Saint Paul’s Episcopal Church, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Saint Paul’s Episcopal Church, on the east side of Third Street just south of Walnut Street in Philadelphia, in April 1859. Image courtesy of the Library Company of Philadelphia, Frederick De Bourg Richards Photograph Collection.

The church in 2019:

St. Paul’s Church was established in 1760 by a group of parishioners from Christ Church, the city’s oldest Anglican church. They separated from Christ Church because of a controversy surrounding William McClenachan, a former Presbyterian minister who was associated with the evangelical beliefs of the Great Awakening. Some of the leaders within the church, along with the bishop of London, had blocked McClenachan from receiving a position at Christ Church, apparently because of concerns about his past affiliations and support among local Presbyterians. His followers responded by leaving and forming St. Paul’s Church, with McClenachan as their minister. They met for the first time at Independence Hall on June 22, 1760, and they soon began work on their own church building, which would be located here on Third Street.

To help fund the construction costs, the church organized a lottery. This was a common way of raising money during this time, both for public and private projects, and the church hoped to raise 3,000 pieces of eight through the lottery. An advertisement for the lottery appeared in the January 29, 1761 issue of Benjamin Franklin’s Pennsylvania Gazette, with the following description:

As a new Church, called PAUL’s – CHURCH, has been thought necessary, for the Worship of ALMIGHTY GOD, to be erected in this City, by many well disposed Christians; who have, according to their Abilities, chearfully subscribed, and many of them paid considerable Sums of Money, towards carrying on this pious Work. In Consequence whereof, a very large and commodious Building hath been begun, and carried on to the full Height of the Brick Work: But it being judged that the Expence of completing and finishing this Church, will greatly exceed the Sums subscribed; therefore it is thought expedient to set up a LOTTERY, for the raising 3000 Pieces of Eight, which it is hoped will compleatly finish the said Church; and not doubted but all well Wishers to the true Worship of GOD, will favour and encourage this Undertaking.

A total of 5,000 tickets were to be issued, at four dollars each, and the advertisement promised that “This Scheme is the most favourable one heretofore calculated in this City to the Adventurers, the Blanks and Prizes being considerably less than two to one.” There were many tiers of prizes, ranging from 1,515 tickets that would win 8 pieces of eight each, to a single grand prize of 1,000 pieces of eight.

The church was ultimately completed later in the year, and the first services were held here on December 20, 1761. Reverend McClenachan was still the rector at the time, although he would only remain in the position for a few more years; he retired in 1765 and moved to Maryland, where he died a year later. His departure, however, may have helped to resolve the conflict between St. Paul’s and Christ Church, because in 1773 his successor, William Stringer, was ordained by the bishop of London.

Within a few years, though, Reverend Stringer himself would be a source of controversy within the church. During the American Revolution, Stringer remained loyal to the British crown, despite many parishioners with patriot sympathies. The division culminated in the fall of 1777, after the British army captured Philadelphia. On the next Sunday after the capture, Stringer preached from Ezekiel 20, which speaks of the rebelliousness of Israel, including a verse that was particularly incendiary given the context of the war: “And I will purge out from among you the rebels, and them that transgress against me.” Many of the church members interpreted this scripture selection as a thinly-veiled threat, and this sermon marked the end of Stringer’s tenure as rector; he soon left the church and returned to England.

During the 19th century, St. Paul’s had several rectors who achieved national prominence. Among these was Stephen H. Tyng, who served here from 1829 to 1833. He was a leader in the evangelical wing of the Episcopal Church, and much of his ministry was focused on providing social services and other outreach programs for the poor. During his time here in Philadelphia, he also focused some of his efforts on changing the physical church building. This included altering the interior to make space for Sunday school programs, along with removing elements that were considered old-fashioned by the 1830s, including the colonial-era high back pews. The project was overseen by prominent Philadelphia architect William Strickland, and the building was re-dedicated on New Year’s Day in 1831.

Aside from Reverend Tyng, the other notable 19th century rector here was R. Heber Newton. His father, Richard Newton, had served here from 1840 to 1862, and the younger Reverend Newton became rector in 1866 at the age of 26. He remained here for just three years, though, before leaving to accept the position of rector at All Souls’ Protestant Episcopal Church in New York City. While in New York, he became a leader in the Social Gospel movement. However, he also faced criticism from other Episcopalian clergy, and in 1883 he was charged with heresy for, among other things, supposedly denying essential doctrines such as the inerrancy of the Bible and the divinity of Jesus. He went on to face similar accusations in subsequent years, but retained his position within the church until 1902.

The first photo, which was taken in 1855, shows the exterior of the church as it appeared during Newton’s father’s time as rector. It would remain an active parish throughout the rest of the century, but in the later years it experienced a decline. This neighborhood, which had once been a fashionable residential area in the 18th and early 19th century, was no longer as desirable, and many of its affluent parishioners had relocated elsewhere in the city. Attendance in general dropped, as did church revenue, to the point where it could no longer support itself. As a result, in 1901 the church’s leaders requested that it be dissolved, with its property transferred to St. Peter’s Church, which is located just a few blocks south of here.

Despite this closure, the old St. Paul’s building ultimately remained in use by the Episcopal Church. Today, nearly 170 years after the first photo was taken, the building is still standing with few exterior alterations. It is no longer used for religious services, but since 1906 it has been the home of Episcopal Community Services, which offers assistance programs in areas such as food, housing, healthcare, and education. It seems only appropriate that the organization would be housed in this building, since in many ways it fulfills the Social Gospel-related ideals of its former ministers such as Tyng and Newton.

Mercantile Library, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

The Mercantile Library at the corner of Fifth Street and Library Street in Philadelphia, in December 1858. Image courtesy of the Library Company of Philadelphia, Frederick De Bourg Richards Photograph Collection.

The scene in 2019:

Prior to the second half of the 19th century, public libraries were essentially nonexistent in the United States. Instead, most cities had library organizations that were open to subscribing members. Among the first of these was the Library Company of Philadelphia, which was established by Benjamin Franklin in 1731, but by the early 19th century Philadelphia had several other libraries, including the Mercantile Library. It was established in 1821, and it was originally intended to serve primarily merchants and merchants’ clerks. However, its membership eventually expanded beyond the mercantile industry, and it became a popular library among the general public.

The library was housed in a series of different locations during its early years, but in 1845 this building was completed here at the corner of Fifth and Library Streets. It was designed by prominent Philadelphia architect William L. Johnston, and it featured a Greek Revival exterior, including a columned portico here on the Fifth Street side of the building. The building was dedicated on September 6, 1845, with a ceremony that included a keynote speech by Congressman Joseph Reed Ingersoll, who would later become the United States Minister to Great Britain.

The first photo shows the building a little over a decade later, in 1858. By this point the library had around two thousand members, and around 20,000 books in its collection. Its most popular items were novels, which accounted for 60 percent of the books checked out in 1858. As described in the 1884 History of Philadelphia, the library focused on developing its collection of novels, as the librarians saw it as “their duty to gratify popular tastes, taking care, however, not to furnish material for abnormal or morbid appetites.” Because of this, the novels were carefully curated, to avoid any “immoral or pernicious works” in the library.

By 1868 the library had grown to a membership of 6,387, and a total of 52,000 books. The following year, the library sold this building and relocated to a new facility on Tenth Street. It continued to prosper throughout much of the 19th century, but then in 1894 the Free Library of Philadelphia opened, which provided a free alternative to subscription libraries. The Mercantile Library was ultimately absorbed into the public library system, with its Tenth Street location becoming a branch library.

In the meantime, the old building here on Fifth Street was converted into offices. By the early 1870s it was owned by Horatio N. Burroughs, and it became known as the Burroughs Building. It was ultimately demolished around 1925, and this site is now open parkland as part of the Independence National Historical Park.

Fifth Street from Ranstead Street, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Buildings on the east side of Fifth Street, looking south toward the corner of Chestnut Street, in February 1859. Image courtesy of the Library Company of Philadelphia, Frederick De Bourg Richards Photograph Collection.

The scene in 2019:

This scene is similar to the one in an earlier post, just from a little further south along Chestnut Street. The building in the foreground here was built sometime around the late 18th or early 19th centuries, and over the years it was occupied by several prominent people. Most notably, it was the home of artist Thomas Sully, who lived in the townhouse on the far left side, at 23 South Fifth Street, from 1826 until his death in 1872. He was best known as a portrait painter, and perhaps his most recognizable painting was of Andrew Jackson; the portrait was later incorporated into the modern $20 bill. His other works included the Seated Liberty design, which appeared on most American silver coins from 1836 until 1891.

Sully was living here when the first photo was taken in 1859, and immediately beyond his house, at 25 South Fifth Street, was the music store of George E. Blake. Originally from England, Blake came to America sometime before 1793, and became a music teacher in Philadelphia. He subsequently became a music publisher, and by around 1814 he was running his business out of this building, in the center storefront. He was still here nearly 50 years later in the first photo, and he operated the store until his death in 1871 at the age of 96.

The other important building in the first photo is the five-story cast iron building on the right side, at the corner of Fifth and Chestnut Streets. It was completed in 1855, at the height of the popularity of cast iron architecture, and it was owned by Frederick Brown, a druggist who had his business here. Among his products was Brown’s Essence of Jamaica Ginger, which promised to treat ailments such as “ordinary diarrhoea, incipient cholera, in short, in all cases of the digestive functions,” according to an 1861 newspaper advertisement. Brown had been in business since the early 1820s, originally in a much older building on this site, and in the early years he seems to have mostly been a local druggist. However, by the late 1850s his business had significantly expanded, and his Essence of Jamaica Ginger was available throughout the country.

This scene underwent a change soon after the first photo was taken. This section of Fifth Street was slated to be the home of the new Eastern Market, the precursor to the modern Philadelphia Bourse that stands there now. Part of this project involved opening Rainstead Street on the south side of the new building. However, in the original plan this would have required the demolition of Thomas Sully’s house. Sully and his wife Sarah requested that their house be spared, and the city agreed, choosing to modify the plan rather than forcing the distinguished elderly couple to relocate. The resulting compromise resulted in a street that was somewhat narrower, taking a portion of the yard on the left side of the house while leaving the house itself intact.

It seems unclear exactly when Sully’s house and the adjoining rowhouses were ultimately demolished. It could have been as early as the 1870s, after Sully died, but the houses were definitely gone by 1907, when the Lafayette Building was constructed on the site. This 11-story office building had its main entrance on Chestnut Street, where the Frederick Brown building had stood in the first photo, but it also spanned the entire length of Fifth Street from Chestnut to Rainstead Street. It is still standing here today, as shown in the 2019 photo, although it no longer functions as an office building; in the early 2010s it was converted into the Hotel Monaco.

Congress Hall and Independence Hall, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Congress Hall and Independence Hall, seen from the corner of Chestnut and Sixth Streets in Philadelphia, around 1859. Image courtesy of the Library Company of Philadelphia, Frederick De Bourg Richards Photograph Collection.

The scene in 2019:

These two photos show the south side of Chestnut Street, between Sixth and Fifth Streets. This block contains three historic 18th century government buildings, each of which played an important role in the early history of the United States. In the center of this scene is Independence Hall, Philadelphia’s most famous historic landmark, which served as the meeting place of the Continental Congress and the Constitutional Convention. It is flanked on either side by two nearly identical buildings, both of which were occupied by the federal government in the late 18th century. In the foreground, to the west of Independence Hall, is Congress Hall, and to the east is the Old City Hall, which once housed the United States Supreme Court.

Independence Hall was completed in 1753, and it was originally used as the colonial capitol building of Pennsylvania. However, because of Philadelphia’s central location relative to the northern and southern colonies, it took on a second role during the American Revolution. Aside from several short interruptions during British occupations, the Continental Congress met here from 1775 until 1783, and it was during this time that the delegates approved and signed the Declaration of Independence in 1776. Congress left Philadelphia in 1783, but the building continued to be used by the state government. Then, during the summer of 1787, the Constitutional Convention met here to draft and sign the United States Constitution, which was ratified a year later.

At the time of the convention, New York City was the national capital, but in 1790 the federal government returned to Philadelphia, which would serve as the capital city for ten years while Washington D.C. was being developed. Rather than sharing Independence Hall with the state government, the federal government moved into its own buildings here. Congress Hall, shown in the foreground of these two photos, became the capitol building, with a chamber on the first floor for the House of Representatives, and a smaller one upstairs for the Senate. However, the building is noticeably smaller and more modest than the adjacent Independence Hall, providing an interesting visual contrast between the perceived importance of the state and federal governments during the nation’s early years.

Congress Hall was overshadowed by Independence Hall, both physically and also in terms of its historical significance. Nevertheless, a number of important events occurred here at Congress Hall. George Washington was inaugurated here at the start of his second term, as was John Adams four years later, and the Bill of Rights was formally added to the Constitution here in 1791. It was also here that Congress passed many important bills that would shape the future of the country, including legislation that established the First Bank of the United States, the Post Office, and the Navy.

On the far side of Independence Hall, at the corner of Fifth Street, is the Old City Hall. Its exterior is nearly identical to Congress Hall, and it was completed in 1791. It served as Philadelphia’s city hall until 1854, but it was also occupied by the United States Supreme Court from 1791 until 1800. The court held its sessions on the first floor during this period, with the city council meeting on the second floor. The first case in the history of the court, West v. Barnes, was argued here on August 2, 1791, and the court issued a unanimous decision the following day. Overall, though, the Supreme Court had a relatively minor role in the federal government in these early years, and the court decided few significant cases here in Philadelphia.

Both the state and federal governments left Philadelphia at the end of the 18th century, with the state capital moving to Lancaster in 1799 and the national capital to Washington a year later. Independence Hall faced threats of demolition in the early 19th century, and the building’s original wings were razed and replaced with new buildings, which are partially visible in the first photo. However, the main part of Independence Hall was ultimately preserved, and by the time the first photo was taken in the late 1850s it had become a major symbol of the American Revolution.

In the meantime, City Hall was occupied by the municipal government until 1854, and for many years Congress Hall served as the county courthouse. Both of these buildings were restored around the turn of the 20th century, and Congress Hall was rededicated in 1913 by President Woodrow Wilson. Around this same time, the 1812 wings of Independence Hall were replaced by replicas of the original wings. Since then, this scene has not changed very much in its appearance, and all three buildings are now part of the Independence National Historical Park, which was established in 1948.

Jones’ Hotel, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

The Jones’ Hotel, on the south side of Chestnut Street between Sixth and Seventh Streets in Philadelphia, in December 1858. Image courtesy of the Library Company of Philadelphia, Frederick De Bourg Richards Photograph Collection.

The scene in 2019:

The first photo shows the Jones’ Hotel, which stood on the south side of Chestnut Street between Sixth and Seventh Street. The photo is part of a scrapbook that was compiled in the 1850s to document historic 18th and early 19th century buildings in Philadelphia. Most of the buildings in the scrapbook have long since been demolished, so images such as this one provide a rare glimpse of the city during the early years of photography. The original image, which is now in the collections of the Library Company of Philadelphia, also includes a caption, probably contemporary to the photo, that reads:

Yohe’s, late Jones’ Hotel. On the south side of Chestnut St., next to the Clymer mansion (afterward Geo. Harrison’s residence) between Sixth and Seventh St. The site, in the olden times, of the celebrated “Oeller’s hotel.”

As indicated by the caption, this was once the site of Oellers’s Hotel. It was one of the city’s leading hotels of the late 18th century, but it was destroyed by a fire on December 17, 1799. The site was subsequently redeveloped with houses, but in 1833 hotelier Catharine Yohe purchased two of these homes, demolished them, and constructed the right-hand side of the building in the first photo. It opened in December 1833, and according to a July 10, 1859 article in the Sunday Dispatch it was, at the time of its completion, the only purpose-built hotel building in the city. Its opening was widely announced in newspapers, including classified advertisements as well as news articles that may have been thinly-disguised advertisements. One such article, published in the Philadelphia Inquirer on December 5, speaks of the hotel in glowing terms:

This elegant and commodious establishment is now opened for the reception of Travellers. A more beautiful situation could hardly have been chosen for the erection of a large Hotel—it stands on Chestnut Street—directly opposite the Philadelphia Arcade and Peale’s Museum—between Sixth and Seventh Streets. This extensive building contains numerous parlours, all beautifully furnished—upwards of 100 Bed chambers, admirably arranged for comfort and convenience in all seasons. The Bars are judiciously placed so as to prevent confusion, in directing servants. The Dining Room is perhaps the largest, and most beautifully arranged, of any in the United States—the whole furnished after the order of Modern Architecture, with Furniture to correspond. This extensive and valuable establishment is under the immediate direction of Mrs. Yohe, the owner. From the well known character and capacity of this Lady we may infer that hospitality, kindness and attention will be extended to all, who favour the North American Hotel with their patronage.

Catharine Yohe operated the hotel for the next six years, but in 1839 she sold it to John A. Jones. He subsequently expanded the hotel by purchasing the other two adjoining houses, demolishing them, and building the section of the hotel on the left side of the scene. He also changed the name of the hotel, and it became Jones’ Hotel, as shown above the door in the first photo Under his management, the hotel became the finest in the city during the mid-19th century. The 1859 Dispatch article described it as having been the “‘crack’ house of its time,” a term that meant something very different than it does now.

Jones retired in 1847 and sold the hotel to Noah Bridges and John West. They retained the name, likely because of the reputation that it carried, and the hotel continued to be successful into the mid-1850s. During this time, one of its notable guests was Jenny Lind, during her highly-publicized tour of the United States. She arrived in Philadelphia in October 1850, and her first performance in the city was across the street from here at the Chestnut Street Theatre. Her arrival was highly anticipated by the people of Philadelphia, to the point where Chestnut Street was crowded with people waiting to catch a glimpse of her. However, because of the dense crowds she had to enter via the back entrance on Samson Street. This upset the crowd, though, and they did not disperse until Lind acceded to their demands and appeared at the window waving a handkerchief.

The hotel changed ownership several more times during the 1850s, and by 1858 it had declined to the point where it was vacant, with the furniture sold at auction by order of the sheriff. It was subsequently renovated and reopened in 1859, but it does not appear to have remained in business for very long. Over the next few decades, the building saw several other uses, including as a theater and as the newspaper offices of the Philadelphia German Democrat. Despite these changes, though, an 1887 article in the New York Tribune reported that the room where Jenny Lind stayed has never been altered, and was at the time being used as the offices of W. H. Shaffer & Co. jewelers.

It seems unclear as to exactly when the old hotel building was demolished, but it was definitely gone by the early 1920s, when this entire block of Chestnut Street was cleared to build the new office building of the Philadelphia Public Ledger. The newspaper went out of business only two decades later, but the massive 12-story building is still standing here today, as shown in the 2019 photo.

Chestnut Street Theatre, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

The Chestnut Street Theatre on the north side of Chestnut Street, just west of Sixth Street in Philadelphia, on April 30, 1855. Image courtesy of the Library Company of Philadelphia, James McClees Philadelphia Photograph Collection.

The scene in 2019:

During the colonial era, theater was not a significant part of American culture, particularly in the northern and middle colonies. In New England, the Puritans saw plays and acting as immoral, and here in Philadelphia the Quakers similarly disapproved, believing that going to theaters was a frivolous use of time and money. Some colonies, including Pennsylvania, even outlawed plays. However, this trend began to change after the American Revolution, and one of the first purpose-built theaters in the country was the Chestnut Street Theatre, which opened here in 1794. 

At the time, Philadelphia was the capital city of both the United States and Pennsylvania, and the theater was located in the midst of these governmental buildings. The national capitol, Congress Hall, was diagonally across the street from the theater, and just beyond Congress Hall was Independence Hall, the seat of the state government. The Supreme Court met in a building on the other side of Independence Hall, and a block to the north of the theater was the President’s House, home of George Washington and later John Adams.

The original Chestnut Street Theatre burned in 1820, but it was rebuilt two years later. This new building, which is shown here in the first photo, was designed by prominent Philadelphia architect William Strickland, who was responsible for many important buildings in the city during the early 19th century. On the exterior, the theater featured classically-inspired elements such as the arched entryways on the ground level and the four columns on the upper floor. The columns were flanked by a pair of statues, representing Tragedy and Comedy, that were carved by sculptor William Rush. The interior of the theater featured three rows of boxes arranged in a semi-circle around the stage, and it could accommodate around 2,000 people. It was built with fire safety in mind, including large stairways and multiple exits with outward-swinging doors, and it was said that a full crowd could evacuate the building in under three minutes.

The theater opened on December 2, 1822, and the occasion was marked by the reading of a letter from poet Charles Sprague, followed by a performance of the comedy The School for Scandal. Several days later, the National Gazette reported on it, observing that it opened “to a crowded, brilliant and good humoured house. The spectators and the actors appeared to be in the best spirits and both performed their respective parts in the best manner.” The article went on to say that “Everything went on and off swimmingly and satisfactorily” and that “Several gentlemen who had been abroad, and some foreigners, were heard to say that the Theatre was the prettiest they had ever seen.”

The new Chestnut Street Theatre, which came to be known as “Old Drury,” remained a popular venue for plays and concerts throughout the first half of the 19th century. During this time, perhaps the most famous performer was Jenny Lind, a Swedish opera singer who toured America from 1850 to 1852. The tour was organized by P. T. Barnum, who used his showman skills to generate fanfare for her performances. She arrived in New York in September 1850, and a month later she came to Philadelphia, where her first performance in the city occurred here at the Chestnut Street Theatre on October 17. In order to meet the anticipated demand, the tickets were auctioned off. The first one sold for the astronomical price of $625, equivalent to around $20,000 today, but prices quickly dropped for the subsequent tickets. The second one sold for just $15, and before long they were selling for under $10. In the end, about 1,700 tickets were sold at the auction, at an average of $7 each.

The day after the concert, the Philadelphia Inquirer published an account of the event, including a description of the crowd inside the theater:

A more brilliant audience never assembled within its walls, and this is saying a great deal, for “Old Drury” ranked for many years as the very temple of taste, fashion, dramatic and musical triumph. The spectacle was, indeed, fairy-like. The splendid dresses, the bright eyes, the flushed cheeks, the eager expectation depicted on every countenance, the brilliant gas-lights, and the whisperings and buzzings of many voices, served to produce an unwonted excitement; and thus, long before the hour for the commencement of the entertainment, the blood seemed to flow more rapidly through the veins, even of the most passionless.

The excitement of this event notwithstanding, by the 1850s the Chestnut Street Theatre was past its prime. Its location was no longer as desirable as it had once been, and the building was considered too small by this point. The first photo was taken on April 30, 1855, a day before its final performance, as indicated by the playbills at the main entrance, which indicate that it will be the “last night but one” for the old theater. That evening’s entertainment consisted of the burletta The Loan of a Lover, followed by the comedy Faint Heart Never Won Fair Lady and the drama Sixteen String Jack. The leading performer was 21-year-old Philadelphia native Julia Daly, whose name appears prominently on the playbills. According to newspaper advertisements, admission started at 12.5 cents for the gallery. General admission was 25 cents, and reserved seats for 37.5 cents. Orchestra and private box seating was 50 cents, and the “Colored Gallery” was 25 cents.

Somewhat more ominously than the playbills, the first photo also includes several visible posters advertising for the public sale that would take place on May 2, the day after the final performance. The sale would include the theater’s scenery, wardrobe, machinery, and other items, along with building materials such as doors, windows, rafters, roofing, and even the marble facade. This included the four marble columns, which sold for $25 each.

The theater was demolished soon after the sale, and it was replaced by a commercial building. All of the other buildings in the first photo have since been demolished as well, and the site of the theater is now a bank, which was built in 1965. It was originally the First Pennsylvania Bank, but after a series of mergers it is now a Wells Fargo branch. Further in the distance, on the other side of Sixth Street, is part of the Independence National Historical Park, and just out of view on the far right is Congress Hall and Independence Hall.