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.

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.

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 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.

Independence Hall, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania (3)

The south side of Independence Hall, seen from Independence Square around 1905. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

The scene in 2019:

This view is similar to the one in a previous post, but this one shows the scene horizontally from a little further back, revealing more of the surrounding buildings near Independence Hall. As discussed in that post and another one, Independence Hall was the site of some of the country’s most important events in the years during and immediately after the American Revolution.

Independence Hall was completed in 1753 as the meeting place of the Pennsylvania colonial legislature, but at the start of the American Revolution it took on a second role as the de facto national capitol. The Second Continental Congress convened here on May 10, 1775, less than a month after the start of the war. The delegates met in the Assembly Room on the first floor of the building, which is located directly to the right of the tower in this scene. The building is most famous for the fact that the Declaration of Independence was voted on and signed here during the summer of 1776, but the building continued to be used by the Continental Congress throughout the Revolution, aside from two interruptions during British occupations of Philadelphia.

Congress finally left Philadelphia in June 1783, after a mob of about 400 soldiers descended upon the building, demanding payment for their wartime service. The state of Pennsylvania refused to deploy its militia to protect Congress, so the delegates left the city on June 21, and reconvened nine days later at Nassau Hall in Princeton, which became the first of several temporary national capitols over the next two years. Independence Hall would never again serve as the federal capitol building, but it nonetheless played another important role in 1787, when delegates from 12 of the 13 states met here for the Constitutional Convention. The result of this four-month convention was the current United States Constitution, which was signed here on September 17, 1787.

In the meantime, Independence Hall continued to serve as the seat of the state government. The federal government also returned to Philadelphia, although not to Independence Hall. Instead, two newer and smaller buildings were constructed, flanking Independence Hall. On the west side, barely visible on the extreme left side of the photos, is Congress Hall. This was the national capitol building from 1790 until 1800, with the House of Representatives occupying the large chamber on the first floor, and the Senate in a smaller chamber on the upper floor. On the opposite side of Independence Hall, on the extreme right side of the photos, is the Old City Hall. On the exterior, it is essentially identical to Congress Hall, and it was originally built to house the city government. However, during the 1790s it was also occupied by the Supreme Court, which had its courtroom on the ground floor.

The state government ultimately left Philadelphia in 1799 and moved to a more central location in Lancaster. Then, a year later, the federal government moved to Washington D.C., despite the best efforts by Philadelphians to retain the city’s status as the capital. No longer needed for governmental purposes, Independence Hall was threatened by demolition during the early 19th century. By this point the original wooden steeple was already gone, having been removed in 1781 and replaced by a low roof. Then, in 1812 the original wings on either side of Independence Hall were demolished, although the rest of the building was spared a similar fate after the city purchased it from the state in 1816.

It often takes many years before the significance of historic buildings is recognized, and in many cases this comes too late. For Independence Hall, though, it seems that its significance was widely understood by the 1820s. It was around this time that it came to be known as Independence Hall, rather than as the State House, and in 1825 the public square here in the foreground was formally named Independence Square. Three years later, a new steeple was constructed based on the plans of the original one, and it still stands atop the tower today.

By the time the first photo was taken around 1905, this scene had undergone further changes. Most significantly, the buildings that had replaced the old wings in 1812 were demolished in 1898, and new wings were constructed as replicas of the originals. Another change would come two years after the photo was taken, when the statue of Commodore John Barry was installed here in Independence Square, as shown in the 2019 photo.

Today, more than a century after the first photo was taken, Independence Hall still looks essentially the same. Both Congress Hall and the Old City Hall have also been preserved, and all three of these buildings are now part of the Independence National Historical Park. However, one notable difference in this scene from the first photo is the row of buildings beyond Independence Hall on the other side of Chestnut Street. All of these buildings, along with two more entire blocks further to the north, were demolished in the mid-20th century in an effort to improve the aesthetics of the area surrounding Independence Hall. However, in an example of historic buildings not being recognized until they are gone, the project included the removal of the remnants of the old President’s House, where George Washington and John Adams had lived during the 1790s. This site, at the corner of Sixth and Market Streets, is now marked by a partial reconstruction of some of the house’s architectural elements.

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.