Philadelphia Reflections

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

367 Topics

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

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The Houses in the Park

Strawberry Mansion

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 Amazon

Finances of the Girard Estate

{Stephen Girard}
Stephen Girard

Stephen Girard died on December 26, 1831. It required 7 years for executors to settle the estate of this richest man in America, valued at $7 million, of which $5.25 million was to establish a school for poor white orphan boys. Two million dollars of that was set aside in the will for the construction of his new school. Considerable criticism was raised about the fact that the various administrators of his estate did not admit a single student for the first sixteen years, during which time extensive trustee tours of Europe were conducted to study suitable models and publish books about them. At the end of that time of preparation, the two million dollars were just about all gone. It turns out that Girard could actually afford this luxurious approach. In 1886 the estate would rise in value to $11 million, in 1914 it was worth $30 million. In 1926 it was worth $73 million. This appreciation was in spite of educating more than 10,000 boys, and also purchasing and repaving (with Belgian blocks) both Delaware Avenue and Water Street, from Vine to South Street as a public service to which more than $2 million was devoted. In 1935 Cheesman Herrick wrote a history of Girard College, in which is found the following, rather delicate, history of the long-term financial management by the Board: "The Board of Directors of City Trusts is a creation of the State of Pennsylvania. At the outset in the administration of the Girard will, the city authorities looked to the state Legislature for an empowering act to proceed with the organization of Girard College. The same authority [then] set aside the control of the City councils and put the Girard Estates and Girard College under a new Board which became a part of the machinery of the city government. Probably no more successful administration of public trusts has ever been known than that by the Board of Directors of City Trusts. Time has known the wisdom of Stephen Girard in leaving the administration of his estate as he did. "Colonel Alexander K. McClure, who knew Philadelphia well and who was relentless in his inquiry as to the discharge of trusts by public officials, paid the Board of Directors of City Trusts a deserved compliment in saying that no shadow of doubt or suspicion had ever fallen upon the doing of that body. It may be added further that probably no other government agency or private business enjoys a higher reputation for integrity and efficiency in the conduct of its affairs that does this Board. That this record is good is owing primarily to the standard set by those who have served under the Board in various business and administrative positions.

"When the record of the Board is taken into consideration, and the magnitude of the work which it has to supervise is regarded, one can readily see that service on this Board is a signal distinction. The list of the Board has been a sort of honor roll of Philadelphia's foremost citizens. That the standard in this Board has been so high and that members of the Board have served so faithfully, have been due in no small part to its members' having seen beyond the millions of Stephen Girard, and numerous other funds which they have handled, to the great good which these various trusts are accomplishing. With the interest of the beneficiaries always in mind the Board has conscientiously sought to make the Girard Estate, and the other foundations under its supervision, serve the community to the greatest possible extent. The idea of service has been the touchstone making the Board of Directors of the City of Trusts a great Board." Starting with Nicholas Biddle, the Board of the institution was certainly composed of men who had distinguished themselves in business and finance. However, a great deal of credit must be given to Stephen Girard, himself. A year before he died, he bought roughly 18,000 acres of Schuylkill County after the discovery of coal outcroppings on the property. In subsequent years over a hundred million dollars of anthracite coal were extracted by the mining agents of the Girard Estate, based in Pottsville, PA. The clean-burning properties of this form of coal were promoted with the image of "Phoebe Snow", and were the basis for much of the industrialization of the region. Coal came down the Schuylkill River on canal barges with a terminus opposite the present boathouses, hence the Lighthouse adorning Sedgwick, the most northern boathouse. Later, it was carried on the Reading Railroad, which at one time was the largest railroad in the nation. The Girard heirs felt this went far beyond Girard's contemplated income from the estate, and went to court to obtain for themselves what they considered a more appropriate share of it. Their argument boiled down to saying Girard College had so much money it didn't know what to do with it and was returning income to principal. It was their contention that if Girard could have predicted both the revenue and the expenses of the school, he would have left the school less money, and given more to his numerous heirs. The managers of the estate, who felt their own acumen was largely responsible for the windfall, made a sophisticated and ultimately successful rebuttal. Instead of relying on the contrast between the incredibly good performance of the Board of City Trusts, compared with the earlier looting of the estate by City Council, their lawyer

{Horace Binney}
Horace Binney

(Horace Binney) relied on and largely invented some important legal reasoning. Coal in the ground was a dwindling asset, and speed of its dwindling was under the control of the owners. The managers of Girard's estate had shrewdly transformed the coal into a more conventional source of income by taking proceeds at the best available price, regardless of the needs of the school. With it, they put up office buildings and department stores in the center of Philadelphia on the land around 12th and Market, first intended to be the site of the orphan school. Also, the six hundred acres of Girard's farm in South Philadelphia were converted to rental houses. In time, the income from the coal-bearing properties was transferred to center-city rentals -- all within the bounds of real estate which Girard had purchased before his death. The trustees had enhanced the value of Girard's properties by shifting assets amongst them, a result that greatly benefited the entire city and region, and rendered the entire concept of annual income -- irrelevant. The legalisms of this dispute are very clever, but in truth, the Girard's heirs probably never had a chance in court against the political and business establishment of the whole state, united in the firm belief they were doing a remarkably benevolent thing for orphans. It is breath-taking to reflect that Girard College's anthracite did become the economic pump for the entire Philadelphia industrial region from Pottsville to Trenton, for nearly a century. And equally breathtaking to reflect that, about a century later, anthracite mining just about ceased entirely. Although there was shrewd later management of the assets, the fact is the coal was discovered, purchased and bound up in irrevocable covenants by a single man in 1829, who was therefore dead during every day of this activity, except during the first year when the plan was organized. If he wanted to do this for orphans, it is scarcely possible even to suggest a reason why he shouldn't.


Girard College It's Semi Centennial of Girard College: George P. Rupp ASIN: B000TNER1G Amazon

Pennsbury Manor


William Penn once had his pick of the best home sites in three states, because of course he more or less owned all three (states, that is). Aside from Philadelphia townhouses, he first picked Faire Mount, where the Philadelphia Art Museum now stands. For some reason, he gave up that idea and built Pennsbury, his country estate, across the river from what is now Trenton. It's in the crook of a sharp bend in the river but is rather puzzlingly surrounded by what most of us would call swamps. The estate has been elegantly restored and is visited by hosts of visitors, sometimes two thousand in a day. On other days it is deserted, so it's worth telephoning in advance to plan a trip.

Gasified Garbage

After World War II, a giant steel plant was placed nearby in Morrisville, thriving on shiploads of iron ore from Labrador, but now closed. Morrisville had a brief flurry of prosperity, now seemingly lost forever. However, as you drive through the area you can see huge recycling and waste disposal plants, and you can tell from the verdant soil heaps that the recycled waste is filling in the swamps. It doesn't take much imagination to foresee swamps turning into lakes surrounded by lawns, on top of which will be many exurban houses. How much of this will be planned communities and how much simply sold off to local developers, surely depends on the decisions of some remote corporate Board of Directors.

However, it's intriguing to imagine the dreams of best-case planners. Radiating from Pennsbury, there are two strips of charming waterfront extending for miles, north to Washingtons Crossing, and West to Bristol. If you arrange for a dozen lakes in the middle of this promontory, surround them with lawns nurtured by recycled waste, you could imagine a resort community, a new city, an upscale exurban paradise, or all three combined. It's sad to think that whether this happens here or on the comparable New Jersey side of the river depends on state taxes. Inevitably, that means that lobbying and corruption will rule the day and the pace of progress.

Meanwhile, take a trip from Washingtons Crossing to Bristol, by way of Pennsbury. It can be done in an hour, plus an extra hour or so to tour Penn's mansion if the school kids aren't there. Add a tour of Bristol to make it a morning, and some tours of the remaining riverbank mansions, to make a day of it.

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.

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.