Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Philadelphia Industrialism.....Then and Then...

"Workshop of the World" was the proud claim of Philadelphia boosters for the best part of the century after the Civil War. Though at present the city is best known for its vehicles of consumption (the Eagles, the Orchestra, fine restaurants, the Mummers) once not so long ago Philadelphia represented prowess in production, the American apex of skill, versatility and diversity in manufacturing. Thanks to the dedication of area SIA [Society for Industrial Archeology] members, we are now afforded a special opportunity to revisit this nearly forgotten city, its world of workshops. With this guide in hand, you may map for yourself tours of a Philadelphia different from the one imagined by the hundreds of thousands who stroll through Independence Hall and Old City. Where they call up visions of bewigged gentlemen debating the birth of a nation, scribbling away with quill pens, you must conjure a later cacophony of steam engines, whirling lathes, pounding forges, clattering looms, smoke, sweat and strain. You can circle among the landmarks of Philadelphia's industrial age, drawing from these silent stones a sense of the energy and intensity that lay behind the boast, "Workshop of the World!" And as you encounter mounting numbers of mute brick and concrete masses, you will inevitably come to the question: What happened? What went wrong? As with most historical processes, there is no simple (or single) answer, but surely it is as important to cherish and reflect upon Philadelphia's industrial greatness as it is to draw inspiration from its eighteenth century political heritage.

As early as 1859, the Pennsylvania Railroad (PRR) recognized an economical advantage in using Philadelphia's wharves for the import and export of grains; wheat, oats, and corn. Thus began the development of a number of grain elevators,including a riverside terminal on the Delaware at the foot of Washington Avenue, an elevator at Market and 30th Streets (built in 1862), and numerous floating elevators that collected grain from ships anchored off the wharves. By 1872, the PRR owned half of Philadelphia's 1.5 million bushel capacity for grain storage.

The last remnant of this important trade in South Philadelphia is the grain elevator built by the Girard Point Storage Company beginning in 1912. It replaced two structures built by the International Navigation Company around 1874 and later purchased by the PRR.

The final natural fall line of the Schuylkill River as it flows to the Delaware River occurs at the Falls of the Schuylkill, or East Falls as it is now known. In 1821 the fall line was appropriated by the City of Philadelphia by the construction of a dam down river at Fairmount which created a slackwater pond as far as Flat Rock Dam in Manayunk. The City purchased the water power rights from Josiah White and Joseph Gillingham in 1819 for $150,000. Today when water in the river is low, the rocks of the falls can still be seen under the twin bridges carrying the Roosevelt Expressway (U.S. Route 1) across the river.

The Pennsylvania and the Reading Railroads' first conquest of the lucrative New Jersey Shore trade began with the introduction of ferry service between Philadelphia and Camden. Patrons riding the Pennsylvania received a short ferry ride, but the train trip to the Shore was long; conversely, patrons riding the Reading had a longer ferry ride, but the train trip to the Shore was short.

It was the Pennsylvania Railroad, with its large financial structure and imposing Broad Street Terminal, which first crossed the Delaware by bridge. The site chosen was in Bridesburg, far above the river traffic at the pier in Center City and Camden. The line branched off the main line of the Pennsylvania (the New York-Philadelphia route) at Frankford Junction and traveled as an elevated structure up to. the river.
From there it traveled over two fixed steel spans to a steam-powered, gear-driven horizontal revolving span at a point greater than halfway across the river. After crossing the revolving span, the line travelled across another fixed steel span and then entered New Jersey. It met up with the Camden-Atlantic City Pennsylvania Railroad line at Haddonfield.

Frankford Arsenal supplemented the Schuylkill Arsenal early in the nineteenth century and continued in its function until very recently. The Arsenal played an important role not only in Philadelphia, but in the nation as well, serving as the home of such important innovations as a variety of early cartridge systems for breech-loading weapons, the Maynard priming system, the Frankford friction primer, and the recoilless rifle of World War II.

Activated in May, 1816, the Arsenal covered at that time some 20 acres on Frankford Creek near its junction with the Delaware River, sufficiently far from the more densely populated sections of the city to be safe for the storing of gunpowder. Within the tract, domestic quarters and warehouse buildings were erected around an open space, which was kept largely undeveloped over the entire life of the complex, and was used as a parade ground. While initially the primary role of the Arsenal had been to serve as a storage depot and repair shop of military weapons and ammunition, by the early 1840s it had assumed a more prominent role in munitions development, starting with the testing and proofing of various weapons and gunpowder. Expansion to the east along Frankford Creek toward the Delaware River was dictated by the rapid subdivision of the dry land to the north and west into city building lots to supply housing for an increasingly industrialized community.

The original building built in 1867 by Greenwood & Bault still stands at the corner of Torresdale Avenue and Kinsey Street. It received its water supply for dyeing and bleaching of textiles from the Little Tacony Creek, a large tributary of Frankford Creek.

Great track from Ulrich Schnauss....perfect for this post, Goodbye. We need another Industrial heyday in Philly!! ASAP!

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