Thursday, January 12, 2017

“On the Banks of the Lone River”

The following is a long, almost poetic piece published on the front page of the newspaper The Press on Sept. 6, 1861, about the land along the Schuylkill River between the Spring Garden St. bridge and the Market St. bridge.  Much of this land was once part of the Powelton estate.  The section at the south end new the Market St. bridge was previously owned by the City and included an old graveyard.  In 1861, the whole area was owned by the Pennsylvania Railroad and it is now the Powelton Yards associated with 30th St. Station.  In 1860, the was a single rail line along the escarpment.  During the 1850s, the area between the rail line and the river was the location of a number of agricultural fairs including the huge Fourth National Exhibition of the United States Agricultural Society at Philadelphia.

Engraving showing the 1856 Agricultural Fair at Powelton.  It shows the railroad line, the cattle sheds and some of the crowds attracted to the Fair.

 “On the Banks of the Lone River”

An odd caption for a local item, we confess, but the sweet English ballad’s name is nonetheless quite appropriate to our subject.
For the last thirty or forty years, perhaps, a quiet, Shady Lane has cosily [sic.] stretched itself along the west bank of the Schuylkill River, from the Wire Bridge past Market Street. Beginning nowhere in particular, and as though by the merest accident in the world, leading shiftlessly along to almost any indefinite locality, and ending in the same incomprehensible way – without an apparent purpose in life, any more than to drag out a fettered existence, like the “Father of the Marshalsea,” and, moreover, locked up by short-sighted art into a mere ravine that Nature had too much judgment to hollow out for it – it has come to be looked upon as a sort of topographical nonentity, as a foundling that has never awakened to the shame of its own paternity, and that has never been taken kindly by the hand, and taught to look back with a fond regret to the brightest days of its existence.
Thus for nigh half a century it has stretched itself along the river’s edge on sunny days, and watched its face reflected in a thousand rippling circles for every pebble cast into the water; and in all that half a century it has been wandering by the waterside without a name! – at least without a name in the city’s official nomenclature of highways and byways.
People have called it the river road, because it has wound along the river’s brink so many passing years without straying after fresh fields and greener pastures; and some, in their self-complacence, have called it the “lonesome road,” because they could never muster the courage to travel it by sunlight, or moonlight, or twilight. While others, more courageous, and probably more aesthetical, and certainly owning property in “the village,” have christened it the “romantic road.” And others still, those sordid eyes can never see the dulce for the utile, have bestowed upon it the unmusical appellation of the “short cut.”
But the sordid are often their own unwitting satirists. So, the corpulent, and the asthmatic, and that they are wont to groan under heavy marketing of a Saturday, have never found it a particle shorter than the other routes of less pretensions; not a bit shorter on summer days, when the river is only a band of gold between two slopes of green, and when every atom of dust by the wayside is gasping and panting for a breath of life; not a bit shorter in winter time, when every blast of Old Boreas, sweeping down from its northern fastness like a charge of the First City Troop, not a bit shorter than other routes, in fact, because of its serpentine course, and because of a certain air it has of having just stepped out for an evening ramble, and of having been charmed away to self-forgetfulness by the water-lilies, and the fresh hay-scent, and the voices of the rustling corn. Here, then, for an apostrophe:
“The veined wind-flower in the somber wood,
Thought-breeding pansies in the sunlight glowing,
Or red-cloaked lilies in the meadows growing,
Best image thee in every changing mood!”

Half way down the road you come to an old stone bridge that once had a wooden coping, no doubt, for vestiges of it still remain; but everyone who ever went that way, and sat awhile to rest himself, was wont, it seems, to carve his initials there. So the coping has crumbled and shrunk away, and the name of many a one who years ago was laid beneath the sod, has been overgrown with ivy-green. But the lapse of time has not crumbled the marble slab set in the staunch-built masonry. The strange, old-fashioned letters that sprawled into existence a good long life ago from the point of the sculptor’s chisel, have managed to sprawl along Time’s highway ever since, unscathed, and smile at you thus, with a world of memories in their eyes;
Beneath the bridge streamlet used to come down to the river every day from Powelton, but it’s visits have ceased long since, and tradition is silent as to the cause. Its bed is sere and trackless now, but when the brown-faced autumn comes the withered leaves shall gather there and rustle sadly with the passing winds.
Though but a brief half mile in length, and sweeping through dangerous gravel pits, the Lonesome Lane is still in the prime of beauty, and still a study for lovers of Nature, in her picturesque and startling moods. Where foot-walks ought to be there are ridges of grassy knolls, that the roaming cattle have almost shorn of their growth of greenness by constant croppings; and out of the knolls start tall cedars, and oaks, and sapling willows. As for the main roadway, it has taken a most novel and unjustifiable method of getting to its journey’s end – a method of hills and hollows that may be pleasant enough to the eye in a sketch, but is apt to startle a stranger with the notion that the Lane has come to an untimely end, in a clump of poplars or a wooded farm.
None but vagrants ever seem to frequent the lonesome lane, and they always seem to be seated upon the grassy knolls, untying bundles of clothes in their laps, or else have their eyes bent industriously on the water; always seem to start mysteriously at the sound of a foot-fall near them; always seem, from the look of their bleared and blood-shot eyes, to have a weighty secret, which they are anxious to keep concealed from you. Sometimes a stray peddler crosses the threshold of their haunts, and seats himself upon a knoll; but it is only that he may wipe his face, and unsling his pack for a moment’s rest, and a moment’s breath of the grateful air. He is always a languid, careworn, weary man, with a furrowed brow and unshorn chin, and a lustreless eye that tells the tale of a purposeless, withered life. After a lapse of time that has brought no rest, his staff is taken up again, and the weary tramp resumed, till he sinks from view in a hollow of the road. His moment’s rest was a thought of his fatherland.
Beyond the willows and the gnarled oak-branches that cut up the face of the moon so oddly, lie the broad green marshes by the river. In the brave days of old when freshets were not a nine days’ wonder the bosom of the marshes would often be covered with canal-boats, and the subsiding waters would leave them there to perish in their ignominy. Several of these boats are still to be seen thus imbedded in the smiling but treacherous mead out of reach from the land-side, and unfit for service on the water. In the morning’s sunshine their dismantled hulks loom out of the river-mists, with a strange reminiscence of a mindful scene in “Great Expectations.” As far as vivid scenery can go, here may we view the faithful counterpart of its opening chapter; and only a few weeks since, the graveyard, too, was here, as though to complete the picture.
All day long the voices of the marsh keep up a tuneful melody. All day long the grasshopper sings the “Siege of Belile,” or something else as monotonous, but fifty per cent. more endurable. All day long the locusts are whispering secrets in the cover of the grass. All day long the old-fashioned frog is croaking an autobiography – which frogs on the other lonesome roads never so much as think of doing. If his croakings were only more intelligible, or the English language more pronounceable and primitive, he would tell you, how in days of yore, the Schuylkill Ranger made his haunts in these old hulks and marshes – and how the prowess of his deeds made godly people tremble – and how the mysteries of strange men’s bodies, found floating lifeless among the tall green reads, remained forever unraveled – and how ghosts from Potter’s Field were seen to patrol the lonesome road on moonless nights, so that it fell into disrepute, and was ever after shunned. But Potter’s Field has been removed along its ghostly phantoms, and the Schuylkill Ranger has gone to the tomb of the Capulets.
And the little birds, too, have a tale of their lives to twitter, had we but time to stay and listen, for it is here that the city’s younger sons and would-be sportsmen most do congregate, when the shooting season comes. What matter if most of them cannot handle a gun? They have accomplished much to be already so well acquainted with the lingual requisites of their calling. It is much to be able to speak flippantly of “mashes” for “marshes,” and “patridges” for “partridges,” without a blush mounting to their ermine cheeks – much to be able to use the feline particle “catridge” in place of the honest substantive their grandsires used in ‘76. Sportsmen are such a peculiar class of beings, and must be indulged in as sharp-defined characteristics as the fatherless fledglings that they prey upon. The slaughter of the innocents and has made their natures imperious.
And there are tuneful voices in the lonesome lane by night. The tremulous chirp of the cricket, who, like Widow Machreo’s kettle, “sings songs full of melody” – the call of the locust to his comrades – the unearthly food of the screech-owl, and anon the dull flapping of his wings – the plash of an ore from out the darkness of the water, as though an Indian were paddling down the stream in his birch canoe – the winding note of the boatman’s horn, to which the distance lends a mournful cadence – the steady roar of the waters of the dam; – these are the voices of the lane after nightfall; and never – even in the gloom of midnight – is nature wholly voiceless, though it is held by Barry Cornwall that
“All things that live and are, love quiet hours –“
But the lonesome lane (how cheerless the alliteration!) is fast being shorn of its primal romance. The green meads and marshes are gradually yielding to that foremost law of organic nature – the law of change – of which the poet hath truly said:
“‘Tis writ in the sky, ‘tis writ on the deep,
‘tis writ on the graves where our fathers sleep.”
Out to the furthermost verge of the verdure, the new wharves of the Pennsylvania Railroad are now being extended, and the Vandal spirit of progress is wedding itself to new piles of brick and mortar at every turn of the road.
Still the Swiss cottage built back among the trees will always have a redeeming beauty, for each sterile feature of the landscape, and still more of the associations connected with the Fair grounds just opposite, will always lend a brightening aspect to the spot, though every sylvan charm should fade with the dying years. Nearly all the agricultural fairs of the city and State societies have been held on this very site. Here was given birth and impetus to the Commonwealth’s inventive skill and industrial interests, which the nation’s crisis may check but cannot overthrow. Here were the trials of speed between highborn stock, that stirred the birth of the “fancy” man like rich old wine – here mammoth beets and golden pumpkins smiled for days at a time on village matrons and the country folk – and here the panorama of human life passed swiftly down to the valley and shadow of Time.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

The Ties that Link Immigrant Families: Dietrich Kolbe and Heinrich Justi

            The U.S. has been called a “melting pot” where immigrants from many countries combine to form a common society.  However, migrants aren’t instantly turned into “Americans.”   Even when they aren’t clustered into enclaves of fellow migrants from the same country, they often maintain close linkages with their compatriots.

            Dietrich Kolbe and Henry (Heinrich) D. Justi were masters of their crafts – Kolbe for his design and manufacture of orthopedic devices and fine surgical instruments and Justi for his revolutionary advances in dental appliances.  Both earned a prominent place in the history of their professions.  However, what has not been noted is the close familial relations between these two immigrants.  Both were natives of Marburg, Germany, a university town about 60 miles north of Frankfurt.

            Dietrich Kolbe (1824-1878) arrived in Philadelphia in 1847.  He had spent the previous ten years learning to make medical instruments and orthopedic devices with the finest craftsmen in Europe.  He began at the University of Marburg and then studied in several countries.  He spent the three years before coming to America in Paris.  Kolbe chose Philadelphia because it was the center for medical instruments in America.  After a few years here, he joined with Martin Kuemerle, a syringe maker from Switzerland.  They introduced their business with the publication of one of the first American illustrated catalogues of medical devices: Kuemerle & Kolbé’s Illustrated Catalogue of Surgical and Dental Instruments & Syringes (1855).  The association only last a few years before they returned to their separate areas of expertise.

            Kolbe was probably widowed before he left Europe.  In 1852, his daughter, Marie, arrived from Marburg with her uncle, Louis Kolbe.  She was five years old and was born in France.  In 1850, Kolbe married Hedwig Justi, Henry Justi’s sister, who had only arrived recently.

            Hedwig and Heinrich Justi arrived from Marburg in August, 1850.  Their mother probably joined them much later.  Hedwig was 24 and single.  Heinrich, just 16, was described as a “cuttler.”  Hedwig’s marriage to Dietrich Kolbe may have been prearranged as their son, Louis, was born the next year.   If so, Kolbe probably arranged for their travel.  They travelled from Bremen on the same ship that had carried Kolbe from Le Havre three years earlier.  Henry’s father died when he was quite young so he was apprenticed to a surgical instruments maker at age 13.  He probably started working for Kolbe upon his arrival.  It is in Kolbe’s shop that he might have been introduced to methods for making artificial teeth.  In 1852, Kolbe advertised porcelain teeth made to order and announced he had acquired a machine to make the pins to hold the teeth in place.  Justi apparently operated that machine for him.  Justi also observed the manufacture of the molds for making teeth.  He devised new molds that allowed a colored veneer to cover the Vulcan rubber base.  He presented his method to the Orum and Armstrong Tooth Co. which promptly hired him.  Justi soon became a partner in the firm and bought out his partners in 1864 to form the H. D. Justi Co.

H. D. Justi (1834-1922)

            About 1860, Kolbe moved his growing family to Darby Rd. (Woodland Ave.) near Market St.  A few years later, they moved to a large lot on the east side of N. 32nd St. just below Baring St. (319-323 N. 32nd St.)  At the same time Justi moved to a small adjoining lot at 3106 Baring St.  He started a new family with his marriage to Auguste Schwarzwaler in January, 1862.  Sadly, she died in May, 1863, two weeks after delivering a daughter.  In January, 1865, Henry married Lizzie Kuemerle, the daughter of Kolbe’s former partner.  Mary Kolbe was the maiden of honor and John Kuemerle served as best man.  In the Fall of 1866, Justi purchased the large lot at 3401 Baring St. and the family moved into a grand new home in 1867.

            During the Civil War, Kolbe was a major supplier of high-quality surgical instruments to the Union Army.  However, his specialty was orthopedic instruments and appliances.  His interest in orthotics was fueled by the fact that he suffered from problems with his hip.  Kolbe’s shop was at 32 S. 9th St. across from the University of Pennsylvania.  Cases of club foot and limb deformities were routinely released from the hospital immediately following surgery.  Patients were often sent across the street where Kolbe produced appliances for them.  There was no system of out-patient or continued care.  Kolbe was instrumental in stimulating the organization in 1867 of the Philadelphia Orthopedic Hospital, one of the first in the country.  For its first three years, the hospital was located in Kolbe’s building above his shop.  In 1870, it was expanded to include a clinic for “nervous diseases.”  In early 1872, the hospital moved to a new building which had space for in-patients.  Kolbe died in 1878, but his work was continued by his sons and his wife.  In fact, his wife, Hedwig [Justi] Kolbe, patented a lighter weight, more flexible artificial leg and foot in 1890.

The Justi Dental Engine, 1891

            Justi’s dental appliance company became nationally prominent.  Before his inventions, porcelain teeth were hand crafted for each patient.  His techniques turned it into a more standardized manufacturing process.  He soon opened a new large manufacturing space and dental supply shop on Arch St.  In 1886, the H. D. Justi company announced that they would be building a new large factory on N. 32nd St. north of Spring Garden.  They continued to develop improvement to artificial teeth but also became major suppliers of almost everything related to dentistry.  After his death in 1822, the H. D. Justi company continued under his son, Henry Martin Justi who lived at 3311 Powelton Ave.  (More on Justi’s initial invention and the later family history is given in my earlier blog, “Occupation: “Manufactures Teeth.”)
N. 32nd and Spring Garden St.
             The kind of personal and business relationships between these arrivals from Marburg are representative of ties that were, and are, common among immigrants from all over the world.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Rev. William Speer: An Early Christian Missionary to the Chinese

    From about 1867 to 1875, Rev. William Speer, D.D., his wife, Elizabeth, and their three children lived at 3409 Hamilton St.  While here, he work for the Presbyterian Church of America as Corresponding Secretary of Education from 1865-1876.  He brought to this work a rich history of working as a missionary first in China then among the Chinese immigrants in California.

     At the time of Speer's birth, his grandfather and namesake was minister of the Presbyterian Church of Greensburg, Pa.  (He was also the uncle of President Buchanan.)  Speer studied medicine for a few years in addition to becoming a Presbyterian minister.  His first wife died in 1847 not long after their marriage (possibly in childbirth).  He left for China in December, 1848.  He spent about four years as a missionary in Canton and became fluent in Cantonese.  In 1852, he married Elizabeth B. Ewing in Allegheny Co., Pa. and they settled in San Francisco  In 1853, he founded a mission that became the Presbyterian Church in Chinatown, the oldest Asian-American Christian church in North America.  He visited new Chinese immigrants and Chinese mine workers and set up a dispensary to provide care to the Chinese.  He also was founder and publisher of The Oriental, a Chinese language newspaper.  He was a strong advocate of establishing schools for Chinese immigrant children, however, he supported using these schools to teach Christianity.
    Speer became an early supporter of Chinese immigration and opposed laws for Chinese exclusion.  He offered strong economic arguments in favor of immigration, but his main focus was evangelizing.  He hoped that Chinese who converted to Christianity would return to China and spread the faith.
   While in Philadelphia, Speer published two large volumes.  The first,  The Oldest and Newest Empire: China and the United States (1870), was a massive history of China and its culture.  The second was The Great Revival of 1800 (c1872).  (Both are available for  download from the Haithi Trust.)
      Speer's stay in Powelton overlapped with the that of the Fullerton family who lived a block away at 3307 Hamilton St.  They had been medical missionaries in India during the time Speer was in China.  One can only imagine what experiences they shared with each other about their time as early American missionaries in two great, but very different, cultures..

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Powelton's Army of Servants

           Running a Victorian household was hard work.  Powelton was fortunate to have running water and gas for heating it but without electricity everything required physical labor.  Without vacuum cleaners, floors were swept and washed and carpets were taken outside and beaten.  Windows were often open in the summer which allowed in dust and smoke from the streets.  Until the development of Fels-Naptha about 1893, there was no good laundry soap.  There also were no electric wash machines.  Somebody had to empty chamber pots.

            Almost every middle-class Victorian home in Powelton had at least one servant.  Almost all (97%) were female and most were young and unmarried.  Seventy percent were under age 30 and half were 23 or younger.  In 1880, more than half were Irish, either born in Ireland (42%) or native-born with a parent born in Ireland (12%).  About 17% were non-Irish whites born in Pennsylvania and another 17% were black.     There was a great deal of turnover of servants which led to the well-known “servant problem” that “plagued” most cities.  Evidence from elsewhere suggests that many servants left to work in factories.  Although the conditions in factories were often harsh, factory work involved more regular (though long) hours and may have paid more.  Others left to get married.  For example, Julia Donavan emigrated from Ireland in 1894 at age 16.  She started her life in the U.S. as a servant for a small family in North Philadelphia.  At age 23, she married Timothy Callahan, a contractor born in South Philadelphia.  In 1910, they lived at 3632 Warren St. (just below Lancaster Ave.)  In 1919, they purchase 3619 Powelton Ave. (and the adjoining lot at 3618 Pearl St.) and moved in with their nine children.  Julia still lived there in 1940 with four unmarried daughters and three grandchildren.  The family owned the house until 1951.
Washing cloths was an arduous, messy process. There were no washer women living in Powelton proper, but there were 39 nearby.  Most lived (and worked) just below Lancaster Ave. on the 3600 and 3700 blocks of Warren and Cuthbert St.  (Many of those houses were torn down to build the high school.)  Forty percent were black and 40% were foreign-born.  Most were married to laborers.  For example, the Jackson family lived at 3626 Warren St.  George was a 40 year-old mulatto laborer who had been unemployed for 5 months in the previous year.  His wife, Julia, was a servant for another household.  Their two daughters, Annie and Hester (ages 20 and 19) took in wash.  Hester was married to George Williams, a laborer.  They shared the house with George and Hester Laws and their infant son.  George was a mulatto cart driver who had been unemployed for 3 months and five daughters, and an Irish servant girl.  Hester took in laundry.
            A few of the larger homes had several servants and had a housekeeper to oversee the staff.  Deborah Roberts was the housekeeper for the Scattergood household (3515 Powelton Ave.).  She was born into a good Quaker family in Medford, New Jersey in 1849, the daughter of Samuel H. Roberts, a farmer, and Abigail Haines.  In 1860, their family included four sons, five daughters and an Irish servant girl.  In 1869, Samuel moved his family to Philadelphia where he became sexton of the Arch St. Quaker Meeting House.  Deborah was housekeeper for the Scattergoods for more than 20 years.  She oversaw (at least) two Irish servant girls and a nurse.  She retired in the 1920s and in 1930 (when she was 80) lived with her sister, Margaretta Roberts, as a boarder at 3609 Baring St.
            A few of the wealthiest families in Powelton had a coachman.  They were generally black.  For example, the carriage house (3400 Pearl St.) behind the Burnham’s mansion (34th and Powelton) was the home of the Hollians family.  In 1900, William (age 53) was the Burnham’s coachman and his second wife, Edith (35), and only child, Della (14), worked as servants.  Even with electricity, the Burnhams needed four servant girls in 1920.  Around 1910, William Hollians left to buy his own home and work as a gardener.  The carriage house then became the home of Fred and Anna Richter.  Fred was born in Germany.  Anna was born in Austria; her parents were ethnic Germans born in what became Czechoslovakia.  Fred was the Burnham’s chauffeur.  In 1940, they were still living in the Burnham carriage house, but the main house had become an apartment house.  Fred was a self-employed auto mechanic.  His two daughters, Caroline (21) and Anna May (19), were working as bookkeepers.
            These were a few of the house servants who were listed in the censuses.  They were just a fraction of the army of support personnel needed to keep Powelton running.  Households constantly received deliveries from grocery stores and coal dealers.  There were gardeners, livery drivers and stable hands, messenger boys, street sweepers, lamp lighters, and other miscellaneous support people.  Without electricity, telephones, and automobiles, Powelton’s streets must have been swarming with a constant stream of pedestrians, peddlers, carts, carriages and horse-drawn trolleys.

[Tabulations of the 1880 census based on data from IPUMS-USA, University of Minnesota,]