Chestnut Street near Ninth Street, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

The view along the north side of Chestnut Street, taken looking west from near the corner of Ninth Street, around 1859. Image courtesy of the Library Company of Philadelphia, Frederick De Bourg Richards Photograph Collection.

The scene in 2019:

The first photo shows a row of houses that were built around the late 18th or early 19th centuries for some of Philadelphia’s wealthiest residents. The houses were located on the north side of Chestnut Street, about halfway between 9th and 10th Streets, and they range from 919 Chestnut Street on the far right, to 925 Chestnut on the far left. At the time of their construction, this section of the city was predominantly residential, but this had begun to change by the time the first photo was taken a half century later. Some of these houses, particularly the one on the far right, had already been converted to commercial use, and over the next few decades more would see similar conversions, or would be demolished to make way for new, larger buildings.

As shown in the first photo, the house on the right was the Markoe House, a boarding house that had, at one point, been the residence of John Markoe. It had been built around 1810,and was designed by Benjamin Henry Latrobe, a prominent architect whose other works included the United States Capitol. The Markoe family lived here until around 1840, when they evidently fell on hard times and sold the property.

The house was converted into a boarding house, which was named for its original owners. In its early years the Markoe House had several prominent guests, as noted in contemporary newspapers. Senator Alexander Porter of Louisiana stayed here during a visit to Philadelphia in 1843, and in 1844 and 1845 Mirabeau Lamar, the former president of Texas, stayed here on at least two separate occasions. At the time, Texas was still an independent nation, and on the second visit, he was accompanied by Edwin Ward Moore, the commander-in-chief of the Texas Navy. The Markoe House would remain a boarding house here for more than 20 years after the first photo was taken, and it even underwent a significant renovation in 1869. However, it was ultimately demolished in 1881 to build a new office building for the Philadelphia Record.

Aside from the Markoe House, many of the other houses along this section of Chestnut Street were undergoing changes by the time the first photo was taken. In 1860, about a year after the photo was taken, the building immediately to the left of the Markoe House, at 921 Chestnut, was converted into offices for the Penn Mutual Insurance Company. This left, according to an 1860 newspaper article, only two or three buildings on Chestnut Street east of Tenth Street that were exclusively residential.

One of these exceptions was the house at 925 Chestnut Street, which is partially visible on the far left side of the photo. This was the home of General George Cadwalader, who served in the U.S. Army during the Mexican-American War. Shortly after the first photo was taken, Cadwalader returned to the Army upon the outbreak of the Civil War, and served in the Union army throughout the duration of the war. He lived here until at least the early 1870s, making him perhaps one of the last owners of a single-family residence on this part of Chestnut Street. During the 1870 census he lived here with his wife Frances and four servants, and he was very wealthy, with an estate valued at $600,000 at the time, or about $12.5 million today.

Today, more than 160 years after the first photo was taken, there are no surviving buildings from that photo here in this scene. All of them were likely demolished in the late 19th or early 20th centuries, and they were definitely gone by the 1930s, when this block of Chestnut Street became the site of two Depression-era federal buildings. On the left is the former Federal Reserve Bank Building, which was completed in 1935, and on the right is the Nix Federal Building, completed six years later. Both of these buildings are still standing here, as shown in the 2019 photo, although the former Federal Reserve Bank Building is now occupied by Thomas Jefferson University Hospital.

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.

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.