin Field in 1895 (re-built in 1922, with the upper deck added in 1925); Hayden Hall in 1896; Weightman Hall in 1904; and the White Training House in 1907 (today re-modeled and re-named the Dunning Coaches’ Center). In 1890, one of the University’s great benefactors, Joseph M. Bennett, gave land and townhouses at the southeast corner of 34th and Walnut Streets with the stipulation that they be used to educate women. The Trustees converted the houses to a women’s student center and dormitory and named the buildings "Bennett Hall." In 1894 the City sold the University another eight acres, this located at the southeast corner of 34th and Spruce Streets. There the Trustees built the University Museum. By the end of the century, the campus of the University of Pennsylvania extended to fifty acres and the Trustees had constructed on it nearly thirty buildings.13
Thomas Webb Richards, professor of drawing and architecture, designed the first four University buildings: College Hall, Medical Hall, the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania, and the Hare Laboratories, this last building at the northeast corner of 36th and Spruce Streets (now demolished and replaced by Williams Hall). College Hall, the first building on University of Pennsylvania's new campus, housed all the functions of the College, including the library, classrooms, laboratories, and offices. Directly west of College Hall was Logan (now Cohen) Hall, which was built for the School of Medicine in 1873 and which later, in 1906, after the Medical School moved to Hamilton Walk, was re-modeled for the Wharton School. Frank Furness, the renowned 19th century Philadelphia architect, designed an architectural masterpiece, University Library (now re-named the Fisher Fine Arts Library), located immediately east of College Hall; it opened in 1891. Nearby, Houston Hall, the first student union in the United States, was completed in 1895.14
A newly established institution of higher learning would adjoin the re-relocated University of Pennsylvania during Penn’s building boom of the 1890s. In 1892, the doors of the Drexel Institute of Art, Science, and Industry opened at 32nd and Chestnut Streets; an old inn, the "Black Castle," and the Kean homestead had occupied the site. Anthony J. Drexel, a powerful Philadelphia financier, and George W. Childs, a well-known philanthropist, provided the initial endowment. Drexel separately donated $2 million dollars for construction of the still-standing Renaissance-style main building of Drexel Institute. The school aimed at improving employment prospects for both young men and women by providing technical and liberal arts instruction with day and night time classes.15
The first president of Drexel, James MacAlister served from 1891 to his retirement in 1913. MacAlister was an immigrant from Scotland and graduate of Brown University and Albany Law School. Prior to being appointed the President of Drexel Institute, he had served as the superintendent of the Milwaukee public schools and later as the first superintendent of the Philadelphia public school system; he was also a member of the Board of Trustees of the University of Pennsylvania. MacAlister was chosen because he believed that practical training in the industry was inherently valuable and he remained a proponent for technical and vocational education throughout his term.
During MacAlister's tenure, Drexel Institute offered courses for the public in art and illustration, mechanical arts, domestic arts and sciences, commerce and finance, teacher training, physical education, and librarianship. Drexel was the third university in America to offer training for librarians. During MacAlister’s presidency, well known Philadelphians, such as the artist Thomas Eakins, taught at Drexel. In 1900, the curriculum was expanded with classes in mathematics, physics and chemistry. In 1905, Drexel expanded to other buildings on Chestnut and 32nd Streets. The graduation rate also grew in the first decade of the institution and increased from approximately 70 in the early 1890s to more than 500 in 1913. Drexel University (as it is now called) has played a valuable role in offering technical training to students from all social classes and in the twentieth century led the way in cooperative education programs, with students learning simultaneously in classrooms and employment settings.16
The placement of institutions of higher learning was new to West Philadelphia; locating hospitals there in the late nineteenth century followed earlier precedents. Two new large hospitals, the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania and Presbyterian Hospital, further identified West Philadelphia with institutions for the care of the sick and injured. In 1870, the same year that the University of Pennsylvania Trustees decided to move to West Philadelphia, the Presbyterian Alliance appointed a committee to look into a site for the building of a hospital. Dr. Courtland Sanders offered his property stretching from Powelton Avenue to Filbert Street and from Saunders Avenue to 39th Street. The next year, John A. Brown donated $300,000 to make the hospital a reality. Opened on July 1, 1872, Presbyterian Hospital operated as a charity hospital through the aegis of the Presbyterian Church. In 1875, a single-story pavilion ward was completed as a surgical ward for men. In 1878, a second pavilion opened for women. 17 Presbyterian Hospital is currently part of the University of Pennsylvania Health System.
Houses of Worship
The University of Pennsylvania and Drexel Institute are large entities with corporate charters and governance by powerful trustees. Smaller institutions also came to be situated in West Philadelphia in the late nineteenth century, many directly built by and serving community members. Houses of worship are the most notable, institutions that became linchpins of neighborhoods and also reflections of the ethno-religious and emerging racial diversity of West Philadelphian population.
Between 1850 and 1900, more than 100 neighborhood houses of worship were built in West Philadelphia. Protestant Christians led the way with more than seventy churches, Roman Catholics added nine of their own. Among the Protestants, the Presbyterians planted sixteen churches and the Episcopalians, fifteen. Lutherans, Methodists, and Baptists also contributed liberally to the total number. Other Protestant churches emerged as well: a handful of German Reformed congregations; two, possibly three African Methodist Episcopal (AME) churches, serving the growing African American population in West Philadelphia which had to practice religion separately;18 two small Quaker meeting houses; and a Reformed Episcopal church building of monumental proportions (with an accompanying theological seminary) .
Non-Christians contributed to the building of religious institutions in West Philadelphia. By 1850, Philadelphia had a relatively sizable Jewish population and Jewish people also moved to West Philadelphia as it developed residentially.19 These suburbanites in a city founded the area’s first synagogue, Congregation B’nai Israel, in the mid-1850s at 65th Street and Kingsessing Avenue.20 In 1904, a second West Philadelphia synagogue, Beth El, opened at 58th and Walnut Streets. Beth El had the largest Hebrew school in the city with more than 1,000 enrolled students.21 The synagogue also had a large sitting capacity and could accommodate 2,000 people. With a declining Jewish population, Beth El would close its doors in West Philadelphia in the 1960s and re-open in a true suburban location.
West Philadelphians built fine edifices for their houses of worship, many of architectural note. Yet, stone buildings did not necessarily translate into stability. Congregations migrated in and migrated out (as in the case of Beth El). Buildings deteriorated or were destroyed. The Protestant Episcopal Church of the Savior, for example, located at 38th Street north of Chestnut Street, opened its doors in 1855. The building featured a grand tower and spire and was considered for years the handsomest church in West Philadelphia. The congregation grew in number and the church was enlarged in 1888. However, a fire destroyed the edifice on the night of April 16, 1902 and its rebuilding would take many years.22
The Belmont Avenue Presbyterian Church, completed in 1860, suffered a different fate. The congregation lost members shortly after its inauguration. Episcopalians used the church building but they too struggled with membership. Then, Methodists took hold of the church and soon they too experienced declining church attendance. Catholics eventually bought the church and a priest commented on the building, "Alone and forsaken it stands, a pathetic picture of old age, without friends." 23
Houses of worship in West Philadelphia were in some instances, protean institutions with changing denominations, altered spatial arrangements and shifting ethnic and as will seen in the twentieth century, racial compositions. Yet, the houses of worship built in West Philadelphia in the nineteenth century formed a thick lasting web. Tiny Hamilton Village by 1850 had seven churches: St. Mary’s Episcopal Church (1827); Asbury Methodist Church (1827); Mt. Pisgah AME Church (1833); the African Baptist Church of Blockley Township (before 1839); First Presbyterian Church, Hamiltonville and Mantua (1840); First Baptist Church, West Philadelphia (1843); and St. James Roman Catholic Church (1850); two of the seven, African Baptist and Mt. Pisgah, notably were African American congregations. Nearby Powelton Village and Mantua by the 1870s had Episcopal, Presbyterian, Lutheran, German Reformed, Methodist, Baptist; and Roman Catholic churches, a pattern of church building replicated in other developing residential communities in West Philadelphia.
Perhaps the most energetic of all these churches was the Presbyterian. Between 1840 and 1907 Presbyterians established fifteen new churches in West Philadelphia. In addition, three other Presbyterian churches re-located from center city Philadelphia to West Philadelphia. Building initially in Hamilton Village, Powelton Village, and Mantua, Presbyterians immediately began expanding throughout West Philadelphia. Presbyterians established a church at Hestonville in 1859 and another one at Haddington in 1880. In the 1880s and 1890s, as new West Philadelphia neighborhoods began to infill, Presbyterian churches seemed to spring up almost everywhere. By 1907, there were Presbyterian churches in the 3700 block of Walnut Street; in the 200 block of North 52nd Street; at the corner of Lancaster and City Line Avenues; at 42nd Street and Girard Avenue; at 60th and Master Streets; at 56th and Wyalusing Streets; on Walnut Street, below 60th Street; and at 51st and Pine Streets. Presbyterians had also established three churches marching westward along the Baltimore Avenue corridor—transportation and residential development and church building thus going hand-in-hand in the street-car suburbanization of West Philadelphia.
The Roman Catholic church presence also grew. Beginning with St. James Church in 1850, Roman Catholics expanded their numbers and institutions in West Philadelphia over the next seventy-five years, gradually at first, then in the last decade of the nineteenth century and the first two decades of the twentieth, quite rapidly. New churches were established near Hestonville and in Powelton Village in 1852 and 1865, respectively. In 1886 and continuing through West Philadelphia’s experience as street-car suburb, new Roman Catholic churches were built in rapid succession. A total of eight Roman Catholic churches were established in the twenty years ending in 1907 (and rapid expansion continued through the 1920s). Most of these churches also established parochial schools, thereby creating a very close-knit family experience in each parish. For West Philadelphia’s Roman Catholics, the church was even more a bedrock community institution than it was for Protestants.
West Philadelphia Catholic families may have preferred parochial schools, but not for the absence of widely available public schools. In 1854, at the time of the political consolidation of Philadelphia, there were only seven public schools in all of West Philadelphia. They served the existing communities of Hamiltonville, Mantua, Hestonville, and Haddington. No new public schools were built in West Philadelphia for more than a decade, but in 1866 a boom of public school building began. Twenty-seven public schools were built in the next forty-five years, culminating in 1911 with the construction of West Philadelphia High School on the southwest corner of 47th and Walnut Streets. West Philadelphia High School was the first neighborhood or regional high school in Philadelphia. School and church building similarly anchored residential community development in late nineteenth century West Philadelphia.
Benevolent and Charitable Institutions
Finally, guided by the prominent examples of thePennsylvania Hospital for the Insane and the Blockley Almshouse, nearly four dozen Philadelphia benevolent and charitable institutions located or re-located in West Philadelphia in the last half of the nineteenth century. In West Philadelphia they found ample space and privacy for their specialized services. By 1907 West Philadelphia hosted seventeen institutions for "the care of children;" fifteen for "the care of adults and children;" five for "the blind and deaf;" and ten "hospitals and sanitariums." Most of these institutions were founded and funded by Philadelphia churches. Others relied on appeals to the general public. These institutions were generally private, with restricted admissions (by age, gender, race, and medical condition), and under outside control (that is, outside the West Philadelphia community). Their names reflected their services, often times with colorful language: the "Home of the Merciful Savior for Crippled Children," at 4400 Baltimore Avenue; "St. John's Orphan Asylum," at 49th Street and Wyalusing Avenue; the "Home for Aged and Infirm Colored Persons," at 4400 Girard Avenue; the "West Philadelphia Hospital for Women," at 4000 Parrish Street; the "Pennsylvania Industrial Home for Blind Women," at 3827 Powelton Avenue; "Old Man's Home" on Powelton Avenue between Saunders Avenue and 39th Street. Initially located in the older sections of West Philadelphia, these institutions selected ever more remote areas as the nineteenth century progressed. By 1907, open land had been taken up and institution hosting peaked. These institutions no doubt offered employment to West Philadelphians, but with the exception of the hospitals, they were not open to the public in the same manner as churches and schools.
Many of the benevolent institutions opened in West Philadelphia in the late nineteenth century provided unusual services. The Philadelphia Home for Incurables, established in 1877 at the corner of 48th Street and Woodland Avenue on a five-acre grounds, for example, provided vocational training for people with permanent disabilities. For example, a man who was born crippled without any legs below the knee and with weakened hands and arms learned the trade of printing. A man with spinal injuries similarly learned telegraphy. In the rear of the Philadelphia Home for Incurables was the Wilson Memorial which served as a home for children who were not old enough to be admitted to the main institution. The children learned useful skills. There was a sewing hour for girls and boys learned to polish brasses or cane chairs.24
The Home of the Merciful Saviour for Crippled Children at 44th Street and Baltimore Avenue, founded in 1885, also helped crippled children learn skills and trades in areas such as telegraphy, stenography, typewriting, dressmaking, and cooking.25 The Old Man’s Home, incorporated April 20, 1864 and located on Powelton Avenue between 39th Street and Saunders Avenue, served another constituency in need,26 as did nearby Rush Hospital for Consumption and Allied Diseases at the northwest corner of Lancaster Avenue and 33rd Street (which had relocated from its original site at 22nd and Pine Streets).27 These examples manifest the range of old and new institutions that situated themselves in West Philadelphia and became part of the fabric of neighborhood life as the area developed as a streetcar suburb in a city in the late nineteenth century.
As West Philadelphia developed internally after its incorporation in 1854 into a greater Philadelphia, it also figured in major events in the nation’s history. Armed conflict never came to Philadelphia during the Civil War—although there was always the threat that fighting would spill north to the city—but West Philadelphians did experience the results of warfare directly. Satterlee Hospital, fabricated on a sixteen acre plot bounded by present-day Baltimore Avenue and Pine, Forty-third and Forty-sixth Streets, served as the Union Army’s largest hospital facility during the war. The West Philadelphia landscape provided an apt place for a large hospital. The Schuylkill River offered an abundant water supply and a steamboat landing 42nd Street afforded easy access for bringing wounded soldiers to the facility.28
The United States Army built Satterlee and on May 20, 1862, Surgeon General Hammond made the request for twenty-five Sisters of Charity to take care of the wounded soldiers.29 The hospital could not have function efficiently without the hard work and dedication of forty Sisters of Charity.30 Patients were well cared for as evidenced by mortality figures. The hospital admitted 12,773 soldiers and only 260 died. In the summer of 1862, the hospital expanded as the numbers of wounded grew. Six additional wards were built with 4,500 available beds.31 The facility closed its doors on May 27, 1864 and the area developed as a residential community, but with little reminder of the history—the suffering and humanity--that had marked the place during the Civil War.32
West Philadelphia soon played another kind of role in the nation’s history. The conceiving of America’s first zoo occurred on March 21, 1859 when the Pennsylvania legislature incorporated the Zoological Society of Philadelphia. The incorporation paper reads: "The purpose of this corporation shall be the purchase and collection of living wild and other animals, for the purpose of public exhibition at some suitable place in the City of Philadelphia, for the instruction and recreation of the people." 33 Dr. William, Camac, the first President of the Philadelphia Zoological Society, considered the West Philadelphia section of Fairmount Park as the most suitable location for the zoo. Despite encouragement from the founding members of the Zoological Society, Philadelphia residents reacted apathetically to the idea of a zoo. Not until 1872, when Camac returned from a trip to Europe, did members feel determined to launch a zoo in Philadelphia. With the help of eight members, Camac raised funds to build a zoo on thirty-three acres of land along the western banks of the Schuylkill River. 34
America’s first zoo opened to the public fifteen years after its founding. Visitors arrived to the easily accessible zoo grounds via horse, carriage, steamboat, streetcar, and foot. Most Philadelphians opted to use the steamboat--the most direct route from downtown. Steamboats departed the zoo every fifteen minutes from a dock near the Fairmount Dam.35 In the first eight months of operation, 227,557 people visited the zoo, exceeding the annual attendance of the world-renowned London Zoo, and fixing the Philadelphia Zoo in the minds of a national public.36 Five years after the opening, Harper’s New Monthly Magazine wrote about the Philadelphia Zoo: "It has the air and general appearance of long-established like institutions in Europe." 37 In the late 1900s, the Philadelphia Zoo continued its success and gained recognition for its pioneering work in the study and prevention of disease in animals.
In 1876, not just national, but international attention fixed on West Philadelphia. West Philadelphia hosted on the western grounds of Fairmont Park the great Centennial Exhibition of 1878 celebrating the 100th anniversary of American independence. A huge crowd of 180,000 men and women visited the exhibition on its opening day with President Ulysses Grant presiding at the opening ceremonies. Magee’s Illustrated Guide of Philadelphia and the Centennial Exhibition heralded the event and fairgrounds as follows:
The ‘Eden of America’ embracing as it does, nearly three thousand acres of ground--forming hills and dales, leafy woodlands, rippling brooks and placid river, rocky ravines and wilder nooks and crannies … Though not so artistically adorned as other and older parks, nature has lavished her gifts so abundantly.38 President Grant and more than 180,000 men and women from all across America arrived in West Philadelphia on May 10th to take part in the opening day festivities.39
In the first six months of the Exhibition, more that 10 million visitors streamed through the extensive fairgrounds, dazzled by displays of world cultures and the latest inventions, including Alexander Graham Bell’s telephone (the technological prowess of Philadelphia’s manufacturers was specially showcased). The Exhibition featured 200 buildings, a twenty-one-and-a-half acre main exhibition hall, the largest building every constructed, an internal railway system, and displays of fifty nations.40 One of the most popular exhibits appeared at the Women’s Pavilion, where demonstrations of women’s contributions to the arts, crafts, home production, and industry served as a forum to boost the cause of women’ suffrage.41 The terrain of West Philadelphia thus manifest key local and national developments of late nineteenth century America.
From the time of Blockley Township’s incorporation into the city of Philadelphia in 1854 through the first decade of the twentieth century, West Philadelphia emerged as an appealing and vibrant residential community that figured in the nation’s history. Transportation and real estate developers led the way, institutional growth occurred as well, but development unfolded in uneven and pocketed ways. Individual West Philadelphians also played key roles as proud home owners and upkeepers of their vital neighborhoods.
Chapter prepared with the assistance of Erica Denhoff and Kim Franklin (University of Pennsylvania undergraduates)