Saturday, July 25, 2009

Occupation: “Manufactures Teeth”

Henry D. Justi was born in Germany in 1834, immigrated with his mother to the U.S. in 1850 and became a citizen in 1865. He didn’t just make teeth, he virtually revolutionized tooth-making. A contemporary described it this way:
“Up to about the year 1855, only one kind of teeth had been manufactured, teeth for gold and silver plate.... Then a rubber base was introduced, and from that time the entire dental business has been revolutionized. Mr. H. D. Justi seeing that there was room for improvement, succeeded in constructing moulds suitable to the various formations of the jaws, adopting curved lines in which he could sink any depth around the neck of the teeth to receive the gum color, and temporizing the materials so that in one very easy operation he had the tooth ready to finish. This mode of manufacturing artificial teeth has been copied by all other manufacturers.” (Philadelphia and Popular Philadelphians. The North American. 1891: 139.)

The Justis moved to “Baring below 32nd” sometime in the mid-1860s. By 1870, they were at 3401 Baring (NW corner of 340th & Baring) where he lived until his death in 1922. His two unmarried daughters, Augusta and Ameilia, were still living there in 1930. Justi’s son, Henry M., married about 1898 and he and his bride moved to 3311 Powelton. They lived there until the 1920s when they moved to Lower Merion. Justi’s factory building still stands at 32nd and Spring Garden and the business continues under the name Esschiem (see pg. 2 of their brochure for their history) and is run by a third Henry Justi.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Advancement of Women, 1876

The Fourth Annual Congress of the Association for the Advancement of Women met in Philadelphia in 1876. Several Powelton women were members. Mrs. Edward Lewis (age 55) of 3234 Powelton (33th & Powelton) attended with her two daughters, Bertha (24) and Emily (18), and her sister-in-law, Charlotte (Mrs. Enoch) Lewis (51). E.R. (Mrs. Henry) McIlvain was a 56 year-old widow who lived at 3306 Baring. Also attending was Nellie B. Haral of 3402 Baring St.

Numerous papers were present at the conference. One was "The Need of Women in Science" by Maria Mitchell who wrote that “Women are needed in scientific work for the very reason that a woman’s method is different from that of a man. All her nice perceptions of minute details, all her delicate observation of color, of form, of shape, of change, and her capability of patient routine, would be of immense value in the collection of scientific facts.”

In "Women in Literature" by E.b. Duffy noted that “Thirty years ago there were two or three women editors in the world. To-day there are scores of them... Thirty years ago there were a few indifferent novels produced by women in England; scarcely one in this country.... To-day the novelists in America and England can be told off, considering not only in numbers, but excellence.... The field of literature is conquered for women.”

Sunday, July 12, 2009

A Powelton Civil War Veteran

There were several dozen veterans of the Civil War living in Powelton during the last decades of the nineteenth century. For these men, their families, and all older residents of Philadelphia, the war was the dominant historical event of their lives. Remember that when General Lee’s army was stopped at Gettysburg they were headed toward Harrisburg and Philadelphia which was a major railroad hub for troops and supplies headed south.
One Civil War vet was Joseph Ashbrook who lived at 3614 Baring St from before 1880 to after 1914. The 1904 Who’s Who in Pennsylvania summarized his history to that point as follows:
“Insurance manager of the Provident Life and Trust Company of Philadelphia, Pa.; he was born in Philadelphia. August 4, 1840, and at the age of fifteen entered the office of a firm of stockbrokers. During the Civil War he enlisted in the 118th Pennsylvania Regiment and served throughout the conflict; shortly after entering the service in 1862 he was severely wounded, and soon thereafter received a commission; was brevetted Major for gallant services in the Wilderness campaign, subsequently as Ordnance Officer of the Staff of General Griffin, commanding the First Division, Fifth Army Corps; was detailed to receive the arms and ammunition surrendered by the Army of Northern Virginia at Appomattox Court House in April, 1865; soon after the close of the war he became superintendent of agencies for the Provident Life and Trust Company, and was appointed manager of its insurance department in 1881.”
Not surprisingly, he was described as: a Republican; a Methodist, and a member of the American Historical Assn., the Military Order of the Loyal Legion, the Grand Army of Republic and the Union League of Philadelphia.

[Note: this blog is superseded by a longer post about Ashbrook and one about his wife, here.]
Seen in the News (1885)
Miss Lilly (or Tillie) Hart of 3527 Hamilton St., won a prize at the Philadelphia Kennel Club show in May for her Blenheim spaniel, Chappy. In March and April, John C. Hart of the same address won awards for his Blenheim spaniel, Roy, at the New Haven Kennel Club show and the New England Kennel Club show in Boston. Congratulations to Chappy and Roy and to their proud owners. {3527 is now the home of dog lovers Jeni Johnson and Ben Dungan and family.}

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Four Generations of the Bacon/Atkinson/Ellis/Comly/Watson Family in Powelton

Many Poweltonians know that Edmund Bacon spent his early years at 3603 Baring St. in the heart of Powelton. Bacon was a major force in urban planning in Philadelphia and, for better or worse, had a substantial impact on the city. Today, he is better identified as the father of actor/musician Kevin Bacon and musician Michael Bacon and father-in-law of Kyra Sedgwick. The story of the Bacon family is classic Powelton involving intermarriages between neighboring families. Edmund Bacon’s roots in Powelton go back three generations. His great-grandmother, Martha Bacon (1821-1886), was widowed in 1855. In 1870, she was living at 604 N. 7th with her son Thomas P. (1848-?). The house was owned by another widow, Hannah Ellis (1827-1899), who lived there with her two daughters, Annie and Edith. By 1880, Thomas Bacon and Annie Ellis were married and living in Powelton at 3212 Baring St with their 6-year-old son, Ellis W. Bacon (1874-1961) and Thomas’s mother. Ellis married Helen Comly who grew up at 3408 Hamilton. The full list of Edmund Bacon’s ancestors who lived in Powelton (with known dates) is as follows:

Edmund Norwood BACON (1910-2005)
1920: 3603 Baring
Ellis Williams BACON (1874-1961)
1880-1900: 3212 Baring, 1910-1920: 3603 Baring
Helen Atkinson COMLY (1872-1966) 1880: 3408 Hamilton, 1900-1920: 3603 Baring
Thomas Pryor BACON (b.1848)
1880-1920: 3212 Baring
Annie Elizabeth ELLIS (1850-1920)
1880-1920: 3212 Baring
Robert COMLY (b.1843) 1880: 3408 Hamilton, 1887-'90: 3521 Hamilton, 1900-'20: 3311 Arch
Lydia Tatum ATKINSON (1843-1901) 1880: 3408 Hamilton, 1887-'90: 3521 Hamilton, 1900: 3311 Arch
Martha White WATSON [Bacon] (1821-1886)
1880: 3212 Baring

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Something Noticed While Walking the Dog
My Architectural Archeologist, Scott Ryder, has discovered signs of past civilization. Actually, remains of a large house that stood at 3500 Powelton before the Courts were built. Having discovered that the Du Pont family once occupied this site, he went about looking for any remaining physical evidence of that time. After passing the site numerous times, he noticed that the granite curbing around the original footprint of the property is quite a bit larger and of a better quality than what we usually see. It extends about three quarters of the 3500 block of Powelton and south down 35th St. to the property line of the Courts Apartments. At that point you can see the original curb cut for the carriage entrance. The drive is shown on the 1872 Hopkins map (at the right). At that time the site was owned by Dr. W. A. Pieper. In 1881, the Du Pont family purchased this lot and the lot to the west and enlarged the house. Our investigations continue.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

One Version of the Mum Ad

John O. Powers and Mum Deoderant

One of Powelton’s great features is our gardens. However, one Poweltonian was known for another sort of Mums.
John O. Powers lived at 206 N. 34th St. in 1910. He was the son of John E. Powers, the first full-time copywriter. John E. doubled John Wanamaker’s business within a few years using such honest advertising lines like “the price is monstrous, but that’s none of our business” and "We have a lot of rotten gossamers and things we want to get rid of." Apparently this stark honesty was refreshing and compelling.
John O. Powers (1868-1937) was born in England where his father was selling sewing machines. (The family is recorded in the 1881 Census of England, even though John E. was hired by Wanamaker in 1880.) John O. founded his own agency and succeeded by giving all of his attention to a small number of products. One of his most successful ad campaigns was for Mums deodorant. In The Mirror Makers, Stephen R. Fox describes it this way:

" 'Mum' is the word!” Accompanied by a picture of a woman with her index finger to her lips in a shushing gesture, the copy urged, "When you're getting ready for the dance, the theatre, or an evening in other crowded and close places , and you want to make sure that perspiration and its inevitable odor will not steal away your sweet cleanliness and dainty charm – 'Mum' is the word!" And so on, through ten other difficult situations.

So remember Poweltonian: when preparing for the next swank Powelton soirĂ©e, “‘Mum’ is the word.”
This is a blog about the history of Powelton Village in Philadelphia. Powelton offers one of the finest collections of Victorian homes anywhere. It was developed as a residential area between about 1860 and 1910 and, therefore, includes examples of all of the major Victorian styles including Italianate, Second Empire, Queen Ann, and Colonial Revival. A basic introduction to the area is available through the web sites of the Powelton Village Civic Association (PVCA- and the University City District (

My main interest is the architecture and social history of the area. During its first 50 years, Powelton included many industrialists and businessmen who helped make Philadelphia a major industrial city of the nineteenth century. However, it was shaped by a strong ethic of social consciousness fostered by many Quakers who helped develop the area. Combine this with the architecture, the trees and gardens in a nineteenth century trolley-car suburb and you have an interesting social/historical mix.

The blog is a supplement to a series of articles I have written for the PVCA’s month newsletter, the Powelton Post. (I hope to make those available on-line soon.) It will be made up of small historical facts about the neighborhood and the neighbors that I dig up as I careen around the internet in search of insights into Powelton’s past. Most of the facts and many of the people I write about are, at best, of little historic note. However, it is the lives of these numerous individuals and their interactions that are the fabric of local history.

The blog will concentrate on the years up to about 1930 which are covered by the censuses and directories available through and other sites. Many original sources from that period are also available on-line from Google Books and other sources. The past fifty-plus years have been equally fascinating – filled with urban pioneers, war protests, communes, slow redevelopment, the near death and resurrection of Drexel University, and numerous Philadelphia-style Tales of the City. However, I will leave most of that to others to document.