The musings of a physician who served the community for over six decades
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) Originally 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.
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 Millions 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.
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
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George R. Fisher, III, M.D.
George R. Fisher, III, M.D.
Age: 97 of Philadelphia, formerly of Haddonfield
Dr. George Ross Fisher of Philadelphia died on March 9, 2023, surrounded by his loving family.
Born in 1925 in Erie, Pennsylvania, to two teachers, George and Margaret Fisher, he grew up in Pittsburgh, later attending The Lawrenceville School and Yale University (graduating early because of the war). He was very proud of the fact that he was the only person who ever graduated from Yale with a Bachelor of Science in English Literature. He attended Columbia University’s College of Physicians and Surgeons where he met the love of his life, fellow medical student, and future renowned Philadelphia radiologist Mary Stuart Blakely. While dating, they entertained themselves by dressing up in evening attire and crashing fancy Manhattan weddings. They married in 1950 and were each other’s true loves, mutual admirers, and life partners until Mary Stuart passed away in 2006. A Columbia faculty member wrote of him, “This young man’s personality is way off the beaten track, and cannot be evaluated by the customary methods.”
After training at the Pennsylvania Hospital in Philadelphia where he was Chief Resident in Medicine, and spending a year at the NIH, he opened a practice in Endocrinology on Spruce Street where he practiced for sixty years. He also consulted regularly for the employees of Strawbridge and Clothier as well as the Hospital for the Mentally Retarded at Stockley, Delaware. He was beloved by his patients, his guiding philosophy being the adage, “Listen to your patient – he’s telling you his diagnosis.” His patients also told him their stories which gave him an education in all things Philadelphia, the city he passionately loved and which he went on to chronicle in this online blog. Many of these blogs were adapted into a history-oriented tour book, Philadelphia Revelations: Twenty Tours of the Delaware Valley.
He was a true Renaissance Man, interested in everything and everyone, remembering everything he read or heard in complete detail, and endowed with a penetrating intellect which cut to the heart of whatever was being discussed, whether it be medicine, history, literature, economics, investments, politics, science or even lawn care for his home in Haddonfield, NJ where he and his wife raised their four children. He was an “early adopter.” Memories of his children from the 1960s include being taken to visit his colleagues working on the UNIVAC computer at Penn; the air-mail version of the London Economist on the dining room table; and his work on developing a proprietary medical office software using Fortran. His dedication to patients and to his profession extended to his many years representing Pennsylvania to the American Medical Association.
After retiring from his practice in 2003, he started his pioneering “just-in-time” Ross & Perry publishing company, which printed more than 300 new and reprint titles, ranging from Flight Manual for the SR-71 Blackbird Spy Plane (his best seller!) to Terse Verse, a collection of a hundred mostly humorous haikus. He authored four books. In 2013 at age 88, he ran as a Republican for New Jersey Assemblyman for the 6th district (he lost).
A gregarious extrovert, he loved meeting his fellow Philadelphians well into his nineties at the Shakespeare Society, the Global Interdependence Center, the College of Physicians, the Right Angle Club, the Union League, the Haddonfield 65 Club, and the Franklin Inn. He faithfully attended Quaker Meeting in Haddonfield NJ for over 60 years. Later in life he was fortunate to be joined in his life, travels, and adventures by his dear friend Dr. Janice Gordon.
He passed away peacefully, held in the Light and surrounded by his family as they sang to him and read aloud the love letters that he and his wife penned throughout their courtship. In addition to his children – George, Miriam, Margaret, and Stuart – he leaves his three children-in-law, eight grandchildren, three great-grandchildren, and his younger brother, John.
A memorial service, followed by a reception, will be held at the Friends Meeting in Haddonfield New Jersey on April 1 at one in the afternoon. Memorial contributions may be sent to Haddonfield Friends Meeting, 47 Friends Avenue, Haddonfield, NJ 08033.
Fairmount Park is said to be the largest park (7000+ acres) within the limits of an American city, and in fact, maybe just a little bigger than the city can afford to maintain. It was established in the middle of the 19th Century through the efforts of the College of Physicians of Philadelphia to reverse the Industrial Revolution's relentless pollution of Philadelphia's Schuylkill River and the water works. The waterworks were built in 1801 in the mistaken belief that Yellow Fever was caused by pollution; Fairmount Park more accurately responded to the idea that Typhoid Fever was waterborne from upstream pollution. Lemon Hill, the nearby mount containing Robert Morris' Mansion, was purchased to expand the reservoir capacity of the waterworks and thereby made the Art Museum possible where the reservoirs were originally located.
The Park has long constituted a symbolic interval between center city and the suburbs. Since the construction of the river drives and later the expressway, the commute along the river amidst trees and parkland has made an entrance to town a pleasant experience. If the town planners had been able to foresee automobile commuting, they might have anticipated that the sun would be in the driver's eyes coming East during morning rush hour, and in his eyes as he went home toward the West in the evening. Driving safety might perhaps have been impaired by the tendency of this glare to direct attention to the park rather than straight ahead, but nevertheless redoubles the effect of the park views as a daily aesthetic experience. Even the pollution idea had its ambiguous side since animals increase the bacterial runoff from their grazing areas, and the original houses in the park had many pastures. Strip mining, however, allows mineral contaminants to be washed by rain into the watershed. The city waterworks today extract nearly 800 tons of sludge from the water supply, daily. Whatever the effect downstream, the high ground had less malaria and less typhoid than swampy lowlands, so many of the original houses were useful summer retreats for city dwellers during the early years of the city.
The park is governed by the Park Commission, and at one time had its own police force, the fourth largest police force in the state. Started in 1868, the Park Guards changed their name to the Park Police and then became part of the Philadelphia Police in 1972. The original 28 officers had grown to 525, had their own police academy and a proud tradition. It seems very likely that some deep and dirty politics were played in this shift of authority, and it might be a fair guess that some bitterness still survives in the circles who know and care about these things. In 2008 a scarcely-noticed rule change gave the Park to the City Department of Recreation, thus placing it just a little closer to ambitious real estate development. Our present concern, however, is with the houses in the park.
There are seven of them, kept up and maintained by the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Guided tours are provided intermittently by the museum, but since funds are limited only three of the houses are open year round. The others are equally worth a visit but unfortunately, are closed during the height of the spring flowering season. Two of the year-round houses represent the two extremes of Philadelphia culture, since Mount Pleasant was owned by a buccaneer ("privateer") named McPherson who lived at the height of 18th Century elegance, while Cedar Grove was originally a Quaker farmhouse of the greatest simplicity consistent with honest comfort, a style which persisted relatively unchanged until late in the 19th Century. Benedict Arnold and Peggy Shippen looked at Mount Pleasant with an eye to purchase but never lived there because they were called away by national events. With the addition of modern plumbing and air conditioning, Mount Pleasant would be an elegant place to live, even today. McPherson had to sell the place to pay his debts, whereas the Wister and Morris descendants of Cedar Grove still populate the Social Register in large numbers. The two houses completely typify the underlying philosophies of the two leading Philadelphia classes of leadership. One group measures itself by how much it spends, the other group measures success by how much it has left.
Treacherous Beauty: Peggy Shippen, the Woman behind Benedict Arnold's Plot to Betray America: Mark Jacob:978-0762773886
The central keel of the city, Market Street, must be considered in three quite different sections, East and West of City Hall, and West of the Schuylkill River. The street was once called High Street, and the name was slow to change. It will be enough, for now, to consider only the oldest section of fourteen blocks from City Hall to the Delaware River, which is almost a lesson in archeology. Start at Victorian City Hall and face East to Penn's landing on the Delaware.
William Penn had laid out the city plan like a cross, with Market and Broad Streets intersecting at the green central park which now holds the massive building with his statue on top of the tower. The market was originally called High Street. It's doubtful that Penn intended his statue to be there, since the early Quakers were so scornful of vainglorious display that they prohibited the naming of streets after persons, declined to have their portraits painted, and the strictest ones would not even consent to their names on their tombstones. The cult of personality in dictatorships like the Soviet Union, Maoist China, and Baptist Iraq more recently illustrate the sort of thing they probably had in mind, and it wasn't just a quaint idea to discourage the portraits of leaders in public places.
For a tour of the area mentioned in this Reflection, visit Seven Tours Through Historic Philadelphia
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.
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.
Airplane pilots tell us the main streets of quite a few cities seem laid out as if with a compass, north, and south, east and west. Philadelphia probably started that tradition in America, although Google Earth will show anyone who doubts it that Beijing, China was laid out along the same grid two thousand years earlier. It seems possible that Thomas Holmes was aiming at the Delaware Water Gap when he drew his famous map for William Penn, but there are troublesome objections. Broad Street, itself due North-South, when extended is called Route 611, heading straight for Doylestown, and then for the Water Gap. While there's a second pass through Blue Mountain at Wind Gap, it was a hard climb in the 17th Century. Until the Lehigh Tunnel was built, the water gap was the only practical way to go north for three centuries. The gap's existence had been known to the Indians for centuries, and the dividing line between East and West Jersey terminates at Dingman's Ferry, essentially the same place as the Delaware Water Gap. Since Penn's Proprietorship of New Jersey was seven years older than his ownership of Pennsylvania, he definitely knew about the main landmark of the area which he used as a fixed boundary marker. In fact, it is a tradition among modern proprietors that he unsuccessfully pressured the boundary negotiation in order to get both sides of the Delaware Gap into West Jersey, taking advantage of the sharp bend in the river for the purpose. Since he eventually owned or controlled all of the regions, it seems entirely plausible that he could arrange the direction of the roads as he pleased. There is one big problem with such a unifying hypothesis, however. If the Water Gap was to be made due North of Broad Street, and Broad Street was to be the center of the city, there was no way to accomplish it except by adjusting the location of the whole City of Philadelphia. That was within his power as owner, but it seems an extreme way to get maps tidy. The alternative explanation is that these mapping niceties were just a series of coincidences, and that is equally hard to believe. Present-day proprietors are often engineers and surveyors, so even to mention these issues is likely to lead to indignant dispute.
The Allegheny Mountains run from Georgia to the Adirondacks, presenting a sheer face to the East with very few gaps except for the major rivers. The water gap was a busy place for all North-South travel, whether on riverboats, canals, railroads or Interstate highways -- or mocassins. From there up to Canada, the simple explanation for a continued northerly path was there was scarcely any other way to go. The rivers and finger lakes have a due north orientation between mountain ridges as a result of advancing glaciers and receding glacier melt. That's the whole idea of global warming and global cooling; the polar ice cap advances and recedes from the north pole. When you are standing on the North Pole, everything else is South of you.
With logic plus a little imagination, it's thus possible then to see why a compass points you from City Hall, Philadelphia to Kingston Ontario, but how fast you go is your decision. The rest of this article argues that this seemingly desolate trail is peppered with an interesting history; even if you drive straight and fast, you ought to know a little about what you are passing. In this suggested trip, the traveler is urged to consider stopping for half a day in Doylestown, followed by the Water Gap, or Jim Thorpe, PA. You might alternatively duck off the Pennsylvania Turnpike extension into Wilkes-Barre and Great Bend, or toward Ithaca and Cornell University's famous bird sanctuary, then onward to Skaneateles and Marcellus over good local roads, tipping your cap toward Apalachin the gangster headquarters as you go. People in a hurry to get to Canada will take Interstate 81 most of the way, but at least consider taking secondary roads along Lake Ontario. It's a very pleasant drive, including a stop in Sackets Harbor for at least a meal. And then, detour to Clayton and Alexandria Bay before going over the international bridge to Canada. Finally, go down along the northern shore of Lake Ontario to Kingston. You're there.
Getting home after a long weekend is a hard drive, four-lane highways suggested, stopping at some of the places mentioned on the way home rather than using them all up on the way north. The detours add perhaps a half day to the trip in each direction. If you have the time, a trip westward along the northern or southern sides of Lake Ontario to Niagara Falls would be very nice, but not the subject of this topic.
It's pleasant to wander and stop at interesting places on impulse, but it's also nice to have a fairly clear idea of the day's outlines. You can eat in nice restaurants or grab a burger in a fast-food outlet; it often makes little difference which you choose. If you are traveling with children, tell the waitress to bring some crackers for the kids when she brings the menu. But by all means avoid the dreadful experience of watching it get darker and darker in the evening, with all the hotels full and adamant about it. By at least four o'clock in the afternoon, pick out a likely place to spend the night and call ahead for a reservation.
If you are traveling on a tight budget, at lunch don't go to a fast-food place, but to a supermarket. Pick up ingredients of tomorrow's breakfast and today's lunch; at the check-out counter, ask where the town park is, for a picnic lunch. With an assured place to spend the night, it's a lot easier to take a bath there, and then go out on the town for dinner. The main reason people drive like demons and thus miss the most interesting parts of a vacation trip comes from not knowing how to manage the children, and the details of travel life.
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.
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.