Keene Mansion, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

The Keene Mansion at the northwest corner of Tenth and Chestnut Streets in Philadelphia, on March 5, 1860. Image courtesy of the Library Company of Philadelphia, Frederick De Bourg Richards Photograph Collection.

The scene in 2019:

The three-story brick house in the first photo was completed around 1815 as the home of Major David Lenox, a Revolutionary War officer who became a prosperous merchant after the war. Lenox had also held several government positions during the late 18th century, including as U.S. Marshal for the District of Pennsylvania and as a diplomat to the United Kingdom. He lived here for a little over a decade, until his death in 1828, and after his wife Tacy’s death in 1834 the property went to her niece, Sallie Lukens Keene.

Keene was still living here when the first photo was taken in 1860, having carefully maintained the original appearance of the house, including its exterior architectural details and its interior furniture. However, by this point the city had begun to grow up around the elegant mansion, which was joined here by less fashionable buildings, including a billiards hall across the street on the far left side of the photo.

Sally Keene died in 1866, and her heirs subsequently sold the property, which had become valuable commercial real estate. The old house was demolished in 1872, and the site was redeveloped as the offices of the New York Mutual Life Insurance Company. This building was completed in 1873 and subsequently expanded in the early 1890s with the addition of the top three floors. It is still standing here today, and although it is much different than the Federal-style mansion that it replaced, the building has become an important landmark in its own right, having been added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1980.

Benjamin Franklin Grave, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

The grave of Benjamin Franklin in Christ Church Burial Ground, seen through the iron fence along Arch Street, around 1900. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

The scene in 2019:

As discussed more detail in the previous post, Christ Church Burying Ground is the final resting place of Benjamin Franklin, who is interred here alongside his wife Deborah under the stone slab on the other side of the fence. Although located just a few feet from the sidewalk, his gravestone was originally hidden from the street by the brick wall that encircles the graveyard. Over time, the gravesite languished in this corner of the graveyard, and was largely forgotten. However, in an effort to boost civic pride in the city’s famous statesman, this section of the wall was replaced by an iron fence in 1858, allowing passers-by to easily view the gravesite.

By the time the first photo was taken at the turn of the 20th century, Franklin’s grave was an important tourist attraction in the city. As shown in the photo, though, the 125-year-old brick wall had fallen into disrepair. It would continue to crumble over the next few decades until it was finally rebuilt in 1927, using many of the original materials in the process. The rest of the graveyard continued to deteriorate, though, and it was closed to the public from 1977 until 2003, when it finally reopened following an extensive conservation project.

Restoration work has continued since then, including repairs to Franklin’s gravestone that were completed in 2017 and largely funded by Jon Bon Jovi. Today, the scene looks very similar to the first photo, aside from the lost buildings in the background along Fifth Street. The graveyard is open to the public for a small fee, and it features both self-guided and group tours that highlight the many famous people buried here, including Franklin and a number of other prominent 18th and early 19th century Americans.

Christ Church Burial Ground, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

The Christ Church Burial Ground, seen looking south from Arch Street in April 1859. Image courtesy of the Library Company of Philadelphia, Frederick De Bourg Richards Photograph Collection.

The scene in 2019:

As discussed in an earlier post, Christ Church was established in 1695, and its parishioners originally worshipped in a small wooden church on Second Street, just north of Market Street. The church had a small burial ground next to it, but this soon became too small, so in 1719 the church purchased this property two blocks away at the corner of Arch and Fifth Streets. It would become the church’s primary burial ground, along with being the final resting place for many of the city’s most prominent colonial-era leaders, including five signers of the Declaration of Independence. The most famous of these is Benjamin Franklin, whose gravestone is the low slab on the other side of the iron fence.

A brick wall was constructed along the perimeter of the burial ground in 1772. When Franklin died 20 years later, he was interred here, right alongside the fence and next to his wife Deborah. His grave was only a few feet from the sidewalk, yet it eventually fell into obscurity because the fence obscured its view from the street. This became an issue in the mid-19th century, in part because of a rivalry between Philadelphia and Franklin’s birthplace of Boston. By this point Boston had honored their native son with a massive pyramidal monument above Franklin’s parents’ gravesite, and had dedicated a statue in front of City Hall. In the meantime, though, Franklin’s gravesite here in Philadelphia languished in a rarely-visited corner of the graveyard until 1858, when proponents persuaded Christ Church to allow this section of the brick wall to be replaced with an iron fence, in order to make the grave visible from the street. The first photo was taken a year later, showing the grave just beyond the lower right side of the iron fence.

Today, more than 160 years after the first photo was taken, all of the buildings in the background are long gone, but the burial ground is still here. The wall looks the same as it did in the first photo, but it was actually reconstructed in 1927, using many of the bricks from the original wall. The gap in the brick wall was retained here, and it is now flanked by plaques describing Franklin and his life. Notwithstanding the rebuilt fence, though, the graveyard fell into disrepair by the late 20th century, and it was closed for many years before finally reopening in 2003 following an extensive restoration project. It is now open to the public for a small fee, and offers both self-guided and group tours.

Corner of Fifth and Arch Streets, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

The northwest corner of Fifth and Arch Streets in Philadelphia, in October 1857. Image courtesy of the Library Company of Philadelphia, Frederick De Bourg Richards Photograph Collection.

The scene in 2019:

The first photo was taken by photographer Frederick De Bourg Richards, as part of an effort to document Philadelphia’s historic 18th and early 19th century buildings. Unlike many of Richards’s other subjects, such as the Free Quaker Meeting House across the street from here, this three-story commercial building does not appear to have been a major historic landmark. In the original caption of the photo, the building is described simply as “a primitive house,” with no further information as to its history or date of construction. However, it was likely built sometime in the 1700s, and it may have once served as a single-family home before being converted into commercial use.

By the time the first photo was taken, the building was occupied by the publishing and bookselling firm of C. G. Henderson & Co. The company had been established in 1851, and was originally located in a building at the corner of Seventh and Chestnut Streets. However, that building burned later in the year, and by 1852 C. G. Henderson was located here at the corner of Fifth and Arch. As shown in the first photo, the building featured a number of exterior advertisements, including a particularly large sign on the roof, proclaiming it to be “The Cheap Book Store.”

The bookstore seems to have closed within a year or two after the first photo was taken, but the fate of the building itself is somewhat less clear. It may have been demolished at some point in the late 19th century, but it was definitely gone by the mid-20th century, when this entire block, along with several others, was leveled to create the Independence Mall. Today, there are no surviving remnants from the first photo in this scene. Instead, the foreground here is open parkland, and further in the distance is the National Constitution, which occupies much of this block.

Free Quaker Meetinghouse, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

The Free Quaker Meetinghouse at the corner of Fifth and Arch Streets in Philadelphia, in March 1859. Image courtesy of the Library Company of Philadelphia, Frederick De Bourg Richards Photograph Collection.

The scene in 2019:

Philadelphia was the national capital throughout most of the American Revolution, with the city serving as the meeting place of the Continental Congress. However, it also had a large population of Quakers, whose religious beliefs included a strong emphasis on pacifism. This caused significant tension between the colonial leaders here who favored independence, and the Quakers who opposed fighting the war. Far from simply refusing to serve in the military, many Quakers refused to pay taxes that would fund the military, and some even refused to use the currency issued by the Continental Congress, believing that the currency was also being used to pay for the war.

Even within the Quaker community, though, there was significant dissent regarding the war for independence. Here in Philadelphia, some were ultimately expelled for supporting the Revolution, and in 1781 they formed the Religious Society of Free Quakers. The group collected money to purchase a lot and build a meeting house, and among the contributors were George Washington and Benjamin Franklin. The design and construction of the building was largely done by Samuel Wetherill and Timothy Matlack, who were among the leaders of the Free Quakers. Matlack had been a delegate to the Continental Congress during the Revolution, but he is probably best remembered for his penmanship; he hand-wrote the official engrossed copy of the Declaration of Independence in 1776.

The meeting house was completed in 1783, and the occasion was commemorated by a marble tablet under the gable on the Arch Street side of the building, which reads “By general subscription for the Free Quakers, erected in the Year of our Lord, 1783, of the Empire 8.” The last part of the inscription refers to the fact that it was the eight year of the American “empire,” with 1776 as its starting point. At the time, the term empire was a bit of an overstatement for a loosely-affiliated group of 13 states on the east coast, but it ultimately foreshadowed the country’s future expansion across the continent.

Aside from Matlack, several other notable Philadelphians were involved with the Free Quakers, including Betsy Ross, the heroine of the famous but likely apocryphal story about the first American flag. Another likely attendee was Dolley Payne, whose father appears to have joined the Free Quakers after being expelled from the Pine Street Meeting. However, Dolley herself was later expelled from the faith when, in 1794, she married a non-Quaker: future president James Madison.

The Free Quakers steadily dwindled in number during the early 19th century, as the original members either died or moved elsewhere. During this time, though, the building was used for a number of other purposes aside from religious gatherings. From 1788 to 1791, part of the building was the home of John Poor’s Academy for Young Ladies, and from 1791 to 1799 it was occupied by the Grand Lodge of Pennsylvania. Then, from 1800 to 1836 it housed the Philadelphia Select Academy.

In the meantime, the Free Quakers continued to use the meeting house until the late 1830, and after this it was used purely for secular purposes. The next long-term occupant was the Apprentices’ Library Company, which moved into the building in 1841. The library made some changes to the building, including two additions in the 1850s and 1860s, and the organization remained here until 1897. The first photo was taken during this time, in 1859, and the photo shows signs for the Apprentices’ Library on both sides of the building.

Today, more than 160 years after the first photo was taken, and nearly 240 years after the building opened, the Free Quaker Meeting House still stands here as an important landmark at the corner of Arch and Fifth Streets. All of the other historic buildings nearby were demolished in the mid-20th century in order to create the Independence Mall, but the meeting house survived, likely because of its connection to Revolutionary-era Philadelphia. However, the building was relocated in 1961, in order to accommodate the widening of Fifth Street. It was moved 33 feet west and 8 feet south to its current location, and this project also included removing the 19th century additions and subsequently restoring the building to its 1780s appearance.