Friday, April 21, 2017

The Electrical Exhibition in Powelton, 1884

(Click to expand)

                 On September 2, 1884, Poweltonians suddenly got a unique glimpse of the future.  On that date, the Franklin Institute opened the International Electrical Exhibition in a temporary building at 32nd and Lancaster Ave.  There had been a few such exhibitions in Europe beginning in 1881 in Paris.  However, this was the first in the U.S.  It marked an important turning point in history when electricity came out of the research laboratory and started to enter the lives of ordinary people.  The New York Times understood this when it noted that
 “if an exhibition had been desirable 10 years ago, it would have been very difficult to find the materials, if we except the one department of the telegraph.  Nothing calls to mind more clearly how very recent indeed are the most noted improvements in applied electricity than does an examination of the dates when the most noted and important of the appliances were invented.  Another of the curious circumstances is found in the fact that few even of the newest contrivances show the advent of hitherto undiscovered principles.  It is in the method of application and in the ingenuity rather than the originality that the striking effects are shown.” [1]

 Although it covered all aspects of electricity, the largest share of the exhibits was given over to illumination.  The first electric lights in Philadelphia were street arc lights installed on Chestnut St. three years earlier.  The first electric system in West Philadelphia wasn’t started until 1891.  Although there were gas street lights and gas lights in homes, they only provided small patches of warm lighting.  It was into this darkness that the Exhibition burst into light.

The International Electrical Exhibition Building (Left) and the Pennsylvania Railroad Terminal

                The Franklin Institute built a temporary building of wood and glass.  It included a central arched span 100 by 200 feet.  The front corners rose to 60 foot towers.  It was linked by an elevated walkway to the Pennsylvania Railroad Terminal which included additional exhibits.  The New York Times article reported that “Powerful lights flash from the roof of the main building and shine all over the city.”  One tower held the Navy’s newest search light which illuminated small objects 2.5 miles away [to east of  Broad St.].”  The other was a tower of different color incandescent bulbs mounted by Thomas Edison.  The Times went on to explain that
 “in the interior are 350 arc lights and 5,600 incandescent lamps….  A dozen steam engines [run]… 16 of the biggest dynamo machines ever constructed …. [T]he illumination… presents a scene of surpassing splendor.  Not the least of the attractions is a beautiful fountain… the whole being illuminated by electric lights surrounding it, and shining down from above.  Looked at from the gallery the appearance is that of wonderful brilliancy.  Then, too, there are the colored lights arranged in groups and the burnished chandeliers of artistic design, to say nothing of the great lines of fire from aloft which irradiate the spaces with the refulgency of noonday and a splendor all their own.”
                The Exhibition offered a large display of historical items most provided by the Patent Office.  It included 19 electrical and ten mechanical telephones, the first patented electric motor, early lightning rods and Morse’s first telegraph from 1846.  New inventions included a large electric clock which transmitted the time through wires to clocks throughout the hall.  There was a “perfect hatcher” which could incubate 2,100 chicks at a time.  Wanamaker & Brown set up electric sewing machines which were “running with lightning speed and by lightning power.”  Cloths made on them were for sale at their store.  One exhibit displayed a synchronous multiplex telegraph capable of sending 72 messages to 72 recipients back and forth through a single wire.  The Inquirer reported that
“At the exhibition the force carried through a single slender wire may be seen moving a number of heavy machines, such as would tax a steam engine’s strength, and doing it without expense for coal or water, without ashes or smoke, and without danger of exploding.” [2]

                Off in one corner was a curious device invented by Thomas Edison.  It was described as an “Apparatus showing conductivity of continuous currents through high vaco.”  It was called the “Tri-Polar Incandescent Lamp.”  Edison didn’t have time to study it and considered it an aesthetic matter.  Its actions could not be fully explained until the discovery of the relationship between electrons and electricity.  This was the first public showing of the vacuum tube which became the foundation for modern electronics. 

The Exhibit of the Weston Electrical Instrument Corp.

 There were also more decorative exhibits.  At the exhibit of the Weston Electrical Instrument Corp. (a major competitor of Edison), a large jar contained gold fish whose scales were illuminated by submerged incandescent lamps.  The exhibit also included bouquets of real flowers surrounding a small incandescent bulb.  The Inquirer noted that “At first a young lady, evidently a belle in society, timidly drew back from her escort when he offered her one of the bouquets. In a few minutes her natural fear of the subtle, powerful, but eminently useful agent, was alleviated and she was induced to take the brightly illuminated flowers….” [3] 
The Franklin Institute offered a series of lectures on a wide variety of topics.  These included lectures on “Dynamo-Electric Machinery” and “The Divining Rod.”  They also commissioned a large series of primers to explain the principles of electricity and many advanced topics.
The hall was used only once more for an exhibition of recent inventions and in 1886 it was offered for sale and dismantling.  But for a brief six weeks, it lighted up Powelton’s night sky.  More than 300,000 visitors to the Exhibition saw for the first time the true potential of electricity to change everyday life.  It brought electricity out of scientific laboratories and presented it as much more than a mysterious curiosity.  We can only imagine the awe inspired by an electric sewing machine or a lighted bouquet of flowers.  But today satellite images of massive glowing cities can still awaken a sense of what electricity has done to change the world we live in.

[1] "A Dazzling Exhibition." New York Times, Sept. 3, 1884.
[2] Inquirer, Sept. 23, 1884. Pg 4.
[3] "Electric Sparks." Inquirer, Sept. 6, 1884. Pg. 8

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Tax Revolt in the Borough of West Philadelphia

          In 1850, the City of Philadelphia was limited to the area we now call Center City – from South St. to Vine St. between the Delaware and  Schuylkill Rivers. The area that now makes up the whole city was Philadelphia County. It was only in 1854 that the boundaries of the city were expanded to include the whole County
         Between 1840 and 1850, the population of the City increased by 30%, largely through immigration. For the first time, the immigrants included many Catholics. The increased population led to crowded housing and the building of narrow trinities. The City began to experience increased crime and clashes between Protestants and Catholics. Many of the old buildings in the City were replaced by taller stores and businesses. These developments made the old parts of the City less attractive to upper-income families.  Residential development west of the Schuylkill started to become attractive to families seeking a more tranquil environment..
          In 1835, the area we now call West Philadelphia was Blockley Township. It was largely rural with many farms and wooded areas and a few small unincorporated villages. In January 1837, the Court of Quarterly Sessions established the Borough of West Philadelphia out of the eastern section of Blockley (shown in blue on the map below). The action was taken in response to a petition from 21 petitioners [1] who claimed support of a “majority of the resident freeholders of” Hamilton Village, Greenville and Powelton. [2]

Section of Rea and Miller 1849 Map
with Blue Line Added to Show the
Border of Borough of West Philadelphia in 1837.

          However, Greenville probably did not have the requisite population of at least 300 to constitute a village and Powelton could hardly be claimed to be a village. In addition to these “villages,” the new borough included the Powel estate, the Bingham-Baring estate, and the Crean estate (roughly Filbert to Spring Garden between N. 39th and N. 40th) above Market St.  Below Market St. (lower green area on the map) it included the Blockley Alms House, Woodland Cemetery, Wetherill’s (below Walnut along the Schuylkill) and a few smaller properties. In March 1837, the Legislature passed a law authorizing the new borough to elect ten councilmen. [3]
          The Borough quickly became the target of a taxpayer revolt. The new Borough added to the taxes levied on each property. For example, in 1841, a property in the Borough valued at $10,600 paid $89.24 in taxes including: County tax of $42.80, Borough tax of $21.83, Poor tax of $14.55, and $10.86 in state tax. [4]
          In addition to those taxes, property owners were soon hit with other charges.  The development of the area depended on investments in infrastructure. Even the main roads were not paved.  In April 1837, the Legislature authorized the hiring of surveyors to lay out roads in West Philadelphia Borough and all of Blockley Township. [5] The Borough was authorized to require owners of lots where houses had been built along paved roads to grade and pave footways and gutters. [6]
          Protests began even before then.  In March 1838, the Inquirer reported complaints from residents of Blockley Township and the Borough of West Philadelphia about the cost of proposed roads and the requirement to pave footways.  The complaints stated that “No petition from inhabitants is requested… to authorize an expenditure, which in some cases, may cost an individual, in grading especially, a large proportion of the value of his lots… and all non- resident freeholders of Hamilton and Mantua Villages, are to be subjected to the ruin of their property, without appeal.” [7]
          Despite these protests, the Borough began making investments in infrastructure. In June 1838, it advertised for bids for the grading of a half-mile of Washington (Market) St. In 1840-’41, property owners and occupiers on Washington St. from the bridge to William (39th) St. were required to “grade, curb, gutter and pave the footway” of their lot. [8] The street was “pitched [and] pebble-paved.” [9]  (When about half of this section of Washington had to be regraded in 1853, the cost was covered by the District of West Philadelphia. [10])
          Opposition to the Borough escalated in 1842. The Guardians of the Poor (which ran the Blockley Almshouse) protested a proposal by the Borough to grade, curb, gutter and pave Darby Rd. (Woodland Ave.).    They claimed this involved a “useless and extravagant expenditure of the public money and might be deemed a precedent upon which with equal reasons the Borough Council might require the whole of the Darby road and Lehman street, and all other streets about the Alms-House Farm” to be developed similarly. They, therefore, joined a lawsuit brought by William M. Meredith and Clark Hare before the Supreme Court of the Commonwealth seeking to invalidate the incorporation of the Borough. [11]
          At the same time, 36 residents and land owners in the Borough expressed their strong support for the suit challenging the formation of the Borough. They noted that the Borough boundaries included more than 600 acres of farmland and protested the “oppressive taxes” and “lavish expenditures in leveling hills and filling hollows” and “despotic mandates” to grade, pave, gutter and curb roads along their properties. The 15 resident property owners who signed it included three members of the McIlvain family of lumber merchants and builders. The 15 non-resident property owners who signed included owners of undeveloped estates: John Hare Powel, William and John Crean and the trustee for the Baring estate. [12] In the meantime, Powel and Clark Hare refused to grade, pave, gutter and curb over a deep hollow along their property on Darby Rd. The landowner across the street noted that “the road is frequently almost impassable…” and he had “repeatedly seen carriages with four horses stalled” on that stretch of road. [13]
          In May 1843, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court announced that it had quashed the incorporation of the Borough of West Philadelphia. It ruled that the bill authorizing the Court of Quarterly Session to incorporate areas “does not authorize the incorporation into a borough of two or more villages, together with a tract of open farm land. If it did, it must appear that a majority of the whole mass joined in the petition” for incorporation. [14]
          In February 1844, the Legislature incorporated a new, smaller, Borough of West Philadelphia. [15] The new boundaries (the red area on the map) excluded Woodland Cemetery, the Alms House, and the Baring, Powel and Crean estates. The bill named six commissioners who were entitled to collect any taxes due to the late Borough at the time it was dissolved and to use the funds to pay off its creditors.
          Between 1840 and 1850, the population of the Borough of West Philadelphia more than tripled going from 2,896 to 10,662 – a huge 13% per year. The population of Blockley Township increased 67% from 3,318 to 5,553 over the decade (5.1% per year). In 1844, it was reported that West Philadelphia “contains over one hundred and fifty buildings, including several large furnaces, and other manufacturing establishments…. West Philadelphia is rapidly improving, and at some future day will form part of the city itself." [16]
Ad for Lots in Mantua by Samuel Hutchinson (Public Ledger, Jan. 29, 1847)
           A map published by Samuel Hutchinson in 1848 is entitled "Plan of the Proposed New Borough of Mantua."  Hutchinson was a conveyancer (real estate agent) at 5th (now 34th) and Haverford in Mantua.  Instead, in February 1850, residents of Mantua requested the Legislature to annex Mantua and neighboring areas into the Borough of West Philadelphia. [17]  A week later, this proposal received the support of more than 300 residents of the Borough. [18]
           In March 1850, the Legislature expanded the boundaries of the Borough to include Mantua and the Powel and Bingham-Baring estates (the yellow areas of the map). [19] The Inquirer reported that the “area is now greater than that of the City, [and the townships of] Northern Liberties, and Spring Garden combined” and listed numerous new residences that were being built in the Borough.  It also noted that “Colonel John Hare Powell [sic.] has had Powelton surveyed for sale and improvement….. The improvement of the Southern front of this property will give the Lancaster Turnpike a village character and appearance from the Bridge to Hestonville." [20]
          In April 1851, the legislature renamed the borough the District of West Philadelphia. [21] The District invested in a new system of piped water and gas which became a major attraction for upper-income families. When the County police force was strengthened, three policemen were assigned to the West Philadelphia district.
          The years leading up to consolidation in 1854 saw increased development in the area.  In 1854, Baldwin and Thomas’s gazetteer of the U.S. reported that in the District of West Philadelphia a “new town hall on Washington [Market] street is a 5-storied brick building, with an iron front. The beautiful villages of Hamilton and Mantua are included in the corporate limits. Numerous elegant residences have been erected within a few years. The town is lighted with gas and supplied with good water….” [22]
          The District Hall was still standing in 1918 when Joseph Jackson noted that:
“At the southeast corner of Thirty-seventh and Market streets stands the last of the commissioners' halls…. This building originally was erected for a Masonic hall, and several lodges of that fraternity used to meet there. About 1850 the Commissioners of West Philadelphia… who had formerly held their meetings in a schoolhouse at Thirty-third and Ludlow streets, and in Keen Hall, then on Market street west of Thirty-third, removed to the building at the southeast comer of Thirty-seventh and Market streets, which they renamed Commissioners' Hall." [23]


1  Editors. 1843. "The Borough of West Philadelphia." Public Ledger, March 1, 1843, 2.
2 The website of the Philadelphia City Archives includes the following: “By virtue of P.L. 163, 1 April 1834 the Court of Quarter Sessions was empowered to establish boroughs. Unfortunately, that court's relevant records for the years prior to 1844 are not extant." (Philadelphia City Archives. "The chronology of the political subdivisions of the County of Philadelphia, 1683–1854." accessed Dec. 24, 2016. However, the original petition is found in the Court’s decision of March, 1843 that quashed the original incorporation. (Watts, Frederick, and Henry J. Sergeant. 1853. Reports of cases adjudged in the Supreme court of Pennsylvania. Vol. V. Philadelphia: James Kay, Jun, and Brother.)
3   P.L. 40, March 13, 1837.
4 1841. "Report of the County Board." Inquirer, Sept. 18, 1841, 2. The numbers given are not exactly consistent with the reported total.
5   P. L. 95, sect. 12.  April 4, 1837.
6   P. L. 91, sect. 19. April 16, 1838.
7   "West Philadelphia." Inquirer, March 24, 1838, 2.
8  For the south side of the street: "Notice to owners of lots in West Philadelphia." Inquirer, Sept. 8, 1840, 3. For the north side of the street: "Notice to owners of lots in the Borough of West Philadelphia." Inquirer, May 20, 1841, 3.
9    Inquirer, Sept. 9, 1853. 1.
10   Inquirer, Sept. 9, 1853. 1.
11 "Extracts from the Minutes of the Guardians of the Poor." Public Ledger, Feb. 18, 1843, 3.
12 Hopkins, Moses, Christopher Wiltberger, P. Mounier, and others. 1843. "To the Senate and House of Representatives of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania." Public Ledger, Feb. 18, 1843, 3.
13   "Mr. Charles P. Heath's statement." Public Ledger, March 22, 1843, 2.
14 Supreme Court of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. 1853. "Case of the Borough of West Philadelphia." In Reports of Cases Adjudged in the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania, edited by Frederick Watts and Henry J. Sergeant, 281-4. Philadelphia: James Kay, Jun, and Brother.
15   P.L. 28.
16 Tanner, Henry Schenck. 1844. A New Picture of Philadelphia or the Stranger's Guide to the City and Adjoining Districts. 4th ed. New York: Map and Geographical Establishment. 134-5.
17  Public Ledger, Feb. 9, 1850. 1.
18  Public Ledger, Feb. 15, 1850. 2.
19   P. L. 215.
20   "A large and improving borough." Inquirer, Sept. 2, 1850, 2.
29   P. L. 211.
22 Baldwin, Thomas, and Joseph Thomas. 1854. A New and Complete Gazetteer of the United States. Philadelphia: Lippincott, Grambo & Co. 1272.
23  Jackson, Joseph. 1918. Market Street Philadelphia: The most historic highway in
America Its merchants and Its story. Philadelphia: Joseph Jackson. 199.

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Mrs. Sutton's Home School for Girls

During the late 1800s, there were several private girls’ schools in Powelton. They were set up in houses and were often run by widows. The most successful of these was Mrs. Sutton's Home School for Girls which, at its peak, extended over three houses: 3509, 3511 and 3513 Hamilton St. The story behind the founding of the school is a story of a woman who was forced to reinvent herself after a rapid series of tragedies.
Annie M. Sutton was the daughter of Agnes Irwin and Lieut. William M. Rose.  Agnes was from Pittsburgh. Lieut. Rose was an 1822 graduate of the US Military Academy. He was posted as an ordinance officer at the Pittsburgh Arsenal from January to April 1823. Annie was born in Pittsburgh in September 1823. Rose was stationed in New Orleans in 1824 – 1825. He died in Washington DC in November 1825 at the age of 24 after a “lingering illness” - malaria is a reasonable guess given his time in New Orleans. Seven months after Rose’s death, Agnes gave birth to his son, William J. Rose.  In 1833, she married John D. Mahon, a widower with four children.  Agnes and John had six children together.
Annie married a young lawyer, Thomas Sutton.  He set up his practice in the newly established town of Clarion, county seat of Clarion County near Pittsburgh.  In the history of Clarion County, Sutton was described as
“one of the few among Clarion’s early legal lights, who achieved a pronounced success; a success due to his high personal character and real professional merit.  In argument he was fair, but as a business attorney he excelled." [1] 
Annie and John had three children born in 1846, 1848 and 1850. [2]  The youngest apparently died quite early.  In 1850, John had a two-story brick house built on the courthouse square.  However, their domestic life was suddenly shattered in 1853.  John died of typhoid fever at age 37.  Three days later their four-year-old son died of scarlet fever.  Three weeks later Annie lost her oldest, Agnes, who was only 7.
Annie and her mother moved to Philadelphia about 1865.  For a few years, they (and Annie’s sister-in-law, Mary Rose) rented rooms at 3500 Hamilton St. About 1867, they moved to Agnes’s house at 3841 Spring Garden St.  Also living with them was Mary Rose, and several of her young children. [3]
Annie opened her first school at 3510 Spring Garden St. in 1870.  She opened the school with her partner Mary (or Maria) E. Roney.  Roney was the daughter of George G. Roney.  Education must have been important in their home: his two sons became Philadelphia lawyers.  Annie and Mary worked together for the next 30 years.
In the spring of 1871, Annie bought 3511 Hamilton St. for $5,300 - money she got from the sale of the house in Clarion.  Later, the school rented 3507 Hamilton which was purchased by the Christ Methodist Episcopal Church in the City of Philadelphia.  The school had a small number of residential students as well as day students.  In 1880, the census listing for 3511 included Annie, Mary Roney, a 17-year-old language teacher, six female students aged 11 to 18, and two servants.
The best description of the school comes from the book Where to Educate 1898-1899:

“MRS. SUTTON'S HOME SCHOOL FOR GIRLS, 3509, 3511, and 3513 Hamilton Street, West Philadelphia, Mrs. Annie M. Sutton, Miss Mary E. Roney, Principals. The aim of this school is to provide a pleasant home, combined with a thorough course of instruction. It is in one of the most beautiful parts of Philadelphia, and the high ground and quiet neighborhood render its location healthful and well adapted to school purposes. The boarding pupils, whose number is limited to sixteen, receive the personal supervision of the principals, who endeavor to carry into effect that home training which is so necessary a part of a girl's education. The teachers of the various departments have made a careful study of the best methods of imparting instruction. Certificates admit to Wellesley and Mt. Holyoke, and pupils are prepared for other colleges. The charge for boarding pupils is $500 per year, and for day pupils from $20 to $60 per term, according to the grade." [4].
One graduate of the school was Louise Oliphant Fulton whose family lived a block away at 3420 Hamilton St.  Her father was Rev. Robert H. Fulton pastor of the Northminster Presbyterian Church  (3500 Baring St.). Louise was an 1893 graduate of Bryn Mawr College.  In 1898, she married Frank Thompson Gucker whose family lived next door (3422 Hamilton St.).  They lived in Louise’s childhood home until Louise sold it in 1942.
The school also attracted students from a wide geographic area.  For example, the 1880 census lists Mary A. Fullerton, age 17, who was born in Texas and Lillian Thatcher (1870-1948) who was from Colorado.
Annie Sutton died during the summer of 1900 and Mary Roney became principal.  Mary had established social ties that undoubtedly strengthened the school’s reputation.  She served on the Board of Managers of the Quaker City Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR).  She was also a founder and one of the first presidents of the Philomusion Club.  The Philomusion was a women’s club at 3944 Walnut St. which was founded in 1904 “to promote the vital interests of the day." [5]
Mary moved the school to 3931 Walnut St. and recruited her sister, Arabella, to work with her.  The school was renamed the Misses Roney’s School (although the name Sutton might still have been used).  About 1916, they merged the school with another school to form the Gordon-Roney School at 4112 Spruce St.  In 1930, Mary and Arabella were retired and living in Haverford with relatives.

[1] Davis, A. J., ed. 1887. History of Clarion County Pennsylvania. Syracuse, N.Y.: D. Mason & Co. 390.
[3] The children were erroneously listed with the last name Sutton.  This is corrected in the second enumeration of the census.
[4] Thomas, Grace Powers. 1898. Where to Educate 1898-1899: A Guide to the Best Private Schools, Higher Institutions of Learning, etc. in the United States. Boston: Brown and Co. 325.
[5] Inquirer, April 27, 1913. 7.

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.