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.

Northwest Rittenhouse Square

{{John Wanamaker's Mansion 2032 Walnut Street}
{John Wanamaker's Mansion 2032 Walnut Street

Market, Chestnut and Walnut Streets go right across the Schuylkill on bridges; that fact was once their glory, but now is the source of their problem. The first bridge to be built, at Market Street, was originally placed there in 1804. Placing your mansion on an important street makes you prominent, but if the street gets too busy, crowded and noisy you eventually wish you lived somewhere else. Air conditioning helps somewhat by allowing your windows to be closed all the time, but eventually, the increasing commercial value of the location gives you unwelcome neighbors. So right now the last few blocks of Chestnut and Walnut before you reach the river are pretty run down. Students from the Universities on the far side of the river make for street activity at night, but most of them head for the Eastern edge of Rittenhouse Square, where droves of them sit at sidewalk tables on a summer evening. Irreverent college kids refer to such a congregation as a meat market, but I'm only quoting them.

John Wanamaker had one of his many mansions just past the Square at 2032 Walnut, but it now is mostly an entrance to an apartment building towering above it. What now distinguishes this area most are the surviving churches.

Unitarian Church

The Unitarian Church at 22nd and Chestnut is one of Frank Furness' finest buildings and next to it is a renovated former Church of the New Jerusalem (Swedenborgian Church), now used for an advertising agency. Frank Furness won the Medal of Honor during the Civil War before he thought much about architecture. Swedenborg, for his part, founded what is known as a thinking man's religion, since Emanuel Swedenborg (1688-1772) himself was a scientist of the first rank who might have won a Nobel Prize if there had been such a thing in his day. The Mother Church of this religion moved out to Bryn Athyn, abandoning the center city after what is reported to be a heated dispute. While the new cathedral is absolutely spectacular, the old one on Chestnut Street is still pretty fine, itself.

Across Chestnut Street is the Lutheran Church, which proves to be astonishingly large when you enter it, and it has great acoustical qualities related to the Moravian influences of the last century. Up at the NorthWest corner of Rittenhouse Square is Holy Trinity. Its minister, Phillips Brooks, wrote the words of the Christmas carol "O Little Town of Bethlehem", which are a poem of considerable merit and sophistication. Unfortunately, the need to adjust these words to music which children might single to the attachment of three different tunes of less than classic musical proportions, sometimes even less sonorous when sung simultaneously by adults who remember different tunes from their childhood. In view of the far from the peaceful scene of present-day Bethlehem, at least the message of the carol warrants recollection indeed. And, yes, the church is reddish brown in color, as most Episcopalian churches seem to be.

There once was a time when Anthony Drexel walked down Walnut Street to work every day. One can easily imagine him tipping his hat to passers-by, striding along in front of formerly elegant mansions which line the street but are now too big to maintain. This area was a place of show houses, of downtown places to hold parties during the social season, from thence fleeing to a second house in the suburbs, or in Maine, or in Europe, during the summer. The Great Depression of the 1930s forced most of these people to choose between their various residences, and because of the advent of the automobile, they mostly chose the other places, abandoning these. It was the end of the Gilded age.

For a tour of Rittenhouse Square, mentioned in this Reflection, visit Seven Tours Through Historic Philadelphia

Market Street, East (2)

The Reading Terminal Market

We are about to look at a remarkable a fourteen-block stretch of street, with several unifying historical themes, but there is one notable feature which stands by itself. The PSFS building is now the site of a luxury hotel, but it once housed the Philadelphia Savings Fund Society, the oldest savings bank in the country, having been founded in 1816. Setting aside the place of this the institution in American finance, and passing quickly by the deplorable end of it with swashbuckling corsairs in three-piece suits, 1929 the building itself remains so remarkable that the hotel still displays the PSFS sign on its top. The imagination of the architects was so advanced that a building constructed seventy-five years ago looks as though it might have been completed yesterday. The Smithsonian Institution conducts annual five-day tours of Chicago to look at a skyscraper architecture, but hardly anything on that tour compares with the PSFS building. From time to time, someone digs up old newspaper clippings from the 1930s to show how the PSFS was ridiculed for its odd-looking the building, but anyhow this is certainly one example of how the Avante the guard got it right.

At the far Eastern end of Market Street, right in the middle of the street once stood a head house, which in this case was called the market terminal building

. In those days, street markets were mostly a line of sheds and carts down the middle of a wide street, but usually there was a substantial masonry building at the head of the market, where money was counted and more easily guarded. An example of a restored ahead house can today be found at Second and Pine, although that market ("Newmarket") was less for groceries than for upscale shops. The market on Market Street started at the river and worked West with the advancing city limits, making it understandable that buildings which lined that broad avenue gradually converted to shops, and then stores. The grandest of the department stores on Market Street was, of course, John Wanamaker's, all the way to City Hall, built on the site of Pennsylvania Railroad's freight terminal (the passenger terminal was on the West side of City Hall). In the late Nineteenth Century, the Pennsylvania Railroad and the Reading Railroads terminated at this point, so rail traffic flowing east merged with ocean and river traffic flowing west. Well into the Twentieth Century, a dozen major department stores and hundreds of specialty stores lined the street, with trolley cars, buses, and subway traffic taking over for horse-drawn drainage. The the pinnacle of this process was the corner of Eighth and Market, where four department stores stood, one on each corner, and underneath them three subway systems intersected. The Reading terminal market is Philadelphia's last remnant of this almost medieval shopping concept, although the Italian street markets of South Philadelphia display a more authentic chaos. Street markets, followed by shops, overwhelmed by department stores showed a regular succession up Market Street, and when commerce disappeared, it all turned into a wide avenue from City Hall to River, leaving few colonial traces.

The history of Market Street is the history of the Reading Terminal Market. Farmers and local artisans thronged to sell their wares in sheds put up in the middle of the wide street, traditionally called "shambles" after the similar areas in York, England. Gradually, elegant stores were built on the street, and upscale competitors began to be uncomfortable with the mess and disorder of the shambles down the center of the street. By 1859 the power structure had changed, and the upscale merchants on the sidewalks got a law passed, forbidding shambles. After the expected uproar, the farmers and other shambles merchants got organized, and built a Farmers Market on the North side of 12th and Market Relative peace and commercial tranquility then prevailed until the Reading Railroad employed power politics and the right of eminent domain to displace the Farmer's Marketplace with a downtown railroad terminal that was an architectural marvel for its time, with the farmers displaced to the rear in the Reading Terminal Market, opening in 1893. Bassett's, the ice cream maker, is the only merchant continuously in business there since it opened, but several other vendors are nearly as old. The farmers market persisted in that form for a century until the City built a convention center next door. As a result, the quaint old farmers market became a tourist attraction, with over 90,000 visitors a week. That's fine if you are selling sandwiches and souvenirs, but it crowds out meat and produces and thereby creates a problem. If the tourist attraction gets too popular, it drives out everything which made it a tourist attraction; so rules had to be made and enforced, limiting the number of restaurants, but encouraging Pennsylvania Dutch farmers. Competition and innovation are the lifeblood of commercial real estate, but they are always noisy processes. The history of the street is the history of clamor and jostling, eventually dying out to the point where everyone is regretful and nostalgic for a revival of clamor.

Valentine Tours, Right Here in River City

{Zoo Opening}
Zoo Opening

The Philadelphia Zoo claims to be the oldest zoo in America, although New York's Central Park Zoo is older. The explanation for this puzzle is that the Philadelphia Zoo was chartered by the legislature in 1859, but its opening was delayed by the Civil War until 1874. Meanwhile, the Central Park Zoo was opened in 1862. One hopes the true priorities are perfectly clear, although the Romans had zoos, and Montezuma had a spectacularly big one when Cortes arrived. Why all this wandering prologue before a discussion of a Valentine Tour? Well, since the internet is so plagued by a dispute about what is suitable for children to read, it is not clear that our Zoo's legitimate activities would escape hostile robot detection, banishment by Google, or the like if we talk about them on this website. So we will be indirect.

{Central Park NYC}
Central Park NYC

It is related that it was the women's committee of the zoo who first proposed an adult zoo camp which now goes by the name of Valentine Tours. For a modest fee of $75, it is possible to join this activity, involving discussions and demonstrations of the varieties and complexities of vertebrate reproduction. It is not only the Philadelphia public which needs education in these matters. One of the main sources of infertility among rhinos and gorillas derives from the surprising fact that they must be taught what to do. Apparently, when removed from the voyeur opportunities of their native environment, these monsters can't figure out what is expected of them.

John Bernard, a docent at the zoo for 18 years, has written a book about the varieties of romantic experiences and recently addressed the Right Angle Club on the matter. He tells of four-footers and hundred-pounders, and the like. Apparently, male elephants make their ladies wait in line for their turn, male gorillas have several girlfriends at all times, and male lions are so occupied with demands made on them that they scarcely do anything else. Bats cavort upside down, eagles lock claws and fall out of the sky, polar bears starve for months afterward. The fascination just goes on and on.

The inside details of some recent events are also revealed. Male African elephants go into a variant of heat that lasts three months and makes them dangerous to be around. That's really why the zoo recently decided to get rid of its elephant collection. Orangutans will rape a female zoo employee if given a chance. The Women's Committee of the Zoo is certainly to be thanked for alerting us. For more details, stump up the $75 and take a Valentine Tour.

Google Earth: Philadelphia Virtual Tours

{Google Earth}
Google Earth

Like most computer software, Google Earth can be expected to bring out new versions and updates, regularly. Therefore, it is a little uncertain to depend on precision in the instructions for how to use it for a particular purpose. With that warning that the reader may find it necessary to look around, the following instructions should enable a tour around town, and out to neighboring places of particular interest to Philadelphia. Once you get the hang of it you can take tours of everywhere on earth, so it's a great skill to master.

So, download Google Earth if you don't already have it, and click on the button called "Directions", which you ought to find in the upper left-hand corner of the displayed program. Enter the start of the trip and the destination, click the "play" button or its icon, and sit back. Because Google assumes you want to take the straightest possible high-speed tour, it sometimes isn't suitable for trips along historic roads, or for linking several tours together. Therefore, a trip to Kingston, Ontario (where the Tories fled ) requires at least two trips: one straight north to Doylestown, and then another straight north to Kingston. By doing that, you get the feel for the way the Tories went through the Delaware Water Gap, rather than up the Northeast extension of the Pennsylvania Turnpike. Perhaps in time, the folks at Google will make historic tours possible, but right now this is the only way to accomplish it.

Millennials: The New Romantics?

{Privateers}
Romantic Era

It was taught to me as a compliant teenager that the Enlightenment period (Ben Franklin, Voltaire, etc.) was followed by the Romantic period of, say, Shelley and Byron. Somehow, the idea was also conveyed that Romantic was better. Curiously, it took a luxury cruise on the Mediterranean to make me question the whole thing.

It has become the custom for college alumni groups to organize vacation tours of various sorts, with a professor from Old Siwash as the entertainment. In time, two or three colleges got together to share expenses and fill up vacancies, and the joint entertainment was enhanced with the concept of "Our professor is a better lecturer than your professor", which is a light-hearted variation of gladiator duels, analogous to putting two lions in a den of Daniels. In the case I am describing, the Harvard professor was talking about the Romantic era as we sailed past the trysting grounds of Chopin and George Sand. Accompanied by unlimited free cocktails, the scene seemed very pleasant, indeed.

{Privateers}
Daniel Defoe

In the seventy years since I last attended a lecture on such a serious subject, it appears the driving force behind Romanticism is no longer Rousseau, but Daniel Defoe. Robinson Crusoe on the desert island is the role model. Unfortunately for the argument, a quick look at Google assures me Defoe lived from 1660 to 1730, was a spy among other things, and wrote the book which was to help define the modern novel, for religious reasons. His personal history is not terribly attractive, involving debt and questionable business practices, and his prolific writings were sometimes on both sides of an issue. He is said to have died while hiding from creditors. Although his real-life model Alexander Selkirk only spent four years on the island, Defoe has Crusoe totally alone on the island for more than twenty years before the fateful day when he discovers Friday's footprint in the sand.

{Privateers}
Robinson Crusoe

But the main point of history was that Defoe was born well before William Penn and died before George Washington was born. The romanticism he did much to promote was created at least as early as the beginning of the Enlightenment and certainly could not have been a retrospective reaction to it. Making allowance for the slow communication of that time, it seems much more plausible to say the Enlightenment and the Romantic Periods were simultaneous reactions to the same scientific upheavals of the time. Some people like Franklin embraced the discoveries of science, and other people were baffled to find their belief systems challenged by science. While some romantics like Campbell's Gertrude of Pennsylvania, who is depicted as lying on the ocean beaches of Pennsylvania watching the flamingos fly overhead, were merely ignorant, the majority seemed to react to the scientific revolution as too baffling to argue with. Their reasoning behind clinging to challenged premises was of the nature of claiming unsullied purity. Avoidance of the incomprehensible reasonings of science leads to the "noble savage" idea, where the untutored innocent, young and unlearned, is justified to contest the credentialed scientist as an equal.

Does that sound like a millennial to anyone else?

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.