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.

Friends’ Academy, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

The former Friends’ Academy building on the east side of Fourth Street, just south of Chestnut Street in Philadelphia, in April 1859. Image courtesy of the Library Company of Philadelphia, Frederick De Bourg Richards Photograph Collection.

The scene in 2019:

Philadelphia is famous for its association with Quakers, having been founded by Quaker leader William Penn. The Quakers had a number of meeting houses throughout the city, during the colonial period along with several schools, including the Friends’ Academy here on Fourth Street. Both of the buildings in the first photo were built by the Quakers in the mid-18th century, although it seems unclear as to whether both were schools, or if one was a school and one was a meeting house.

The origins of the Friends’ Academy traces back to 1689, when it was established at the behest of William Penn. It moved to this location in 1744, and remained here for nearly a century, until 1841. During this time it was one of the city’s leading schools, and it also had several prominent schoolmasters, including abolitionist Anthony Benezet and historian Robert Proud.

The school relocated to Eleventh Street in the fall of 1841, and eventually became the William Penn Charter School, which still exists as a Quaker-affiliated independent school. In the meantime, though, its former home here on Fourth Street became a mathematical school during the 1840s, run first by William J. Lewis and then by Clinton Gillingham. This school appears to have closed around 1849, and at some point both buildings here were converted into commercial use, with one-story storefront additions extending to the sidewalk, as shown in the first photo.

Up until shortly before that photo was taken, these buildings were occupied by a stationery and printing business on the left, and a gas fitter further in the distance on the right. However, by the time the photo was taken in April 1859, the buildings were boarded up in preparation for demolition, which occurred soon after. They were replaced by more modern commercial buildings that have, in turn, been demolished as well, and today the site is part of the Independence National Historical Park.

Today, there are no surviving features from the first photo, although Carpenters’ Hall stands on the left side of the present-day photo. Built in the early 1770s and made famous as the meeting place of the First Continental Congress, this building was standing when the first photo was taken, but it was not visible from this section of Fourth Street until the rest of the block was demolished around the mid-20th century.

Zachariah Poulson House, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

The former home of Zechariah Poulson, at 310 Chestnut Street in Philadelphia, in May 1859. Image courtesy of the Library Company of Philadelphia, Frederick De Bourg Richards Photograph Collection.

The scene in 2019:

The house in the center of the first photo was probably built sometime in the late 18th century, and for many years it was the home and office of publisher Zechariah Poulson. Born in Philadelphia in 1761, Poulson grew up during the turmoil of the American Revolution and learned the printer’s trade. He subsequently went into business for himself, and became a successful printer. By the late 1790s he was living here on Chestnut Street and publishing books and other materials, and then in 1800 he purchased the Claypoole’s American Daily Advertiser newspaper, which he renamed Poulson’s American Daily Advertiser. He went on to publish it for nearly 40 years, before selling it in 1839, and he appears to have lived here until his death five years later.

The Poulson family still owned the house when the first photo was taken in 1859, but by this point the old house was surrounded by taller, modern commercial blocks. As indicated by the signs on the front of the house, it was occupied by several different commercial tenants. On the ground floor was A. Bachmann & Co. Confectionery, and the building also features signs for Meadows & Co. silverware manufacturers and the United States Journal.

The buildings on either side of the former Poulson house also have a variety of signage in the first photo, including a printing office, a jewelry manufacturer, a watch importer, and a commission merchant. However, the most interesting is the sign above the storefront just to the left of the Poulson house, at 308 Chestnut Street. This was the home of Goodyear’s Rubber Packing & Belting Company, which was operated by Charles Goodyear, the developer of vulcanized rubber. Goodyear died a year after this photo was taken, and his business was unrelated to the more famous Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company, which was named after him in 1898.

Today, more than 160 years after the first photo was taken, there are no surviving remnants from the photo in this scene. The Poulson house was probably demolished at some point in the 1860s, because by the early 1870s it was occupied by the new Union Banking Company building. This building, along with the others in the first photo, have also since been demolished, perhaps as late as the mid-20th century, when nearly the entire block was cleared in order to open up space for the Independence National Historical Park. Only a handful of 18th century buildings survived, including the First Bank of the United States building, which is visible in the distance on the far right side of the present-day scene.

Chestnut Street near Second Street, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

The view looking east on Chestnut Street, between Second and Letitia Streets in Philadelphia, around 1842-1845. Image taken by William G. Mason, courtesy of the Library of Congress.

The scene in 2019:

As with the image in the previous post, the first photo here was taken by William G. Mason, in the early years of photography. It was possibly taken on the same day as the image in the other post, and it shows a similar scene; it was taken only about 50 yards east of the other photo. However, unlike that photo, which is a photograph of the original image, this photo here is the original daguerreotype taken in the 1840s, so it has a much higher image quality.

The first photo here shows a mix of commercial buildings on the north side of Chestnut Street, extending all the way down to the Delaware River in the distance. Most were likely built in the early 19th century, although it is possible that some of them, especially the shorter ones, might date back to the 18th century. Several signs are legible, including two on the three-story brick building on the left with the arched doorway. As indicated by the signs, this building was occupied by wine and liquor dealer John Gibson. Further to the right, the small two-story building has a partially-legible sign advertising lunch and oysters, and even further in the distance is a sign that reads “Refrigerators.” This likely referred to ice boxes, which became popular during this period due to the growth of the commercial ice industry in the United States.

Just a few years after the first photo was taken, the building on the left suffered a fire that destroyed much of John Gibson’s liquor business. The fire, which occurred on the morning of September 26, 1846, started in the distillery in the rear of the property. According to contemporary newspaper accounts, some of the liquor boiled over, igniting nearby flammable materials and spreading to the building here on Chestnut Street. Firefighters were able to contain the fire, which did not fully engulf this building or spread to its neighbors. However, Gibson’s still was almost entirely destroyed, as was some of the liquor that he was producing.

Today, nearly 180 years after the first photo was taken, the streetscape here is not dramatically different. This block of Chestnut Street is still lined with historic 19th century brick commercial buildings, and even the street itself is still paved with cobblestones. However, the buildings themselves are different; all of the ones from the first photo appear to have either been demolished or heavily altered at some point in the 19th century. Based on their ornate facades, the brick building on the left and the two just to the right of the center are clearly from the late 19th century, and the one that is partially visible on the extreme left was built in the early 20th century. The only possible survivors from the foreground of the first photo are the two matching five-story buildings in the center of the 2019 photo. They have similar architecture to the ones in the first photo, it is possible that one or both of these might have been built in the first half of the 19th century and subsequently altered.

Chestnut and Second Streets, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Looking east on Chestnut Street from the corner of Second Street in Philadelphia, around 1843. Image is an 1859 photographic reproduction of a daguerreotype taken around 1843. Courtesy of the Library Company of Philadelphia, Frederick De Bourg Richards Photograph Collection.

The scene in 2019:

This is likely the oldest historic photo that I have featured on this blog, dating back to the very early years of photography. The actual photographic print was made around 1859 by Frederick De Bourg Richards, but the image appears to have been from a daguerreotype taken around 1843 by William G. Mason. Daguerreotypes were the first commercially successful photographic medium, producing high-resolution images that rivaled even modern digital cameras. However, daguerreotypes were also difficult to reproduce, as the process yielded only a single image on glass. Unlike later plate glass negatives, which could be used to create any number of prints at varying sizes, daguerreotypes could not be directly converted into prints; the only way to duplicate one was to photograph the original, and then make prints of that photograph. The above photo was one such example of this, ensuring the preservation of the image even though the original daguerreotype might very well be lost to history by now.

This image, along with several others taken by Mason during the 1840s, shows one of the earliest photographic glimpses of the streets of Philadelphia. At the time, the buildings along this block of Chestnut Street were predominantly brick commercial buildings, probably built early in the 19th century. The buildings occupied relatively narrow lots, with most being only three window bays in width, and almost all of them are either three or four stories in height. Aside from the two buildings in the foreground, most have pitched roofs. This was fairly typical for commercial buildings of the era, although by the second half of the 19th century flat roofs became more common. Because this image is a photograph of a photograph, there is not much fine detail, and only one sign is readily legible: an awning on the fourth building from the foreground, which identifies it as a leather store.

The buildings in the foreground appear to have been demolished within a few decades after the first photo was taken, in order to construct a building for the Corn Exchange Bank. This was subsequently demolished around 1900, and replaced with the highly ornate Corn Exchange National Bank building in the present-day scene. The building originally consisted of just the section closest to the corner of Chestnut and Second Streets, but it was steadily expanded during the early 20th century, eventually reaching its current form in the early 1930s.

Today, nearly 180 years after the first photo was taken, this scene still consists of historic, low-rise commercial buildings. However, it seems unclear as to whether any of the buildings from the first photo have survived, or if they were all replaced later in the 19th century. Beyond the Corn Exchange Bank, most of the other current buildings have relatively ornate exteriors, suggesting that they were either built or heavily altered during the second half of the 19th century. However, two of these buildings—located at 117 and 119 Chestnut Street—have much more plain exteriors, so it is possible that they may have been built prior to the first photo and expanded over the years.

Merchants’ Exchange Building, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

The Merchants’ Exchange Building, seen from the corner of Walnut and South Third Streets in Philadelphia in 1898. Image courtesy of the Library Company of Philadelphia, John C. Bullock Lantern Slide Collection.

The scene in 2019:

The Merchants’ Exchange Building is an important architectural landmark in Philadelphia, and it is also significant for having been the financial center of the city for many years. It was completed in 1834 as the first permanent home of what would become the Philadelphia Stock Exchange. Prior to this time, brokers and merchants met in a variety of coffee houses and taverns. However, by 1831 the city’s business leaders had recognized the need for a permanent, central location for a stock exchange, and began planning such a building.

The Exchange was designed by prominent Philadelphia architect William Strickland, who was heavily inspired by classical Greek architecture. The shape of the lot also contributed to the building’s design; although most of Philadelphia features a rectangular street grid, the Exchange was built on a triangular lot that was created by the diagonally-running Dock Street. As a result, the two main facades of the building are very different. Here at the west end of the building on Third Street, it has a fairly standard Greek Revival exterior, with Corinthian columns supporting a triangular pediment. However, on the east side of the building, facing Dock Street, Strickland designed an elaborate semi-circular columned facade that was topped by a tower. This tower, which is partially visible in the upper right corner of the 2019 photo, was inspired by the Choragic Monument of Lysicrates in Athens, which dates back to the fourth century B. C.

The cornerstone of the building was laid on February 22, 1832, on the one hundredth anniversary of George Washington’s birth. It was completed two years later, opening to the public in March 1834. A contemporary article in the Philadelphia Inquirer, republished from Bicknell’s Reporter, provides the following description:

It is built entirely of marble— occupies ninety-five feet front on Third street, and one hundred and fifty feet on Walnut. The basement story is fifteen feet high, and has twelve doorways on the Third Street front and flanks. The largest room in the lower floor, which is 74 by 36 feet, is occupied as the Philadelphia Post Office, at the west end of which is a hall or passage, designed for the shelter of persons while receiving or delivering letters. Beyond this hall to the west, and fronting Third street, is a large and commodious room, which has been fitted up as a Coffee Room, is now in the occupancy of Mr. J. Kerrison, a gentleman every way qualified to conduct a respectable establishment of the kind. South of the Post Office and the Coffee Room, is a large passage which runs from Dock to Third street, and further south again, a number of offices; which are to be occupied generally as Exchange and Insurance Offices. They open upon Walnut and Dock streets. No. 2 of this range will be occupied by the proprietor of this paper, as a Stock, Exchange and Publication Office.

Proceeding up stairs, the large Exchange Room, capable of containing several thousand persons, first arrests attention. It occupies an area of 83 superficial feet, fronts east, and extends across the whole building. The reading Room is oa [sic] the second floor, immediately over the Post Office, and is nearly of equal capacity. It is fitted up in the most appropriate manner, and is under the charge of Joseph M. Sanderson, Esq. assisted by Mr. J. Coffee. Both gentlemen are well know to our citizens, and are alike respected for urbanity of manner, intelligence, and attention to the duties entrusted to their care. Both have for several years been connected with the Merchants’ Coffee House of this city, Mr. Sanderson as Principal and Lessee of that establishment, and nothing can more fully show the estimation in which he is held by the Merchants than the fact of his unanimous election to the New Exchange.

The attic story is of the same height as the basement, 15 feet, contains six large rooms; the roof is of copper, and the ornaments on the semicircular portion over the front colonnade are very beautiful.

The building went on to serve as the city’s stock exchange for more than 40 years, in addition to housing other tenants such as the post office. However, in 1876 the stock exchange moved to the Girard Bank, located less than a hundred yards north of the Merchants’ Exchange on the opposite side of Third Street. This building was the home of the stock exchange until 1888, when it relocated to the Drexel Building a few blocks away. In a somewhat surprising move, though, the stock exchange then returned here to the Merchants’ Exchange at the turn of the 20th century, shortly after the first photo was taken. It remained here until 1913, when it moved into a new building at 1411 Walnut Street, near the corner of Market Street.

The Merchants’ Exchange Building was ultimately acquired by the National Park Service as part of the Independence National Historical Park. Although many other historic buildings within the park’s boundaries were demolished during this time, this building was preserved and restored, and it is now used as the park headquarters. It stands as the only surviving building in this scene from the first photo, and in 2001 it was designated as a National Historic Landmark because of its historical and architectural significance.