Thursday, April 28, 2011

Mrs. Joseph Ashbrook


     It is much easier to find information about the men of Powelton than to find out anything about their wives.   Joseph Ashbrook's achievements are well documented.  Fortunately, we also know a lot about his wife's background and the family they formed.
     Catherine Sinclair Ashbrook came from a solid Scottish family befitting the wife of an officer of a major insurance firm.  Her parents, Thomas and Magdalen Sinclair, were born in Scotland, as was their first born son, William (born c1826).   Their second son was born in Philadelphia (c 1829), then came two daughters born in New York.  Finally there were three daughters born in Philadelphia including Catherine and Elizabeth.
     Thomas Sinclair was a successful lithographer.  They lived at 311 Carpenter St.  Several of his sons worked in the family business.  One son, John C. Sinclair, earned a law degree from the University of Pennsylvania in 1861.  In 1862, he enlisted in the Pennsylvania 15th Cavalry and was taken prisoner during the Second Battle of Murfreesboro in Tennessee.
     Catherine and Joseph moved to 3614 Baring St. in 1875  They had three sons.  William Sinclair Ashbrook (1868) joined Provident Life and Trust Co.  He lived with his parents until he got married at age 45. He then moved to 4431 Spruce, St. with his young wife where they raise three children.  Lawrence Ashbrook (b c1876) died young.  Donald S. Ashbrook (1880) became a chemist and President of Joseph Bancroft and Sons Co., a manufacturer of cotton cloth in Wilmington, Del.  He married and had at least one child before divorcing.
     Joseph Ashbrook died in 1918.  Catherine sold the house to a neighbor in 1925 and moved to the Garden Court Apartments where she lived past her 85 birthday with a nurse and a servant.
     Elizabeth Sinclair never married.  In 1870, she was 27 and living with her parents and working as a school teacher.  In 1900, she was boarding at 315 N. 37thSt. and later lived with the Ashbrooks at 3614 Baring St.
     The Asbrooks lived in Powelton for 50 years.

A Civil War Chronicle: Joseph Ashbrook

This is a slightly expanded version of my article that appeared in the April issue of the Powelton Post.

            In December, 1860, the Philadelphia Inquirer reported that the Southern Literary Society held a debate on the question “Has any State a right to secede?”  Twenty year-old Joseph Ashbrook was assigned to the team to argue the negative.  Twenty months later, he enlisted in the 118th Pennsylvania Infantry to fight to save the Union.
            Ashbrook was born in Philadelphia.  His father was a successful grocer with a corner storefront at S. 2nd and Queen Sts.  The family lived above the store.  (His brother Edward later lived at 3612 Hamilton St. 3603 Baring St. and his brother Lewis at 740 N. 40th)  At age 15, Joseph became a clerk in a stock brokerage firm.  He was 22 when he enlisted in the 118th Pennsylvania Volunteers.
             The 118th, known as the “Corn Exchange Regiment,” was formed in August, 1862.  It was a volunteer Philadelphia regiment financed by the Corn Exchange.  It was first put into service in the Battle of Shepherdstown, West Virginia.  At that battle, the Union forces pushed the Confederates back across the Potomac.  When they attempted to pursue across the river, the Confederates counterattacked and nearly annihilated the 118th with 282 casualties out of 800 men.  The History of the Corn Exchange Regiment , the 118th PennsylvaniaVolunteers states that: “A few minutes before the retreat [Ashbrook] was shot in the stomach…. he sought a place to lie down. In doing this he fell half-way down the bluff…. Sergeant Ashbrook, although disabled…, reached the river…. With difficulty he gained the slimy, half-submerged dam… was again shot, the ball passing through his left thigh. His wounds were so serious that for some time his recovery was doubtful. After an absence of five months he returned to the regiment…. He had not entirely recovered, but was induced to return by the offer of a second lieutenancy in recognition of his gallantry at Shepherdstown.”
            After his return, the 118th fought at Chancellorsville, again suffering high casualties.  They were involved in the Battle at Gettysburg, but didn’t suffer huge losses.  In 1864, Ashbrook was brevetted major for his heroism in the Battle of the Wilderness.  The 118th was later involved in numerous campaigns including the final pursuit to Appomattox.  By then, Ashbrook had become the Ordnance Officer for the 1st Division, Fifth Army Corps.  In that position, he was in charge of receiving and disposing of the arms surrendered by Lee’s army.
            The History of the Corn Exchange Regiment singles Ashbrook out and states that “Major Ashbrook was of that class which fitted him to be ranked among the strong men of the times; of culture, with attainments, of fine soldierly bearing, his presence commanded respect and his courage admiration.”
            After the War, Ashbrook married Catherine Sinclair and became First General Agent for the Provident Life & Trust Co.  In 1875, the Ashbrook family moved into a new home at 3614 Baring St.  He continued to rise within Provident until he became Vice President and Insurance Manager in 1906.  He was largely responsible for the large growth in Provident’s life insurance business and for its reputation for integrity and the professionalism of its agents.  Joseph died in 1918.  His wife, Catherine, sold the house in 1925.  Their sons both went to the University of Pennsylvania. William, joined Provident as Agency Secretary.  Donald earned a Ph.D. in chemistry from Penn.
            In the 1860s, the population of Powelton was very small and few men enlisted from Powelton.  (I have identified some interesting cases and will devote future articles to them.)  However, the 1890 census recorded more than 100 Poweltonians who had served during the War.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Who Was Henry Cochran?

This article, which I wrote with Scott Ryder, appeared in the Powelton Post in February of this year. 
            Googling “Henry Cochran” and “Philadelphia,” produces links to the architect Wilson Eyre, Jr.  The “Henry Cochran house” at 3511Baring St., built in 1891, is one of Powelton’s most famous, architect-designed houses.  Eyre (1858-1944) taught at the University of Pennsylvania and was very influential.  He was the lead architect for Penn’s Archeology Museum and designed the Swann Memorial fountain in Logan Circle.  He was also one of the founding editors of House and Garden magazine which remained a mainstay in American interior and architectural design through the 20th century.
            The house is in a late Italianate style with deep overhanging eaves and a low-pitched, hip roof that blends in well with Powelton’s older Italianate houses.  It is designed around a large center hall and uses massed arched windows and a decorative balcony on the west fa├žade.  The horizontal banding in the brickwork is a modern take on older European stone buildings.  The banding on the porch and the brick walls surrounding the property contribute to a horizontal profile which was later popularized by architects such as Frank Lloyd Wright.  Its modern, restrained use of ornamentation is in sharp contrast to the Queen Ann style at 3510 Baring built ten years earlier.


            It’s easy to learn about Wilson Eyre, but who was Henry Cochran?
            Cochran was born into a prominent family in 1837.  His father, William G. Cochran, was born in North Carolina and moved to Philadelphia.  He soon became one of the country’s largest wine importers.  Henry’s mother, Elizabeth Travis, was a descendent of General John Cadwalader.  The wine importing business was quite profitable -- about 1860 Cochran owned $50,000 in real estate and $150,000 in other property. About that time, the family moved into a house on Walnut St. opposite Rittenhouse Square.   Henry’s older brothers, Travis and William, began working in their father’s wine business as teenagers and eventually took over the business. 
            In contrast, Henry studied at Lawrenceville and graduated from Princeton.  He studied law in Philadelphia and was admitted to the bar in 1859.  During the Civil War he served in the Navy and was First Deputy Clerk in the U. S. Provisional Court in New Orleans.   This court was set up in 1862 by Lincoln after the Union took control of the city.  Judge Peabody was given complete judicial control including the power to “make and establish such rules and regulations as may be necessary for the exercise of his jurisdiction.”  His powers were almost dictatorial.
            After the War, Henry returned to Philadelphia to practice law.  He moved back in with his parents and stayed with them until his mother’s death in 1889.  He remained single until the age of 43 when he married 19 year-old Pauline Jolly.  Her parents, who were of very modest means, emigrated from England about 1860.
            Henry’s old brother, Travis, built an elegant row house at 131 S. 22nd St., one of the most fashionable residential blocks in the Rittenhouse area.  Henry, however, chose to build a modern, single house out in Powelton.  Legend has it that he was the Russian Consul in Philadelphia and that he and Pauline hosted large, lavish parties.  We can’t verify that he was the consul, but we are willing to bet they had many great parties.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Mantua Female Seminary

    During the nineteenth century there were a number of small schools, academies and seminaries in houses in Powelton.  These were set up by one or two teachers and most apparently lasted only a few years.  One of these was the Mantua Female Seminary.  During the early and mid-1860s, it was common for the northern parts of the neighborhood to be linked with Mantua, a much older neighborhood to the north of Spring Garden St.
     The only evidence I have found of this school is ads in the Philadelphia Inquirer in August, 1865 which read:
“MANTUA FEMALE SEMINARY, Baring ST., BELOW Thirty-Fifth, West Philadelphia.  A Day and Boarding School for Young Ladies.  The next Term will open September 4th.  For Circulars, apply to Rev. John Moore, Principal.”
   John  Moore lived at 3412 Baring St. from 1864 through the late 1860s.

Monday, April 11, 2011

The Marot Family - Gardens & Unions

Helen Marot [far right] with other leaders
of the Women's Trade Union in 1907

A good place to start posting articles I've written for the Powelton Post is the article on the Marot family. This was one of my first posts. It is also very timely. In recent weeks there has been a lot of media attention to the anniversary of the fire at the Triangle Shirtwaist factory on March 25, 1911. That horrendous event led to important changes in labor laws. Helen Marot played a central role in union organizing and was a member of the official commission that investigated the fire and recommended new protections for workers.

The Marot Family of 33rd St.

Charles and Hannah Marot lived at 317 N. 33rd St. from about 1865/66 until his death in 1888. He was the publisher of The Gardeners Monthly from 1859 until 1887 when it was folded into American Garden. In 1904, the Cyclopedia of American Horticulture stated that “[i]t had a long and useful career under the editorial management of one of the most accomplished and conscientious of American horticulturists, Thomas Meehan, whom all the younger generation has learned to love.” In 1890, his widow lived at 3513 Hamilton St. and in 1900, she lived at 315 N 33rd, which she owned. They had five children, one died young.

One of their daughters, Helen Marot, was educated at Quaker schools and the Drexel Institute Library School. In 1899 she published a Handbook of Labor Literature then moved to New York where she investigated child labor. She was part of the group of women who founded the Women's Trade Union League and headed its New York branch. She was largely responsible for creating the Bookkeepers, Stenographers and Accountants Union of New York, a pioneering effort in organizing white-collar women. She was a leader of the International Ladies' Garment Workers Union, and organized and led the 1909-1910 Shirtwaist Strike in New York. In 1912, she was part of a commission that investigated the Triangle Shirtwaist Company fire in which 146 garment workers died. From 1913 on, she devoted herself to writing, primarily about the labor movement. She was also a member of the U.S. Industrial Relations Commission (1914-16). In 1914 she published American Labor Unions, a tract on the syndicalist Industrial Workers of the World written from her standpoint as a Fabian socialist.

In Creative Impulse in Industry: a Proposition for Educators (1918) she wrote that "[a]s people become inured to machine standards, they lose their sense of art values along with their joy in creative effort, their self regard as working men and their personal equation in industrial life." (p 14) She rejects the usual alternatives writing that "[i]f America is ever to realize the concept of political democracy, it can accept neither the autocratic method of business management nor the bureaucratic schemes of state socialism. It cannot realize political democracy until it realizes in a large measure the democratic administration of industry." (p 67) Her solution begins with trade schools for teenagers to give them work experiences in special firms set up for the dual purpose of education and production of a product. Half of the students’ time would be for standard school subjects, but these would be taught in relation to industrial production. "It is the intention of this educational experiment to bring down the great enterprise and industry, [and] to give the young people the experience of the industrial adventure in full achievement, lest they become the subjects of those who control the movements of industry and determine the character of its advance." (p 133)

Garden journals and social activism were clearly part of the Powelton experience from the beginning.

This blog has been inactive for far too long. I am going to restart it by posting articles I have written for the Powelton Post. In some cases, I will add additional text. (The Post pieces are generally limited to just over 500 words.) This will also give me the opportunity to add links to the Powelton interactive map and other sites and to include additional photos. I will try to post about one article per week until I catch up with all the past articles. This might also encourage me to post additional, smaller posts.