Thursday, May 26, 2011

An Improved Cake of Soap

       Anthony Van Haagen was born in Germany and immigrated to the U.S. in 1855 at about age 29.  He quickly established himself as a manufacturer of soap.  He was also an inventor.  In 1870, he and William Adamson were granted patents for “soap product from glue residuum” and “fertilizer from glue residuum.”  In 1872, he and Claus Van Haagen patented an improvement in drilling machines.
       In 1880, he and his wife Edmonia (who was born in Virginia) lived with their four children at 3408 Spring Garden St

       In 1882, Van Haagen received a patent for a new design for a cake of soap which had several advantages over the typical spherical shape.  He produced a flattened cake that would “not roll away from the spot where it is placed” and which provided “the extended surface so desirable in a cake of soap used for hand washing.”  By introducing grooves around the edges, he produced a cake that afforded “the means of retaining the soap in one hand and preventing it from turning while it is being applied to the other hand.”

       Although Van Haagen didn’t build railroads or machine tools, he was a man of his age who was focused on the technological advancement that defined Victorian Philadelphia.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Murphy-Anderson Marriage

“The other [interracial] couple was babysitter Mary L. Anderson, 29, of 3218 Baring st., and sexton Robert A. Murphy, also 29, of 3501 Hamilton st.” (from “Marriage Licenses; Lady Barber and Boat captain Mixed Couple,” Phila. Tribune, Dec. 4, 1965.)

The Philadelphia Tribune is the “premier black newspaper serving the greater Philadelphia region since 1884.”

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Powelton and the 1876 Centennial Exhibition

     The 1876 Centennial Exhibition in Fairmount Park celebrated the nation’s birth and highlighted America’s new found industrial strength.  Millions of attendees approached the Exhibition traveling from Market St. through Powelton on trolley lines.  Powelton was still quite young - most of the houses were less than ten years old.  Probably hundreds of attendees rented houses or rooms here during their stay.  (The Swedish Commission rented a house on 33rd St. near Baring.)  Several Poweltonians played central roles in the planning and building of the Exhibition grounds.  Coleman Sellers (3301 Baring St.) was one of the Exhibition Commissioners and the moving spirit behind Mechanical Hall.  Samuel J. Levick (405 N. 33rd St.) was a member of the Executive Committee.
Charles E. Pugh
    Many visitors arrived through a new, larger Pennsylvania Railroad station at 32nd and Market (see photo).  The PRR’s efforts were overseen by Charles E. Pugh. (3716 and later 3501 Baring St.).  The History of the Pennsylvania Railroad Company (1895) reports that “[o]ver 3,000,000 of passengers were received at and dispatched from the stations during the continuance of the Exhibition and so admirably had he arranged for the comfort and safety of the people that not one accident occurred.”  Pugh was only about 30 at the time and rose rapidly to become PRR’s Second Vice President.
    George W. Hancock’s family had long roots in the neighborhood.  In 1860, he was living on 33rd St. above Baring.  Later he lived at 3202 Hamilton St. and 3216 Baring St.  He was a surveyor and became City Surveyor in 1872.  He was responsible for the grading and paving of the streets at the Exposition and for engineering the passenger railway lines leading to the Centennial grounds.

The Alexander Bros. Exhibit of Industrial Belts
    A more visible contribution was made by Joseph Wilson (3501 Powelton Ave.).  Wilson and Henry Pettit were architects and engineers who had done extensive work for the PRR.  Their design for the Main Exhibition Building came in third.  However, the first two designs were far too expensive and they got the contract.  The Main Exhibition Building (shown above) was massive covering more than 20 acres – twelve times as large as Memorial Hall. They completed it on schedule for less than a sixth of the cost estimate for the top ranked design. They also designed and built the second largest building, Machinery Hall.  A central element of Machinery Hall was a giant engine that powered hundreds of other machines.  The power was transmitted using industrial leather belts like those exhibited by Alexander Brothers.  Charles Alexander lived at 3626 Baring St. and Edward lived at 306 N. 35th St.

    Poweltonians also played a major role in supplying the Exhibition.  The McIlvain’s lumber yards on Lancaster Ave. provided a great deal of lumber.  They were long-time residents of Powelton.  Samuel J. Cresswell (317 N. 35th St.) provided the ornamental iron work for Horticultural Hall.  Also, Powelton’s numerous wholesale grocers, butchers and provisioners like John Laughlin (3406 Baring St.) and William McCahen (334 N. 32ndSt.) must have worked overtime to meet the increased demand.
    It is not possible to overestimate the effect of the Centennial Exhibition on Powelton or Poweltonians’ contributions to the Exhibition.

[This is a revised version of a piece that I wrote for the Powelton Post.]

Friday, May 20, 2011

From Powelton Pioneer to First Developer of Wayne

     After the turn of the last century, some of the more successful Poweltonians moved out to Main Line suburbs.  James Henry Askin was a pioneer – he was one of the first to settle in Powelton and probably the first to move the Main Line.
      Askin and his extended family moved to 3509 Baring St. about 1858 from the 3600 block of Haverford Ave. in neighboring Mantua.  He was a real estate agent with an office at 112 S. 4th St.   In 1860, he valued his real estate holdings at $16,000 and his personal property at $2,500.  By 1870, his wealth had increased tenfold with $75,000 in real estate and $125,000 in personal property.
John H. Askin's holdings in Radnor Township, 1870
     In the years following the Civil War, Askin purchased 293 acres of farm land in Radnor Township where the town of Wayne now stands. The Lancaster Turnpike formed the western border and the property extended from Spring Mill Rd. in the south up past Wayne Ave.  The Pennsylvania Railroad cut through the middle.   He planned to build a new community named “Louella” after his daughters, Louisa and Ella.  In about 1865, he built a large mansion with that name placing it next to the Wayne railroad station.  (It is now the Louella Apartments.)  The Askins sold their Powelton home in April, 1867.  He also built the Wayne Presbyterian Church, Lyceum Hall (now the Colonial Building at the northeast corner of E. Lancaster and N. Wayne) and a row of mansard-roofed villas on Bloomingdale Avenue.

The Louella Apartments, Wayne, Pa.
     Askin got caught in the economic panic of 1873 and had to sell his holdings in Radnor to A. J. Drexel and George W. Childs who turned the area in a model suburban community.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

The Domestic Talking Machine

     The Domestic Talking Machine Corp. was located at 33rd and Arch Sts. from its founding in 1916 until 1919 when they moved to Latrobe, Pa.  In 1919, they had 46 male employees, 4 female employees and an office staff of 14.
    This wasn't Powelton's first involvement with "talking machines."  The 1910 census listed Octavia, Jason and Sylvester Geiger (3402 Powelton Ave.) working for a talking machine maker.  Ocatvia and Sylvester were artists and Jason was a salesman.

Swedenborgians in Powelton

Charles W. Harvey (1870-1952), c1900
   The Swedenborgian Church of North America (also known as the Church of the New Jerusalem) draws its faith from the Bible as illuminated by the teachings of Emanuel Swedenborg (1688-1772).  According to Wikipedia, it had about 5,440 members in 1925.  Several Poweltonians were members.  Hannah and Frederick Schoff (3418 Baring St.) were members of the New Jerusalem Church in Upper Darby.  The Burnham family (3401 Powelton Ave. and 214 N. 34th St.) were members of the New Church, (Swedenborgian) Society at 22nd & Chestnut.
    Charles W. Harvey was a Swedenborgian minister who was hired as pastor of the church at 22nd.  He was born in Wivenhoe, Essex, England in 1870 and migrated to Boston in 1896.  He attended Harvard, graduating in 1899 and earning an M.A. degree in 1902.  He trained at the Swedenborgian college in Newton, Mass.  In 1910, he married Leslie Carter who was from Newton.  They moved to Philadelphia in 1911 and lived with the George Burnham, Jr. family at 214 N. 34th St. until about 1919.  In January, 1920, they were living at 315 N. 35th St. which they purchased later that year.  They had a son, John, born in 1915 and a daughter, Dorthea, born in 1922.  They sold the house in 1943.  Harvey wrote a few books including The Problem of Suicide (1945).

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Caroline Kateznstein and Woman's Suffrage

     The General Assembly of Pennsylvania, House Resolution 81, Session of 2011: Recognizing the month of March 2011 as "National Women's History Month" in Pennsylvania reads, in part:
“WHEREAS, It was the lesser-known suffragists, such as Pennsylvanians Dora Kelly Lewis and Caroline Katzenstein, who inherited the struggle from Anthony, Stanton and Mott and oversaw the ratification of the Nineteenth Amendment to the Constitution of the United States, which gave women the right to vote on August 18, 1920;…”

     Caroline Katenstein lived in an apartment at 3411 Powelton Ave. from the 1920s until the 1950s. Her papers on women’s suffrage are available at the Historical Society of Pennsylvania.  Their website offers a very good biosketch of her.  The Abstract reads in part:

Photo: HSP.ORG
“Caroline Katzenstein (1888-1968) was a leader in the Pennsylvania suffrage movement. She served in official positions for the Equal Franchise Society of Philadelphia, the National American Woman Suffrage Association, and the National Woman’s Party. After women won the vote in 1920, Katzenstein continued to fight for women’s rights and lobbied tirelessly for the passage of the Equal Rights Amendment for over twenty years. In 1919, Katzenstein used her expertise in publicity to aid the Women Teachers Organization of Philadelphia in their efforts to increase salary for women teachers. Additionally, Katzenstein was a successful insurance agent for the Equitable Life Insurance Society of New York, the Massachusetts Bonding and Insurance Company (Philadelphia Branch), and the Philadelphia Life Insurance Company.”
     In 1955, she published a book entitled: Lifting the Curtain; the State and National Woman Suffrage Campaigns in Pennsylvania as I Saw Them.
     Katenstein was also concerned about world peace.  Melissa Klapper wrote in the Journal of American History in 2010: “In addition to working for peace in ways that emphasized Jewish identities and values, American Jewish women also drew liberally on maternalist ideals…. As the former suffragist Caroline Katzenstein wrote, ‘we women, because we are the mothers of the race, know perhaps better than men the true value of life, and it is up to us to show that war and the causes that lead to it can be abolished.’ Framing the issue as an appeal to mothers made it a message to which all women could presumably subscribe.”

Erratum: Caroline Katzenstein was born  Dec. 21, 1876 in Warrenton, N.C. (not 1888).  She and her sisters understated their ages in later censuses.  2/1/2013

Saturday, May 14, 2011


"For sale or to let… Several desirable lots of the Baring Estate, West Philadelphia.  Also lots on the W. Green st. and Broad street, suitable for first-class dwellings.   E. H. & J. Bonsall, Goldsmith’s Hall, Liberty street"    Philadelphia Inquirer, Jan. 19, 1857.

Opening the West for Development

This appeared in the Powelton Post in February, 2010.

        “Now available for home building: undeveloped land zoned for large lots and tree-lined streets that make for comfortable, modern homes removed from the dirt and bustle of the city. Easy access to highways and the two bridges that bring the city within minutes of your home.”
       No, we haven’t found this ad yet. However, when we look at the early home-buyers in what is now Powelton, we can imagine that a vision like this is what brought them here. For example, thirty-year-old Thomas Butcher, his wife Elizabeth and their three children (the first of seven) were perhaps the first Poweltonians. In 1845, they moved to a large lot with a big new house ideal for raising a large family. Butcher was a merchant whose office was at 112 S. 4th St. His eighteen-year-old son was a broker who certainly worked in what we now call center city. In 1865, his daughter, Elizabeth, married Robert Glendenning, Jr. In 1850, the Glendenning family lived on Bridge St. (Spring Garden) west of 6th St. (now 35th). Robert senior was an accountant who in 1856 traveled to work at an office at 72 Market St.
       These are not isolated cases. In 1859-‘60, Charles Pascal and his wife moved with their two young children to a new house at 315 N. 35thSt. He was a hat maker whose shop was at 6 S. 6th St. Their neighbors, the Campbells, were a young couple with five children under age 7. In 1858, he was working at 38 S. 3rd St. James Bateman first lived at 35th and Hamilton (1861) before moving to 206 N. 35th St. where he and his wife raised their five children. His wool merchandising business was at 122 S. Front St. Charles Marot moved his family to 317 N. 33rdSt. about 1866. He was the publisher of a garden magazine with offices at 25 N. 6th St.
       Not all early Poweltonians worked in what we now call center city. Quite a few had local business. But many were what we now call “commuters” with young families.
       What drew these families to Powelton? In part, they were probably moving to get out of the downtown congestion. There was no “residential zoning” per se. However, our deed carries an addendum that is common to many deeds originating on the Bingham-Baring lands. It prohibits “slaughter house, skin dressing establishment,... glue, soap, candle, or starch manufactury, livery stable or other offensive occupations....” The lots were laid out with substantial setbacks from the street. Baring and Hamilton were developed with large, comfortable twin houses with nice side- and backyards. A number of houses were set on double lots like 3301 and 3305 Baring St. Some were built on even larger lots such as the home of Theophilus Hessenbruch and his family which occupied 3308-3310 Baring St. and 315-333 N. 34thSt. In addition, as late as 1885 there were many vacant lots, at least some of which were heavily wooded. This was in contrast to the row homes being built downtown on Walnut, Spruce and Pine Streets at the same time.
       There is continuity between what drew the first residents and what drew many current residents to Powelton. It is this continuity and the rich diversity of Poweltonians that we celebrate this year – the 150 anniversary of the opening of this area for development. As part of this celebration, the Historic Preservation Committee [of the Powelton Village Civic Association] has worked with local artists to design a celebratory banner. In April, [2010] we will begin offering the banner to Poweltonians to display on their homes through the summer. In this way, we hope to celebrate Powelton’s past as well as the sense of community that unites us today.

Powelton before 1860

This piece appeared in the Powelton Post in October, 2009.

       Before 1860, the area we now call Powelton was a combination of farm land, pasture and forest with few buildings.  The southern part was owned by the Powel family and the northern part by the Bingham-Baring family.  It wasn’t until the 1850s that the estates were sold and the area was surveyed and parceled and roads were paved.  We get glimpses of this past from a few contemporaries. 
       In 1809, Hare Powel was considering buying the Bingham holdings.  Elizabeth Powel (his adopted mother) discouraged him writing:
“The front on the old Lancaster Road is very small –  not more than four Acres, and even that will I believe be very soon lessened by a publick Road that is at this Moment intended to be run at the West end of Powelton [probably 35th St.]. It is a large Tract of at least One hundred Acres – the Land bad, – broken and generally uncultivated, worn out and has never by Mr. Bingham been replenished with Stable or other Manure – it is remote from the Roads on which improvements are at present contemplated.” In contrast, the Powel estate included improved farm land and was along Lancaster Ave.
       In 1840, H. S. Tanner briefly noted “Powelton, a new village between Philadelphia and Mantua....”  He was apparently referring to a small cluster of buildings on the north side of Market St. near the bridge and along the north side of Lancaster Pike to about 35th St.  One of the houses was built by Hugh McIlvain on the north side of Market about 1805.  It was 38’ by 34’ and two-stories tall.  By about 1840, there were also two large taverns near the Market and Mansion St. (32nd St.) and at Butcher’s Lane (35th St.) and the Lancaster Pike.
       In the 1840s, there were still no paved roads through the area.  Between Bridge St. (Spring Garden) and Lancaster Ave. and Market St., there were only Hamilton and Baring Sts. and Powelton Ave. which were dirt roads without sidewalks.  There were no houses on Baring or Hamilton in 1850.  North-south travel was limited to Bridegwater St. (31st St.) and Butcher’s Lane (now 35th St.).
       Martha McIlvain Eastwick (1855-1935) grew up in the neighborhood and her family was central to the area’s development.  She wrote that about 1850
“West of the Powel home [near 32nd St.] on what is now 35th St., was the home of [Thomas] Tyson Butcher built about 1845....  Hence between the Tyson Butcher house on 35th St. and the Pennsylvania R.R. at 30th and Market Streets, there was nothing but fields where were pastured the mules used by the Penna. R.R. [which bought the land in 1852.]  A few years later other houses were scattered here and there... the neighbors were almost afraid to visit each other after dark, as wolves sometimes wandered through the Streets, some of the older persons thought they might have been large dogs.”  Some blocks were still heavily forested in the 1880s.
       These brief descriptions offer a picture of an area that was wide open and ripe for development in 1860 with easy access to the two main bridges over the river.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

An Homage to Powelton Gardeners

This is a slightly revised version of a piece I wrote for the Powelton Post a year ago.

     Powelton’s tree-lined streets and its gardens have turned green again.  Fortunately, we have some information about the gardens and the gardeners during the Victorian era.
     The 1880 census shows seven gardeners/florists living in Powelton.  At least three of the larger homes had greenhouses: William Wilson’s house (3501 Powelton), Dr. Edward H. Williams’s (33rd & Arch), and David Paul’s house (33rd between Hamilton and Spring Garden).  In 1899, the Colton family added a plant “conservatory” to their house at 3407 Powelton.  We know there were formal gardens behind the Febiger’s (3421 Powelton) and the Scattergood’s (3515Powelton).  Cora Sellers (3301 Baring) had a large garden to the west of their house with a grape arbor that screened the view of the stables.  The Du Pont family (3500 Powelton) also had a grape arbor and fruit trees.  Notably at one time the drive at the Du Pont’s southern entrance circled a mounded planting area that was probably over 6' high and about 20' in diameter that held giant elephant ear plants.
     Alfred Lutz ran a commercial nursery in Powelton for about 45 years beginning about 1875.  He built two large hot houses on the 3100 block of Pearl St. (which no longer exists).  Each was about 70' by 15'.  In 1911, the site had a single 32' by 110' hot house.  In 1887, he won first prize for a window box at the Philadelphia Chrysanthemum Show and recognition for hydrangeas at the Spring Show of the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society.
     The most famous Powelton gardener, was William Dreer (1849-1918).  The Dreer Nurseries were started in 1838 by William’s father, Henry, with a nursery at the Woodlands estate and a seed and florist store on Chestnut St. near Front.  In 1850, Henry moved the nursery to the 3500 block from Wallace to Mt. Vernon St. in Mantua where they remained until his death in 1873.

     The Dreers were “seedsmen.” Henry Dreer had immigrated from Germany and later he sent William to Germany to study the seed business.  When Henry died in 1873, his real estate was worth about $100,000 and his personal property about $25,000.  William then moved the nursery to Riverton, N.J. where it grew to 295 acres, 14 greenhouses, and 250 employees.  He moved to the Aldine Hotel in center city for a few years, then to 3312 Arch St.
Dreer Ad from 1894
     In 1887, William and his new bride, Anna Williams, took ownership of her family home at 101 N. 33rd St.  Anna was the daughter of Edward Williams, a partner in the Baldwin Locomotive Works.  Williams came to Powelton in the mid-1860s and built the mansion at 101 N. 33rd St.  Later it had a magnificent “Japanese Room” built by the Wilson Brothers.  The property was quite large and almost certainly included gardens or a greenhouse.

Dreer Ad from 1908
     Henry Dreer was one of the first to introduce color printing to bulb catalogs and seed packets.   The nursery specialized in bedding plants, and those great Victorian favorites: palms, ferns and water lilies.  At the turn of the century, Dreer was recognized as a pioneer in waterlily hybridization. Unfortunately, the nursery was later known as the inadvertent importer of the Japanese beetle.
      Dreer died in 1918 and the nursery closed in 1944.

The Three Faces of Mr. Martindale

I wrote this article for the March issue of the Powelton Post.

      Thomas Martindale was born in England in 1845.  He immigrated with his parents at age 9 and started working in a grocery store in Oil City, Pa.  Soon it became the largest store in the boom town – and he was the sole owner.  He sold it in 1869 and moved to Philadelphia where he opened a food store and lunch room.  Sometime in the 1870s, he moved with his wife and two sons to 413 N. 33rd St. (the second house below Hamilton on the east side of 33rd).  When he died there in 1916, his obituary read:
“Thomas Martindale, probably the best known individual grocer in Philadelphia and one of the best known in the United States, died Sept. 13 in the wilds of Alaska, whence he had gone on one of his yearly hunting expeditions….”
      Martindale is best remembered as an early advocate of whole grains, yogurt, vegetable and fruit juices, and avoidance of sugar.  He made a coffee substitute and served Bassett’s ice cream sweetened with honey.  He encouraged vegetarianism or at least reduced consumption of meat and sugar.  For many years, his store was at 10th and Market. Today the successor store is in Springfield, Pa.
      Along with healthy eating, he was a strong advocate of vigorous exercise.  In 1912, he lectured to saleswomen at Strawbridge and Clothiers about the importance of springtime walks which would purge the body of the poisonous bodily secretions that build up over the winter.  He wrote several books about his trips to the wilds of Maine and the Pacific Northwest urging businessmen to
“Leave your desk and turn your back on the steaming streets of civilization and your thoughts where nature tempts with her trout-streams, her mirrored lakes, and her game-abounding retreats; to her forests, fragrant with balsamic odors, and watered with living streams made wholesome by the leechings of the spruce, and pine, and cedar—nature's own nectar.  A draught of it, and you'll need no other stimulant.”
from his book Hunting in the Upper Yukon
      Although he advocated vegetarianism, his trips to the wilds presented another face: that of an avid hunter.  He wrote extensively about hunting all kinds of game and wrote proudly that his son, James, shot his first moose at age 13.  Apparently his interest in vegetarian cooking was not based on a reverence for all forms of life.
      A third face was his advocacy of infrastructure that would aid business – although he often picked losers.  He chaired a committee on the telephone system and was recognized as an expert on the subject.  In the early 1890s, he actively promoted the building of a canal between New York and Philadelphia.  He also advocated a system of pneumatic tubes to connect New York, Philadelphia and Baltimore with rapid mail delivery.  He reported that with a pressure of 100 pounds, mail could travel at 93 miles per hour.
      Thomas Martindale was the very model of a Teddy Roosevelt Republican.  His eclectic interests and boundless energy make him a prominent figure in Powelton history.  James Martindale was still living in the family house in 1950.
Note: other photos are posted on the interactive map for 413 N. 33rd St.