Saturday, May 14, 2011

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.

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