Philadelphia Reflections

The musings of a physician who has served the community for over six decades

367 Topics

Downtown
A discussion about downtown area in Philadelphia and connections from today with its historical past.

West of Broad
A collection of articles about the area west of Broad Street, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

Delaware (State of)
DelawareOriginally the "lower counties" of Pennsylvania, and thus one of three Quaker colonies founded by William Penn, Delaware has developed its own set of traditions and history.

Religious Philadelphia
William Penn wanted a colony with religious freedom. A considerable number, if not the majority, of American religious denominations were founded in this city. The main misconception about religious Philadelphia is that it is Quaker-dominated. But the broader misconception is that it is not Quaker-dominated.

Particular Sights to See:Center City
Taxi drivers tell tourists that Center City is a "shining city on a hill". During the Industrial Era, the city almost urbanized out to the county line, and then retreated. Right now, the urban center is surrounded by a semi-deserted ring of former factories.

Philadelphia's Middle Urban Ring
Philadelphia grew rapidly for seventy years after the Civil War, then gradually lost population. Skyscrapers drain population upwards, suburbs beckon outwards. The result: a ring around center city, mixed prosperous and dilapidated. Future in doubt.

Tourist Walk in Olde Philadelphia
Colonial Philadelphia can be seen in a hard day's walk, if you stick to the center of town.

Historical Motor Excursion North of Philadelphia
The narrow waist of New Jersey was the upper border of William Penn's vast land holdings, and the outer edge of Quaker influence. In 1776-77, Lord Howe made this strip the main highway of his attempt to subjugate the Colonies.

Land Tour Around Delaware Bay
Start in Philadelphia, take two days to tour around Delaware Bay. Down the New Jersey side to Cape May, ferry over to Lewes, tour up to Dover and New Castle, visit Winterthur, Longwood Gardens, Brandywine Battlefield and art museum, then back to Philadelphia. Try it!

Tourist Trips Around Philadelphia and the Quaker Colonies
The states of Pennsylvania, Delaware, and southern New Jersey all belonged to William Penn the Quaker. He was the largest private landholder in American history. Using explicit directions, comprehensive touring of the Quaker Colonies takes seven full days. Local residents would need a couple dozen one-day trips to get up to speed.

Touring Philadelphia's Western Regions
Philadelpia County had two hundred farms in 1950, but is now thickly settled in all directions. Western regions along the Schuylkill are still spread out somewhat; with many historic estates.

Up the King's High Way
New Jersey has a narrow waistline, with New York harbor at one end, and Delaware Bay on the other. Traffic and history travelled the Kings Highway along this path between New York and Philadelphia.

Arch Street: from Sixth to Second
When the large meeting house at Fourth and Arch was built, many Quakers moved their houses to the area. At that time, "North of Market" implied the Quaker region of town.

Up Market Street
to Sixth and Walnut

Independence HallMillions of eye patients have been asked to read the passage from Franklin's autobiography, "I walked up Market Street, etc." which is commonly printed on eye-test cards. Here's your chance to do it.

Sixth and Walnut
over to Broad and Sansom

In 1751, the Pennsylvania Hospital at 8th and Spruce was 'way out in the country. Now it is in the center of a city, but the area still remains dominated by medical institutions.

Montgomery and Bucks Counties
The Philadelphia metropolitan region has five Pennsylvania counties, four New Jersey counties, one northern county in the state of Delaware. Here are the four Pennsylvania suburban ones.

Benjamin Franklin Parkway
Benjamin Franklin Parkway

Northern Overland Escape Path of the Philadelphia Tories 1 of 1 (16)
Grievances provoking the American Revolutionary War left many Philadelphians unprovoked. Loyalists often fled to Canada, especially Kingston, Ontario. Decades later the flow of dissidents reversed, Canadian anti-royalists taking refuge south of the border.

City Hall to Chestnut Hill
There are lots of ways to go from City Hall to Chestnut Hill, including the train from Suburban Station, or from 11th and Market. This tour imagines your driving your car out the Ben Franklin Parkway to Kelly Drive, and then up the Wissahickon.

Philadelphia Reflections is a history of the area around Philadelphia, PA ... William Penn's Quaker Colonies
    plus medicine, economics and politics ... nearly 4,000 articles in all

Philadelphia Reflections now has a companion tour book! Buy it on Amazon Philadelphia Revelations

Try the search box to the left if you don't see what you're looking for on this page.

Christ Church and Elfreths Alley

{Elthreths}
Elthreths Alley

The north side of Dock Creek (now, Dock Street) was lower than Society Hillside and somewhat swampy. The tendency to flood caused the north side to have smaller and less permanent buildings, and so it became the Colonial waterfront area remaining more commercial, and in parts, shabby, even during the 19th Century. Still further to the north, this was not the case, but the waterfront and food market patch more or less marooned Christ Church, now the single most graceful and elegant Colonial building still standing. This formerly commercial area is now called Old City, with many loft apartments mixed among surviving warehouse outlets, and of course the ethnic restaurants characteristic of such gentrified areas.

{Christ}
Christ Church

Elfreth's Alley, running for one block east and west between Second and Front (1st) Streets. Some of the histories of this street is obscure, so some of it is probably synthetic because nothing particularly historic happened there to create detailed records. Elfreth's Alley claims to be the oldest street in America, a claim that can be substantiated back to 1702. The street is filled with little "workers houses", presenting a solid front of buildings on both sides of the cobblestoned street. Most of the houses could vaguely be called "father, son and holy ghost houses", looking as though they consisted of three rooms on top of each other, although in fact most of them are larger. A moment's consideration shows that the street consists of many double houses, with three doorways in front. Each house had a door to the interior, and most of them have a third door opening to a shared tunnel between the two houses, leading to the back yards. These tunnels were called "easements", a term that has migrated from its earlier usage. Although William Penn envisioned large single estates in his "Greene Country Towne", he sold considerable land to people who remained in England as absentee landlords, who soon found that many small houses produced more rent than one or two big ones. One of the houses on Elfreth's Alley acts as a museum, with tours; there is an active civic association, and once a year in June there is a street fair.

Because the land was swampy and the neighborhood congested, Christ Church soon outgrew its backyard burial ground, and burying important people under slabs in the walkways and corridors. Visitors who do not come from that sort of religious background are typically uncomfortable walking over such graves, a quite common arrangement in European cathedrals. But eventually, it was necessary to go several blocks westward to create a "new" burial ground. Most of the famous names from the Revolutionary era, like Benjamin Franklin and four other signers of the Declaration of Independence are found on the tombstones at Fifth and Arch, just across the street from the Free Quaker meeting house, and opposite the Philadelphia Mint. On the remaining corner of Fifth and Arch is the Constitution Center which will open July 4, 2003. It can already be seen that its architecture clashes with the rest of the historic area, but it is fervently hoped that its programs will redeem it.


REFERENCES


Society Hill and Old City, Image of America: Robert Morris Skaler Amazon

Google Earth Tour of Franklin Locations

On the front page of Philadelphia Reflections is found a button which will download Google Earth, and if you follow instructions on the left column, will give you a satellite tour of every blog let on the site. At least, it will when we get it finished; it's only about half complete at present. If you are unfamiliar with this approach, we suggest you download the Earth program from the Google site and get acquainted by locating your own house, or Independence Hall, or the Vatican.

In addition, every Topic (listed in the left-hand column of the front page of Philadelphia Reflections) will contain a button which generates a tour of the geoTags of that particular Topic, providing there are three or more such tags. You will generally get the best results from tours developed by unknown authors if you turn off ALL of the layers provided in the lower section of the left-hand panel of Google Earth, although you might turn them on, one at a time if you want to enhance the effects. Generally speaking, the route of Interstate 95 seems a little out of place among the local wanderings of Ben Franklin.

{Take a satellite tour of nearly every place Ben Franklin ever visited.}
Take a satellite tour of nearly
every place Ben Franklin ever visited.

You should also become familiar with KMZ files and KML files. Keyhole markup language gives instructions to Google Earth, allowing authors like Bob Florig to organize tours of a particular subject. KML files are quite large, so they get compressed to make them easier to send over the Internet. Compressed files of KML are designated KMZ, referring to Winzip the decompressor. Other decompressors will often work, too, especially Stuffit for Apple users. The extra step of decompression is a nuisance, and it is possible to have the file do things itself, to become known as a self-extracting file. Self-extracting files are often, but not always, designated as EXE files.

You are here invited to take a tour of every site Benjamin Franklin is known to have visited as if you were an interplanetary alien riding a flying saucer. Double-click the blue link to download a copy of Google Earth if you don't already have one, followed by a self-extracting KMZ file constructed by Bob Florig and used with his kind permission.

There's one other feature you should know about, called overlays. Bob took an 18th Century map of Philadelphia and substituted it for the satellite map of contemporary central Philadelphia. That lets you see Philadelphia as Franklin saw it, and by changing overlays, also allows you to see the little red-brick buildings which remain standing among the skyscrapers. Both he and I are uncertain about the copyright status of the old maps and may have to remove them if the author identifies himself and protests.

There She Goes, Miss America

Atlantic City has long been a summer resort, crowded with people on the boardwalk by the sea. But families suddenly disappear at Labor Day, when the kids go back to school. So, in 1921 the merchant community hit on an idea to extend the busy season an extra week, by having a big beauty contest on the week following Labor Day. The early Miss America contest struggled for a year or two and then became an established annual national ritual. The hotels and boardwalk did indeed stay crowded for an extra week, during which a publicity campaign was conducted to build up anticipation for the big Saturday night event. The preliminaries included interviews and mini contests, for the bathing suit division, the evening gown division, arguments about official state representation, occasional scandalous behavior, parades in open convertible cars, and whatnot and whatnot. Behind the scenes, there were little local battles, including a grim determination not to have a negro girl represent a state from the old Confederacy. Since only one Jewish girl ever won the contest in eighty years, there were probably other issues in other states, hidden behind the curtains. Smoking and drinking were prohibited but scarcely non-existent, as was getting married or pregnant; much of the fuss about these lesser moral issues was probably intended to cloak the event with the high moral tone, counteracting some unfortunate early beginnings of the pageant, and the exciting laxity traditionally associated with summer resorts by the ocean. But they aimed at and succeeded in attracting, a certain kind of audience.

For months before the pageant by the sea, preliminary contests were held throughout various states to select the local Queen, Miss Arizona, Miss Mississippi, Miss Delaware and so on. The people involved in these local contests duly trooped to Atlantic City to see the big event and cheer their candidate. Over time, it became clear that some states worked really hard on this effort; Mississippi was a notorious big spender, and a consistent big winner, but others were almost as determined to win. The grassroots campaign was largely centered on small-town high schools, but the effort was conducted by a great many local women, mostly middle-aged and often quite homely, who somehow got control of local beauty politics and ran the local contests. Over the years, two of these groupies had been nurses who worked in hospitals where I was a consultant, and I got to watch their enthusiasm bubbling under the surface. One woman had worked for years as a night nurse. The sort of person who sleeps all day and works all night tends to be a little odd, often slightly hostile. But when I asked this ancient battle-ax every year about the contest, she immediately blossomed and went on for half an hour about the gossip surrounding this year's contestants and winner. There was something about all this which was like the fantasies of playing with dolls, fulfilling unfulfilled dreams. If you pause to think about it, that enormous convention hall in Atlantic City wasn't filled with school kids after Labor Day; the school kids were back at school. Although the publicity was all about kids and giggles, the real fans were dreaming of days long past, perhaps as former beauties, more often only wannabes, their dreaming only intensified by knowing for a certainty that this success would never be theirs.

It was this self-delusion quality which the promoters of the contest never seemed to get through their heads; after all, the pageant was created and promoted by local merchants who mostly aimed to sell salt-water taffy to the rubes. Radio, and then television, gave the Miss America contest a big publicity push, and then eventually used up its material. When the casino crowd moved into A.C., the non-gambling ladies playing with dolls quickly demonstrated they didn't gamble, in fact, would sass the serious gamblers for their idiotic behavior losing money as fast as they could. TV ratings, contest attendance, and publicity began to fall off rather seriously. The idea was tried that perhaps women now wanted careers, so "points" were awarded for talent shows, musical performances, and brief contests about current events. Foo. That's not what the audiences wanted. So the contest moved to Las Vegas, and the date was shifted to January, a slow time for casinos. The awards were shifted from national tours and opportunities for screen tests to the awarding of college scholarships. Unfortunately, most of the contestants were already in college or married, and the scholarships were in fact mostly used to pay off trailing debts from colleges already attended.

So Miss America, now regularly a black woman but seldom a Jewish one, continue to be fodder for the sponsors and promoters of the pageant. But wherever it goes and whatever its modifications, the Miss America contest is never going to return to former glory until it learns who its real audience is. The lonesome, middle aged lady who dreams of playing dolls with live dolls.

And then, Miss America went away. Some other city has her. Atlantic City lost her. And there she goes, Miss America.

Philadelphia to Savannah: A New View

Bob Reinecke and I recently took a trip by boat down the inland waterway to Savannah. There isn't time to recite all the details, but four or five real surprises popped up, and maybe there is time to talk about them.

The first discovery was an accident of my visiting my daughter in Northern Virginia, and discovering there is no direct train service to Williamsburg. It's only once a day, each way, but it is direct from 30th Street Station to the train station about a hundred yards from the hotel in Williamsburg. Actually, it starts in Boston and goes to the Portsmouth Naval Base, branching off at Richmond toward the banking centers of Charlotte, North Carolina. But Williamsburg is about the only tourist destination in Virginia if you haven't been paying attention, while 30th Street is about the only place to take a train, right? We had a lot to learn.

A travel brochure announced there was a cruise boat of about a hundred passengers, which leaves Richmond, goes down the James River, and then heads south on the Inland Waterway, making stops along the way until it ends up in Savannah, Georgia. On this particular trip, there was a busload taking tours of Revolutionary history, and a second one taking Civil War excursions at every stop, take your pick. Most people took the Civil War choices, but the lecturers were both excellent, and it pretty much turned into two tours on a single boat. We learned the hard way that the only train to Richmond gets there after the boat has already departed, so it was necessary to arrive a day early and stay in a hotel. We were certainly glad we did because Richmond is having a revival since the devastation of the Civil War. A dozen hotels and restaurants cluster around the train station, which is a few blocks from the renovated Capitol, sitting on top of a hill. The hill has been extensively undermined and turned into a pretty elaborate museum, well worth a two-hour visit if you get there at the right hours. Not far away is a perfectly spectacular art museum, apparently donated by Paul Mellon, and well worth a four-hour visit. Paul Mellon has also donated his huge collection of British Art to the Yale Museum, and of course, the Mellon Gallery in Washington was largely given by his father. The Mellons of Pittsburgh may well have been pretty tough bankers, but in the art world, they certainly knew their stuff. Even if the Virginia museum didn't contain a single painting, the building itself would be worth a trip to visit.

Richmond also has a secret treasure in the James River. A century ago, every major river on the East Coast would have a major run of spawning shad fish, about the middle of April. One by one, the rivers were dammed up at the "fall line" and industrial pollution put an end to the shad run. That was probably also getting to be true at Richmond until General Grant and his army put an end to industrialization. For whatever reason, Richmond is the only major city on a river that still has a spring shad run. Since the river runs through the center of town, the big problem for fishermen is to find a boat to rent, and this spring event is largely forgotten. Four or five big restaurants were pointed out as specializing in seafood, but although I called them all, none of them knew what a shad is.

When you go down to where the tourist boat docks, however, you soon find the local teen-aged boys know all about shad, and a hundred or more of them line the banks with their fishing gear. As you might expect, fishing is best toward dusk in the evening, and around dawn in the morning. Unfortunately, we were late. The boys were all pulling in strings of six or eight fish on a line, but they were uniformly small ones. The big fish spend all winter in the Bay of Fundy, and return to the river where they were born, to spawn again. So the big fellows, the fish that were supposed to have rescued George Washington at Valley Forge, had already gone upstream to spawn, and all that was available to the teenagers were young fry, trying to return down the river toward the Bay of Fundy. Incidentally, although the Hudson River has also pretty much lost its industrialization, there is no shad run on the Hudson. The explanation seems to be that the striped bass congregates along the abandoned piers on the New York waterfront, and devour the shad fingerlings on their way out to sea. In Philadelphia, it seems to be the refineries at Marcus Hook that give the shad their fatal problem.

So off we sail from Richmond, making the first stop at the mansions along the James River. Of particular interest is the splendid mansion of William Henry Harrison, of Tippecanoe and Tyler, Too. You know, the fellow who won election to the Presidency by advertising he had been born in a log cabin. Off down the James River, where two more surprises await the callow Philadelphia visitor. We knew about Williamsburg, but it was a surprise to find that both Jamestown and Yorktown have been restored within an inch of their lives, each one just as interesting as Williamsburg. The woods surrounding these three colonial villages are manicured and painted, filled with an incredible number of retired military. As you tour the area in buses, it becomes clear that almost the entire peninsula between the James and York Rivers is filled with military reservations of various sorts, Air Force, Naval, Marine, and at least two hush-hush CIA establishments. This is what Generals Grant and McClellan fought over as the "wilderness", attempting to take Richmond from the rear. If you add to this military complex the huge establishment of government contractors neighboring Washington, it is easy to see why the demographics and politics of the Old Dominion are rapidly changing.

One of the military retirement villages in the area is Fort Monroe, on an island in the mouth of the Chesapeake. Like Pea Patch Island in the Delaware, and Fort Sumpter to the south, this fort was constructed after the War of 1812 as one of a chain of defenses for the Atlantic Coast. It once housed President Jefferson Davis as a prisoner after the Civil War, and the house where Lincoln stayed is proudly on display. It looks like a really nice place for a retired Colonel to live if he enjoys sailing and fishing. Nearby, both the Merrimac and the Monitor are under reconstruction as museums, together with the museums which display how naval warfare was completely transformed by two iron boats in a single afternoon.

So off down the Inland Waterway on a ship that scraped bottom a couple of times on the previous journey. Because of our maritime unions, only a ship that has been constructed in America is allowed to sail between two American ports, and only American employees are allowed. That makes for scarcity, and although it is pleasant to be surrounded by a thoroughly American crew, it makes this sort of cruising expensive. But the sense of American history is heightened, as you go past towns that were burned by the British, and gardens that were planted by members of the Continental Congress. Particularly Beaufort, which General Sherman decided was too beautiful to burn. You can walk the side streets of Charleston, where "Porgy and Bess" was portrayed, and imagine you see the bombardment of Fort Sumpter. Savannah, the fictional home of Rhett Butler the blockade runner in "Gone with the Wind", the home port of Revolutionary blockade runners, the site of smugglers for prohibition days -- affects an atmosphere of decay and decadence which air conditioning has rendered obsolete, but still attracts tourists looking for a thrill.

And so we ended the trip as we began it, by telling the local guides a thing or two. It was thirty miles north of Savannah on the Savannah River, that our famous Philadelphia river expert, Ruth Patrick, advised the President of DuPont to place the manufacturing center for the hydrogen bomb. She lived to be one hundred five years old, and the building which bears her name can still make bombs as needed. And not one guide or employee of that ship, or resident of that town, had ever heard of her.

Taming the Creeks of Olde Philadelphia

For the past ten years, the Morris Arboretum has sponsored a mini-bus tour of the sewers of Philadelphia conducted by Adam Levine. In spite of its name, it attracts a pretty high-brow audience, who have a perfectly wonderful experience. Adam has been a consultant to the Water Department for decades, and he gives a pretty polished tour, which anyone interested in the City really ought to join some year. He's planning to write a book about it, someday, and instead of giving away all the best stories, I bet it will swell attendance at the tours considerably. Some of us know that writing books can be pretty hard work, however, while giving tours seems like a lot of fun.

When William Penn picked out this area for his new city, there were herds of swans swimming in the Delaware River around the mouth of the Schuylkill, and there were wide mud flats thrown up around what we call the airport, by the slowed waters making a big turn there. Although Mr. Penn originally planned to settle at what we now call Chester, apparently he thought the protected river above the mud flats would be a safer harbor. In the area of Philadelphia County in Penn's time, there were about three hundred miles of creeks, now reduced to about one hundred by the Water Department and the Department of Streets. Dock Creek was the main seaport at first, and it eventually became Dock Street by putting the creek into a culvert. In a sense, that is what has been happening for three hundred years, all over town. At first, the creeks supplied drinking water, and then they became sewers, and then they became streets on top of sewers.

As a matter of fact, there were further steps in the process. The railroads were laid on the banks of creeks, to reduce the amount of excavation and fill-in required. And as factories were built along the creeks to take advantage of the transportation and water power, the run-off of sewage was mixed with ground-water runoff, in what is delicately spoken of as a "combined sewer". The water department spends most of its time and money nowadays, separating rainwater sewage from the real thing, and diverting the rainwater into ponds and other catchment hollows, where the relatively clean water percolates through the soil and cleans itself up. The real sewage is diverted into massive pipe systems leading to the sewage disposal plants. Where, would you believe it, it gets cleaned and chlorinated and returns as drinking water -- purer than the river water that flows past, by a good bit.

But that gets ahead of the story somewhat. As the factory areas become liveable, the sewers encased in the pipe are at the bottom, the rail lines are somewhat higher. Where there were no railways, the electrical and water pipes are high above it all and often get encased in concrete. However, we can expect combined sewers to last a long time, since it is estimated that the project of uncombining two-thirds of the sewer system will cost several billion dollars, and require twenty-five years to complete. The infrastructure money from the "Stimulus package" will be a forgotten episode of the past when this project is finished. Philadelphia likes straight streets aligned in grids, so you can almost be certain you are over a creek bed when the road gets crooked in Philadelphia.

Now, look at the grid of streets from the point of view of a Water Department engineer. Somebody gave the process the name of a waffle, and it is very apt. As the straight streets go as straight as they can, they cut through hills and fill up the gullies. The fill from the hills is used for the valleys, so the straight grid streets are generally somewhat higher than the residential areas, giving the waffle effect, but leaving half of the houses with a sharp embankment in their lawns going down to street level, and the other half of the houses with water in their basements. It's up to the house builder to fill up the depression between the streets, with the streets nevertheless somewhat higher than the depressions. Sometimes the streams cut through, and are encased in pipes as they go under the streets. Sometimes it's just too much to handle, and we get green parks scattered around the city, breaking up the monotony of row houses, for a generally pleasing effect not seen in flat areas, like New Jersey.

The city has two watersheds, one draining into the Delaware River, and the other draining into the Schuylkill. And the trail between the two watersheds, the continental divide if you please, is Germantown Avenue.

109 Volumes

Philadephia: America's Capital, 1774-1800
The Continental Congress met in Philadelphia from 1774 to 1788. Next, the new republic had its capital here from 1790 to 1800. Thoroughly Quaker Philadelphia was in the center of the founding twenty-five years when, and where, the enduring political institutions of America emerged.

Sociology: Philadelphia and the Quaker Colonies
The early Philadelphia had many faces, its people were varied and interesting; its history turbulent and of lasting importance.

Nineteenth Century Philadelphia 1801-1928 (III)
At the beginning of our country Philadelphia was the central city in America.

Philadelphia: Decline and Fall (1900-2060)
The world's richest industrial city in 1900, was defeated and dejected by 1950. Why? Digby Baltzell blamed it on the Quakers. Others blame the Erie Canal, and Andrew Jackson, or maybe Martin van Buren. Some say the city-county consolidation of 1858. Others blame the unions. We rather favor the decline of family business and the rise of the modern corporation in its place.