Tourist Trips: Philadelphia and the Quaker Colonies
The states of Pennsylvania, Delaware, and New Jersey all belonged to William Penn the Quaker in one way or another. New Jersey was first, Delaware the last. Penn was the largest private landholder in American history.
Regional Overview: The Sights of the City, Loosely Defined
Philadelphia,defined here as the Quaker region of three formerly Quaker states, contains an astonishing number of interesting places to visit. Three centuries of history leave their marks everywhere. Begin by understanding that William Penn was the largest private landholder in history, and he owned all of it.
History: Philadelphia and the Quaker Colonies
Philadelphia and the Quaker Colonies
Sociology: Philadelphia and the Quaker Colonies
The early Philadelphia had many faces, its people were varied and interesting; its history turbulent and of lasting importance.
Nineteenth Century Philadelphia 1801-1928 (III)
At the beginning of our country Philadelphia was the central city in America.
Hippies and Vietnam
An agricultural past became industrial, but then the industrial boom started to fade. Blacks, young people and immigrants were set adrift.
A federal tax deduction is familiar enough; a federal tax credit is something else, it's tax-exempt federal money directly into your pocket. If you don't have any income, you can still get a federal check for a tax credit if it's a refundable tax credit. Some students of taxation are a little uncomfortable about refundable tax credits, because of the history that a great many people have become very wealthy from tax credits, building low-income housing projects. However, all federal subsidies merely seem good or bad, depending on your opinion of the social worth of what is subsidized.
In 1976 President Gerald Ford signed a tax provision which was the enthusiastic pet of Senator Lugar of Indiana. It created a federal subsidy for the rehabilitation of historic buildings, taking the form of a 20% refundable tax credit for project costs. To condense the rules to their essence, any building which is on the National Register of Historic Places is eligible for this tax credit, providing the project costs exceed the value of the building, and meet the approval of the National Park Service.
The Park Service probably secretly relishes its new power, but likely is uncomfortable with becoming a target of denunciation by real estate developers whose plans get rejected, with criticism of their taste by academics, and resentment by urban planners about the way these projects change the city. But it would only be a fair assessment that what has happened has stimulated a great deal of economic activity, has pleased most of the voters, and has given an air of thriving revival to a run-down urban center. It has also enriched some developers, and turned a commercial city center into a residential district.
Philadelphia has been a leader in urban rehabilitation, and it must have had some clever leadership to grasp the opportunity so early. But it also had a great many commercial buildings which had been built like fortresses around 1900, when the leadership of the Pennsylvania Railroad made the engineering of heavy duty structures almost a local religion. The essence of urban renewal is that the building has outlasted its original occupant. John Pitcairn was the shrewd investor who noticed that almost all corporations dissolved before they are 75 years old. Philadelphia's commercial structures were built to last a lot longer than that. Our problem is that we have more surviving structures than we have new commercial occupants to fill them. As long as that is true, urban residential conversions -- condos, as they say -- will be the future of Center City. With perhaps a small statue in some park, of Senator Lugar.
Caught between the expansion of two metropolitan areas, Bucks County is inevitably doomed to extinction as a culture. Chester County and Bucks are in similar situations, as the suburbia devours exurbia, in this case the Quaker farm communities. So you better go have a look, while they still survive to some degree.
The political unit of the area has been the county, and the county seat is in Doylestown, population about 8000. Within a few decades, it seems safe to predict the county population will approach a million. The town has lots of pride in itself, and is just as cute as any town could possibly be. New Castle, Delaware has been preserved with the same pride but is uniformly of a single period of architecture; Doylestown is a carefully preserved jumble of styles and periods, sizes and shapes. Like Princeton, NJ, and Odessa, DE, it is so attractive it brings hordes of visitors, which in turn quickly strangle it with traffic and lack of available parking space. There is an attempt to rescue the town with a by-pass highway, and blessings on the attempt. But the problem for these exurban jewels is not that people want to go around them, the problem is they are the main destination.
Doylestown was created in 1745 when William Doyle built a tavern at the crossroads. The county seat brings the courthouse with eleven judges and who knows how many lawyers, and the hospital. Henry Chapman Mercer brought three astonishing buildings, his 44-room mansion on 70 acres in the center of town, his famous Mercer tile factory in his back yard, and his multi-story museum of tools and crafts. All three of Mercer's buildings are made of concrete, built by craftsmen and himself with essentially unlimited personal funds derived from fabric manufacture in New England. And then this last bastion of the crafts movement embraced the artist colony established by Redfield at New Hope, and both of them attracted all those rich Broadway stars and publishing moguls. Right in the center of town the Mercer crafts museum sits across the street from the James A. Michener Art Museum, small but very tasteful, the museum home of the Pennsylvania Impressionist school of art. The essence of this style is a smooth careful background, overlaid with quick thick foreground brushwork, producing a strong three-dimensional effect.
Schoolchildren in buses delight in the dolls house aspects, tourists admire the very fine art, everybody likes the cute little jumble of well-preserved eclectic buildings. It's all in a setting of Quaker farmhouses for the time being, but the split-levels and the McMansions by the thousands are coming. Visitors throng to see, and the residents are proud of what they have. But, really, does everybody have to bring his car?
Home is the sailor, wrote A. E. Housman, Home from the sea. In this case, the sailor is the Battleship New Jersey. The U.S.S. New Jersey rides at permanent anchor in the Delaware River, tied to the Camden side. You can visit the ship almost any afternoon, and with reservations can even throw a nice cocktail party on the fan tail. It's an entertaining thing to do under almost any circumstances, but the trip is more enjoyable if you spend a little time learning about the ship's history. The volunteer guides, many of them still grizzled veterans of the ship's voyages, will be happy to fill in the details.
In the first place, the ship's final bloody battle was whether to moor the ship in the Philadelphia harbor, or New York harbor, when the U.S. Navy had got through using it. You can accomplish that and remain in the state of New Jersey either way, but there's a big social difference between North Jersey and South Jersey, so the negotiations did get a little ugly. Because of the way politics go in Jersey, it wouldn't be surprising if a few bridges and dams had to be built north of Trenton to reconcile the grievance, or possibly a couple dozen patronage jobs with big salaries but no work requirement. The struggle surely isn't over. Battleships are expensive to maintain, even at parade rest; if you don't paint them, they rust. Current revenues from tourists and souvenirs do not cover the costs, so the matter keeps coming up in corridors of the capitol in Trenton.
Home is the sailor, home from sea:
Home is the hunter from the hill:
'Tis evening on the moorland free,
A. E. Housman
Battleship design gradually specialized into a transport vehicle for big cannon, ones that can shoot accurately for twenty miles while the platform bounces around on the ocean surface. Situated in turrets in the center of the vessel, they can shoot to both sides. That's also true of armored tanks in the cavalry, or course, with the history in the tank's case of the big guns migrating from the artillery to the cavalry, causing no end of jurisdictional squabble between officers trained to be aggressive for their teams. Originally, the sort of battleship which John Paul Jones sailed was expected to attack and capture other vessels, shoot rifles down from the rigging, send boarders into the enemy ships with cutlasses in their teeth, and perform numerous other tasks. In time, the battleship got bigger and bigger so in order to blow up other battleships had to sacrifice everything else to sailing speed and size of cannon. Protection of the vessel was important, of course, but in the long run if something had to be sacrificed for speed and gunpowder, it was self-protection. There's a strange principle at work, here. The longer the ship, the faster it can go. Almost all ocean speed records have been held by the gigantic ocean liners for that reason. If you apply the same idea to a battleship, the heavy armored protection gets necessarily bigger, and heavier as the ship gets longer, and ultimately slows the ship down. As a matter of fact, bigger and bigger engines also make the ship faster, until their weight begins to slow them down. Bigger engines require more fuel, and carrying too much of that slows you down, too. Out of all this comes a need for a world empire, to provide fueling stations. Since the Germans didn't have an empire, they had to sacrifice armor for more fuel space and more speed, to compensate for which they had to build bigger guns but fewer of them. Although the British had more ships sunk, they won the battle of Jutland because more German ships were incapacitated. When you are a sailor on one of these ships, it's easy to see how you get interested in design issues which may affect your own future. An underlying principle was that you had to be faster than anything more powerful, and more powerful than anything faster.
The point here is that the New Jersey, as a member of the Iowa class of battleship, was arguably the absolutely best battleship in world history. At 33 knots, it wasn't quite the fastest, its guns weren't quite the biggest, its armor wasn't quite the thickest, but by multiplying the weight of the ship by the length of its guns and dividing by something else you get an index number for the biggest baddest ship ever. The Yamamoto and the Bismarck were perhaps a little bigger, but the New Jersey was at least the fastest meanest un-sunk battleship. Air power and nuclear submarines put the battleship out of business, so the New Jersey will hold the world battleship title for all time. Strange, when you see it from the Ben Franklin Bridge, it looks comparatively small, even though it could blow up Valley Forge without moving from anchor.
One story is told by Chuck Okamoto, a member of the Green Berets who was sent with a group of eight comrades into a Vietnamese army compound to "extract" an enemy officer for interrogation. When enemy flares lit up the area, it was clear they were facing thousands of agitated enemy soldiers, and Okamoto called for air support. He was told it would take thirty minutes; he replied he only had three minutes, and to his relief was told something could be arranged. Almost immediately the whole area just blew up, turned into a desert in sixty seconds. The guns of the New Jersey, twenty miles away, had picked off the target. The story got more than average attention because Okamoto's father was Lyndon Johnson's personal photographer, and Lyndon called up to congratulate.
A number of similar stories led to the idea that naval gunfire might have destroyed some bridges in Vietnam which cost the Air Force many lost planes vainly trying to bomb, but, as the stories go, the Air Force just wouldn't permit a naval infringement of its turf. This sort of second-guessing is sometimes put down to inter-service rivalry, but it seems more likely to be just another technology story of air power gradually supplanting naval artillery. Plenty of battleships were sunk by bombs and torpedo planes before the battleship just went away. If you sail the biggest, baddest battleship in world history, naturally you regret its passing.
Tourists will forever be intrigued by the "all or nothing" construction of the New Jersey. Not only are the big guns surrounded by steel armor three feet thick, the whole turret for five stories down into the hold is similarly encased in a steel fortress. This design traces back to the battle of Jutland, where a number of battle cruisers were blown up because the ammunition was stored in areas of the hold not nearly so protected as the gun itself. Putting it all within a steel cocoon lessened that risk, and had the side benefit that when ammunition accidentally exploded, the damage was confined within the cocoon. It must have been pretty noisy inside the turret when it was hit, sort of like being inside the Liberty Bell when it clangs. But not so; stories have been told of turrets hit by 500 pound bombs which the occupants didn't even notice. The term "all or nothing" refers to the fact that the gun turrets are sort of passengers inside a relatively unprotected steering and transportation balloon. In order to save weight, most of the armor protection is for the gun. That's a 16/50, by the way. Sixteen inches in diameter, and fifty times as long. With the weight distributed in this odd manner, the Iowa class of dreadnought was more likely to capsize than to sink. Accordingly, the interior of the hull is broken up into watertight compartments, serviced by an elaborate pumping system. Water could be pumped around to re-balance a flooded hull perforation, certainly a tricky problem under battle conditions.
|Prince Grigory Potemkin|
Someone who has traveled in modern China -- and is at all observant -- knows that the extensive slums and trashy wastelands of the Inner Kingdom are systematically hidden from tourist's eyes by fences and plantings of tall trees. In a few years, the trees will grow a few feet taller and fully conceal what is behind them, but today modern tourist buses are high enough so you can see over the treetops if you look. When American tourists notice this, they are very smug.
The term Potemkin Village is a somewhat exaggerated term for the process Grigory Potemkin used to clean up the villages that his girlfriend Catherine the Great passed through on her visit to southern Russia and Crimea. He apparently did not construct whole fake villages as enemies claimed, but he was unnecessarily forceful,
|West Philadelphia, at one time.|
let us say, in his efforts to smarten things up. After taking a few rides on Philadelphia's suburban commuter trains, or a boat ride up its rivers, the idea does cross most minds that we could use a Potemkin in charge of our Streets Department, or maybe a Communist Chinese on loan. We have miles, maybe even hundreds of miles, of overgrown weeds along our embankments, spiced with the discarded trash of historic duration. Since nobody wanted to live next to coal-burning locomotives, and most people even dislike the noisy though cleaner replacements, the houses along the railroad clearly deserve to be hidden. That's true in almost every town in the world (not Japan, not Switzerland) and it's deplorably true in our Philadelphia. Seaports and riverbanks are a mess everywhere, too, and we are certainly in style in that department as well. Why can't the Schuylkill look like the Seine, next to the cathedral of Notre Dame?
So the Chinese have combined the concept of cleaning up their public spaces, which we applaud, with the concept of hiding the economic truth, which we sneer at. Maybe we should give some thought to a spin campaign, the essence of which is a metropolitan crusade to pick up the trash, build some strategic fences, and plant a whole lot of tall evergreens along with the public ways. We've made a good start with Boathouse Row; why not extend it to Gray's Ferry, or even to Norristown? The idea is not a new one; Lady Bird Johnson made it her main goal in public life.
In 1965, Lyndon Johnson used his famous powers of legislative persuasion to give his wife what she wanted. The Highway Beautification Law of 1965 was passed by Congress on Lady Bird's birthday, with everyone in the gallery dressed in evening clothes. With the vote counted and enormous standing applause registered for fifteen minutes, the whole group traveled over to the White House for a signing of the law with nineteen pens. There followed the birthday party at the White House, to end all birthday parties. Highway billboards were a thing of the past.
That was forty or so years ago, and unfortunately, the billboard companies didn't like it at all. Through administrations both Democrat and Republican, the Department of Transportation has never issued regulations, so Highway Beautification was never implemented. It represents just one more unwritten aspect of the Constitution that James Madison and his friends didn't fully anticipate.
If you sail north up the Delaware Bay, you would go past Rehoboth, Lewes, Dover, New Castle, Wilmington -- on the left, or Delaware side. On the right, or New Jersey side, it's a long way from Cape May to Salem, the first town of any consequence. That is, the Jersey side of the riverbank is still comparatively uninhabited. When the first settlers came along, with vast areas to choose among, it might have seemed attractive to settle on the Delaware side, because the peninsular nature of what is now called Delmarva (Del-Mar-Va) would provide land access to two large navigable bays, the Delaware, and the Chesapeake. To go all the way up the Delaware to what is now Pennsylvania would give trading access to a whole continent, so that eventually proved to be where immigration was headed. But as a matter of fact, the marshy Jersey shore seemed more attractive for settlement by the earlier settlers.
A settler has to think about starving the first year or two, because trees have to be cut down, and stumps pulled up, before the land can even be plowed. After that, comes planting and growing, then finally harvesting. Trees, behind which Indians can hide, are a bad thing all around in the eyes of a settler. The flat swampy meadows of the Jersey bank were just exactly what the Dutch knew how to manage. Dam up the creeks and drain the ground, and you will soon have lots of land ready for the plow, without any confounded trees. By the end of the seventeenth century, the English who had made the mistake of settling in rocky Connecticut finally saw what the Dutch were able to do, and came down to take it away from them.
That's why there is a Salem, New Jersey, and also a Greenwich, New Jersey. Greenwich ( around here they pronounce it green-witch) had 870 residents at the last census. It is one of the cutest little colonial villages you are likely to encounter. The local historians refer to it as an unreconstructed Williamsburg, drawing prideful attention to the fact that these houses were really built in the colonial period, and are in no way imitation reconstructions. The isolated charm of this place is in large part due to being surrounded by a maze of wandering creeks, so visitors by land travel don't get there in time for lunch unless they take great care to follow a local road map. If you arrive by water, it's no problem; just navigate up the crooked and twisting Cohansey River.
Although pioneer settlement was much earlier, the oldest house still standing in that rather damp area was built in 1730. Things are pretty much the way they were before the American Revolution, because the Calvinists who settled here were not prepared for the Jersey mosquito, which obviously is abundant in such a marshy area. With the mosquito comes relapsing (Vivax, malaria, black water (Falciparum) malaria, and Dengue Fever (graphically known locally as break-bone fever). As a matter of fact, encephalitis is also mosquito-borne. When you don't understand the insect carrier situation, survival in such an environment depends on local fables and lore, like going to the mountains for the summer after the planting season, and only returning at harvest time. That sounds to a New Englander newcomer like a superstitious cloak for lazy living, especially since masses of fish come up the river in teeming waves, looking for mosquitoes to eat. So, Greenwich is charming, but it never was thriving.
Working hard to find something to say about the town, it would appear that Paul Revere himself came riding into Greenwich in December 1774, urging the town to join their Boston relatives in the destruction of tea belonging to the British East India Company. Greenwich accordingly had a public tea burning on December 22. Since the more notorious Boston tea party took place on December 16, 1773, and the British Tea Act was passed in May, 1773, it is not exactly accurate to say the rebellion spread like wildfire. One has to suppose that the inflammatory tale told to the local farmers by Paul Revere was likely a little enhanced, since a careful recounting of the events in Boston suggests a number of ways the uproar might have been avoided if Samuel Adams and his friends had been less provocative. Or if Massachusetts Royal Governor Thomas Hutchinson had been less flighty. Or for that matter, if Benjamin Franklin had restrained himself when he got hold of Hutchinson's letters at a critical moment when he was in London. In retrospect, the best model for behavior was provided by the Royal Navy; the whole Boston Tea Party was surrounded by armed British naval vessels, who did not lift a finger throughout the demonstration.
Anyway, little Greenwich had its minute of fame with a tea burning. Otherwise, it has had a very quiet existence for three centuries.
|Paul Revere & The World He Lived In||Amazon|
Charles Peterson, the famous architectural historian and preservationist, died just before his 98th birthday on August 19, 2004. It is to him we largely owe the redevelopment of Society Hill, and the design of the Independence National Park, as well as a host of restorations from the Adams Mansion of Quincy, Massachusetts, to the early French settlements along the Mississippi. He conceived of many national historic preservation projects, the most notable of which is the Historic American Buildings Survey (HASB) of the Department of the Interior.
|The Adams Mansion|
While he was most notable for large visions and huge projects, he also had a keen appreciation for fastidious accuracy in small matters, of which the Amity Button would be a vivid example. In the surviving Colonial buildings of Philadelphia, it is common to find a plain ivory coat button nailed to the top of the newel post of the main staircase. There's one in Independence Hall, another in the grand staircase of the Pennsylvania Hospital, and there is one in Charlie Peterson's own home, the one where he was the first Society Hill gentrification pioneer, a house originally built by Stephen Girard around 3rd and Spruce.
The Free Quaker
There is a strong tradition in Philadelphia that these strange buttons are Amity Buttons, nailed there by the Quaker builder at the moment when the new owner had fully settled his construction debt, symbolizing the amity between a willing buyer and a willing seller. Countless visitors to Society Hill have been shown these curious buttons, and it always seems to produce a warm glow of appreciation for the discovery. If you have one of these in your own house, you can be very proud.
Unfortunately, Charlie Peterson couldn't find any evidence for the truth of this fable, and you can be sure he subjected the matter to a totally dedicated search. You might think there would be some notations in the deeds, or in the correspondence of the day, or in the literature of the times. You would think that someone who repeats this tale would be able to relate where he got it, and that would lead to some letters in an attic, and that if you work hard enough, you will find it. But when the button matter came up, Mr. Peterson would suddenly become grim-lipped and sad, and repeat the mantra that there is no evidence to support the story. He even awarded prizes to architectural students for essays on newel posts, bannisters, and stair rails, but no student essay ever turned up any authentication of the Amity Button story. Absence of evidence is of course not the same as evidence of absence, so it is remotely possible that the story will someday be vindicated.
Indeed, you have to believe there was something or other to start the story. Victor Failmetzger and his wife, who have a notable reputation for authenticating old house parts, relate that in Colonial Virginia it was common to have hollow newel posts on the stairway, and occasionally to find the deed to the house secreted in one of them. So the search goes on.
In fact, it always seemed likely that Charles Peterson very much wanted to believe the fable was true. But until some evidence turned up, he was going to go to his grave with the declaration that there existed no evidence for it.
Three hundred years ago, in 1704, Roland Ellis acquired 700 acres of the Welsh Barony in what is commonly called Philadelphia Main Line, and built a palatial house on it. He called his homestead Bryn Mawr, or great hill, after his ancestral home in Wales of the same name, thereby explaining why Bryn Mawr College and Bryn Mawr town have the name but are not notably situated on hills. The town of Bryn Mawr was once called Humphryville. But Bryn Mawr sounded nicer, even though there are plenty of Humphries still around to defend the older designation.
About fifty thousand acres were set aside by William Penn as the Welsh Barony, and there was willingness to allow it to be self-governing, although that didn't much happen because the inhabitants saw no point in being self-governing. Nevertheless, the term isn't just an ethnic allusion, but has some historic meaning.
In any event, Ellis proved to be an unsuccessful manager of his estate, which rather soon passed into the hands of the Harrison family, who lived on it for about two hundred years until real estate development, and the taxes related there unto, forced the creation of a complicated arrangement, with the township of Lower Merion owning the property and a non-profit group called the Harriton Association managing it. They have luckily obtained the services of a famous curator, Bruce Gill, who does research, writes papers, and organizes programs for visitors. The neighbors in the area, all living on land that formerly belonged to the Harrisons, are said to constitute the richest neighborhood in America. By building the original farmhouse rather far from the main road (Old Gulph) and remaining surrounded by neighbors who want to have privacy, Harriton House has fewer visitors than it deserves because it is so devilish hard to find.
There was a little local skirmishing during the Revolutionary War, but the main historical significance of the House was that Charles Thomson married a Harrison and lived there all throughout the period of the Revolution and the Articles of Confederation (1774-1789) as the Secretary of the Continental Congress. His little writing desk is therefore the most notable piece of furniture at Harriton House, since every piece of official paper involved in the whole Revolutionary episode passed through it or over it. Modern organizations would do well to notice that Thomson was not given a vote and was expected to be totally unbiased about Congressional affairs. Even in those days, there must have been cautionary experience with secretaries who tinkered with the minutes for their own preferences. It certainly was entirely fitting that this last steward of the Articles of Confederation was designated to carry the news to George Washington at Mount Vernon, that he had been elected President of the new form of government. No doubt, Washington was pleased but unsurprised to learn of it.
While Harriton House is imposing on the exterior, and was the likely prototype of many characteristic Main Line stone mansions, the inside of the house is quite primitive. In those days it was cheap to build a big house, but expensive to heat it. In 1704 surrounded by a continent of forest, firewood may not have seemed a problem, but it quickly posed a transportation problem, and later houses tended to shrink in size. In any event, the interior of the house seems strangely bleak and bare, quite in keeping with the early Quaker principle of building a structure "without paint, or other adornment". Bruce Gill spent quite a lot of time and effort to determine that the random-width flooring had never received any shellac, varnish or wax. Those are beautiful floors, but the "finish" is just three hundred years of oxidized dirt.
The original Bryn Mawr, now called Harriton House, is well worth a visit. If you can find it; GPS is the modern solution.
Slum creation, while occasionally deliberate, is most typically caused by an area's abandonment by previous owners, at lower prices, to bargain hunters. When a large employer moves or closes, the employees seek work elsewhere and sell their houses for what they can get. When the influx of new ethnic groups threatens to weaken real estate prices, panic may be created that waiting too long to sell may find the property worthless; nobody wants to be the last one out the door. During the 20th Century, the driving force in Philadelphia was the flight to the suburbs by people who found a better value in suburban schools, shops, and neighborhoods. All of these processes create slums, almost invariably with a net loss of value in the community. Take a look at those deteriorating mansions on North Broad Street, where the Civil War millionaires used to live. In today's terms, they were once worth several million dollars apiece, but in today's real estate market, they are next to worthless. Value disappeared. The community as a whole is poorer than it was. From the Mayor's point of view, the area has lost its tax base.
Of all these forces, the flight to the suburbs is probably the least destructive to the region, particularly if it is reasonably slow. Out in the suburbs, value is being created as cornfields turn into suburbia, and that added value must be set against the reduced value of the abandoned slum areas. Viewed from the Mayors' perspectives, however, we have a zero sum. The city loses its tax base, the suburbs gain, and local politics soon degenerate into warfare between the suburbs and the city. Not a nice situation, and it cries out for a new civic design. The city politicians have dreamed for a century of city-suburb consolidation, but Philadelphia tried that in 1850. It didn't cure the problem, and it may have created new problems. In any event, suburban politicians live and die on their anti-city rhetoric, and everybody's behavior in the Legislature deserves no kinder description than -- savage.
Because this issue has been the underlying theme of the Pennsylvania Legislature for two centuries, it repeatedly surfaces in ways that are surprising unless you understand the mechanics of suburban sprawl well enough to see the connection. For example, nowadays a real issue is the three-car family.
During the 19th Century, multi-acre estates spread out along the Main Line of the Pennsylvania Railroad, with the coachman and horses taking plutocrats to the station. Smaller houses, for people who walked to the station, clustered nearby, but you didn't have to go very far from the station to find the gated estates. Suburban development spread out in linear and predictable fashion from the city, along the Main Line. The advent of the automobile freed commuters from the tyranny of railroad station orientation, and middle-class residents could flee the city to areas of the suburbs that were fairly far from the railroad and its stations. But not too far, because there was the problem of the lady of the house, who had to get to the stores. To free her up, the family had to have two cars in the garage. Suburban shopping malls helped her problem, somewhat, but the railroad station was still a magnet.
And then, the majority of married women became working wives, confronting the problem of kids getting to the confounded school. The highly questionable solution of giving the kids a collective car as soon as the oldest got a license, made the oldest kid proudly take the role the coachman used to have, and it caused a lot of teenage turmoil that need not be described here. The point to be stressed is that the three-car family sent home-building into cornfields that were not even close to the main road. Since land gets cheaper the further you get from the city, an economic incentive is created to enter uncongenial social environments, and adopt unexamined attitudes about the environment that are ultimately flatly contradictory.
When the kids leave home, the exurban pioneers no longer need the third car, and think about returning to city life. So far, however, they have been returning to Center City, not the residential neighborhoods they used to call home.
Slums are occasionally created deliberately. The great difficulty in assembling a large parcel of land in the center of a city, to build a skyscraper, let's say, creates a financial incentive to make the existing occupants of an area believe they want to move. The general technique is to buy a property in the targeted area, then let it deteriorate in such a disgusting way that the neighbors can't wait to get out. That makes the price of neighboring properties go down, so you can buy them and repeat the process. You can even further the project of parcel-assembly by renting the property to stores that sell pornographic movies, or display girls, girls, girls, or play boom boom music. Neighbors complain vociferously about that, so it is necessary to bribe a few officials to get away with it. When you see a sex shop, look around for an official who has taken a bribe to look the other way. And behind that, you'll generally find a real estate developer who wants to put up a skyscraper; he isn't necessarily to be commended for clearing the eyesores with his new building, because maybe he encouraged the eyesores. It might perhaps be possible to describe this behavior as a cyclic part of creative destruction; garbage collection is a necessary function, and you could look at the buildings headed for demolition as merely architectural garbage that needs to be picked up by someone willing to do it. You could say that, but it is good advice to such scavengers that it might be wise to have your own home and central office located in some other city. In Charleston, South Carolina, they have an ingenious law which imposes severe penalties for the crime of demolishing a building by intentional neglect. And they probably have some tar and feathers left over from earlier reconstruction eras.
Somewhat disgusting behavior does have a justification when the intended purpose of the land -- a highway, a bridge, a skyscraper -- is greater than the value of the existing property, as a houses, a drugstore, or a historic landmark. If there is really no other place for the new structure to go, it's a tough decision, because there is a net increase in value after the process is completed. More often, however, there are a number of other places where new development could go, and the race is on to make one particular direction more attractive to a developer by making it far less attractive to everyone else. When the race to the bottom is won by somebody's slum, several other competing slums have been created. If you include them in the calculation, the net change in value may actually be negative.
City government often abets slum creation in two ways. By petty corruption of zoning, policing of vice-like activities, and slack enforcement of maintenance rules. And secondly, by failing to lower taxes when properties get less valuable. This phenomenon is paradoxically more likely to affect the splendid mansions than the little workers houses, because it is politically difficult to lower the assessment on a millionaire's mansion, just because the neighborhood turned less fashionable. The millionaire himself might pay those punitive taxes for his show place, but the absent heirs -- just dump the place.
|Philadelphia's Fairmount Park|
New York's Central Park was created when it became clear there would be no park unless it was deliberately planned and its boundaries vigorously defended against real estate developers. Philadelphia's Fairmount Park, on the other hand, was to some degree a slum clearance project. The swift waters of the Wissahickon provide excellent power sources, provoking the construction of many mills. With steam power, they were abandoned, leaving desolate industrial hulks that blotted the landscape. Fairmount Park cleared out the remains of deserted mills, which had moved upriver to Manayunk, closer to a supply of coal. Fairmount Park was a creation of the Pennsylvania State Legislature, but the State never funded it. And it has thus always been somewhat larger than the City could afford.
In the early 1990s a beleaguered City government reached a public/private accord as a result of a commissioned study of the matter, which essentially urged that the city government should run the recreational programs in the parking area, and the private sector should be asked to do its best with land and historic building preservation. The William Penn Foundation, the Pew Charitable Trusts, and other philanthropic organizations banded together to form the Fairmount Park Historic Preservation Trust. Among its functions was to coordinate the many organizations which had been formed to preserve small areas of the park, as a result of the concerns of neighborhoods or descendants of former owners of historic homes. The Fairmount Park Trust finds itself in charge of over 400 houses, of which about 250 are genuine of historic value. They have to be preserved against vandalism and vagrants, mainly they have to be preserved against decay. Someone has to use them, and for that, someone has to spend money to fix them up and maintain them. If that is to happen, someone else has to set standards for preservation that balance the historic values with the need for some kind of present usage. Since few people would be willing to spend money and put up with uneconomical regulations if the building belongs to the park, the management of the Trust must manage and oversee very long-term leases. Obviously, the Trust must know what it is doing, have the wisdom to be innovative, and endure a fair amount of harangue by disappointed developers.
And it must supply some things which are hard to find, like advice and know-how about fixing up historic buildings of a certain age and history. The Trust has actually gone into the business of doing historic preservation for a fee, on its own property and elsewhere (Christ Church burial ground is an example). It thus generates some income to supplement philanthropic contributions. There is no requirement that prospective tenants must be non profit, only that the entity be of value to the neighborhood, and there are other signs that the Trust intends to be far-sighted and imaginative in the goal of making the Park something to be proud of, from the nearest to the farthest corner.
One idea suggested for further coordinated action might be to search for types of underbrush which would be repellent to deer who destroy the forest understory. Or, to search for particularly tasty "bait" shrubs which would draw the deer away from areas needing preservation. The combination of both ideas might lead to a natural balance, which would be unlikely to come about by the action of small local preservationists. Meanwhile, there are too many deer, and someone has to decide how and when to "cull the herd". That's how, in a small way, the trust got into the venison business.
So far, the Trust has preserved about 25 houses in the past ten years. That's a marvelous achievement, but it will take a century to complete the whole park unless momentum picks up. The Trust sort of needs an impresario of some kind or other to stir up public support.
Philadelphia was the birthplace of Henry George, at 413 South 10th Street between Pine and Lombard, in 1839. The house has been restored to its 1839 condition and serves as the Philadelphia extension of the Henry George School for Social Studies, where you can take a course or two on the economic theories of Henry George, especially the Single Tax. If you do so, you can join the rest of us in pondering whether Henry George was a genius or a nut; he certainly combined some elements of both.
|Henry George House|
Leo Tolstoy no less, felt there was a conspiracy to keep people from knowing about the theories of Henry George, saying, "People do not argue with the teaching of George, they simply do not know it." In 1879 Henry George published a book, "Progress and Poverty which made him so famous he became a candidate for Mayor of New York City. Although he lost the election, he outpolled the third candidate, Theodore Roosevelt. The underlying thesis of his book would probably not find much approval among contemporary economists, who would likely say he was fooled by a cyclic increase in the value of land as an asset class. What he said was there was a remorseless trend of land to increase in value, while the proportion of wealth represented by labor and capital steadily diminished. Nevertheless, it can still be argued that: proceeding from the wrong premise about the causes of poverty, he might have propounded an attractive cure -- the single tax. Henry George asserted that we should stop taxing buildings ("improvements") and place all municipal taxes on land.
There could be something to this. It is uncomfortably true that your taxes go up whenever you build a new building or substantially renovate an old one. The increased taxation of improvements is a dis-incentive to building, renovating and improving a property. Placing taxes on the underlying land, by contrast, would create a positive incentive to build something and put the land to use. Evidence can in fact be produced that partial adoption of this principle has caused considerable prosperity in Pittsburgh, notwithstanding that city's recent flirtation with bankruptcy for unrelated reasons. Pittsburgh has shifted the proportion of real estate taxation from structures to underlying land, several times, and each time the change was followed by a demonstrable flurry of real estate development. Philadelphia had no similar flurries at those times, and it is said the contrast was caused by State Law which forbids such "discriminatory" taxation in first-class cities. Pennsylvania has only only one first class city, Philadelphia, so you don't have to guess which city the Legislature had in mind.
Before we let ourselves get too embittered by dirty politics, we should take a look at Arden, Delaware, which is another nearby town to try the Henry George approach. Arden is a little country suburb of Wilmington which became a summer art colony, with theater groups, especially favoring Shakespeare. Arden, which is Shakespere-speak (in As You Like It) for the Ardennes Forest in France , applied the Henry George rules to taxing the land not the summer houses of the area. So, go take a look there at the result. More and more houses, crowded closer and closer together -- on the same land. There's plenty of open land over the next hill where Arden supporters could drive or even walk in ten minutes, so the Henry George system is quite effective all right. But the effect is not entirely what was intended. Leo Tolstoy is gone, so someone else must unravel this riddle.
The north side of Dock Creek (now, Dock Street) was lower than Society Hill side, and somewhat swampy. The tendency to flood caused the north side to have smaller and less permanent buildings, and so it became the Colonial waterfront area remaining more commercial, and in parts, shabby, even during the 19th Century.. Still further to the north this was not the case, but the waterfront and food market patch more or less marooned Christ Church, now the single most graceful and elegant Colonial building still standing. This formerly commercial area is now called Old City, with many loft apartments mixed among surviving warehouse outlets, and of course the ethnic restaurants characteristic of such gentrified areas.
Elfreth's Alley, running for one block east and west between Second and Front (1st) Streets. Some of the history of this street is obscure, so some of it is probably synthetic, because nothing particularly historic happened there to create detailed records. Elfreth's Alley claims to be the oldest street in America, a claim that can be substantiated back to 1702. The street is filled with little "workers houses", presenting a solid front of buildings on both sides of the cobblestoned street. Most of the houses could vaguely be called "father, son and holy ghost houses", looking as though they consisted of three rooms on top of each other, although in fact most of them are larger. A moment's consideration shows that the street consists of many double houses, with three doorways in front. Each house had a door to the interior, and most of them have a third door opening to a shared tunnel between the two houses, leading to the back yards. These tunnels were called "easements", a term that has migrated from its earlier usage. Although William Penn envisioned large single estates in his "Greene country Towne", he sold considerable land to people who remained in England as absentee landlords, who soon found that many small houses produced more rent than one or two big ones. One of the houses on Elfreth's Alley acts as a museum, with tours; there is an active civic association, and once a year in June there is a street fair.
Because the land was swampy and the neighborhood congested, Christ Church soon outgrew its backyard burial ground, and burying important people under slabs in the walkways and corridors. Visitors who do not come from that sort of religious background are typically uncomfortable walking over such graves, a quite common arrangement in European cathedrals. But eventually, it was necessary to go several blocks westward to create a "new" burial ground. Most of the famous names from the Revolutionary era, like Benjamin Franklin and four other signers of the Declaration of Independence are found on the tombstones at Fifth and Arch, just across the street from the Free Quaker meeting house, and opposite the Philadelphia Mint. On the remaining corner of Fifth and Arch is the Constitution Center which will open July 4, 2003. It can already be seen that its architecture clashes with the rest of the historic area, but it is fervently hoped that its programs will redeem it.
|Society Hill and Old City, Image of America: Robert Morris Skaler||Amazon|
|The Gross Clinic|
A Christmas visitor from New York announced he read in the New York newspapers that Philadelphia's mayor had just rescued a painting called The Gross Clinic, for the city of Philadelphia. The Philadelphia physicians who heard this version of events from an outsider reacted frostily, grumpily, and in stone silence. To them, the mayor was just grandstanding again, and whatever the New York newspaper reporters may have thought they were saying was anybody's conjecture.
|Mayor John Street|
Thomas Eakins is known to have painted the portraits of eighteen Philadelphia physicians. Several of these portraits have been highly praised and richly appraised, seen in the art world as part of a larger depiction of Philadelphia itself in the days of its Nineteenth century eminence. That's quite different from its colonial eminence, with George Washington, Ben Franklin, the Declaration and all that. And of course entirely different from its present overshadowed status, compared with that overpriced Disneyland eighty miles to the North. Eakins depicted the rowers on the Schuylkill, and the respectable folks of the professions, every scene reeking with Victorian reminders. It's a little hard to imagine any big-city mayor of the present century in that environment. Indeed, it is hard to imagine most contemporary Americans in a Victorian environment -- except in Philadelphia, Boston, and perhaps Baltimore. So, Mayor Street can be forgiven for not knowing exactly what stance to take, and was not alone in that condition.
|Pennsylvania Hospital, Philadelphia|
S. Weir Mitchell, for example, became known as the father of neurology as a result of his studies and descriptions of wartime nerve injuries. But the repair of injuries is a surgical art, and many novel procedures were invented and even perfected, many textbooks were written. Amphitheaters were constructed around the operating tables, for students and medical visitors to watch the famous masters at work.
In The Gross Clinic, we see the flamboyant surgeon in the pit of his amphitheater at Jefferson Hospital, in the background we see anesthesia being administered. Up until the invention of anesthesia, the most prized quality in a surgeon was speed. With whiskey for the patient and several attendants to hold him down, the surgeon had one or two minutes to do his job; no patient could stand much more than that. After the introduction of anesthesia, it might overwhelm newcomers to observe leisurely nonchalance, but in truth the patient felt nothing, so the surgeon could safely pause and lecture to his nauseated admirers.
What made an operation dangerous was not its duration, but the subsequent complications of wound infection. By 1876, Eakins could have had no idea that Pasteur and Lister were going to address that issue in four or five years, making operations safe as well as painless. But his depiction of a surgeon with bloody bare hands, standing in Victorian formal street clothes, gives the most dramatic possible emphasis in the painting to the two most important scientific advances of the century. Modern medical students spend days or weeks learning the ceremonial of the five-minute scrubbing of hands with a stiff and somewhat painful brush, the elaborate robing of the high priest in a sterile gown by a nurse attendant, hands held high. The rubber gloves, the mystery of a face mask and cap. In some schools, the drill is to cover the hands of a neophyte with charcoal dust, blindfold him, and insist that he scrub off every speck of dirt that he cannot see, before he is admitted to the operating theater for the first time. If he brushes some object in passing, he is banished to the scrub room to start over. So the Gross Clinic has an impact on everyone who sees the surgeon in street clothes, but it is trivial compared with the impact that painting has on every medical student who has been forced to learn the stern modern ritual. For at least fifty years, that painting hung on the wall facing the main entrance to the medical school, where every student had to pass it every day. To every graduate, the lack of clean surgical technique by the famous man was a wrenching sermon on every doctor's risk of trying his utmost to do his best, but doing the wrong thing.
That painting, hanging quite high, was rather cleverly displayed to the public through a large window above the door. With clever lighting, every layman who walked along busy Walnut Street could see it, too, and it became a part of Philadelphia. That was a feature the medical community barely noticed, but it was probably the main reason for public uproar when a billionaire heiress offered the school $68 million to take the painting to Arkansas. The painting was not just an icon for the medical profession, it had become a central part of Philadelphia. Philadelphia wanted to keep that painting for a variety of reasons, and one of the main ones was probably a sense of shame that we were so poor we had to sell our family heirlooms to hill-billies.
The doctors didn't pay much attention to that. They were mad, plenty mad, that a Philadelphia board of trustees would appoint a president from elsewhere who would give any consideration at all to such an impertinent offer.
Howard B. Haas a lawyer, and Shawn Evans an architect, are captains of a team trying to "save" the old Boyd Theatre at 1908 Chestnut Street. Since Clear Channel the present owner has invested $13million in the property, and the preservationists agree that renovation of the movie palace to all its former glory would cost between $20million and $30million more, it's easy to understand why every other movie palace in central Philadelphia has been demolished. Furthermore, that area of town is having a resurgence of high-rise construction, so one use of the property must be balanced against others.
The Boyd was built in 1928, just before the stock market crash, and closed in 2002. In fact, it changed its name to SamEric in its dying days, but the public remembers it as the Boyd, one of ten movie palaces in center city. The definition of a "palace" is arbitrary, but is generally taken to be a theater with more than a thousand seats, normally with hyperbolic architecture to fit its hyperbolic advertising. Scholars of the matter say the earliest movie houses were constructed in Egyptian style, soon evolving into French Art Deco. Ornate, whatever it's called.
The palace concept developed in the era of silent films, with subtitles. Anyone who has experimented with home movies knows that the silent film sort of lacks something, particularly between reels and at times of breakdown in the projection. That's why brass bands played on the sidewalk outside, pipe organs played during intermissions, and all manner of vaudeville appeared on stage. Sound movies, or talkies, were immediately much more popular when they appeared in 1927, and had less need of the window dressing from other distractions which had grown into a moviehouse tradition which was slow to die.
The movie studios owned the films and soon built theaters to display them. The movie business was quite profitable from the start, so studios had the necessary finance to spread a network of very large theaters across the country quickly. The ability to concentrate hyped-up advertising with immediate display of the product in large captive theaters tended to drive the model of the "palace" , which was able to sustain higher ticket prices than trickling a larger number of film copies to myriads of small "mom and pop" local theaters. In very short order, going downtown to see movies became at one time the largest reason for suburbanites to go to the center of town on public transportation, fitting in nicely with the concentration of huge department stores, also located there. Restaurants, bars, bowling alleys and shops grew up to address the crowds. Furthermore, the economic depression of the 1930s slowed down what was to become a relentless automobile-flight to the suburbs. After the spread of free television at home in 1950, the downtown movie palaces were doomed. The legal profession helped, too. Small suburban theater operators eventually won an antitrust suit against what they described as monopoly power of studio-owned center city palaces, so a host of small sharks in the suburbs started to eat the whales downtown. Furthermore, sound quality was easier to achieve in a smaller auditorium. To tell the truth, fire hazard was also lessened without the arc-lamps needed to project images across a long distance.
So, a new technology interacting with an old theatrical tradition quickly created the movie industry in its downtown movie palace form; more advancing technology quickly destroyed it, with a little help from economics and politics. Good luck to the friends of this historical epoch, who have a monumental task ahead to work up the public nostalgia and political strength required to overcome a huge economic obstacle of the "highest, best use of the land". In many ways, the most valuable contribution of this movie palace restoration movement is to dramatize in the public mind just how urban centers function. Department stores are gone, going intown to the movies is over. How else are you now going to get the couch potatoes to go downtown voluntarily, and often? Just imagine ten palaces simultaneously filling up with several thousand suburbanites apiece, seven nights a week. Without those additional drawbacks on ample display in Atlantic City and Las Vegas, please.
|Franklin Court Museum|
When Judge Edwin O. Lewis was seized with the idea of making a national monument out of Colonial Philadelphia, he wanted it big. Forty or so years later, it's big all right, but not big enough to encompass the whole of America's most historic square mile. Government ownership in the form of a cross now extends five blocks north from Washington Square to Franklin Square, and four blocks East from Sixth to Second Streets. Restoration and historic display have spread considerably beyond that cross, however, and the Park Service has created ingenious walkways within the working city in the neighborhood. If you thread your way through these walkways, you can stroll for miles within the world of William Penn and Benjamin Franklin. One such unexpected walkway is now called Franklin Court, which essentially cuts from Market to Chestnut Streets, within the block bounded by 3rd and 4th Streets. Hidden in the center is the reconstructed ghost of Franklin's quite large house, sitting in an interior courtyard bounded by a colonial post office, and a newspaper office once operated by Franklin's grandson. And, along the side of the walkway near Chestnut Street, is a fascinating museum of Franklin's personal life, built by no less than Frank Venturi, and operated by Park Rangers in the polished but low-key manner for which the U.S. Park Service is famous.
For some reason, this jewel of a museum has not received the high-powered publicity it deserves. It's off the main Park premises, as we mentioned, and some of the problem has to be attributed to Venturi. As you walk through, you don't expect a huge museum to be there, and it can look pretty inconspicuous as you walk past because it is mostly underground. Take my word for it, it's worth a visit. There are long descending ramps inside the doors, which can be pretty daunting if you are elderly and tired. But, also inconspicuous, there's an elevator if you look around for it. Venturi didn't seem to like windows very much, which is a problem for some people.
There's a movie theater inside there, playing a long list of fascinating documentaries. There's an ingenious automated display of statuettes which utilize spot lights and revolving stages to present Franklin in Parliament, resisting the Stamp Act, Franklin being his charming self before the French monarchs, and the frail dying Franklin getting the Constitutional Convention to approve the document. There are also a variety of ingenious inventions of Franklin's on display in the original, including bifocal glasses, the first storage battery, a simplified clock, several library devices, the Franklin stove, and so on. In some ways, the highlight is the Armonica.
The Armonica is the musical instrument invented by Franklin, for which both Beethoven and Mozart composed special music to exploit its haunting tone. If you ask the nice Park Ranger, she will be flattered to play you a tune on it.
|Ben Franklin's Glass Armonica|
Everyone knows Ben Franklin spent a lot of time holding a wine glass. Evidently, he noticed a musical note emerges if you run your finger around the open mouth of the drinking glass, and systematically studied how the tone can be varied by varying the level of liquid in the glass. The same variation in emitted tone relates to variations in thickness of the glass. So, he set up a series of different sized glasses impaled on a horizontal broomstick, enough to cover three octaves, rotated the broomstick with a treadle like those used for spinning wheels -- and made music. The tone has a haunting penetration to it, which induced both Beethoven and Mozart to write special compositions for the armonica, and the Eighteenth Century went wild with enthusiasm.
Unfortunately, a number of the young ladies who played the armonica went mad. We now recognize that since the finest crystal glass was used, with a very high lead content, the mad ladies were suffering from lead poisoning after repeatedly wetting their fingers on their tongues. As a matter of fact, port wine at that time was stored in lead-lined casks, resulting in the same unfortunate consequences, which included stirring up attacks of gout. Franklin himself was a famous sufferer from gout, which was more likely related to the port wine than playing the armonica, in his particular case.
Anyway, the reputation for inducing madness added to the spooky sort of sound the instrument made, attracting the attention of a montebank named Franz Anton Mesmer, who falsely claimed to be the the father of hypnotism. Mesmer enhanced the notiety of his stage performances by hypnotizing subjects while an assistant played the armonica, meanwhile relating all sorts of wild tales about animal magnetism. This was pretty sensational at the time, until a young man in an audience suddenly died. It is now speculated that the victim probably had an epileptic seizure, but the news of this public fatal event pretty well finished Mesmer as an evangelist, and the armonica as a musical instument.
There's a replica of an armonica on display in the Franklin Court Museum around 3rd and Chestnut, which we are vigorously assured is not made with leaded crystal glass. The Park Rangers put on two daily performances by request, at noon, and 2:30 PM.
It's now moderately complicated to find Perth Amboy, New Jersey, even after you locate it on a map. Like New Castle DE it flourished early because it was on a narrow strip of strategic land, and like New Castle, eventually found itself cut off by a dozen lanes of highways crowded together by geography. It's an easy drive in both cases only if you make the correct turns at a couple of crowded intersections. Both towns were important destinations in the Eighteenth century, but by the Twentieth century both were pushed aside by traffic rushing to bigger destinations. Industrialization hit the region around Perth Amboy somewhat harder than New Castle, destroying more landmarks, and bringing to an end its brief flurry as a metropolitan beach resort. If you aspire to preserve your Eighteenth century glory, it's easier if you don't have too much progress in the Nineteenth. In Perth Amboy's defense, it must be noted that Jamestown and Williamsburg, Virginia had just about totally disappeared when noticed by Charles Peterson and John Rockefeller, but neither of those towns was run over by Nineteenth century industrialization. So, while New Castle has treasures to preserve and display, Perth Amboy seems to have only the Governor's mansion as the one notable building to work with. William Franklin, the illegitimate son of Benjamin, was the royal governor installed in this palace shortly before 1776.
|Governor's mansion in Perth Amboy|
While it is true that some wealthy local inhabitants did a lot to restore and maintain New Castle (and Williamsburg), the Governor's mansion in Perth Amboy was bought and made the home of Mathias Bruen, who in 1820 was thought to be the richest man in America. If Bruen had only had the necessary imagination and generosity, this was probably the best moment for Perth Amboy to have had a historical restoration. Instead, he added some unfortunate features to the mansion; it later became a hotel, and later on, an office building. Public-spirited local citizens are now trying to set things right, but the costs are pretty daunting. Someone has to find an inspired Wall Street billionaire like Ned Johnson to make over an entire town. Occasionally, a state government will do it, as has been done with Pennsbury. Or a national organization might become inspired, as happened with Mt. Vernon and Arlington. Its present state of peeling paint and makeshift repairs suggests uninterest in Perth Amboy's Governor Mansion by the State, and the absence of whatever it is that occasionally inspires fierce and determined local leadership. Perth Amboy needs some help, and needs to forget about its handicaps. Sure, it's hard to commute anywhere, it's even hard to drive across the highways to the countryside. The bluff on the promontory was once quite arresting, now a rusting steel mill occupies that spot. Other than that, it doesn't look ominous or dangerous at all. It's just forgotten.
Aside from the Royal Governor's former mansion, it is hard to find a historical marker or monument in this scene of former prosperity and glory, but there is one. Down on the beach is a bronze plaque, commemorating the 150th anniversary of the founding of -- Argentina. So there's a clue, which is not difficult to associate with all of the hispanic names on the stores, and the hispanics in evidence on all sides. They all seemed to know that this was once the capital of New Jersey, seemed pleased with it, and could point out the famous building. They are pleasant and friendly enough. Perhaps even a little too comfortable. Because, as William Franklin's famous father once said, all progress begins with discontent.
William Penn once had his pick of the best home sites in three states, because of course he more or less owned all three (states, that is). Aside from Philadelphia townhouses, he first picked Faire Mount, where the Philadelphia Art Museum now stands. For some reason, he gave up that idea and built Pennsbury, his country estate, across the river from what is now Trenton. It's in the crook of a sharp bend in the river but is rather puzzlingly surrounded by what most of us would call swamps. The estate has been elegantly restored and is visited by hosts of visitors, sometimes two thousand in a day. On other days it is deserted, so it's worth telephoning in advance to plan a trip.
After World War II, a giant steel plant was placed nearby in Morrisville, thriving on shiploads of iron ore from Labrador, but now closed. Morrisville had a brief flurry of prosperity, now seemingly lost forever. However, as you drive through the area you can see huge recycling and waste disposal plants, and you can tell from the verdant soil heaps that the recycled waste is filling in the swamps. It doesn't take much imagination to foresee swamps turning into lakes surrounded by lawns, on top of which will be many exurban houses. How much of this will be planned communities and how much simply sold off to local developers, surely depends on the decisions of some remote corporate Board of Directors.
However, it's intriguing to imagine the dreams of best-case planners. Radiating from Pennsbury, there are two strips of charming waterfront extending for miles, north to Washingtons Crossing, and West to Bristol. If you arrange for a dozen lakes in the middle of this promontory, surround them with lawns nurtured by recycled waste, you could imagine a resort community, a new city, an upscale exurban paradise, or all three combined. It's sad to think that whether this happens here or on the comparable New Jersey side of the river depends on state taxes. Inevitably, that means that lobbying and corruption will rule the day and the pace of progress.
Meanwhile, take a trip from Washingtons Crossing to Bristol, by way of Pennsbury. It can be done in an hour, plus an extra hour or so to tour Penn's mansion if the school kids aren't there. Add a tour of Bristol to make it a morning, and some tours of the remaining riverbank mansions, to make a day of it.
|Old St. Joe's|
When William Penn invited all religions to enjoy the freedom of Pennsylvania, he created a home for the first churches in America of many existing religions, and furthermore the founding mother churches for many new religions. Regardless of the local congregation, there is obviously a strong wish to preserve the oldest churches of the Presbyterian, Methodist, United Brethren, African Methodist Episcopal, Baptist, Mennonite, and many other denominations. While the founding church of Roman Catholicism was obviously not in Philadelphia, St. Josephs at 3rd and Willing was for many decades the only place in the American colonies where the Catholic Mass could be openly performed. The towering genius of William Penn lay in the combination of an almost saintly wish to spread religious toleration, combined with what must have been a sure recognition that the motive of Charles II in giving him the land, was to get rid of all those dissenters from England.
Philadelphia now has a thousand church structures within the city limits, and more than a thousand in the suburbs. However, many church buildings find themselves stranded by migration of local ethnic groups to other locations, and a decision must be made whether to demolish a relic, or sell it to a new population who have moved into the old neighborhood with a new religion. There is still greater discomfort with selling an old church to a commercial enterprise, but even that happens. The resulting bewilderment and dissention among the surviving parishioners is easy to imagine as they face these choices, or fail to face them, and it is readily imagined that the establishment in 1989 of Partners for Sacred Places filled a very important need.
|First Presbyterian Church|
The Executive Director, Robert Jaeger, recently described to the Right Angle Club how the Partners operate. First of all, the Constitutional separation of church and state makes it difficult to seek funding or even advice from the Federal government. Pennsylvania has been less hesitant than most states in this regard, but even here the issue of fund-raising is a central issue. One only has to look at the Aztec and Mayan religious sites in Mexico to grasp that there are circumstances when the parishioners of a religion may have completely died out, but their monuments justify state assistance. Private, nondenominational philanthropy seems the easiest route for a society to take, in avoiding the obvious political and legal entanglements of seeming to assist one denomination more than others.
And then there are architectural issues;, can the building be saved at a reasonable cost, is it truly a unique or outstanding piece of art, can a reconstruction go ahead in an incremental way, are the necessary stone or other materials any longer obtainable, do the workman skills exist? In addition to these issues which are commonly presented to a congregation, there are issues they probably have never considered. As congregants move from center-city to the suburbs, they become commuters to church, largely out of touch with the local community and its activities. A survey conducted by the Partners suggests that 81% of the activity which takes place in church buildings on weekdays is conducted by and for non-members of the church; if the two groups lose touch with each other, opportunities are missed, and eventually there may be unnecessary friction. On the other hand, those non-religious activities probably escape the legal prohibitions against government assistance, and may suit themselves as vehicles for indirect government support. The approach has so much promise that Partners for Sacred Places has devised a computer program on their website which provides a way for congregations to assess their assets, and their problems. In fact, the organization conducts extensive training programs for church preservation, and has been forced by the size of the demand to exclude churches that are clearly failing beyond reasonable hope of recovery by their church membership.
The Partnership was originally founded by consolidation of the New York and Philadelphia organizations, to make a stronger national effort. But now things are going the other way. New chapters are springing up in Texas and California. Partners for Sacred Places is obviously proving to be a good idea, effectively managed.
Recently, a charming archeology scholar from the University of Pennsylvania, Leslie Ann Warden, entertained the Right Angle Club with the interesting history of King Tut. Interest in this subject is currently heightened by a travelling exhibit of the tomb relics currently on elegant display at the Franklin Institute. However, Philadelphia also has a permanent exhibition of Egyptian artefacts lodged in the University Museum. Since this museum is the second largest archaeology museum in the world, after the British Museum, that makes it the largest in America. An interesting sidelight is that Ms. Warden spoke in the grill room of the Racquet Club, which was the first effort by William Mercer to use "Mercer" tiles in a building. Mercer at that time was curator of the University Museum. We learned from Ms. Warden that King Tutankhamen was unknown before his tomb was discovered, all records of this part of the Egyptian dynasty having been lost or deliberately obliterated by successors. Therefore, the discovery of these magnificent art objects started a massive expansion of scholarship about the entire Third Millenium.
The establishment of the University Museum around 1890 was apparently mostly due to the enthusiasm of William Pepper, then Provost of the University of Pennsylvania. What seems to have got Pepper going was an expedition to Iraq, the place where civilization began, in Mesopotamia. The relics brought back from this celebrated effort needed a home, and Pepper decided it had to be here. One famous philanthropist after another, often in the role of Chairman of the Board of Trustees, carried on the tradition after Pepper's premature death. Some of them have their names on buildings, some declined. To a notable degree, the feeling of special possession was exemplified by Alexander Stirling Calder, who turned the statues in the garden to face inward rather than out toward the street. Asked whether a mistake had been made, he is said to have replied that due to the Museum's withdrawn character, it was more appropriate for the world to face the Museum. No more icily accurate comment has ever been made about the University's relation to its city neighbors.
The real knock about the Museum is that too much has been crowded into too little real estate, and the fault lies with the automobile. After the University outgrew its space at 9th and Market around 1870, moving then to West Philadelphia, the architects and the donors originally envisioned a grand boulevard of culture stretching from the South Street bridge many blocks westward. The Museum, Franklin Field, Irvine Auditorum, The University Hospital were to be the start of an imposing array of culture. Unfortunately, that was a horse-drawn conception, soon to be overwhelmed by the worst traffic jam in the city. The Schuylkill Expressway was the final blow, setting huge auto-oriented structures in place where their easy removal became difficult to imagine. The 1929 stock crash, followed by confiscatory income and estate tax rates, merely emphasized the plain fact that restoring the grand vision was beyond the ordinary aspirations of even massive private wealth. Transforming the imposing plazas of the University Museum into parking garages was probably a result of excessive despair, but if you have ever tried to find a place to park in that region you can somewhat sympathize with the small-mindedness which prompted it. Bringing back this region is going to require immense vision and resources, neither of which is exactly thrusting itself forward at present. So, unfortunately, one of the central cultural jewels of the City is buried in the midst of an impenetrable thicket of concrete and speeding automobiles, too big to move, too small to burst its bonds.
It's well worth a lot of anybody's time, and many visits. If you can find a way to get there.
Although quilting can be found in the tombs of ancient Egypt, American farm women are correct that they invented an art form.
In the days when transport was primitive, art forms were invented in many places at once, mostly responding to new materials and new technologies. It's irrelevant to the genius of creation, for archivists to pounce on evidence that an art form surfaced a decade or two earlier in one place than another. Creative art could easily have been -- and often was -- invented by five or six people in different regions, each with a just claim to inventing without copying. In the case of quilts, there is a semantic wrinkle, too. If you define quilting as the process of anchoring three layers of cloth together with stitches, then quilts have been found in ruins of ancient China and ancient Eqypt. The underlying principle was that three layers of cloth were warmer and stronger than single sheets of cloth or animal skins, so quilting was used for shoes, pants, jackets, and underneath suits of armor. Mary Queen of Scots spent a lot of time in confinement, and examples still survive of tapestries she made with the quilting process. None of this is what American farm women mean when they say that "quilts" are an American invention, and a new art form.
|Quilt, Patchwork Style|
What they mean is patchwork-quilting of bedspreads, or counterpanes. To make that specific kind of quilt, you pretty much have to wait for the industrial revolution to provide decorated cotton cloth, then for it to become cheap enough to be used as sacks for flour. That attracts frugal farm wives salvaging material for dresses and shirts, and later re-salvaging pieces of it for patches. Somewhere the idea caught on that decoration was needed for the tops of beds; if these ornaments were usable for extra warmth it was even better. And so, we got patchwork counterpane quilts, incorporating different colored patches into designs. They start appearing around 1750, but gained real popularity around 1830. Since no one was keeping records, it's hard to know if the common diamond design was an outgrowth of the Scotch-Irish street "diamond", or an outgrowth of the hex signs which are commonly believed to have originated in the monastery in Germantown. The path of westward migration would have carried such traditions to the rest of the country, so this analysis has some plausibility. However, the ideas are so simple it would surely be impossible to trace them. What is so unique about this folk art is that the design can be oriented around a piece of a favorite grandparent's shirt or dress, evoking that person's presence and personality in a manner largely incomprehensible to anyone except the immediate family. This intimate quality is easily lost, even in third and later generations of the family, although family traditions can be maintained in the designs and by hearsay.
There may be other traditions of folk art evoking a particular individual who is unrecognizeable to outsiders. They might admire features of the design but have no way of knowing the personality of the person celebrated, or making associations with the piece of cloth. But this quilt art becomes established as a family heirloom as almost nothing else could be. Its sweetness is oblivious to the fashion police who contribute a rather aggressive undertone to so much of the art world. For example, in the period between the first World War and the Korean War, it was just about impossible to have a non-modernist painting accepted for a juried show. The same juries who enforced such competitive dictates seemed to forget they denounced the "conservative" academies who excluded impressionist painting a century earlier. During the modernist period, disk jockeys and band leaders likewise serially enforced the various fashions of jazz music; classical music was totally banished. Book reviewers, now a dwindling race, similarly laid down standards of obedience for authors and playwrights on behalf of a style now commonly praised as "liberal". Publishers and producers defied such dictates at their peril, and now must reorient to the coming new standard, called post-modernism.
By contrast, the isolated troubadors of home quilting artistry continue to create as they please, primarily speaking to their families and selling a few less treasured products -- to uncomprehending strangers.
Low-end furniture for America is now mostly made in China, and seldom made of wood. Truly American cabinet making tends to be high-end, and high priced. That tendency goes to some sort of extreme around Unionville in Chester County, where a 25-year old company named Kinloch Woodworking holds pride of place. The owner, D. Douglas Mooberry, picked the name Kinloch at random from a map of Scotland, but his selection of southern Chester County was not an accident. The influence of nearby Winterthur has infused that whole region with an interest in fine furniture craftsmanship, and museums like the Chester County Museum and others throughout the nearby Pennsylvania Dutch country provide an ample source of authentic pieces to serve as examples. There's one other factor at work. As Doug Mooberry quickly noticed, people with money usually have lots of it. There really is a market for $28,000 tall case clocks, $18,000 highboys, and $12,000 tables -- if you can convince people in Chester County you are really good.
Although this 12-person company repairs antique pieces, it does not make exact reproductions. It produces new pieces in the old style of the region, based on careful analysis and evaluation of museum pieces from earlier times. Kinloch once aspired to equal the quality of the early artisans, but now aspires to surpass them in quality of materials and workmanship. The more conventional stance of fine artists is to attempt to excel in today's current style, whatever that may be, probably "post-modern". Kinloch artists however choose to excel in the style of a long-past era, taking care not to claim the product is antique. Artisans grow up in cooperative clusters; there's a world-famous veneer company nearby and a pretty good hardware company, although the best craftsmen of furniture hardware are still found in England.
The characteristic style of Chester County furniture in the Eighteenth Century was a mixture of two neighboring cultures, the Queen Anne, Chippendale, ball and claw Georgian style of Philadelphia; and the "line and berry" inlay style of the Pennsylvania Germans. If carefully executed, this hybrid style can be very pleasing, and you had better believe it requires painstaking craftsmanship. Others will have to explain the significance or symbolism of intersecting hemi-circles in the lines, and the inlaid wood hemispheres, the berries, at the end of the lines. But the technical difficulty of laying strips of 1/16 inch wood in curved grooves only a thousandth of an inch wider, or the matching of 3/8th inch wood hemispheres into hemispheric holes gouged out of the main piece -- making the surfaces of the inlays perfectly smooth -- is immediately obvious to anyone who ever tried to whittle. Ultimately, however, true artistry lies in combining two unrelated styles without producing an aesthetic clash. By the way, you would be wise to wax such furniture once a year.
The factory is on Buck and Doe Run Road, and here's another culture clash. At one time, Lammot du Pont cobbled a 9000 acre estate out of several little country villages. In 1945 it was sold to the Kleberg family of Texas, the owners of the King Ranch. Robert Kleberg was an admiring friend of Sam Rayburn, but treated the oafish Lyndon Johnson as his personal political gofer. From 1945 to 1984 Buck and Doe was used as one of several remote feed lots for Texas longhorns bred to Guernseys, the so called Santa Gertrudis breed. Originally, Texas cattle were seasonally driven to Montana for fattening, then on to railheads for the stockyards. As farmers began to build fences interfering with the long drive over the prairies, it became cheaper to fatten cattle closer to the markets. So satellite feed lots like Buck and Doe Run were developed. You can pack more cattle in a rail car when they are younger and smaller, and advantage can be taken of price swings by suppliers who are close to market. In this case, the markets were in Baltimore. Since the King Ranch is larger than the state of Rhode Island, such 9000 acre farms were pretty small operations in the view of the Texas Klebergs, an opinion they did not trouble to conceal from the irritated local gentry. The point was even driven home in high society circles by holding large parties at Buck and Doe Run, allowing guests to wander around the roads, unable to find the house of their host even though they had been on his property for most of an hour. In 1984 the Buck and Doe was sold to Art DeLeo, who is busily converting it into a nature conservancy.
Chester is the original word for Castle in old English, and accounts for towns called Manchester, Lancaster, Dorchester in the Midlands of England. Although much is made of his Welsh ancestry,William Penn grew up and lived in the neighborhood of Manchester. When he first landed in his new colony, he named the place Chester before deciding to move upriver to be above the mudflats and snags at the abrupt turn of the river where we now have an international airport. On several occasions, this protection from pirates and invaders made it possible to remain rich and prosperous without abandoning Quaker pacifist principles. As a further bit of history, the second public reading of the American constitution took place in the courthouse at Chester. During the industrial revolution, Chester became a mighty industrial town somewhat in advance of Philadelphia. Industry has, sadly, abandoned Chester.
Chester repeats the age-old tradition that slums are created when towns are abandoned, making cheap housing available. There's even a particular Chester twist to this principle: the old Sun Shipyards have been turned into a casino. Now, that will create poverty if anything will.
|Amtrak's Northeast Corridor|
Peter Barrow is a local real estate man who is determined to lead a revival of the old Chester, and certainly makes a good case for its future. Although much of the city was abandoned, the infrastructure remains. The roads, sewers, water supply, rail roads, port facilities may be old but they are essentially intact, making revival much cheaper. Chester is still served by the R2 train from Philadelphia to Wilmington, and is on the main line of Amtak's Northeast Corridor. It's now near the airport, and near the electronics industry developing in Chester County along Route 202. Those things are economic drivers, and they are social ones, too. The old Chester urban Democratic machine and the rural Delaware County Republican machine can no longer afford to remain ossified in perpetual denunciation, in the face of new residents with new outlooks on things. So, there's agitation for reforms, and both votes and discontent to propel it forward.
Given a magic wand, the one thing Mr. Barrow would change would be education. The public schools are undisciplined and unsafe, and mobilized by the teachers' unions to resist charter schools no matter what. Things have even gone to the point where Widener University is thinking about starting a charter high school, and the more graduates of charter schools the more momentum builds up for still more charter schools. Hidden in this struggle are two less defensible issues: parochial schools and vocational schools, pro and con. The struggle over church schools goes back to the founding of our country in the sixteenth century, and firmly resists any objectivity about whether parochial schools are better schools, or not. For them, that's not the point. The other tradition at play here is the historic opposition to vocational schools by trade unions. This one might be a little easier to work with, since resistance to the development of more plumbers and carpenters was understandable enough during the industrial days of the city, but really is no longer relevant in an era when we now must import illegal immigrants to serve our needs in the mechanical trades.
Chester seems to have a chance to get its act together. Success or failure of this important struggle could well depend on one or the other of the entrenched political machines, urban and suburban, seeing an opportunity -- and grabbing it.
Teddy Roosevelt was a great conservationist, promoting the outdoors life, establishing the National Park Service and so on. At the same time, the walls of Sagamore Hill his home on Oyster Bay were covered with the stuffed heads of big game animals he had personally shot for no better reason than it pleased him to shoot them. This paradox is a convenient symbol of the mixed-up ideas and conflicted attitudes of the public at large about animals. We love them, but we also eat them for dinner.
The two sides of this tension have at their extreme some pretty rich nut cases, or some pretty nutty rich folks, however you wish to style them. One woman has bought half the country of Paraguay for a nature preserve. On the other extreme, it is said that one wealthy Philadelphia lady has contributed enough money to attract the solicitude the Governor, in the interest of animal rights legislation. Since his political enemies call him "Fast Eddie", that isn't his usual image. It is rumored that he loves his pet terrier, but the center city cynics gathered around lunch tables on Camac Street surmise that his really influential friends could be real estate developers. This all does require a little explaining, which is a full time occupation in some circles.
Jim Scharnberg was entertaining Innmates the other day about his almost full-time avocation of hunting rabbits in Chester County with a pack of French hounds. Hounds, mind you, not dogs. There are thirty clubs in Chester County alone concentrated on packs of hunting hounds, not to mention all the other counties in the state, and not to mention the hunters on horseback, the fox hunters, the deer hunters, and lots of other kinds of hunters, sometimes with but mostly without guns. Most of these groups have frequent outings together in the countryside, followed by jolly dinners and gatherings, and with newsletters, websites, intermarriages and lots of other associations. Social scientists would call these networks, a trendy phrase, that..
To illustrate how easily networks are formed between hound lovers and politicians, Jim tells the story of living in Manhattan near Gracie Mansion, with his hounds of course. Hounds have to be walked, you see, and the New York police are not particularly friendly to the idea, nor are other inhabitants of the skyscraper canyons, who promote pooper scooper laws and encourage police harassment of hounds. One evening a dog belonging to a native New Yorker was attacked by 27 East River rats. Jim's hounds were unleashed, the dog was rescued. It turned out to belong to Mayor Lindsay, who was quickly persuaded to create special privileges for hounds in Carl Shurtz Park and other East Side grasslands.
Some members of hound packs are into the whole thing, as Jim is, but most members merely enjoy an excuse to wander in the outdoors with convivial company, or else enjoy the parties afterward; some people just like to write newsletters and send out meeting notices. Everybody likes to talk, that's one sure thing. These things flourish in the exurbs, the farm areas just beyond the edge of development. In Chester County, such farmland is quickly disappearing at the rate of 13,000 acres a year as real estate developers find it is cheaper to build in the countryside than where you have to tear down old buildings to build new ones. Inevitably, the people whose ancestors started the farms 300 years earlier are upset at seeing the old place go. There's an economic issue as well, because farmers need local canneries and wholesalers to take their farm products; these support systems tend to wither as farming gets sparser. And the new neighbors are not accustomed to farm sounds or farm smells. The idea of living next to a pig farm is not softened by knowledge that the pig farm was there first. Perhaps you get the idea; conflict is how politics gets into it, and these are the networks who will prostrate themselves in the middle of the highway to preserve their heritage. All it takes is a couple of rich ladies to get excited enough to donate lobbying money, and wondrous inanities can get taken seriously. There is now a bill before the Pennsylvania Legislature which in other times would be referred to as a "tickle" bill, one of ten thousand annual bills submitted by legislators to placate constituents, but widely observed never to go anywhere. But put some serious money behind a tickle bill, hire a few consultants who know exactly which levers to pull and which clauses to include for support, and you could have a law to air condition all dog kennels, thus making Pennsylvania the laughing stock of the country's legislative circles. There can be rules governing the size and cleanliness of dog runs, rules about Fido's required breakfast content, and rules to sterilize every domestic animal so that in one generation we will be animal free.
Grown ups are actually saying such things, and legislators are growing afraid to oppose them. Back home in the real estate office, everybody can be all smiles. Because this is how you can get some nice zoning changes if you play your cards right.
Chestnut Hill really is a big hill poking up in the middle of Philadelphia, and Germantown Avenue follows an old Indian trail from the Delaware River right up that hill. The waterfront area of the city has been built and rebuilt to the point where it's now a little hard to say just where Germantown Avenue begins. From a map viewpoint, you might look for a four-way intersection of Frankford Avenue, Delaware Avenue, and Germantown Avenue, underneath the elevated interstate highway of I-95. The present state of demolition and rubble heaps suggests that a Casino might be built there sometime soon, politics and the Mafia permitting.
|Fair Hill Cemetery|
Although Germantown Avenue has wandered northwestward from this uncertain beginning for over 300 years, up the rising slope of the town toward Broad Street, it is now rather difficult to make out anything but industrial slum along its path which could be called historic. There is hardly any structure standing which has a colonial shape, and no Flemish bond brickwork is seen in the tumble-down buildings. When with relief you finally approach Temple University Medical Center at Broad Street, the Fair Hill cemetery does show some effort at preservation, and a sign says that Lucretia Mott is buried there. But that's about all you could photograph without provoking suspicious stares. Here's the first of four segments of Germantown Ave., and it's a pretty sorry sight.
Crossing Broad Street, the busy intersection suggests 19th Century prosperity in its past, and on the west side of Broad you can start to see signs of historic houses, either in colonial brickwork or grey fieldstone. The road gets steeper as you go west past Mt. Airy, where it almost brings tears to the eyes to see brave remnants of another time. George Washington lived here for a while, and the Wisters, Allens, and Chews; Grumblethorp and Wyck. The huge stone pile of the Chew Mansion glares at the imposing Upsala mansion, where British and Americans lobbed artillery at each other during the Battle of Germantown. Benjamin Chew the Chief Justice built this house as a summer retreat, to get away from Yellow Fever and such, and started the first migration to the leafy suburbs. His main house was on 3rd Street in Society Hill, next to the Powels and where George Washington stayed. At the peak of the hill is Chestnut Hill, a suburb within the city. Germantown Avenue rather abruptly goes from the relics of Germantown to the charming elegance of Chestnut Hill, but during a recession it frays a little even there. At the very top is the mansion of the Stroud family, now in the hands of non-profits; across the road is Chestnut Hill Hospital, once the domain of the Vaux family. Then down the hill to Whitemarsh, where the British once tried to make a surprise raid on Washington's army. As you cross the county line into Montgomery County, it's conventional to start calling the Avenue, Germantown Pike. Germantown Pike was in fact created in 1687 by the Provincial government as a cart road from Philadelphia to Plymouth Meeting. Farmers used to pay off their taxes by laboring on the dirt road, at 80 cents a day. Germantown Pike, Ridge Pike, Skippack Pike, Lancaster Pike and others are a local reminder that Pennsylvania was always the center of turnpike popularity; that's how we thought roads should be paid for. The present governor (Rendell) hopes to sell off some better-paying turnpikes to the Arabs and Orientals, possibly imitating Rockefeller Center by buying them back and reselling them several times by outguessing the business cycle. Parenthetically, the Finance Director of another state at a cocktail party recently snarled that the purpose of privatizing state infrastructure was not to raise revenue, but to provide collateral for more state borrowing. He wasn't at a tea party, but he may soon find himself there.
From a modern perspective, the third segment of the Germantown road runs from Chestnut Hill to Plymouth Meeting, with lovely farmhouses getting swallowed up by intervening, possibly intrusive, exurbia. The township of Plymouth Meeting is a hundred years older than Montgomery County, having been built to be near a natural ford in the Schuylkill river. Norristown, a little downstream, is the first fordable point on the Schuylkill, with Pottstown making a third. Plymouth's colonial character survived a period of industrialization based on local iron and limestone, and has established several prominent schools for the surrounding area. But the construction of a substantial highway bridge attracted a large and busy shopping center. The shopping center looks as though it will eradicate the quaint historical atmosphere more effectively than industrialization ever could.
The fourth and final segment of Germantown Pike starts at the Schuylkill and goes over rolling countryside to its final destination at Perkiomenville, where it joins Ridge Pike at the edge of the Perkiomen Creek. That's an Indian name, originally Pahkehoma. Perkiomenville Tavern claims to be the oldest inn in America, although that honor is contested by another one along the Hudson River near Hyde Park. The WPA during the Great Depression constructed a large park along the Perkiomen Creek for several thousand acres of camping and fishing, so Perkiomenville has several large roadhouse restaurants, and antique auctions for bored wives of the fishermen. In the V where Ridge Pike and Germantown Pike come together, a dozen or more colonial houses are tucked away in a town called Evansburg. This formerly Mennonite terminus of Germantown Pike obviously still has a lot of charm potential, and its local inhabitants are very proud of the place. But it's easy to zip past without noticing the area, which includes an 8-arch stone bridge, said shyly to be the oldest in the country. It's hard to know whether you wish more people would visit and appreciate; or whether you are happy that obscurity might permit it to survive another century or so.
|Chestnut Hill Hospital|
The name change of the Germantown road from Avenue to Pike is probably not precisely where the turnpike began, but it is now notable for some pretty imposing mansions, standing between the humble and even somewhat dangerous slums along the Delaware, and the charmingly humble but well-preserved Mennonite villages, at the other end. It is arresting to consider the two ends, whose houses were built at the same time; only the Mennonites endure. Somewhere just beyond the Chestnut Hill mansions is an invisible line. West of that point, when you say you are going to town, you mean Pottstown. When you say you are going to the City, you mean Reading. And as for Philadelphia, well, you went there once or twice when you were young.
|Burlington County Map|
Burlington County used to be called Bridlington. It contains Burlington City, formerly the capitol of West Jersey, which is how they styled the southern half of the colony, the part controlled by William Penn. In colonial times, the developed part of New Jersey was a strip along the Raritan River extending from Perth Amboy, the capital of East Jersey, to Burlington. To the north of the fertile Raritan strip, extended the hills and wilderness mountains; to the south extended the Pine Barrens loamy wilderness. The Raritan strip was predominantly Tory in sentiment, while the remaining 90% of the colony consisted of backwoods Dutch farmers to the north, and hard-scrabble "Pineys" to the south, except for the developments farmed by Quakers. The Quakers had ambiguous sentiments during the Revolution, leaving conflicts between pacifism and self-defense to individual discretion. The real fighting mostly went on between the Episcopalian Tories and the Scottish-Presbyterian rebels, both of which were sort of newcomer nuisances in the minds of the Quakers. The warfare was bitter, with the Tories determined to hang the rebels, and the rebels determined to evict or inflict genocide on the loyalists. Standing aside from such blood-letting of course inevitably led to loss of Quaker political leadership. When East and West Jersey were consolidated by Queen Anne into New Jersey in 1702, the main reason was ungovernability, with animosities which endure to the present time in submerged form. Benjamin Franklin's son William was appointed Governor through his father's nepotism, but when he turned into a rebel-hanging Tory, his father extended his bitterness about it into a hatred of all Tories. The later effect of this was felt at the Treaty of Paris, where Ben Franklin would not hear of leniency for loyalists, striking out any hint of reparations for their property losses. In a peculiar way, the factionalism resurfaced at the time of the Civil War, where the slave-owning Dutch in the North came into conflict with the slave-hating Quakers in the South. The problem would have been much worse if the Jersey slave holders had been contiguous with the Confederacy, but it was still bad enough to perpetuate local sectionalism. A few decades ago, it was actually on the ballot that Southern Jersey wanted permission to secede.
Under the circumstances, when James K. Wujcik wanted to work for progress in his native area, he avoided any ambition to enter State politics, and concentrated his efforts on Burlington County. He is now a member of the Board of Chosen Freeholders of Burlington County, along with four other vigorous local citizens. Most notable among them is William Haines, the largest landholder by far in the area, whose family still controls the shares of the Quaker Proprietorship. Membership on the Burlington County Board of Freeholders is a part-time job, so Mr. Wujcik is also president of the Sovereign Bank. We are indebted to him for a fine talk to the Right Angle Club avoiding, with evident discomfort, much mention of state politics or sociology.
Burlington is the only New Jersey county which stretches from the Delaware River to the Atlantic Ocean, including the Pine Barrens occupying 80% of the land mass in the center; fishing and resorts dominate near the ocean, and former industrial areas along the river. Much of the area has been converted to agriculture for the Garden State, but about 10% is included in a National Preserve. The population has doubled in the past fifty years, so urbanization is replacing agriculture, which had earlier displaced wilderness. The county includes Fort Dix and Maguire Air Force Base, strenuously promoted for decades by now retired Congressman James Saxton.
Somewhere in the past few decades, Burlington became quite activist. Although many tend to think of real estate planning as urban planning, this largely rural county went in for planning in a big way, deciding what it was and what it wanted to be. Generally speaking, its decision was to replace urban sprawl with cluster promotion. The farmers didn't like invasion by McMansions or industries, while the towns lost their vigor through tax avoidance behavior of the commuter residents. Overall, the decision was to push urban development along the river in clusters surrounding the declining river towns, while pushing exurban development closer to logical commuting centers, leaving the open spaces to farmers. Incentives were preferred to compulsion, with a determination never to use eminent domain except for matters of public safety. To implement these goals, two referenda were passed with 70% majorities to create special taxes for a development fund, which bought the development rights from the farmers and -- with political magic -- re-clustered them around the river towns. The farmers loved it, the environmentalists loved it, and the towns began to revive. The success of this effort rested on the realization that exurbanites and farmers didn't really want to live near each other, and only did so because developers were looking for cheap land. Many other rural counties near cities -- Chester and Bucks Counties in Pennslvania, for example -- need to learn this lesson about how to stop local political warfare. Corporation executives don't want to live next to pig farms, but pig farmers are quite right that they were living there, first. When this friction seeps into the local school system, class warfare can get pretty ugly.
|Burlington Bristol Bridge|
In Burlington County, they thought big. The central project was to push through the legislature a billion-dollar project to restore the Riverline light rail to the river towns, along the tracks of the once pre-eminent Camden and Amboy Rail Road. It was an unexpected success. During the first six months of operation, ridership achieved a level twice as large as was projected as a ten-year goal. Along this strip of the Route 206 corridor, the old Roebling Steel Works are becoming the Roebling Superfund Site, now trying to attract industrial developers. The Haines Industrial Site, originally envisioned as a food distribution center, was sold to private developers who have created 5000 jobs in the area. Commerce Park beside the Burlington Bristol Bridge is coming along, as are the Shoppes of Riverton and Old York Village in Chesterfield Township. As Waste Management cleans up the site of the old Morrisville Steel plant across the Delaware River, a moderate-sized development project is becoming an interstate regional one.
No doubt there will be bumps in these roads; the decline of real estate prices nationally is a threat on the horizon, because it provokes a flight of mortgage credit. It works the other way, too, as banks decide to deleverage by reducing outstanding loans; this is the way downward spirals reinforce themselves. And anyone who knows anything about all state legislatures will be sceptical about political cooperation in a state as tumultuous as New Jersey. The Pennsylvania Railroad destroyed the promise of this state once; some other local interest could do it again. Nevertheless, right now Burlington County looks like a real winner, primarily because of effective leadership.
Boker, George Henry, (1824-1890), Section A, Lot 91. Poet and dramatist. Helped led its Civil War propaganda Activities.
Bradford, Andrew Section W, Lot 231 Andrew Bradford (1688-1742) published Philadelphia's first newspaper.
Brown, Charles Brockden, (January 17, 1771 - February 22, 1810), an American novelist, historian, and editor of the Early National period, is generally regarded by scholars as the most ambitious and accomplished US novelist before James Fenimore Cooper.
Bullitt, John Christian,(1824-1902)Section P, Lot 52. Lawyer and author of the Philadelphia City Charter.
Childs, George William.(1829-1894)Section K, Lot 337. Publisher of Victorian best sellers and one of Philadelphia great 19th century newspapers-the Public Ledger
Conrad, Robert, (1810-1858). Section 14, Lot 266. A literary figure who served as first Mayor of the Consolidated City of Philadelphia.
Cummings, Brig. Gen. Alexander (1810-1879) Section I, Lot 224 Founded the Evening Bulletin, oversaw procurement and raised troops in Civil War. Governor of the Colorado Territory. Nicknamed "Old Straw Hat."
Curtis, Louisa Knapp. (1852-1910)River Section, Lot 31. Editor of the Ladies Home Journal.
Duane, Mary Morris (Section L, Lot107-112) was a Poet.
Elverson, James. (1828-1911). Section T. Lot 41. Developed the Inquireras a major newpaper.
Fagan, Frances.(Fanny)(1834-1878) Section G, Lot 272, first daughter of John Francis Fagan by his first wife, Mary (Armstrong). Fagan committed suicide and was buried at Laurel Hill Cemetery, on 2 February 1878. Poet.
Godey, Louis Antoine. (1804-1878) Section WXYZ Oval. Lot 3. Publisher of America's first great magazine for women-Godey's Lode's Book.
Hale, Sarah Josepha. (1788-1879). Section X, Lot 61. Editor of Godey's Lady's Book, a crusader for women's medical education, and the person chiefly credited with establishing Thanksgiving as a national holiday.
Hildeburn, Mary Jane,(1821-1882) Section G-190. Author of Presbyterian Sunday School stories.
Hirst, Henry Beck.(1817-1874). Section Q, Lot 225. Poet
Hooper, Lucy Hamilton. Section W, Lot 17 was an assistant editor ofLippincott's Magazine from the first edition until 1874. She also wrote for Appleton's Journal and the Evening Bulletin. She wrote several books of poetry and she was also a playwright. One of her plays, Helen's Inheritance, had its premiere at the Madison Square Theater in NYC. After moving to Paris in 1874, she became the "Paris correspondent" for various American newspapers. She was also a novelist, with one of her novels, Under The Tricolor, causing quite a stir. It was a thinly-veiled satire of the lives of certain expatriates who were living in Paris at the time.
Kane, Elisha Kent. Section P, Lot 100. Elisha Kent Kane(1820-1857) became famous for his arctic explorations. Kane's publications include: "Experiments on Kiestine with Remarks on its Applications to the Diagnosis of Pregnancy," "American Journal of Medical Sciences, n.s., 4 (1842), The U.S. Grinnell Expedition in Search of Sir John Franklin, A Personal Narrative, New York: Harper and Brothers, 1854, and Arctic Explorations in Years 1853, '54, '55, Philadelphia: Childs and Peterson, 1856.
Lea, Henry Charles.(1825-1909) Section S, Lot 49. Pro-Northern propagandist during the Civil War, Civic Reformer, and author of a classic history of the Spanish Inquisition. Sculpture by Alexander Stirling Calder.
Leslie, Eliza. (1787-1858) Section6, Lot 45. Author of MissLeslie's Directions for Cookery (1851)and other cookbooks.
Lippincott, Joshua B. (1831-1886)Section 9, Lot 118. Founder of the distinguished Philadelphia publishing company.
Marion, John Francis. (1922-1991) Section S, Lot 118. Philadelphia historian, author, and gentlemen.
Mc Michael, Morton.(1807-1879) Section H, Lot 45. Publisher of the North American, mayor of Philadelphia, and president of the Fairmount Park Commission.
Neal, Joseph Clay, (1807-1847) Section P, Lot 71. Editor and humorist, best known for Charcoal Sketches in a Metropolis.
Read, Thomas Buchanan. (1822-1872) Section K, Lot 206. Both poet and sculptor, Read is best remembered for his Civil War poem "Sheridan's Ride".
Singerly, William. (1832-1898) Section K, Lot 235. Made fortunes in street railways, real estate, knitting mills. Published the Philadelphia Record.
Townsend, George Alfred.(1841-1914) Section 9, Lot 98. One of the most important American Journalists during the Civil War and Reconstruction.
Wireman, Katharine Richardson. Section 9, Lot 160. was an illustrator who studied with Howard Pyle. She worked for the magazines that Curtis Publishing produced.
Wister, Owen. (1860-1938) Section J, Lot 206. Author of The Virginian. American writer whose stories helped to establish the cowboy as an archetypical, individualist hero. Wister and his predecessor James Fenimore Cooper (1789-1851) created the basic Western myths and themes, which were later popularized by such writers as Zane Grey and Max Brand.
|The Library Company of Philadelphia|
John C. Van Horne, the current director of the Library Company of Philadelphia recently told the Right Angle Club of the history of his institution. It was an interesting description of an important evolution from Ben Franklin's original idea to what it is today: a non-circulating research library, with a focus on 18th and 19th Century books, particularly those dealing with the founding of the nation, and, African American studies. Some of Mr. Van Horne's most interesting remarks were incidental to a rather offhand analysis of the rise and decline of books. One suspects he has been thinking about this topic so long it creeps into almost anything else he says.
|Join or Die snake|
Franklin devised the idea of having fifty of his friends subscribe a pool of money to purchase, originally, 375 books which they shared. The members were mainly artisans and the books were heavily concentrated in practical matters of use in their trades. In time, annual contributions were solicited for new acquisitions, and the public was invited to share the library. At present, a membership costs $200, and annual dues are $50. Somewhere along the line, someone took the famous cartoon of the snake cut into 13 pieces, and applied its motto to membership solicitations: "Join or die." For sixteen years, the Library Company was the Library of Congress, but it was also a museum of odd artifacts donated by the townsfolk, as well as the workplace where Franklin conducted his famous experiments on electricity. Moving between the second floor of Carpenters Hall to its own building on 5th Street, it next made an unfortunate move to South Broad Street after James and Phoebe Rush donated the Ridgeway Library. That building was particularly handsome, but bad guesses as to the future demographics of South Philadelphia left it stranded until modified operations finally moved to the present location on Locust Street west of 13th. More recently, it also acquired the old Cassatt mansion next door, using it to house visiting scholars in residence, and sharing some activities with the Historical Society of Pennsylvania on its eastern side.
|Old Pictures of the Library Company of Philadelphia|
The notion of the Library Company as the oldest library in the country tends to generate reflections about the rise of libraries, of books, and publications in general. Prior to 1800, only a scattering of pamphlets and books were printed in America or in the world for that matter, compared with the huge flowering of books, libraries, and authorship which were to characterize the 19th Century. Education and literacy spread, encouraged by the Industrial Revolution applying its transformative power to the industry of publishing. All of this lasted about a hundred fifty years, and we now can see publishing in severe decline with an uncertain future. It's true that millions of books are still printed, and hundreds of thousands of authors are making some sort of living. But profitability is sharply declining, and competitive media are flourishing. Books will persist for quite a while, but it is obvious that unknowable upheavals are going to come. The future role of libraries is particularly questionable.
Rather than speculate about the internet and electronic media, it may be helpful to regard industries as having a normal life span which cannot be indefinitely extended by rescue efforts. No purpose would be served by hastening the decline of publishing, but things may work out better if we ask ourselves how we should best predict and accommodate to its impending creative transformation.
|The Andrea Doria Wreck|
Robert J. Burns, who runs clinical trials of medical instruments at Boston Scientific, on July 25,2008 told the Right Angle Club about what he does on weekends. It seems to amount to coming within an inch of getting killed, scuba diving. His favorite place to visit is the sunken wreck of the Andrea Doria, lying on its side in 250 feet of water, forty-five miles from Block Island in international waters. Built in 1951 in grand style, the Andrea Doria was the pride of the Italian ocean fleet, with 190 First Class passengers, 267 Cabin Class, and 677 Tourist Class. There were about 600 crew members aboard. Two of the passengers on July 25,1956 were Mayor Richardson Dilworth of Philadelphia and his wife, so when it sank, the Andrea Doria dominated the news. After it was all unscrambled later, it seems the radar of the liner Stockholm had incorrect markings and misled the helmsman into thinking distances were five times greater than they actually were. On a day of dense fog, the Stockholm knew the Andrea Doria was near, but greatly underestimated how near. When the Stockholm suddenly found the Andrea Doria looming up, the helm was sharply turned in both ships, causing the prow of the Stockholm to gouge out most of the side of the Doria, which soon sank. That would ultimately mean the Stockholm was mainly at fault, but the Italian liner's image was as damaged as its hull by having the crew commandeer the lifeboats for themselves and essentially abandon the passengers. The rescuing ship was the Ile de France, who told the newspapers that at first they thought they were rescuing an all-male ship. It's not completely certain how many people were killed in the collision; between 47 and 52 individuals were missing. A matter of great interest to the newsmedia was the story of an 11-year old girl on the Andrea Doria, who was scooped out of her cabin by the prow of the Stockholm and eventually located safe and sound in the bow of the Swedish ship.
Because of German submarine activity in World War II, the Atlantic coast is littered with sunken ships from Boston to North Carolina. Most of them attract great schools of fish, and scuba divers, but the Andrea Doria is a favorite because of all the souveniers to be found on it. Three classes of dining rooms provide tons of monogrammed dishes and table ware, greatly in demand for the trophy cabinets of avid scuba enthusiasts. Just about the first salvage hunter was Peter Gimbel of the department store family, who cut a hole in the first class area and liberated the safe which might be presumed to be full of jewels. As it turned out, it only held some well-soaked Italian currency.
|The Doria in Her Prime|
Scuba diving at a depth of 250 feet requires a certificate, and $7000 worth of training for five years is required just to be eligible to risk your life. Even so, plenty of people have lost their lives playing this game, whose central thrill seems to be that you have to get dozens of maneuvers right, every single time, or you've had it. The Martini effect is probably a big part of it, too. Every fifty feet of depth gives a degree of narcosis equal to drinking one Martini, so a diver to the Andrea Doria operates as if he had drunk five Martinis. Under those circumstances, judgment gets clouded but every single knob on every single hose has to be adjusted every so many minutes, adding and subtracting oxygen, substituting helium for nitrogen, and modifying the pressure and flow rates. Then, because it's dark down there, you have to remember to turn left after ten feet, then right after twenty feet, and reverse it all when you come back out with your monogrammed dish. Deep sea diving with a hard hat is safer and more comfortable, because you are attached to a hose and have a handler up on the surface keeping track of things for you. But hoses would get cut by the jagged edges of the interior of the hulk, and all in all, diving with a hard hat just isn't what real men do. The hard hat may offer some protection against the myriads of sharks to be encountered, but that's only if the shark prefers to attack your head. If you are using a lot of helium in your breathing mixture, you tend to get very cold, and the preferred answer is to wear a suit inflated with Argon. If that gets punctured by sharks or one thing or another, the discomfort can be memorable. It's cold, it's dangerous, it's dark, it's lonesome, but think of all those dishes you can collect. And maybe the five Martinis are part of the attraction, too.
Lunch at the Franklin Inn Club was recently enlivened by David Wieck, who not only does the sort of thing you get an MBA degree for, but is also a noted authority on the Civil War. His topic was the wartime exploits of Frank Furness, whose name is often mispronounced but whose thumbprints are all over the architecture of 19th Century Philadelphia. Take a look at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, Boathouse #13 of the Schuylkill Navy, the Fisher Building of the University of Pennsylvania, and many other surviving structures of the 600 buildings his firm built in 40 years. One of them is the Unitarian Church at 22nd and Chestnut, where his grandfather had been the fire-brand abolitionist minister.
|PennsylvaniaAcademy of Fine Arts|
The Civil War seems to have transformed Frank Furness in a number of ways. He had been sort of in the shadow of his older brother Horace, a big man on the campus of Princeton, later the founder of the Shakspere Society, and the Variorum Shakespeare. Frank was quiet, and good at drawing. However, at age 22 he was socially eligible to join Rush's Lancers, the 6th Pennsylvania Cavalry, which contained among other socialites the great grandson of Robert Morris, and a member of the Biddle Family who put up the money to equip the troop with 7-shot repeating rifles. Cavalry units like this were a vital weapon in the Civil War, because they needed young well-equipped expert horsemen with a strong sense of group loyalty. Rifles were considered too expensive for infantry, who were equipped with muskets that took several minutes to reload, and were unwieldy because they were only accurate if they were very long. When bands of daredevils on horseback suddenly attacked with seven-shot repeating rifles, they could be devastating against massed infantry. A flavor of their bravado emerges from their rescue of General Custer's men from a tight spot, later known in the annals of the troop as "Custer's first last stand."
|The Undine Barge Club Boathouse #13 of the Schuylkill Navy|
There are two famous stories of the exploits of Frank Furness, first as a second Lieutenant and later as a Captain at Cold Harbor two years later. In the first episode, a wounded Confederate soldier lay on the no man's land of forces only a hundred yards apart. His screams were so heart-rending that Furness ran out to him and put a handkerchief tournequet around his bleeding thigh. Because the fallen man was a Confederate soldier, the Confederates held their fire and later cheered the Union cavalryman for his kindness. The wounded man called out "
|The Fisher Building of the University of Pennsylvania|
In the second episode, the cavalry had spread out too much, leaving some isolated parties trapped and out of ammunition. Furness lifted a hundred-pound box of ammunition to his head and ran through the gunfire with it to the trapped men. For this, he later received the Congressional Medal of Honor. Somehow all of the public attention he received in the war transformed Furness from a younger brother who was good at drawing into a dynamo of energy, much in the model of what law firms call a "rainmaker". He travelled to the Yellowstone area of Wyoming at least six times, bringing back various trophies. He was known to get people's attention by using his service revolver to take pot shots at a stuffed moose head in his office.
|First Unitarian Church 22nd Chestnut Philadelphia|
His final publicity venture was to advertise, forty years later, in Southern newspapers for the whereabouts of the confederate soldier whose life he had saved. Eventually, a man named Hodge who had later been a sherif in Virginia, stepped forward to renew his blessings and thanks. Hodge was brought to Philadelphia for a celebrated 6th Cavalry reunion, and a picture of the two former enemies was spread in the newspapers. It was a little embarrassing that Furness and Hodge found they had very little to say to each other for a five-day visit, but Hodge eventually proved able to be one-up in the situation. He outlived Furness by five years.
Although the style of Furness confections seemed and seems a little strange to everyone except Victorian Philadelphians, he did leave a major stamp on American architecture. His most noted student was Louis B. Sullivan, who put an entirely different sort of stamp on Chicago. And Sullivan's best-known student was Frank Lloyd Wright who created a modernist image of architecture for the West. The buildings of these three don't look at all alike, but their rainmaker personalities are all essentially the same.
Eighty percent of the ethical drug industry is located within a hundred miles of Philadelphia, and the whole chemical industry has had its center here for two centuries. The chemical industry is the region's largest manufacturer, now that locomotives and beer brewing have come and gone, but its profile remains low. In fact, chemists personally have a low profile too and harbor a smoldering annoyance about it. No one has been more determined to change that nerdy image than Arnold Thackray, the recently retired President of the Chemical Heritage Foundation. He's not only a big idea man but bubbles with energy and persuasiveness. That largely accounts for the fact that CHF has the second largest endowment among public institutions in Philadelphia, the best library of chemical history in the world, and a growing reputation for fine art concentrated in the field. That's not enough for him, so it came about that a new museum was envisioned, funded and created. But not built; building it was assigned to Miriam Schaefer, a famous go-getter who had the unusual qualification of being squeamish about chemistry. It was her assigned task to find a way to make chemistry exciting to people who were not instinctively excited by it, just exactly because she was the world's authority on that point of view. What was vital was that she was the sort of person who can't resist a challenge, and was capable of thinking, well, big.
With the unlimited backing of Arnold and his board and their almost unlimited financial support, Miriam set about soliciting big ideas from uninhibited people all over the world, and some of their suggestions were even a little too wild to be acceptable. But since the whole idea was to awaken the enthusiasm of anybody, however sullen, who happens to shuffle through the museum, many outlandish suggestions were forced through the filter of a skeptical, conservative, Philadelphia establishment. The result is a series of pleasant surprises, ranging from fine art with a focus on alchemists trying to make gold out of lead, to astonishing computerized graphic displays of the elements of the periodic table fifty feet high, to depictions of Joseph Priestly known as the father of chemistry, a personal friend of Benjamin Franklin, the founder of the Unitarian Church, and a resident of Philadelphia. There's Arnold Beckman's original Beckman spectrophotometer which made hundreds of millions of dollars, was a major factor in the Twentieth century blossoming of biochemistry, and is here shown to be a clever elaboration of a simple idea. Meanwhile, the museum is housed in a massive old bank building, with it's interior reamed out and replaced with as much transparent glass as could support the weight. Inga Saffron the architectural critic, more than foamed over with praise in her review of just the structure itself. Don't neglect to notice the stunning portrait of Gay-Lussac, the man who discovered that water is H2O. The pigments of his portrait were mixed with beeswax, and with clever lighting have an astonishing luminosity.
The museum is part of an emerging conference center, which should attract audiences of chemists for decades. But that's not entirely the whole idea. The underlying vision is to convince those skeptical, non-chemical bozos that not only are chemists rather richer than the rest of us, and smarter, but clever and fascinating, too. Go visit this museum, before everyone else does.
|Wagner Institute Logo|
William Wagner emigrated to Philadelphia as a prosperous merchant shortly after the nation was formed, becoming a friend affiliated in business with Stephen Girard, although never a partner. Business took him around the world, where he pursued his hobby of collecting scientific specimens. The collection grew until it needed a museum to house it, accordingly built on the family farm somewhat north of the city limits, now 1700 Montgomery Street. A woodprint shows a game of base-ball in play in the fields, with the museum recognizably looming in the background. Those fields are now filled with Nineteenth century red brick Philadelphia rowhouses, built later to support the activities of the Museum. Unfortunately, a need for a parking lot was not anticipated in 1848, but the place is quite safe to visit because land directly across 17th Street, also part of the original Wagner farm, was given over to the 22nd District police station. It's even possible the parking issue has since been considered, since nearby land was deeded to a Unitarian Church on condition of reverting to the museum if it stops being a church.
William Wagner became the first director of his museum, following the ideas of his friend Girard a few blocks to the south. Stephen Girard had left his estate to the education of poor white orphan boys; Wagner extended the idea to offering free scientific education to the working public. The example ofBenjamin Franklin's discovery of the nature of electricity with only a second-grade education is a locally dramatic example of the important truth that science can be enjoyed and even skillfully performed without academic preparation or advanced degrees. Science in the early Nineteenth century evolved from Natural Philosophy to what we now call Natural Science, heavily weighted toward geology, botany and zoology with a strong dose of Charles Darwin. Today, those ideas are having a reawakening in the Green (Environmental) Movement, so perhaps a resurgence of interest really is about to appear. The museum might be called a historical record of Nineteenth century science, although its lecture series are wider ranging and, of course, up to date. Reflecting the intended science education of the working public, many of the lectures are given in the evening and on weekends. Many are given in other locations, like the Free Library branches. The Wagner resembles the Barnes Museum in the sense that two museums once intended to illustrate educational innovations have come to overshadow the public's perception of the educational programs, whereas the cost of maintaining museums grew far faster than the income from endowments. It all resembles academia in general in getting progressively more expensive to provide for.
|The Wagner Museum|
The Wagner museum was formally opened in 1854, about the time of the City-County consolidation which relieved the population pressure needing to fill up surrounding fields with redbrick rowhouses, and eventually with Temple University. The formal Institute directorship was transferred to the professional management of Joseph P. Leidy, a dynamo of a man who received the informal title of The Last Man Who Knew Everything. When Leidy retired at the end of the Nineteenth century, the museum was closed to further acquisitions. For those who can remember natural science museums around 1930, the Wagner is strongly reminiscent, but over time it has become one of the few, perhaps the only, surviving example of the type. The building next door is a scientific library, available to scholars by appointment. The Athenaeum and the Mutter Museum are also surviving museum monuments, but even those two have been elaborately modernized. The Wagner resolutely adheres to looking as much like the original as maintenance will permit. The structure is as interesting as the contents; only the lecture topics move forward with the times.
The Institute drifted away from the Wagner family, but a few Wagners of the present generation became attracted by the connection to their name, and have struggled to keep it alive. The board has a few Wagner family members, who do their best to spark the enthusiasm of others who value the lectures, the scientific educational movement, and historical quality of an expensive but unique museum in a difficult neighborhood. Quite a few loyalists throng around the evening lectures with a happy air of joint participation and tradition. It would be hard to overlook the sincerity and courtesy that hovers around the edges of a shared cultural belief. It's a family activity, all right, but it is no longer a Wagner family but a Wagner Museum family. Participants are unmistakeably really happy that visitors have come to see it. The opening lines of Tolstoy's Anna Karenina declare that all happy families are happy in the same way, but that's wrong. The Wagner Museum family are obviously happy, but in a unique way. In a nation which so universally prizes the future, here's one group who have seen the merit of having some institutions grow in value by seeming to stay just the way they began.
|Historical Society of Pennsylvania|
There was a time when the mission of the HSP (Historical Society of Pennsylvania) was clearly and proudly centered on the history of Philadelphia's old families. There generally comes a time in every family when its accumulation of stuff requires facing the fact that many possessions are too valuable to sell and too bulky to store. HSP in time became a place where families contributed these objects of memory and value, at least keeping them out of the hands of antique dealers when dusting and insuring them became a burden. When many families entered into such a joint venture, the shared goals and experiences created a tradition over time which was reassuring to the donors. The famous lawyer Howard Lewis came to the board of HSP at a time when it was facing up to some of its own problems.
The then Board Chairman Boises Penrose came to the young lawyer one day and told him it was time he joined the board. Well, why? Because your grandfather was once Chairman of the Board; no other explanation was offered. Howard Lewis recounts that it was his introduction to a Philadelphia fact: some board appointments are hereditary. He dutifully joined.
It became apparent that HSP was a museum of immensely interesting artifacts, including decorations used at the Machianza of 1778, a copy of the handwritten originals of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, and ten thousand other curios of great interest. It was a place to visit one's family relics, it was a great place to hold a party. It had a three million dollar endowment in 1969. But it had a big problem: essentially no one visited the museum. It isn't hard to imagine the anguish waiting for anyone who stirred up the hornet's nest by pointing out the obvious problem. You can't fire hereditary directors, so hereditary directors don't budge in an argument. You can make hired staff into scapegoats and fire them; that doesn't accomplish much, although it is commonly tried. The Genealogy Society is a natural partner of Philadelphia's attic, but although the two partners were intimately mixed, natural partners who can't be fired add to the scene.
Things went on. Boies Penrose held board meetings which lasted precisely forty five minutes. He had a train to Devon to catch at 5:15, so meetings ended at 4:45 PM, precisely. Even when a speaker was in mid-sentence, the gavel banged down at 4:45. Eventually this impasse was broken by reaching an agreement with the Atwater Kent Museum to the effect that historical three-dimensional objects would go to the Atwater Kent, freeing up 40% more library space for the two-dimensional papers, maps and documents which were to become the main focus of the new HSP. More separation between HSP and the Genealogy Society was effected. Much of this was made possible by the extraordinary investment ability of Ralph Kynette, who had run the endowment up to $18 million, in spite of maintaining a spending rule of 9%. There are not many non-profit organizations which can match such a performance.
The reorganized HSP floundered a bit, and then it had the good fortune to enter into a merger with the Balch Institute. The Balch also had a store of valuable papers, but its main mission was educational. The addition of this educational effort to the more static museum and library functions has allowed the recruitment of ambitious staff, and a considerable redirection from Olde Philadelphia to the city as it now is.
In the course of the many reexaminations which all this reorganization stirred up, some familiar issues in non-profit administration had to be faced. The American Museum Association is firm in its principles that no asset in the archives of a museum may ever be sold, except to purchase some other asset which comes closer to the museum's stated mission. The underlying sense of this rule is plain: it would be unfortunate for paid staff to sell artwork for the purpose of sustaining or raising their own salaries. Unfortunately, in a great many instances, collection value has grown more rapidly than the size of the endowment to preserve the collection. That's about the size of the problem at the Barnes Museum, where collections worth many billions cannot be touched to raise money to protect and display them. It is confidently asserted that the Barnes has many objects in its basement which could easily correct its endowment imbalance, but the AMA rule prevents it. The Barnes must now be moved to a new county to overcome this impasse. It all seems like an awkward way to solve one problem by creating another, but the lawyer in Howard Lewis takes it in quite an unexpected direction.
It is his view that locking the museums of the nation in this position creates a constantly shrinking market in art work; when a museum acquires a piece of art it forces it to enter a one-way tunnel, never to reappear on the market. A constantly shrinking market of salable art raises prices, and it does so in a way that resembles a violation of the Clayton Antitrust Act, the beneficiaries of which are the art dealers, art collectors and artists of the world. Add to this injury to competition, the tax benefits of creating or holding a constantly appreciating market; and it really is an uncomfortable thing to consider in depth. The American Museum Association ought give serious consideration to finding alternative routes to its legitimate goals. One of the other probably unintentional results of this rule is that the donation of a valuable piece of art to a museum is very likely to lead to its instant sale for cash. The reasoning here is that the donation has not yet been "taken into the collection", and thus it can be sold without violating the Museum Association rule. People who wear wigs while sitting on a bench may consider this a valid interpretation, but when you set about trying to fashion a better museum rule, this rebuttal seems highly contrived.
If we should some day set about to re-examine what we are doing in the legal thicket of museums, we might consider how the principles of non-profit accounting for museums might be fundamentally modified. Since a non-profit is thought to generate no profits, its financial health cannot be measured by the size of its profits. Consequently, it is traditional to account for the finances of a non-profit by measuring whether its assets have grown or declined. However, conducting an annual appraisal of all the art work in a museum that never sells anything is a monumental expense without any other purpose than to satisfy the accounting rule. Consequently, I'll tell you a little secret. Absolutely everyone ignores the issue, and the annual audits are totally uninformative if not misleading. Who's going to hang the bell on this cat?
There are several big holes in the ground, clustered fairly close together in the high plains of northern Arizona. One of them is an extinct volcano, one is a sink-hole where the ground collapsed over an empty aquifer, one is the Grand Canyon. And one of them is the Barringer meteorite crater, about a mile wide and half a mile deep. In the summer, environmental temperatures above 105 degrees are fairly common, and as I have reason to know, the crater can be covered with two feet of snow in February. It's near the town of Winslow, and was called the Winslow crater in a popular song, Take it Easy by The Eagles of ten or more years ago, as well as being featured for the last fifteen minutes of a movie called Starman that is still reasonably exciting to watch.
|Daniel Moreau Barringer (1860-1929)|
As recently explained by Margot Barringer at a dinner at the Franklin Inn Club last week, the crater was explored, and purchased, by her grandfather, Daniel Moreau Barringer (1860-1929), who had made a fortune in mining discoveries and could afford to buy a big hole in the ground. Daniel Barringer was a Princeton classmate and friend of Woodrow Wilson and Cyrus McCormick, as well as a friend of Theodore Roosevelt. Barringer's young son owned a .22 rifle and amused himself shooting at mud puddles. One day, he exclaimed that the shapes of the bullet holes in the ground were exactly like the shape of the Arizona hole; they all had a circular opening no matter what direction the bullet came from. From that came the idea that the crater was not an extinct volcano as many local natives believed, but the crater of a meteor, since the mouth of the crater would remain roughly circular regardless of the direction of the impact. That shape helps explain the confusion with the mouth of a volcano. While generally accepted today, meteor craters were a comparatively recent idea at that time. Geologists like to argue a lot -- Barringer himself was particularly vocal-- and it took quite a few years before the meteor theory of this particular crater was generally accepted. Poor Barringer became obsessed with the idea that commercial deposits of iron ore could be found if you dug deeply in or around the crater; but it wasn't true, and he essentially lost his fortune trying to dig 28 deep holes there. Sadly, he died of a heart attack very shortly after the scientific world finally agreed with his Theory of the crater's formation. The decline in the family fortune may also have been related to the significant year -- 1929 -- of his death. Two other grand daughters have written an interesting book about this personal and geological struggle.
At the Franklin Inn dinner, Baruch Blumberg (who had won a Nobel Prize for the discovery of the hepatitis B virus and its vaccine) then offered a fascinating discussion of meteors and craters. He's President of theAmerican Philosophical Society, but his credentials for this topic come from his second career as Director of the Astrobiology Institute of NASA. He tells us it might be better to call it an asteroid crater, since most meteors are circulating asteroids that lose their way and come crashing through our atmosphere. There are quite a few asteroids floating around reasonably close nearby, and more big ones can be expected to drop in on us about once every two thousand years in the future. NASA seems to have given a lot of thought to this topic, including a theory that the moon was once a piece of the earth which got knocked loose by a big asteroid hitting us at some distant time in the past. There's a big crater in Siberia, and it is thought that dinosaurs were exterminated by an huge asteroid hitting the Yucatan. When you look at the surface of the moon, you see that lots and lots of asteroids have been flying about, but most of the evidence has been eroded away.
If there is a serious danger of a another big one hitting us, and smart people can calculate its future path, what can we do about it? Well, the people at NASA have given that some serious thought. Attaching an outboard motor to the asteroid doesn't sound very workable, but painting one side of it white might be, because white will reflect light and heat and push the asteroid in some different direction. And shooting big bombs at it to change its course might be practical. Right now, all of the asteroids seem to be headed in harmless directions, but it pays to be prepared.
The idea that iron and nickel could be found in the crater comes from knowing, Lord knows how, that the center of the earth is molten iron. That creates the theory that asteroids might be mostly made of iron, burying commercial amounts of it underground when they hit. Unfortunately, the size calculations are all wrong, and Barringer's son had it about right that a .22 bullet would kick up a much larger hole than itself. Anyway, some consolation lies in 250,000 paying visitors to the crater every year, and an occasional movie or NASA experiment paying for temporary use. The down side of the economics is that Barringer had eight children, and lots of them had lots of children. Fecundity seems to be a characteristic of most Barringers; one member of the clan estimated at least a thousand living relatives at one remove or another, all of them presumably willing to share in the gate receipts if some learned counsel advises an aggressive approach.
So, since it more or less belongs to Philadelphia, more visits to this crater are recommended. Except, perhaps, in February. April, when the desert is in bloom, might be more enjoyable.
|A Grand Obsession: Daniel Moreau Barringer and His Crater: Nancy Southgate: ASIN: B0006SAYHU||Amazon|
Anyone crossing the Walt Whitman Bridge into Philadelphia or driving along Columbus Boulevard along the port's edge can't help but see two red smoke stacks rising above the pier buildings at a rakish angle. They belong to the SS United States, the fastet ocean liner ever to ply the Atlantic or any other sea. On her maiden voyage in 1952 she traveled between Ambrose Light Ship in New York harbor and Bishop Rock off Cornwall, UK, in 3 days, 11 hours and 40 minutes topping the previous record held by the Queen Mary by over 10 hours, setting a new record that still remains unbroken. They teach people at Annapolis that the top speed of a naval vessel is related to the length of the ship at the waterline. Contrary to what you might expect, the bigger the boat, the faster it is capable of going. That's just the theoretical limit, of course, and things start to shake a little when you approach that limit, which is a function of the square root of the length. Submarines generally can't outrun a liner, so in wartime liners travel alone instead of in convoys. But now this ship unhappily is a derelict headed for the scrap yard unless efforts to raise the money necessary to bring her back to life are successful. Dan McSweeney, vice president of the SS United States Conservancy whose father emigrated from Scotland to work aboard the ship, gave the Right Angle Club members a heart-felt slide presentation of why he thinks the United States must be saved.
During WWII ocean liners were pressed into service as troop carriers; not many people were taking pleasure cruises at the time. They were fast, reliable and able to carry thousands of troops to overseas destinations and thus allow warships to be used to fight rather than as transports. The SS United States was built to Navy specs right from the start to fulfill this mission should it ever arise and yet be a premier ocean liner with all the amenities people expect from a cruise ship. The idea worked out well and she was a spectacular success with a long list of famous people who have walked her decks - including several Right Anglers who still have fond memories of their crossings. The ship was a regular player in the ocean liner trade right up until 1969 when she was decommissioned by her owners and laid up at Newport News where she was built between 1950 and 1952. Since then she's had several owners and been idled at a number of ports. She's presently owned by Norwegian Cruise Lines, a company that bought her in 2003 with serious plans to put her back in service with new engines and a total refitting. Alas, the costs were astronomical and given the current economic conditions the plans have been dropped by NCL so here she lies awaiting her fate.
|(L-R) Richard Rabbett, Susan Gibbs, Jeff Henry, and Dan McSweeney|
The SS United States Conservancy was formed to ensure that her fate is not to be converted to metal cans or whatever else thousands of tons of scrap metal might be used for. One doesn't have to be an aficionado of ocean liners to be entranced by the United States; she's not only big, beautiful and sleek but a real symbol of the power and glory that all Americans have come to associate with their country. The founders of the Conservancy all recognize these attributes and have family ties that make them truly passionate about saving the ship. Besides Dan, whose father was noted above as having come to America to work on her, the president of the Conservancy, Susan Gibbs, is the granddaughter of William Francis Gibbs, the naval architect who designed the ship. Another board member, Charles B. Anderson, is the son of the longest-serving master of the United States, Commodore John W. Anderson. So, it's not too surprising to hear of their pride and zeal relative to the ship. They are also experienced scholars, historians and fund raisers so we can hope that something good can yet be done.
Several PBS documentaries have been produced to educate us Americans, frequent meetings with city planners and philanthropists take place, especially in Philadelphia and New York City where the greatest interest currently lies and where maritime museums and displays are already in place due to their own history. In the meantime the present owners is paying Philadelphia Regional Port Authority $1000 a day for docking fees and simple maintenance while awaiting public money to be found. Because of previous owners having stripped her in their efforts to recoup their costs, she's really just a shell at present and whatever is finally decided to make of her (if she's saved at all) will be a project almost as big as her initial construction. Her initial cost to build in the early 1950s was $78 million. To bring her back to life, estimates range from a low of approximately $200 million all the way up to $700 million. This writer fervently hopes that one day we are lucky enough to once again walk the decks of the SS United States as a museum piece and symbol of the pride of the American people.
|Grand Union Flag|
THERE are a number of supermarkets in Philadelphia called Grand Union Stores, but the grocery conglomerate was founded in 1872. That Union was the Northern side in The American Civil War, and it is reported that life-sized replicas of Abraham Lincoln were once a common feature in the stores. Much earlier than that, the Grand Union was a term that meant the first American national flag, adopted in 1775, and created by a Philadelphia milliner, Margaret Manny. It was, however, quite similar to the flag of the British East India Company, and the Grand Union they were both talking about was the Union of England and Scotland of 1707. The jack of the Grand Union flag, soon to be replaced with a ring of thirteen stars, represented the crosses of England and Scotland, superimposed. When Northern Ireland joined the United Kingdom, the cross of Ireland was superimposed, to give the present form of the Union Jack. In 1775, considerable colonial sentiment still hoped that hostilities would achieve a status for America along the lines of the other members of the United Kingdom.
|"Betsy Ross" Flag|
Although the number of stripes in the national flag briefly increased to fifteen at the time of admission of Kentucky and Vermont, stripes soon reverted to thirteen to symbolize the original thirteen states. After that single exception, only the stars in the jack increased to match the number of current states.
The early use of the Grand Union Flag is in some dispute, but it may possibly have been used by George Washington in the various battles around Boston and Charlestown. It was most certainly flown by John Paul Jones on his ship the Alfred . Because of its resemblance to the flag of the nation we were fighting to overthrow, it is understandable that there would soon be a desire to change it. That is what happened in 1777, although just who first had the idea is still open to dispute and myth making.
America has had three flag acts:
The Flag Act of June 14, 1777 was passed by the Second Continental Congress (under the Articles of Confederation, of course. June 14 is now called Flag Day.) "Resolved, That the flag of the United States be made of thirteen stripes, alternate red and white; that the union be thirteen stars, white in a blue field, representing a new Constellation."
The Flag Act of January 13, 1794 (1 Stat. 341) An Act making an alteration in the Flag of the United States. Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress Assembled, That from and after the first day of May, Anno Domini, one thousand seven hundred and ninety-five, the flag of the United States, be fifteen stripes alternate red and white. That the Union be fifteen stars, white in a blue field.
The Flag Act of April 4, 1818 (3 Stat. 415) An Act to establish the flag of the United States. Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America, in Congress Assembled, That from and after the fourth day of July next, the flag of the United States be thirteen horizontal stripes, alternate red and white: that the union be twenty stars, white in a blue field. And be it further enacted, That on the admission of every new state into the Union, one star be added to the union of the flag; and that such addition shall take effect of the fourth day of July then next succeeding such admission.
|Benjamin Henry Latrobe|
Philadelphia didn't really want the national capital to move to Washington DC, but the yellow fever epidemics, brought from Haiti by refugees, made it politically impossible to reverse the decision to move. We now know that Yellow Fever is transmitted by mosquitoes, but there was enough trash and pollution lying about the that it was plausible that polluted water was the cause. With no time to waste, water was piped in, through wooden pipes, from the comparatively pristine Schuylkill to a pumping station in Center Square, where City Hall now stands. Even today, no one wants a water tower in the neighborhood, so Benjamin Henry Latrobe made it look like a Roman Temple, thereby introducing classical architecture to Philadelphia, and starting quite a trend. The new system worked well enough from 1801 to 1815, when the new city outgrew it. Therefore, a new pumping system was built at the base of Faire Mount, where William Penn once planned to have a mansion, and was attached to Latrobe's wooden pipe system. In a unique and ingenious way,
|Latrob'e Water Works|
Frederic Graff pumped Schulykill water up to a series of reservoirs on top of Faire Mount, utilizing a water stack to maintain constant pressure. The classical architecture was continued, parks and decorative gardens were placed around it, and admirers came from around the world to marvel. Meanwhile, Latrobe's original building could now be torn down, providing room for City Hall, which was planned to be the tallest building in the world, although the French sort of cheated and put up Eiffel Tower, which in a sense really isn't a building. Meanwhile, Philadelphia and the rest of America kept growing and growing, leading to industrial plants along the Schuylkill all the way up to Pottsville, where the anthracite came from. The pure sparklling municipal water of which Philadelphia was so proud soon became a stinking sewer, and the Civil War encampments accelerated the process.
Following the lead of the Philadelphia College of Physicians, the concept of Fairmount Park emerged from clearing the banks of the river, and the Wissahickon Creek, of industry. The Philadelphia Water Works thus became the southern anchor of the largest city park in the world, including the building of Laurel Hill Cemetery, which had sanitary overtones which were embarrassing to discuss. Philadelphia led the world in adapting to this particular feature of the Industrial Revolution, and the insights of Louis Pasteur. By 1890, however, the system was again outmoded, and Philadelphia water became the butt of every joke. Between 1815 and 1840 the wooden pipes were replaced by iron ones. Robert Morris's old estate of Lemon Hill was acquired by Fairmount Park and used to construct a second reservoir on the neighboring hill. More about that second reservoir, in another blog.
Eventually, there would be more reservoirs at Belmont and Green Lane. But the city's new reputation for foul water was deserved. Deaths from typhoid fever rose to 80 per 100,000 residents before a water filtration system was installed; deaths from typhoid promptly fell to 2 per 100,000. Statistics on hepatitis were not available, but virus diseases must have been a serious hazard under primitive conditions of filtration, aeration and chlorination -- as they still are in many third-world countries, and in most southern European nations before 1950. As late as 1950 in Philadelphia, it was considered witty for a dowager to accept a drink from her hostess, saying "I'll drink absolutely anything, except Philadelphia water -- and 'Coke' ". The implication was that alcohol sterilizes water, which of course it doesn't, and also that absolutely everybody knows that Philadelphia has terrible water, whatever that means.
A reputation like that is bad for the city, making it harder to persuade workers and business to locate here, but the traditions underlying this response are quite ancient. Back in the days when water came from your own well, whole neighborhoods would move to new unspoiled areas to seek cleaner water and regions where the local privies were not yet mature. It takes quite a lot to persuade people to abandon the investment in a home, or mansion as in Society Hill, and build a new one in a nearby undeveloped region. Particularly when the germ theory was not yet available to explain the issues with precision, pulling up stakes for a new neighborhood was an accepted reaction to almost any threat.
|Water Works Today|
However, strenuous exertions for half a century have made Philadelphia water safer, tastier, and far cheaper than bottled water. The recent trend of young people to walk about sucking a three dollar bottle of water drives the Philadelphia Water Department up a wall. For example, 25% of bottled water comes straight from the tap. The inspection standards for public water are much stricter than for commercial bottled water, whose safety is in large part secondary to the safety of the tap water from which it is derived. True, public water is chlorinated, but then it is also fluoridinated, putting legions of dentists out of business. In Philadelphia, that's the main difference justifying the rather appalling price difference, and the accumulation of plastic bottles in various trash heaps.
The recent advances in Philadelphia's water can in part be traced to Ruth Patrick, now over a hundred years old but the world's foremost expert on streams and water, and to the persistent professionalism of the Philadelphia Water Department. Perhaps, though, it may take a century of slander about water to persuade the politicians to keep their hands off the Water Department. It does take a lot of tax money to implement the third step in the process of cleaning up the water supply, which is the purification of waste water. For centuries, the guiding principle was to obtain and maintain pure water at the source; waste water was flushed down the sewer to go back out to the ocean. However, seven times as much water is removed from the Delaware, as it flows past the city. That is, the water now recirculates through the sewage system seven times before it is turned over to residents of lower Delaware Bay. The expensive and elaborate -- but scarcely visible -- system of treating sewage in various sewage treatment centers has now resulted in returning water to the Delaware in better condition of purity than it had when it came down past Bucks County.
But it costs lots of bucks, and nobody seems to notice the water. People only notice the bucks.
|Camden in 1662|
The early Swedish and Dutch settlers tended to sail up the Delaware Bay, and settle on the right-hand bank, which we now call New Jersey. In time, Seventeenth century settlers, even William Penn, switched over to the left, or Pennsylvania, side. The Dutch, who had experience with dykes on the Zuider Zee, knew that it was quicker and easier to drain the lowlands than to chop down big trees and dig up the roots. Although the Dutch were more interested in fur trading than agriculture, they had to eat. Fish, crabs, oysters and truck gardens were enough for that purpose. After establishing a Fort Nassau at what is now the town of Gloucester, on the south edge of Camden, fur trading on the New Jersey side began to fall off, and the Dutch settlement was moved across the river as Fort Casimir, next to the mouth of the hidden river, the Schuylkill, just south of what is now the international airport. That was fine for the Dutch to stay close to their ships, but the Indians on the far side of the swamp resisted coming down the swampy river, and held back to do their fur trading at Gray's Landing, on the high ground between Bartram's Gardens and the University of Pennsylvania. For the Dutch it was a pleasant paddle up from the mouth of the river at Fort Casimir, and anyway you never know about strangers.
William Penn followed the same path, buying and reselling farmland in New Jersey for a decade before he asked for, and King Charles gave him, Pennsylvania. Skipping many of the details, northern New Jersey, called East Jersey, was given to Scottish Quakers, while what we call South Jersey and they called West Jersey, was divided into ten parts among the English Quakers. The Third Tenth around the Cooper River roughly corresponds to Camden County, and was mainly purchased by Irish Quakers and for a while was called the "Irish Tenth". In time, Gloucester County was split off from Camden County, which was mainly known originally as Newton Township. After a century, the Irish origins of the local inhabitants of Newton and Haddonfield were largely forgotten. The town of Gloucester, however, was situated on the river next to what was to be the vast shipyards of New York Shipbuilding Corp.(1899-1967). First addressing the oak forests of West Jersey for the masts of sailing ships, sailing ships were built with lumber logs floated down the Susquehanna River in rafts during the Nineteenth century. This industry attracted later Irish immigrants during the time of the great Irish migrations, and still more were attracted when World War I made Camden a major steamship building center. The experience was repeated during World War II, reaching its eventual high point when the nuclear Aircraft carrier Eisenhower could be seen under construction by commuters going over the Walt Whitman Bridge.
Shipbuilding, like other heavy industry of the rust belt, moved abroad seeking cheaper labor, and what little remained on American soil moved to Norfolk, Virginia. The response of protectionist legislation made America even less attractive for unionized industry. The wiser workers saw what was happening and sought jobs in other industries, elsewhere. But Gloucester City, underneath the bridge girders and surrounded by winding creeks, held out as an oasis of working-class Irish as the southern anchor of crumbling, decaying Camden. About a thousand homes had been built by the federal government during the labor shortages of World War I, as Fairview. These two little Irish enclaves, 97% Caucasion, continue to hold out for a day that will likely never return, gathering in their taverns to sing songs about old martyrs, fighting to maintain control of the industrial unions, and dominating the Democrat politics of the county. There was a time when leverage might have established political control of South Jersey, and through that to domination of the whole state, but that gets progressively less likely. Tough poliltics essentially met more than its match in the river towns of North Jersey, other groups learned to play the ethnic game, and the recent uproar about child molestation has loosened the hold of their church on young adherants with school children. The same pattern seems to be emerging on the Pennsylvania side of the river in Delaware County, where however the political machine has historically been Republican.
Meanwhile, just a little to the north, the city of Camden steadily decays and deteriorates. Now only half the size of its 125,000 "Citadel of Republicanism" in 1950, the title of America's poorest city is applied to an average income of $18,000, and various statistics of violent crime make it the first or second most dangerous place in America to live. The City is 53% black, 29% of Puerto Rican origin, and 44% below the official poverty level. In 2001, its Mayor was sent to jail as an affiliate of the Mafia, and the state took over the running of the city. In 2009, a state auditor reported that the books were in such chaotic condition that it was impossible to say where they stood, financially. Along the way to this sorry state, RCA Victor (1901-1986) finally moved out, after decades of watching its employees migrate to the suburbs, taking their tax revenue with them. Although Campbell Soup loyally maintains and is even expanding its national headquarters in Camden, the soup is made elsewhere. Frozen chicken dinners are made by the hundreds of thousands in Delaware, assembling the tinfoil, chickens and peas from hundreds of miles to the moment when it is packaged mechanically in a manner that would shame the Japanese. There was a time in living memory when truckloads of Jersey tomatoes were lined up at the Camden soup factory for miles, but all that has moved to California. Jersey tomatoes ripened sequentially throughout the season, requiring human tomato pickers to tell green ones from red ones. A new form of hybrid tomato ripens all the fruit simultaneously, allowing it to be mechanically harvested, and taking advantage of three crops a year in California. The Golden State on our western coast seems to be having labor and tax trouble, too; but that is small comfort to Camden.
As factories close, people abandon their homes, slums result. The schools deteriorate, migration and crime increase. Most people would say it is a mess. A recent sociological study, called Camden After the Fall describes in painful detail how every idea anyone has ever had about how to turn Camden around -- has been tried, amply funded and found to be an utter and discouraging failure. The highway system has been modernized, only to allow commuters to buzz through Camden somewhat faster. Public buildings have been built, only to underline the fact that no new construction has taken place with private money in decades. Building a prison in the center of town created jobs, and now more jobs are being created to tear it down. Rutgers, the state university, has a branch under the shadow of the Ben Franklin Bridge. The battleship New Jersey is at anchor in a lovely riverside park, there's a nice little minor league baseball park. Anything you can build with tax money has been built. There's just no private industry, or business, or profession. Anyone who has a bright idea is welcome to read Camden After the Fall . It's just possible something to try has been overlooked, though it isn't very likely. Except law, order and good schools.
After decades of watching Camden get steadily worse as I commuted hastily through it, I would say there actually is sort of a plan visible. As houses decay, they are torn down, and grass is planted. It seems likely that the plan is to wait until a large enough plot of land is cleared and planted to grass, so it eventually becomes attractive to a developer. And then the developer will make tons of money with raw land that even the Indians in 1640 could see was very well situated.
|University of Pennsylvania|
In 1920, the University of Pennsylvania graduated 34 students with B.A. degrees, and 134 with M.D. degrees. Today, the campus is a little self-contained city of 50,000 inhabitants. The transformation of the campus during that period is an outward expression of revolutionary expansion of the student body, involving demolitions, restorations, new construction. And the nearly constant shortage of parking space.
David Hollenberg, the University Architect, recently gave the Franklin Inn Club an interesting description of the University from the point of view of bricks and mortar. Since almost every building on the campus is undergoing or plans to undergo a major building project, he had a lot of material to cover. The disappearance of the railroad-based industrial area of West Philadelphia has been an economic problem for the city, but of course, this abundance of vacant land has created a major opportunity for the University of Pennsylvania. One reflection of this abundance is the opportunity to become the developer for much of the whole region around the campus, working with private developers who wish to be in the University area, and are therefore willing to coordinate their plans with those of the University. It's a remarkable opportunity. Since it comes at the time of a major economic downturn, one can only hope that the University does not impoverish itself taking advantage of this good luck.
|Jonathan E. Rhoads|
As the graduation statistics illustrate, not so long ago the University was largely a medical school, with appendages. There are rumors of considerable friction from time to time, between the President of the University and the Dean of the Medical School as to who was boss; it is easy to imagine the trustees swinging from one side to the other. The most notable Provost of the University in modern times was Jonathan Rhoads, who also happened to be Professor of Surgery. If you know Quakers, you know that disputes were seldom rancorous. And if you know Jonathan, you know he almost always won the disputes.
While today, the dominant change is caused by the Cira Center buildings and the acquisition of the former Post Office building, it is well to keep in mind that the new Cancer Center is a billion-dollar project. A great deal of the medical school expansion is centered on burgeoning research, particularly in molecular biology, largely financed by the National Institutes of Health. While the leaders of the NIH have long struggled with Congress to keep politics out of both the administration and the substance of research, it seems to old-timers that the politicians are slowly winning. Senator Specter's seniority on the Appropriations Committee may have had as much to do with the prosperity of West Philadelphia, as the quality of research, however eminent. We are about to find out, and if things go hard with us in favor of say Chicago, it could be a wrenching experience. Most of those research buildings cost more to heat, air-condition, insure and clean than the entire tuition base of the students; and they wouldn't be good for much if you tried to sell them.
|Map of the Heart of the City|
The University is almost unique in being located on contiguous land, near existing public transportation, and occupying substantial old structures capable of renovation to new purposes. Mr. Hollenberg was asked whether it was cheaper to grow like this within a city, or whether it is cheaper to plant a totally new university in several open corn fields, as we often see happen. While this is a hard question to answer, and depends to some extent on the type of architect in charge, it is his view that big-city restoration is a considerably cheaper way to expand than building from scratch on open land, although if you are starting the institution itself from scratch, there isn't much choice but the cornfield.
And then, there is the ancient argument between academics and bricks and mortar. Development officers agree that it is easier to raise donations when you can name a building for the donor; grand visions for new frontiers of teaching are a much harder sell. So a question does hang over this expansion, however exciting, whether the endowment will keep up with the structures, once the excitement of physical expansion dies down. These are definitely things to worry about, but right now you seize the opportunities as they go past, leaving integration to your successors to figure out.------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
|Col. Matthew Bogdanos|
Col. Matthew Bogdanos, of the U.S. Marines, gave an interesting insight into what the Baghdad Museum really was, how it was captured, and how the treasures were recovered, at the University of Pennsylvania Museum the other night. Our own museum is said to be the second largest archeology museum in the world, after the British Museum. After discovering what was really in the Baghdad museum, that ranking may have to be revised; but the chief Philadelphia interest traces back to the discovery of the ancient city of Ur by Philadelphia archeologists during the last century, an event which essentially created the University Museum. This was where civilization began, and we discovered it.
The reserve Colonel happens to be a prosecutor for the New York District Attorney, was trained extensively in classical antiquities; and so was the perfect point man to lead the capture of the Museum during the Iraq war, very well suited to follow the looted treasures into the international antiques market -- and recover substantially all of it. Something like 62,000 pieces were recovered, and all of Nimrud's Treasure, the prize possession of the museum.
|The Baghdad Museum|
There has been criticism of our troops -- some of it right out of this evening's Philadelphia audience -- for allowing the place to be looted in the first place. But that sort of assumes the place was lying vacant and undefended while our troops were out shooting innocent civilians. That's a misapprehension quickly dispelled by videotaped scenes of real live shooting and rocketing coming out of the place at the time, which the Colonel was happy to display. Questioners were invited to claim they would have been willing to go into that hornet's nest in order to save alabaster statues, but others in the audience inclined to giving the Marines some benefit of doubt.
That place was vandalized when the troops got into it; to say it was thoroughly vandalized is only true in a sense. There was indeed a lot of looting, but the bigger surprise was to find there were hidden storage rooms behind steel bank doors, filled with the really best antiques, as well as vast boxes of American hundred-dollar bills. By weighing the hundred dollar bills (22 pounds for each million dollars) it was estimated that Saddam Hussein had about $800 million in U.S. currency stored in that one place. Gold as a raw commodity has since gone up considerably in value, but many of the best antique gold pieces on display in the museum were only copies, the originals were kept in the secret vaults. The international market appraises quite a few of these pieces at over $10 million apiece. Apparently the thieves knew exactly which pieces were valuable, and went straight to them without even pausing to notice other rooms full of objects of lesser value. The museum had been closed to the public for the previous twenty years; it seems rather obvious that Saddam was storing these objects in order to buy weapons for continuing guerilla activities underground, or in exile. The museum itself consisted of nearly twenty separate buildings in the center of Baghdad, and the custodians obviously must have known where things of serious value were kept, in order to get to them so precisely.
Offering an amnesty, no questions asked, brought in thousands of recoveries from the local public. Getting other pieces back from art galleries in London, Geneva and Berlin required methods that were not described in detail. Some of us who remember the German and Japanese mementos which were "liberated" during World War II, have an immediate appreciation of the improved American troop discipline which must have been imposed in the Iraq War. That's something to think about, too. Our troops had been given extensive training to respect the cultural heritage of the enemy, and they evidently did so to a remarkable degree. One certainly has to doubt that Saddam was locking that material in vaults for twenty years in order to preserve culture of any sort. If it had any other purpose than to serve as a way of transforming oil wealth into munitions, it's a little hard to imagine what it was.
The Right Angle Club was recently highly entertained by a talk by Richard Karschner about the hay day of Willow Grove Park. Mr. Karschner appeared before the club in full uniform of the Marine Marching Band with medals, and quickly demonstrated an immersion in this topic that must have taken a lifetime to perfect. He put on a virtuoso performance, a prepared speech perfectly timed to an automated slideshow, which was in turn in perfect synchrony with an automated musical background, exactly tailored to fit the momentary subjects. He concluded with a brilliant brief solo on the cornet (trumpet), using double and triple tongue-ing. To some of us who remember some futile struggling with the trumpet in our high school marching bands, the skill demonstrated was certainly impressive.
To go back a moment in time, the trolleycar was the main method of public transportation in the last half of the 19th Century, blanketing the cities of America and their suburbs, and connecting to the trolley lines of other cities through an interurban network. Somewhere the idea developed of building Amusement Parks out at the far end of suburbs, to attract riders into using the trolleys for more than just commuting; there may have been as many as seventy or eighty such permanent circus grounds in America at one time, with more elaborate attractions than could be managed by traveling circuses. Philadelphia had several such trolley parks, notably Woodside Park in Fairmount Park, serviced by the "Park Trolley". But in 1896 Willow Grove was created on the edge of Abington, far more elaborate than any others, at the intersection of Old York Road and Easton Pike (Rte 611). Its terminal could hold as many as a hundred trolleys at once; the ride from Center City Philadelphia took 70 minutes and cost 15 cents. The area had mineral springs, and had long been a favored vacation spot. Horace Trumbauer designed four or five of the buildings, and the Park eventually included a lake with rental boat rides, an arboretum, amusement rides, restaurants, a fun house, silent movie theaters, rodeos, roller coasters, a picnic park, and even an artificial mountain with a slow scenic ride up but a rip roaring fast descent. By far the most central feature of Willow Grove was the 4000-seat music center, dominated by John Philip Sousa and his band giving four performances a day. Other musical performers were Victor Herbert, Walter Damrosch, Arthur Pryor ("The Whistler and His Dog"). Many of the ideas of Willow Grove are now to be found in modernized form at Disneyland, but for twenty-five years music under the direction of John Philip Sousa was really the central unifying feature.
|John Philip Sousa|
It's generally held the arrival of radio broadcasting caused the decline of Willow Grove, although "The March King's" immense energy declined toward the end, as he began to enjoy being a multimillionaire. The composition of marches was in fact only a minor part of his musical output, which included among other things 16 full-length Broadway musicals. He was a national champion trap-shooter, and a horseman of some note. One arm became nearly useless to him after a fall from his horse. Meyer Davis took over in the last few years, but a major fire pretty well finished the place off just in time to be buffeted by the 1929 crash. There was an attempted resurgence in 1933, but circumstances which made Willow Grove a successful "Virtuoso Solo" just couldn't withstand the competition of the automobile and television, and the land was finally broken up and sold for $3 million in 1976. Remnants of the gilded past are now scattered around the Willow Grove Shopping Mall, for those who wish to renew fond memories from their childhood. Or perhaps their grandparent's childhood.
|Grover Cleveland Bergdoll|
Grover Cleveland Bergdoll was one of the great playboys during the era between the Spanish American War and World War I. Although the money came from his beer-baron father, he was in the newspapers as one of the early owners of an airplane, one of the dare-devils racing about in open cars, and of course successful with girls.
His father Louis (1825-94) had emigrated from Germany, bringing with him the new technique of making lager beer by brewing it in the cold, and quickly exploiting its popularity into thousands of barrels of beer a day. Although it is always hard to say just who invented a technique like that, there seems little doubt that Bergdoll & Schemm was responsible for transforming the area north of Spring Garden Street into a booming area of breweries, consuming huge amounts of ice and ice water, wood staves for beer barrels, horses to drag beer to the beer gardens, and energizing railroads to import raw materials and carry away the barrels of beer. The refrigeration industry flourished, and spread out into air conditioning. Bergdoll was a mighty force in Philadelphia industry.
The Bergdoll house was located on 21st Street, not far from the Eastern State Penitentiary, in the very upscale neighborhood called Fairmount. The neighborhood was isolated by the "Chinese Wall" of the Pennslvania Railroad, and more importantly by the slashing through of the Benjamin Franklin Parkway. Eventually, the advent of Prohibition destroyed Philadelphia's brewery industry and its associated beer gardens. The Fairmount region declined into a slum, particularly after the 1929 Stock Market Crash, and upper crust Philadelphia fled blocks and blocks of huge mansions, too big to heat and clean, and also too big and substantial to tear down. So the Bergdoll mansion has been there all along, but there was just no one around to look at it. With the gentrification of the Fairmount region at the turn of the 21st Century, there it sits. a brownstone Pyramid, or Parthenon. A lot of wild stories circulate in the neighborhood, but very few of the new neighbors know very much about it.
It's just possible that the brownstone Widener mansion on north Broad Street is bigger, and certainly the Elkins, Stotesbury and Montgomery mansions in the far suburbs are a lot bigger. But this brownstone edifice in the center of town is impressively large enough to count for something, filling roughly half a square block if you include what look like stables of the same architectural style, and the double houses which suggest some members of the family lived next door. Even these smaller outbuildings are a great deal larger than the average city mansion.
The size of the place makes it easier to understand how Grover Cleveland Bergdoll could be hidden there as a draft dodger for years. In fact, local rumor often has it that he stayed there for thirty years, but it was really only about three. A book by Roberta E. Dell, called The United States Against Bergdoll supplies considerably more detail. One has to suppose that this strongly German family was opposed to American participation in World War I, and the government's violent reaction to his draft objection reflected concern that the very large German-American population might rise up and interfere with Woodrow Wilson's decision to enter the War on the Allied side. In any event, Grover's mother hid him away in the extensive mansion complex until that war seemed safely over, but he was immediately apprehended and put on trial when he emerged. Somehow or other, he managed to convince the authorities that he should be released under guard in order to go dig up an enormous fortune in gold that he had buried. The agents guarding him were put up as guests in the big mansion, apparently unable to resist the big treat. But it was a ruse, a getaway was waiting and off he sped, ending up in exile in a little town a few miles from Heidelberg, Germany. It was there that he married a local German girl and spent an apparently comfortable exile until after the second World War. There were rumors and stories, however. A couple of kidnappers broke in on him in an apparent effort to take him over the French border, but Bergdoll killed one of them. Even after World War II, all was not forgiven; he came home, was immediately apprehended and tried, and spent a brief time in jail. He died in 1966.
Those who are sufficiently fascinated by his story, can even live in his house. It's been renovated, and rents out as Bergdoll Mansion Apartments.
Recently, Jason Duckworth of Arcadia Land Company entertained the Right Angle Club with a description of his business. Most people who build a house engage an architect and builder, never giving a thought to who might have designed the streets, laid the sewers, strung out the power and telephone lines, arranged the zoning and otherwise designed the town their house is in. But evidently it is a very common practice for a different sort of builder to do that sort of wholesale infrastructure work -- privatizing municipal government, so to speak. A great deal of what such a wholesale builder does involves wrestling with existing local government in one way or another, getting permits and all that. In a sense, the existing power structure is giving away some of its authority and does so very cautiously. Sometimes that involves suing somebody or getting sued by somebody. Perhaps even greater braking-power on unwelcome change is that the wholesale builder is in debt until the last few plots are sold, and realizes his profit on stragglers. Since it often happens that the last few plots are the least desirable ones, this is a risky business. Big risks must be balanced by big profit potential, and one of the risks of this sort of privatization is that too much consideration may be given to the players at the front end, the farmer who sells the land and the builder who must keep costs down, at the expense of the long-range interests of the people who eventually live in the new town. Top-down decision making is much more efficient, but its price is decreased responsiveness to citizen preferences.
As it happens, Arcadia specializes in towns designed to look like those built in the late 19th Century. Close together, a front door near the sidewalks, front porches for summer evenings. To enhance the feeling of being in an older village, Arcadia specifies certain rules for the architecture, to make it seem like Narberth or, well, Haddonfield. Until recently, suburban design emphasized larger plots of land, and few sidewalks, with streets often ending in cul-de-sacs instead of perpendicular cross-streets in the form of squares. The "new urbanism" appealed to those who were seeking greater privacy, revolving around the idea that if you wanted anything you drove your car to get it. Three-car garages were common, groceries came from distant shopping centers. There are still plenty of new towns built like that today, but Arcadia appeals to those who want to be close to their neighbors, want to meet them at the local small stores scattered among the houses. In the 19th Century, this sort of town design was oriented around a factory or market-place; since now there are seldom factories to orient around, the appeal is to two-income families who want to live in an environment of similar-minded contemporaries. The whole community is much more pedestrian-oriented, much less attached to multiple automobiles.
Since Mr. Duckworth mentioned Haddonfield, where I live, I have to comment that the success of living in a town with older houses depends a great deal on the existence of a willing, capable yeomanry. Older houses, constantly at risk of needing emergency maintenance, need available plumbers, roofers, carpenters, and handy-men of all sorts. Because it is hard to tell a good one from a bad one until too late, this yeomanry has to be linked together invisibly in a network of pride in the quality of each other's work and willingness to refer customers within a network that sustains that pride. A tradesman who is a newcomer to the community has to prove himself, first to his customers, and almost more importantly to his fellow tradesmen. If you happen to pick a bad one, good workmen in other trades are apt to seem mysteriously reluctant to deal with you as a customer, because you too are somewhat on trial. Maybe you don't pay your bills, or maybe you are picky and quarrelsome. In this way, the whole community is linked together in a hidden community of trust. Over time, the whole town develops certain recognizable social characteristics that a brand-new town doesn't yet need. If that time arrives without a network of reliable tradesmen, the town soon deteriorates, house prices fall, people move away.
It's curious that the residents of such a town are a breed apart from the merchants in the nearby merchant strip. If the merchants of town life in that same town, there is much less conflict. More commonly, however, the merchants rent their commercial space and commute from distant places. That disenfranchises them from voting on school taxes and local ordinances and creates a merchantile mentality as contrasted with a resident community, dominated by high school students. One group wants lower taxes, the other group wants to get their kids into Harvard. One group wants space for customer parking, the other group is opposed to asphalt lots. And in particular, the residents want to avoid garish storefronts and abandoned strip malls. Since the only group which has an influence on both sides of this friction are the local real estate agents and landlords, their behavior is critical to the image of the town. When real estate interests are not residents of the town it is ominous, and they are well advised to remember that the sellers of houses are the ones who choose a real estate agent for a house turn-over. There's more to this dynamic than just that, but it's a good place to begin your analysis. Suburban real estate interests are constantly tempted to get into local politics, but politicians are the umpires in this game, and it soon becomes bad for their business if real estate agents potentially put their thumb on the scales.
All politics is local, but all real estate is not entirely local. The present intrusion of the Federal Government into what is normally a purely local issue has become more pointed in the present real estate recession. Almost all mortgages are packaged and sensitized by "Fannie Mae and Freddy Mac". By overpaying for the mortgages they package, these two federal agencies are subsidizing the banks they buy the mortgages from. Or, that is half of the subsidy. The other half is the Federal Reserve, which presently lends money to banks at essentially zero interest. Acquiring free money from the "Fed", while selling mortgages to Fannie Mae at above-market rates, the federal government supports the banks at both ends. And that's not quite all; there is something called the FHA, Federal Housing Authority, which guarantees mortgages. Essentially an insurance policy, the FHA guarantee is issued for a cost to home buyers who meet standards set by Congress (for which, read Barney Frank and Chris Dodd). Although houses during the boom were selling for 18 times the estimated rental value, they are now selling for 15 times rental. FHA will insure such risks, but the banks won't lend more than the normal proportion, which is 12 times rental. Consequently, almost all mortgages are FHA insured, while the federal administration storms with a fury that the banks "won't lend". And indeed it begins to look as though banks will never issue uninsured mortgages until home prices fall another 25%. If home real estate prices do decline to a normal 12 times rental, a lot of people (i.e. voters) will be unhappy, and not just homeowners who bought at higher prices. The market is fairly screaming that you should sell your house and rent, but so far at least, these federal subsidies seem to be holding prices up. When normal pricing arrives, the recession is just about over, but it certainly won't feel that way if you are a seller.
Even in pre-revolutionary Colonial days, it was recognized that patchy areas of Chester and Lancaster counties were covered with twenty-foot stunted evergreens instead of two-hundred foot oaks. They were "barrens", resembling the pine barrens of central New Jersey. In time, these barrens were particularized as Serpentine barrens, out of recognition that this stunting of vegetation was somehow associated with greenish stone in the bedrock. So, the serpentine barrens in time became serpentine rock quarries, but they seem somehow less barren now that surrounding deciduous forests have been cut down to make nice farmland. The greenish stone was a novelty, especially because it was usually (but not invariably) soft sandstone and easy to quarry, and the bedrock was only an inch or so under the topsoil, or even appeared on the ground surface as outcropping. These qualities made serpentine a popular building material, but in retrospect it should have been more apparent that sandstone crumbles easily, and what can stunt tree growth probably wasn't very good for you.
Well, the green color comes from chromium salts. Sometimes the greenish color is diffused throughout volcanic rock, but more commonly concentrated in green veins "snaking" through sandstone. Diffuse is better for building, because the greenish intrusions create fracture lines in response to acid rain. In modern times, we mostly think of chromium as imparting a shiny look to plated auto bumpers. Some auto maker was once quoted as saying he sold more cars using $10 worth of chrome than with $100 worth of engineering. That's metallic chrome, because central to the definition of a metal is that it looks shiny. Even high school chemistry scholars can tell you it is a "salt" of chromium, the chromic ion, which imparts a greenish tinge when dissolved in water. So, chromic salts dissolved in the local water are what dwarf the vegetation of a serpentine barren, not chromate (which is yellow), and not metallic chromium (as in auto trim). So, although one might suppose otherwise, a few years ago when local builders started up modern quarries of the serpentine rock, the environmentalists of Chester County were up in arms. Demonstrations were held, editorials written, politicians hectored. The Serpentine Barrens were a local treasure, requiring legal protection; protective ordinances were demanded.
|Building construction with Serpentine Rock|
Although building construction with serpentine rock had a considerable flurry in the late 19th Century, the crumbly nature of sandstone caused the disappearance of all but a few examples. A building in boathouse row on the Schuylkill, a pre-revolutionary house on the Brandywine battlefield, College Hall on the campus of the University of Pennsylvania, pretty much comprise the notable surviving examples. But in a certain way, the Serpentine buildings do sort of define Victorian Philadelphia.
California is not within the intended scope of Philadelphia Reflections. However, it probably should be mentioned that Serpentinite is the official California rock, as would be natural for a substance which composes about 2000 square miles of its bedrock. It's green in color, but has a high magnesium content, and seems to originate with the grinding of techtonic plates as they throw up mountain ranges, with attendant earthquakes. California also has serpentine barrens, but local geologists blame that harmful vegetation effect on magnesium competing with soil calcium (rather than the less notable chromic ions in West Coast serpentine). We're getting into some pretty fine distinctions, here. Pennsylvanians will probably be content to know we found ours first, that it had a flurry in Victorian architecture, and it's just a bit quaint. And, that it doesn't pose a significant risk for asbestos poisoning. A California geologist, in defending their state rock honor, recently proclaimed there was greater statistical risk of dying from their state animal (the grizzly bear) than from their state rock.
|The Pine Barrens: John McPhee: ISBN-13: 978-0374514426||Amazon|
Monocacy sounds like a Greek word for some form of government, but is in fact a Shawnee Indian term, meaning "crooked river". It might well be spelled as the Indians pronounced it, Monnockkesey. Confusion for history lovers is made worse by the existence of a Monocacy Creek about twenty miles long, flowing into the Lehigh River at Bethlehem. But there is a second stream, the Monocacy River, flowing about sixty miles south from Gettysburg, through the town of Frederick, Maryland, eventually merging with the Potomac River a few miles south of Harper's Ferry. Both forms of Monocacy do flow-- but do not connect-- along the base of the first mountain range of the Alleghenies, on its Eastern side. Pennsylvanians refer to this ridge as the Blue Mountain because looking westward it can be hazily seen across the plain from a great distance. In Maryland it is called the South Mountain. In the early part of the Civil War, General Lee attempted to attack Washington DC from the rear by striking through several gaps (particularly "Fox's Gap") in that mountain. The Philadelphian General George McClellan uncharacteristically surprised him by getting masses of Federal troops through the mountain gaps before Lee could reach and fortify them from West Virginia. Although McClellan did intercept some of Lee's orders, it is now questioned whether this affected the outcome. The culminating result was what the Union side continues to call the Battle of Antietam Creek, but the former Confederates persist in naming the Battle of Sharpsburg. Antietam Creek is one of those many creeks which flow along either side of the long mountain range, fed by runoff rainwater from the ridge, and therefore has steep embankments. Regardless of the nomenclature quarrel, the main point is that both of these placenames refer to the west side of the mountain gap, putting Lee at a disadvantage for an attacker. He got there first, but he did not get there first with enough force to dominate the passes.
|General Ambrose Everett Burnside|
A horrendous slaughter of Federal troops took place when General Burnside was ordered by McClellan to get his troops across Antietam Creek immediately, and Burnside chose frontal attacks over a narrow stone bridge crossing the Antietam as the way to get there. Because of the creek's flow along the base of the mountain, once the bridge was crossed under constant sniper fire, the troops faced a sheer embankment which had to be climbed into the face of 500 Confederate sharpshooters shooting down from the top. Burnside and the Federal troops finally did accomplish this suicide mission after four hours of trying, mostly because the Confederate sharpshooters ran out of ammunition. At the end of that day, 23,000 troops on both sides were casualties. Toward the end of the war, similar casualties would be sustained fifty miles north at Gettysburg PA, along a branch of the Monocacy on the east side of the ridge. The two Monocacy streams, Creek and River, are entirely distinct but a natural source of confusion.
|Monocacy River Map|
It would seem a pity, however, to succumb to a fit of tidiness and change the name of either stream. The Shawnees were once the most important Indian tribe in this region, and at various times have achieved dominance over regions from the Delaware River to Oklahoma. As a major component of the Algonquin federation of tribes, they fought a losing battle with the Iroquois over a period now named the Sixty Years War, eventually retreating from the Eastern Alleghenies to Ohio. Meanwhile, the Iroquois were destroyed by the consequences of the Revolutionary War, while eventually the Shawnees retreated to reservation areas in Oklahoma. The Monocacy streams, both of them, represent a high-water mark of Shawnee influence. It would be sad to see the last few vestiges of their pre-eminence, even if only names on a map, destroyed by inadvertance or indifference.
If George Washington were still alive he would no doubt be a Republican, but the term Republican Court actually has nothing to do with R's and D's. It was a scheme deliberately cooked up by Washington and Madison to enlist support by the new government's important ladies for a modified version of a European royal court, to make thirteen colonies into a cohesive nation. A most remarkable thing about it was its frank imitation of the royal courts, something only the Father of His Country could pull off in former colonies which had just fought an eight-year war to be rid of monarchy. It is one more great testimony to the faith of Americans in George Washington; but it also testifies to the power of enthusiastic women, once they agree on a project. Chief among the leaders in this court was Elizabeth Powel, along with her niece living around the corner on Spruce Street, Anne Willing Bingham. Recently, the Peale Society of the Academy of Fine Arts held a candlelight dinner in Mrs. Powel's magnificent second-floor dining room, while scholars of the history of the Republican Court told assembled notables of Philadelphia what had once been what, during the first ten years of the Republic.
Members of the early Congress were largely the same men as the founding fathers of the Constitutional Convention, hand-picked by Washington and Madison to persuade the legislatures of their colonial states to give up state sovereignty, for a unified nation. There was the difference that now they brought their wives to live in Philadelphia during sessions of Congress. Those women wanted to know each other, and wanted to have something exiting to do together in the largest city in the nation. Their husbands knew well how politically useful it was to be socially acquainted in this way, so everybody liked the idea of suddenly becoming nationally connected. The initial idea proved unworkable. Martha Washington was supposed to become Lady Washington, reigning over weekly receptions.
|In Our Cups|
But Martha unfortunately wasn't up to the task, and Anne Bingham whose rich husband had taken her on lengthy tours of European royal courts, moved right in and took charge of this project. Besides her cousin Elizabeth Powel, notable members of this social whirl were the two daughters of Chief Justice Benjamin Chew, Alexander Hamilton's wife, and various members of the Shippen and Willing families. Members of the family of Lord Sterling of New Jersey, Charles Carroll of Carrolton, Maryland, Cadwaladers of various sorts, and a number of other names famous from then until even today joined their affiliations with ladies from other states through parties and even some weddings. John Adams was particularly awestruck by the poise and beauty of Anne Bingham, although Abigail Adams may not have been quite so infatuated. It was a dizzy whirl, with dinner parties the central activity just as they are in Philadelphia even today. Country bumpkins had to learn how to dress, to talk and to eat with the right spoon and keep their elbows off the table; those who could tactfully show them what was what, were friends for life. Centuries later, Emily Post made a fortune writing books about these rules.
In those days, they even had their war cry, which was to raise a glass and shout back "Huzzah" in response to the proposer of a toast, who had raised his glass starting the warcry. It wasn't "Skol" or "Cheers" or "Here, here" if you knew what was what; it was "Huzzah". Most fashionable dinners had at least twenty courses, but the ladies didn't eat them. It was a whispered instruction among the ladies that they should eat before the dinner, so they could gracefully decline to gobble up goodies, and spend their time in gay conversation or waiting to be asked to dance. Drinking and eating, especially drinking, was for the men at the party, although naturally the many courses of the banquet were put in front of the ladies to be airily ignored. When George Washington was present as he often was, or even La Rochfoucault himself, it was important to remember every spoken word.
And, you know, it worked. When these important people went back home, they took the customs of the Republican Court with them. The American diplomatic corps found the equivalent of minor-league training for their efforts on behalf of the country abroad. Politics was easier if you personally knew your adversaries as well as your allies. The persistance of the same family names in the Social Register, the lists of The Four Hundred and other compilations of high society show that Anne Bingham and Elizabeth Powel did indeed know what they were doing, and for that matter, so did George Washington. If anyone else had been at the top of this heap, Thomas Jefferson stood ready to attack with all his might.
But he, and even Patrick Henry, didn't dare attack Washington. The aristocrats of Old Europe probably did sneer at this amateur effort, and in some circles still do. But the inability of absolutely any other group of nations, whether European, Asian or South American, to unite peacefully is a thumb in the eye of anyone who mocks George Washington's little Philadelphia creation. And to think it all began right here, right here in the Powel House, right here in the dining room on the second floor. For that, folks, one thunderous "Huzzah!"
|A Portrait of Elizabeth Willing Powell: 1743-1830 David W. Maxey ISBN-13: 978-0871699640||Amazon|
Joshua Nims of the Schuylkill River Development Corporation recently addressed the Right Angle Club about current activities of that organization. It's a non-profit corporation, but in a sense is a quasi-City agency, spending State and Federal funds, plus remediation funds. Just what remediation funds are was not clearly explained, but seem to be fines or assessments on companies who are thought to have fouled up the environment. Whether those assessments are fair or unfair, too small or too large, are political issues largely avoided in Mr. Nims' presentation, and hence are avoided here.
|Gray's Ferry Bridge|
The Gray's Ferry area is certainly an urban tragedy of epic proportion, but since its deterioration began in 1856, the events of the Civil War probably had a lot to do with it. Up until the Civil War, the western banks of the Schuylkill, especially around Gray's Ferry, were famously upscale and beautiful. The South Street Bridge, for example, was originally envisioned as leading into a boulevard of the Arts, with the University Museum, Irvine Auditorium, the University Hospital and the mansions on the top of the hill setting off what promised to become a striking cultural statement. Anthony Drexel himself lived up there, walking it to work at Third and Chestnut. And that's just one famous example. It's hard to know what started the blight, but Harrison Brothers White Lead, Color and Chemical Works might be a good candidate and the fact that the area soon developed the tracks often (10) smoke-belching railroads was certainly another major issue. The western bank of the Schuylkill rose to a high rocky promontory at Gray's Ferry, crowding wartime industrialization into a narrow place. Before that, Gray's Ferry Bridge had been the main artery to the South, traveled by George Washington many times, often stopping at Woodlands, that palatial home of Andrew Hamilton the original Philadelphia lawyer. A century before that, the Dutch fur traders had found it to be the first firm land after they sailed inland through the swamp, while the Indians knew it was the last forest area before you reached the (South Philadelphia) area of malaria, yellow fever and other mysterious vapors that must be avoided. In the sense of land travel, Gray's Ferry was, therefore, the most prominent part of the Philadelphia landscape for two centuries. The ferry itself was a floating bridge, pulled back and forth by ropes on each shore of the river. Given a choice of pretty much all of the North American continent, John Bartram placed his farm just south of this promontory. Where it still stands today but surrounded by slums and urban decay.
It's a little hard to judge whether the Civil War pushed railroad construction into the only rocky crevice suitable, and then industrial pollution followed with vile and noxious effluents, or whether the Harrison Lead, Color, and Chemical factory simply started it across the river in the river bend. That's where the DuPont paint factory relocated in 1916, and in fact, the Duponts get local blame as polluters when in fact they made considerable effort to clean things up after they acquired it. The area had a major slaughterhouse abattoir, and an asphalt plant and several other major inducements to the populace to abandon their elegant mansions and run for their lives. The place now has old rusting bridges, tumble-down concrete pilings, lots of weeds, and not a single living fish for a century in that water. To diffuse the blame somewhat, it should be remembered that after the War of 1812, the Schuylkill was the main transportation artery for coal coming down from Pottsville and the rest of Schuylkill County. The river didn't have a sandy bottom, it was pulverized anthracite which releases acids and toxins when washed.
So that's the river region the Schuylkill Development Corporation plans to line with grassy running paths and benches to admire the view. Maybe the Wilson Steamship Line or something like it can again be persuaded to bring tourists here, or maybe the riverbanks can be lined with hotels to house people who take rides on river flatboats, as they do in San Antonio. Or dare we mention it, maybe Paris. Maybe Philadelphia can once again be a tax collector's idea of heaven, together with five-day weekends.
|Schuylkill River Development Corporation|
At the moment, this little non-profit city agency is run on a $500,000 operating budget, and has about $20 million worth of projects in progress. Some of that is reparation money pried from the grandchildren of the owners of those factories who did the damage over a century ago, and some large part of it is Philadelphia's share of the boodle from the Stimulus package. There's no doubt the area will look immensely improved in the next year or two, and a lot of hope that private investment will be attracted to an area previously shunned vigorously. The area which has already been cleaned up, from the Wissahickon to the Dam, really must be called a great success; there's lots of foot traffic and joyousness. And the area can also be praised in what unfortunately is the measurement of modern urban development: it has only had two lawsuits for sprained ankles, and only two muggings, quite a commendable record. But now development is going past South Street, into much murkier areas, with more low-income residential spaces. Surveillance cameras are planned, and bright lighting, but it's far from certain that a little strip of gentrification can defeat miles of surrounding decay.
Only if they pull it off will private investment creep into the area, and the parents of University students permit their children to run there. If private investment arrives, this organization can do no wrong, because only then can it fairly be described as "Infrastructure". My own definition of infrastructure as an economic stimulus is of early public spending on projects which would have eventually consumed the money anyway, except later. By that standard, infrastructure spending's only true cost would be the interest on borrowed money to do it sooner. Let's make a note to revisit this experiment in a couple of years, cautiously wishing everyone the best, in the meantime.
|Father Divine House|
While prosperous people, on deciding to enter a retirement community, are often heard to say they are tired of managing a big house, it can also be noticed that people who get the foreign travel bug usually drift around to see the palaces, castles, and estates of kings and emperors. The king's bathroom plumbing is a stop on most tours. Places like Buckingham Palace, the Vatican, the Temples of Karnak, Fortresses of Mogul Conquerors of India, or similar places in Cambodia, are all vast looming piles of stone dedicated to the memory of departed leaders who Had it All. That's probably all you need know, to understand that Americans who have it all tend to build huge show places, too. A great many do discover the castles to become just too much bother. Safe protection and privacy are somewhat separate issues, reasons given for putting up with a big place past the time the thrill has worn off. Perhaps such jaded feelings appear at the end of the wealth cycle. Nevertheless with enough affluence, if you had unlimited money and inclination, where around Philadelphia would you put a dream palace, one built for a modern Maharajah? Answer: close to Conshohocken.
|The Philadelphia Country Club|
The Schuylkill takes a sharp bend at Conshohocken because it flows around a big cliff on the west side of the river. It was there the White Steel Company built the first wire suspension bridge in the world, as distinguished from cable (twisted wire) suspension bridges invented by Roebling at Trenton. The bridge was swept away by a flood, the steel mill replaced by the Alan J. Wood Steel Company. Alan Wood prospered mightily, and built his mansion ("Woodmont") on 75 acres on the top of the big rock on the west side of the Schuylkill, in such a way he could watch the smoke rising from his factory down below at the foot of the cliff. The Philadelphia Country Club is across the road from Alan Wood's mansion, with fairways clinging to the cliffs, a Gun Club for trap shooters who want to aim away from houses and toward mountainsides, and a cliff-top road leading straight for Gladwyne between dozens of mansions with five-acre lots. Down the hill, however, rocky projections force the road to funnel into a winding crooked road which ends up near the filling stations of Conshohocken, passing ancient farm structures on the way. Railroads and expressways tend to fill the valley, the old White bridge is gone, and two distinct cultures are within a few hundred oblivious yards of each other. To the west stretches the Main Line, now filled with houses almost as large as the mansion, but air-conditioned and filled with other modern amenities. Seventy acres of a lawn is nice, but it's a lot of grass to cut.
The Alan Wood Steel Company had a hard time in 1929, recovered somewhat after World War II, and then declined to the point where Lukens and Phoenix Steel took over. And then Indians from India took over the lot, forming part of the largest steel complex in the world, now headquartered abroad. In 1952, one of Father Divine's religious followers named John Devoute gave Father the Wood mansion; which then became the new headquarters of his religious sect. He died in 1965 but Mother Divine still lives there in stately and tasteful semi-seclusion. The grounds of the estate are beautifully tended by various of the twenty-five attendants of Mother. Father's mausoleum is near the house.
|Father and Mother Divine|
The house itself is patterned after Biltmore in Asheville, NC, although perhaps only a quarter as large. Just inside its portecachier, the oak-paneled living room has a ceiling 45 feet high, and many oriental rugs. There is a music room, off to the side of which is Father's former office, bearing a strong resemblance to the Oval Office in the White House in Washington. As planned, the living room window looks down the valley to the site of the old steel mills, although when the trees are leafed out it may be difficult to see. The dining table probably seats forty people, although the paneled dining room was fitted with electronics and used to broadcast sermons to religious adherents across the country. In the living room are testimonies to the many who seemed to rise from the dead, or who had their blinded sight restored, or who were crippled but enabled to walk. The attendants take visitors on tours, but Mother Divine likes to meet them, coming down the sweeping staircase without noticeably showing her age. The greeting of "Peace" replaces the usual "hello" and "goodbye".
At one time, the Religion housed a large number of single women in several hotels, and the invested proceeds of their work as domestics still supports the Religion. The religion frowned on gambling, drinking, smoking, and sex. However, celibacy inevitably leads to a decline of numbers, particularly evident since the death of the founder.
A full moon brings high tide, which for centuries has brought vast numbers of horseshoe crabs to the banks of the Delaware River, toward the end of May. Marine biologists tell us these ugly-looking beasts have evolved very little for thousands of years.
Horseshoe crabs transport oxygen through their blood as a blue copper compound instead of that iron-containing hemoglobin the rest of us use. That's red, of course. Somewhere in the evolutionary path, these ancient animals also neglected to develop an immune system, but defend themselves against bacteria by precipitating a sediment when they encounter endotoxin. By luck, this reaction takes place even though the bacteria are dead, so it is routinely employed as a way of detecting and eliminating endotoxin in intravenous fluids, which would otherwise go undetected by failing to grow the original bacteria in conventional culture media. Unfortunately, those of us who have never experienced a temperature spike to 106 degrees from an intravenous infusion of "sterile" water are more or less indifferent to the contribution of the Delaware crabs to our well-being. As well as being sadly indifferent to the unique nature of their nerve cells, in long single neurons, which make a number of important experiments possible.
The horseshoe crab offers still other attractions. When they come ashore to lay eggs (at full moon, or high tide, in May), they lay incredibly large quantities of them, attracting astonishing swarms of birds, which can be seen gliding a few feet above the water surface in groups of hundreds or even thousands. The Red Knot sandpiper is certainly not the only egg-eater at Bombay Hook, but there are some unique features of that bird to be mentioned in a minute. A lot of people object to being attacked by monster swarms of mosquitoes in the summer, but screens and air-conditioning have encouraged large number of rather prosperous houses to be built along the shore, particularly where there are sandy beaches. In fact, it is so crowded the Fish and Wild Life Service has placed street lights at such public places, with a narrow driveway to lead you to the beach. If you don't know how to recognize such amenities, well, too bad for outsiders.
Although there are plenty of naturalists and bird-watchers who come in the early spring, most of the houses along "Slaughter Beach" seem to belong to fishermen and duck hunters, the two outdoor sports with most popularity. Different migrations of different food-producers bring different prey for the sportsmen, but somehow the most up-scale members of this fraternity tend to go there in May, looking for Red Knots. A Red Knot is a form of sandpiper, with a red head and breast. The birds are born in the Arctic tundra, eating vast amounts of mosquito eggs and larvae, migrating south in the fall. They winter over in Tierra del Fuego at the opposite end of the earth, and then migrate north to Bombay Hook on the Delaware. For these long migrations, they must eat voraciously when they do eat, and somehow have learned to look for the horseshoe crab eggs at just the right time, presumably following cycles of the moon for timing. Residents of the area for centuries have remarked on the timing of the birds and the tides and the crabs. Unfortunately, the two-continent migration was only recognized fairly recently, and when the supply seemed endless, the crabs were scooped up and used for fertilizer until their supply began to dwindle; both Delaware and New Jersey now have protective legislation, and Virginia is being verbally excoriated by bird watchers, to do the same. The crabs have started to come back, but the Red Knots are slower to respond; and now the threat is Sushi. Other ecological damage has reduced the supply of crabs in the Pacific, so the crab fishermen have migrated to the Atlantic to catch the crabs as bait for conch and other ingredients of Sushi. Once again, the abundance of crabs has declined, although to much smaller degree than the Red Knots. This year, on the very best day of the year for this sort of thing, with dozens of out-of-state license plates wandering aimlessly up and down thirty miles of shoreline, the shouted greetings among serious bird watchers returned the sad news, "No Red Knots today. Try xyz beach." It was generally agreed there was a bit too much wind for good Red Knot sighting, and that oil spills in the Gulf of Mexico were to be suspected, and that perhaps tomorrow would be a better day. But judging by the very expensive optical equipment these people were carrying around, these were serious birders, indeed. If they couldn't find Red Knots, the rest of us might as well give up.
The most plausible theory for the latest decline centers around the old-timer birds. When the first-timers start their northward migrations, they are guided by the old-timers who have made the trip at least once before. If something injures the flock, it may be a few years before the supply of old timers revives enough to supply the first-timers with guides. That's just a theory, of course, but currently the most popular one. Just what it would take to eliminate the Red Knot migration completely, may now be close to being tested. Just on principle alone, it does seem a pity to eliminate a phenomenon which took thousands of years to develop.
|Benjamin Chew's Whitehall|
When you finally give up on Red Knots, you might as well wander around this enormous wildlife sanctuary. A few miles up the road is the former location of Whitehall, the plantation house of Benjamin Chew, lawyer for the family of William Penn, and owner of the stone fortress on Germantown Avenue in Philadelphia that thwarted George Washington's attempt to stall and starve the British before they could join up with their ships in the harbor below Fort Mifflin. The original buildings on the plantation have disappeared, but the spongy plantation trails have been replaced by elevated gravel roads. So it is possible to roll up the windows of your car in mosquito season, turn on the air conditioning, and cruise around the spectacularly beautiful ponds and inlets. Further south is the plantation of Caesar Rodney, who rode to Philadelphia in the rain to cast the deciding vote for the Declaration of Independence. And further south of that is the plantation of John Dickinson, who made Rodney's ride necessary by refusing to sign the Declaration, on the grounds that the colonies showed insufficient unity, in his eyes, to be able to win a war with England. And anyway, the argument was largely economic, hence more likely to be won by economic means than military ones.
To the west of these historic plantations are some pretty impressive farms, new style. The houses give them away, since no farmer will spend a cent on his house if he can profitably expand his farm; these houses belong in glossy magazines. The silos are grouped in clusters of ten or twelve, the irrigation sprinklers are a quarter-mile long, attachable to what resembles a fire hydrant in the center of the field. There are over a hundred sheds on some farms, filled with chickens fattening up. And do you know what? You can drive for miles without seeing a single chicken.
Eventually, the road leads to the Dover Air Force Base, very large indeed. No planes are in evidence, as is true on most days. But one day in 1962 Mr. Kennedy was talking to Mr. Castro, and overhead at Dover you could see dozens, maybe hundreds, of eight-engine bombers. Just circling, circling, waiting for orders to go lay an egg on the Kremlin. It wasn't clear to onlookers at the time, just what this was all about. But the idea can now be entertained that perhaps Red Knots weren't the only species flirting with extinction.
|Battle of Monmouth|
A moving army tends to get strung out on roads through unfamiliar territory, and when boarding ships leaves a steadily diminishing rear guard to protect the fleet. Thus, General Clinton's retreating British army presented an opportunity for Washington to harass them, take advantage of unexpected delays, and to be wherever they were going. So Washington ordered the Continental Army out of Valley Forge, to pursue the retreating British as they moved over the Delaware River to Camden, joining the King's Highway at Haddonfield, heading for Sandy Hook and the waiting ships of the British Navy. As both armies approached Monmouth Court House, Washington caught up with Clinton and ordered his deputy, General Charles Lee, to attack with an advance force that would hold the British in place until Washington's main force could catch up. Both armies had about 13,000 soldiers in strength, but only 9,000 of Clinton's men were engaged because of their strung-out deployment.
|Battle of Monmouth Map|
Washington's battle plan was therefore vindicated, and he next showed his characteristic ability to use terrain to his advantage. The New Jersey countryside breaks up into hills as it approaches New York harbor, and its valleys between hills tend to contain creeks at the bottom. Therefore, the retreating British were forced into narrowing valleys which exposed them to flanking maneuvers, but reduced the room for Washington to be outflanked. Lee failed to take such effective advantage of the terrain and made only half-hearted attacks on the British. When Washington and the main body of troops caught up with him, Lee was promptly relieved of command and later court-marshalled. In his place, Washington sent Nathaniel Greene around the enemy's southern flank, setting up four artillery pieces on a high hill, protected from British attack by a flooded creek. He was thus able to "enfilade" the British line, aiming cannon balls at the near end where they would bounce up the British line if they fell short, or land in the far end of the British line when they overshot. The cannons now look fairly small and puny, but with a well-trained crew of a dozen artillerymen each one could get off five to ten shots a minute. With four pieces of artillery they could drop twenty to forty shots a minute onto the confused and compressed formation of enemy troops. The battle went on all day, the longest battle of the Revolution.
Under the cover of darkness, Clinton withdrew his troops toward Sandy Hook, leaving six hundred casualties on the ground, two thirds of them British. The British could claim they achieved their objective of reaching the ships, but with greater casualties, and forced to withdraw in the face of discovering a much better-disciplined American army than they had ever faced. They acquired new respect for Washington, who demonstrated boldness and outstanding tactics, with a professionalism quite equal to their own.
|New Jersey in the American Revolution: Barbara J. Mitnick: ISBN-13: 978-0813540955||Amazon|
BEFORE we talk about retirees reading books in a retirement community, reflect for a moment about reading in your own home during the working years. Most suburban homes do not have many books in evidence. It's possible to stand in the center of most suburban living rooms unable to see a single book, while it's hard not to see a television set. Increasingly, a home computer is only a few steps from the front door, but the evolution from desktop to laptop to portable telephone to tablet is too rapid to make generalizations. Everyone says books are going to disappear soon, and newspapers maybe even sooner. But there are still said to be a million books constantly in transit on 18-wheeler trucks between print shops and wholesale depositories, night and day. Right now, the producers, publishers and merchandizers of printed material are in turmoil and decline, so they talk about it a lot. But ultimately it is the reading public which will decide what it wants and force the suppliers to give it to them.
It seems to me that what the reading public wants most is to find time to read. The suburban home has so few books because the sort of person who lives in the suburbs to be near the school system, just doesn't have time to read after the day's work and commuting. Helicopter parents spend a lot of time hauling the kids to mandatory kid entertainments, as can easily be seen by driving past a high school in the afternoon and observing the lines of cars with waiting mothers. They make the best of it as a social occasion for mothers with shiny cars, but they really do it to be sure the kids don't get mixed up with recreational drugs. Anyway, they do it, and it all eats up their discretionary time for reading. Meanwhile, their's no local bookstore to buy books, even unread books. They may think they will catch up on their reading after they retire, but that's becoming increasingly unlikely in my observation. They are getting out of the habit of reading. By the time they retire, they will find it's almost like going back to school. You must find other readers, readers groups, conversations about books over the bridge table, books lying about. The first economy a struggling news paper makes is to cut down the size and number of book reviews, because there are no bookstores to take out advertising, and advertising is what pays for newspapers. There's one good feature about that; what book chatter there is, is not so confined to recent books. Some people are bookish and other people are golf-ish, and a growing number of people are simply TV-ish. It's a struggle to find time for work and the family, and books on top of that. No matter what level of reading the working people may be doing, it's declining in favor of deferred reading when they finally retire.
Having visited quite a number of retirement communities, I find the community's library is a good place to assess the institution and its typical inhabitant. When it's newly built, a library area is set aside, usually without many books. The first few waves of residents quickly fill up the space with books they brought from home. During the first ten years it is possible to guess what sort of person lives there by the books they brought and deposited, or died and left to the library. The space, more or less empty at first, gets full and something must be discarded. Enlarging the library is an economic issue, so the size at which it halts will to considerable degree reflect the willingness equilibrium to pay for new construction, both by the book lovers, and by the book enemies, the golfers and the administrators. Ultimately book congestion gets to the point where someone simply must cull out some old books to make room for the new. In another essay I have described the use of volunteers to exchange books of no lasting interest for more books of real interest to real residents, through a used-book exchange. But someone must organize the process, often recruited by an administrator who has learned to be horrified of construction which cannot be rented, but must be cleaned and cared for. If passive resistance is a new term to you, this is the place to learn about it. The residents have short memories, lack drive and follow-through. So inertia tends to win, and lack of reading feeds on itself because there is nothing to read. What's apparently needed here is an organization of bookish people that extends to all retirement communities, probably with a paid staff, an annual meeting, Internet connections. And therefore an immortality which can outlive and outlast the passive resistance. Good ideas then have a means to spread and help support other good ideas; somehow the costs must be supported until a few True Believers in Books can write a bequest in their wills to sustain it. And activate their intention, so to speak.
One of the largely unrecognized reasons for the success of the American Revolution was that the Colonies had a higher level of literacy than the Mother Countries. Thomas Paine, for example, printed 150,000 copies of Common Sense on the rickety old printing presses of the 18th century, when there were fewer than three million white inhabitants of the thirteen colonies. And who was mainly responsible for that? It was Benjamin Franklin with his invention and popularization of the lending library. If Ben could find time to start libraries in 1742, and Andrew Carnegie was later found willing to pay for dozens of them, surely the time and energy can be marshaled in the 21st century to establish a first-class library system throughout the retirement communities of the nation.
The Right Angle Club of Philadelphia was recently pleased to be visited by Michael C. Quinn, the President and CEO of the forthcoming Museum of the American Revolution, which will be built at Third and Chestnut Streets, on the site of the former Visitors Center. Mr. Quinn comes to us from the Mt. Vernon and James Madison Museums in Virginia, and expects to spend another three years getting the new Museum built and established. It's also expected to cost about $150 million, so look for something really special. The great majority of the required money is expected to come from Philadelphia and surrounding territory, led by a challenge grant from Gerry Lendfest of $40 million.
The collection of Valley Forge and related Revolutionary artifacts was begun by Herbert Burk, an Episcopal rector in Norristown, Pennsylvania, and the son of another Episcopal rector of Clarksboro, New Jersey, and who graduated from the University of Pennsylvania toward the end of the Nineteenth century. The Valley Forge area was pretty well deserted at that time, and the local bishop expressed doubt that it could support both an Episcopal and a Baptist church, particularly since an earlier rector named Guthrie had attempted it and finally disappeared. Reverend Burk, however, was fired with the vision of Washington kneeling in the snow, and highly scornful of doubters who insisted on seeing his footprints in the snow before they would accept it. These were the days just after the German historian Leopold von Ranke had started a movement of great enthusiasm among historians for documents to prove almost anything calling itself history, so there was more than the usual amount of harumphing among academics about authenticity, which Burk dismissed with scorn. Since his second wife was a Stroud, there may have been social issues as well. About all we really know of George Washington's religious beliefs was that he regularly went to Christ Church and sat in Martha Washington's pew; but he resolutely refused to take Communion. It sounds to some of us as though he was more of a politician than a theologian. But the Museum now has picked up successor enthusiasts, determined to make the Museum a success; so let's let that religion matter drop.
|Museum of the American Revolution|
The old visitors center was given a bell by Queen Elizabeth II, who brought it over on the royal yacht and gave a memorable speech at its installation. The deed to the property does not include the bell, and its future is presently uncertain. However, the building will be torn down and replaced by a much larger structure, intended to house many rooms and a tour lasting hours, to show off Washington's military tent and similar artifacts of the low point of the Revolution, when it rested with the personal character of a few founding fathers, to preserve the drive and idealism of the freezing, starving troops. It's a tall challenge for Mike Quinn to carry it off with the right mixture of showmanship and concern for accuracy. After all, no good story is improved by exaggeration.
After defeating Washington's troops at the battle of Germantown, the British then occupied Philadelphia for the better part of a year. The town was a mess, with food shortages typical of the squalor of any occupying army equalling the existing population. Washington was forced to fall back to the natural fortress of Valley Forge. The city of Philadelphia was not exactly under siege, but it was as difficult a place for British troops to live as a besieged city. For his part, Washington was forced to shiver and starve in the nearby mountain valley, at least consoled by distant news of American achievements. General Burgoyne and his army were soon captured at Saratoga by General Gates under humiliating circumstances. Clearly the dashing hero of this event had been Benedict Arnold on a white horse leading the charge, getting wounded in the leg in the process.
|Benjamin Franklin in Paris|
Benjamin Franklin in Paris trumpeted the news of this victory, reminding the French of Washington's earlier victory at Trenton, and maneuvering it all into a treaty of alliance. With the French fleet in the nearby Caribbean, Philadelphia was no longer a safe place for the British to stay a hundred miles upriver, and the idea of abandoning occupied Philadelphia began to grow. Having gambled on British victory in defiance of London's orders, the Howe brothers were not in a position to argue with new orders. The British soldiers inside the city were more comfortably housed than the American troops outside it, but nobody was exactly comfortable. The American Congress had of course fled to the hinterlands. All in all, it suddenly became uncertain who was going to win this war.
The American population at this time has been described as one-third rebel, one-third Tory, and one-third trying to hunker down to see who would win. Many of the seriously committed Tories had fled from Philadelphia when the rebels took charge, while pacifist Quakers were a little hard to classify. Generally speaking, the prosperous merchant class had never been persuaded King George was all that bad, while the less prosperous artisans were the fervent patriots. Under such conditions, many people who privately leaned in either direction found it was best to seem non-commital. The British were billeted in private homes; the Officers in the best houses of the merchant class, the common soldiers generally housed in the homes of the artisans. Although the soldiers and the artisans did not mix very well, circumstances permitted the aristocratic officers getting on pretty well with the merchants whose houses they occupied. The girls in the colonial families seemed immediately attractive to the British officers, who were far from home, while the officers also seemed pretty glamorous to the girls. So, it is not exactly surprising that the most beautiful colonial belles like Peggy Shippen and Peggy Chew found themselves frequently in company with dashing officers like Major John Andre. Andre would likely have been a heart throb in any circumstance, since he had risen to the rank of adjutant-general at a young age, wrote poetry and plays, reputedly was rich, and was regularly the life of any party. Nor is it surprising that generations of Peggy's descendants have treasured a lock of his hair.
|Margaret Oswald Chew Howard|
When the decision was finally made to abandon Philadelphia, six of the British officers personally contributed twenty-five thousand dollars to throwing Philadelphia's most famous, most splendiferous party, called The Machianza. It went on for days, had real jousting matches between officers dressed like knights in armor, banquets and all that sort of thing. It was Andre's idea, and he was enthusiastically in charge. Surviving records of the event do not show that Peggy Shippen was present, but in view of what happened later, much of her correspondence has been destroyed. It's pretty hard to imagine she wasn't there.
|Major General Benedict Arnold|
The British then marched away, and Washington's troops cautiously followed, assuming control of the city. Major General Benedict Arnold had been sent from Saratoga to Valley Forge to recover from his leg wound, and probably also to raise morale among the troops celebrating the now-famous hero. Washington more or less immediately decided to pursue the British across New Jersey, thus leading to the battle of Monmouth as the two armies raced for the Naval vessels in lower New York harbor. Since General Arnold had not fully recovered from his wounds, he was installed as the military governor of a somewhat bedraggled Philadelphia. Naturally, he was the center of the social scene, and soon was pursuing Peggy Shippen in every way he knew, which included some pretty gloppy letters in Romantic style. Peggy's father was uneasy about his intentions, but was eventually mollified by Arnold's purchase of the house called Mount Pleasant, now a tourist attraction in Fairmount Park. With this evidence that his prospective son in law was at least likely to stay in Philadelphia, Edward Shippen finally relented of his opposition to the marriage of his daughter. But the new couple were soon off to West Point, where Arnold had kept up a persuasion campaign with George Washington, to get himself appointed the commandant of the main northern defense of the Hudson River. A point for Philadelphian tour guides to remember is that Peggy and Benedict never got a chance to live in Mount Pleasant.
Arnold originally lived in New Haven, Connecticut, where he had established quite a sea-faring reputation as a merchant, some would say privateer, others would say buccaneer. There is no doubt he was aggressive, and combative, and considered himself a little bit above the law. These qualities made him outstanding at Fort Ticonderoga and Saratoga, and are always more highly valued in young men in a war. Unfortunately, he made a bitter enemy of Joseph Read who was briefly his neighbor, and later was President of the Continental Congress. Read accused Arnold of smuggling and trading with the enemy, and was so determined about it that Arnold was scheduled for court martial, but postponed. Arnold was loudly defensive about the whole matter, and public sympathy was on his side. In view of what soon happened, he might well have been cleared by the court, but likely there was some truth to the accusations. Using Peggy as a go-between, he entered into a correspondence with Andre (then the adjutant-general in New York) offering to deliver the surrender of West Point, three thousand prisoners, and possibly George Washington himself in return for what might today be half a million dollars. As a note of realism, he was willing to accept half that in the event of failure. The British were particularly anxious to acquire American prisoners to exchange for their own troops captured at Saratoga. Unless Arnold was a total sociopath, he must have thought he had quite a grievance.
Things went along surprisingly well at first, with negotiations for price back and forth, plans for attacking West Point moving along with the Navy, and Andre disguising himself for a visit to Arnold in his house to the south of the Fort on West Point. Much of the success was due to the movie-star reputation of Benedict Arnold; few could imagine such a hero doing such an unheard-of thing. However, the plot was discovered while Washington was away visiting the Fort, and Arnold hastily abandoned his family and fled to a waiting British warship. Andre decided to make his way south to the ship through rebel territory, but local soldiers and farmers were much more suspicious than others had been, and after penetrating his disguise, found incriminating papers concealed in his boots. Since he was out of uniform behind enemy lines, Andre was by definition a spy, which required hanging. He made a plea to be shot like a gentleman, but Washington with tears allegedly in his eyes, refused. With much bravado, Andre jumped atop his own casket and placed the noose around his own neck, a behavior much admired by his compatriots when they heard of it
Meanwhile, Peggy had put on a crazy-woman act which apparently convinced Washington to be lenient, and allow her to rejoin her husband. The couple stayed in New York for a few months, toying with commands of loyalist troops in the south, but eventually taking ship for England. Lord Cornwallis was on the same ship and they became pals as shipmates, pleasing Arnold quite a lot. Unfortunately, British society was only stiffly polite to them, and many did not trouble to conceal their disdain for traitors to any cause, and thus life in England was not smooth. By that time, it is possible that many had begun to suspect the whole idea of treason was Peggy's idea from the start, as is today the conventional view of it. As an American aristocrat, she was uncomfortable with the rebels in Philadelphia, and as the impetuous wife of an accused smuggler it was difficult to fit in with either the Quakers or the merchants with loyalist leanings. No doubt she heard some catty whisperings among her friends and relatives about her other romantic associations. The British paid them their promised pensions, but a career in the British Army was out of the question for her husband. But the real shock would come, from discovering the British as a whole didn't much care for their behavior, either.
Greg Pritchard, who has made scholarship of the Main Line a central part of his life, recently addressed a meeting of the Right Angle Club. To Greg, the Main Line is the set of commuter rail stops from Overbrook to Paoli, representing what was once the heart of the Pennsylvania RR. It changed into a spur of the real main line, running from New York to Chicago, the central monument left by Alexander Cassatt, its president. Times really do change a lot. There is now only one dingy daily passenger train from New York to Harrisburg, which Amtrak would dearly like to eliminate entirely. The Pennsylvania Turnpike was just too much competition, and air travel has eliminated all railroad passenger interest in further points like Pittsburgh, Chicago and points west. The real main line of long distance rail on the East Coast now runs north-south, called the Northeast Corridor, essentially beginning in Boston and ending at Washington DC. Philadelphia is central to all of these versions of main lines, although a thirteen year lawsuit was required to break the combined Pennsylvania and New York Central railroads into SEPTA, Amtrak, and Conrail. At the moment, Conrail the freight line is making tons of money, Amtrak the passenger long-haul line would soon die without government subsidy, and all commuter railroads are subsidized by their local communities. There is a lot of talk about billion dollar investments in high speed trains like they have in Japan and France, but anyone familiar with the economics of rail transportation just shudders at the thought. Railroads are profitable ways to haul long-range bulk cargo. Passenger lines, long and short, can only be justified if they cost less than expanding highway and airline transportation, which the public obviously prefers. Philadelphia is in the peculiar position that the real estate investment has already been made in passenger rail; is it cheaper to build on what already exists, or is that a doomed relic of the past?
But back to Greg's favorite topic, the revered and treasured 19th Century stations on The Main Line. They were mostly built from 1860 to 1890, along the path of what was then the main line to Chicago, but destined to become a spur leading to the real center of east-west traffic, which went from New York to Chicago further north from Philadelphia, intersecting with what became the Philadelphia spur at Paoli. In the days when Philadelphia was one of the richest cities in the world, the spur was a glamorous suburban real estate development. The stations were built, the mansions scattered along at some distance, and servants houses clustered around the stations. The towns were renamed with Welsh names like Bryn Mawr (instead of Humphryville). A culture was built up, probably unique in the world for being centered on railroad executives, and novels like Kitty Foyle and movies like The Philadelphia Story celebrated the glamor of it all. It's probably true that you can find more fifty-room mansions there than just about anywhere else, but the automobile and good public schools mainly drove the prosperity of the 20th Century, as the railroads dwindled away.
|Bryn Mawr College|
The stops on the Main Line begin with Overbrook, and continue on through Merion, Narberth, Wynnewood, Ardmore, Haverford, Bryn Mawr, Rosemont, Villanova, Radnor, St. David's, Wayne, Strafford, Devon, Berwin, Daylesford, and Paoli. The main line starts where Philadelphia taxes end, and gets progressively newer in harness with the gradual construction of fashionable homes as you get further from the city. At first, Paoli was a place where the out of service trains were stored, but gradually became a fashionable area, which is beginning to leapfrog over the King of Prussia shopping center into the farm lands to the north. The center of gravity of suburban aspirations moves steadily further into the surrounding countryside, but is outgrowing the old commuter rail system, and there is something of a movement back to the city. That is to say, urban sprawl is running into the discovery that it's just too traffic-jammed to commute that far, except by train. Most folks are familiar with the jingle that "Old Maids Never Wed And Have Babies" which is supposed to help commuters remember what stop they are approaching. However, the topic mentioned by the jingle and the fact that it ends with Babies (Bryn Mawr) instead of Paoli, strongly implies it was written by a student at Bryn Mawr College for Women.
|Centennial Exhibition in Fairmount Park|
The old brick stations have been adopted by affectionate commuters, turned into historical preservation societies. They have a varied history, but quite often the station master lived upstairs, and the first floor housed a branch of the post office. When the railroad straightens out its right of way, the stations have to be moved, often at great expense. As they progressed further into the countryside, sometimes grand resort hotels were built for those who wanted to escape summer heat in the city, or in 1876, to house attendees to the Centennial Exhibition in Fairmount Park. As these hotels lost popularity, they became excellent bargain real estate for a new college to begin with lessened expense, and the upscale neighborhood which soon clustered about the area insisted, that these colleges move up-scale and get good ratings in U.S. News and World Report. Alexander Cassatt insisted that all transcontinental trains must make a stop in Paoli near his home, and there are even a few stations like Upton which were for the sole use of a single estate. So, at one time when ignorant non-Philadelphians on the transcontinental trains would sniff, "Why would the trains all stop out here in the country?", the Philadelphians in the know would just bury themselves in their newspapers.
Footnote: This interesting talk stimulated me to go read some of the history posted in the Main Line station houses, and in particular the one in Narberth. Narberth was a village long before the railroad came along, and it still holds itself a little aloof from the rest. These and similar places relate that Narberth used to be Libertyville, Bryn Mawr used to be Humphrysville, Cynwyd was once Academyville, Merionville became Merion, and Narberth was purchased from William Penn in 1682 by Edward Reese Price. It is also noted that William Thomas donated his property to the PRR in 1851, and the PRR purchased the struggling "Old Columbia" railroad, formerly the "MainLine of Railroads and Canals", from the state in 1857. Narberth quickly became the center of fashionable summer hotels.
Andrew Stewart, the Public Relations Director of the Barnes Foundation, and for thirteen years a member of its Board of Directors, recently addressed the Right Angle Club. He gave a new slant to the quarrelsome saga of Dr. Barnes' will, offering the point of view in favor of moving the paintings to the Parkway. It's useful to hear the legal and historical background, because about all we hear are criticisms, balanced by joy at having the famous paintings where we can see them.
Essentially, the will declared a wish for the School and Museum to follow the original indenture. After the passage of time, the old board members died off, and the new board members found the Indenture to be out of date, like specifying the purchase of railroad bonds. Delivered in a charming Scottish brogue, the argument was fairly convincing. But it stimulated in me an entirely different moral from the eternal dispute between the right of a man to have respect paid to his expressed wishes for his own property, versus the self-defeating quality of the same restrictions with the passage of time.
Barnes was born in Kensington, and had a hard life as the son of a Civil War veteran who lost an arm in the war, and had a dismal time making a living as a butcher. Barnes was his fighting-spirit son, who worked his way through medical school. It was Jefferson Medical College, where I was on the faculty for decades. While it is true his patent medicine gave a permanently sickening color to the children who were treated for sinusitis, it is also true that in the form of eyedrops it prevented the transmission of syphilis to millions of newborn children. In that view, it was a real scientific contribution, although the medical profession continues to take a dim view of doctors advertising their wares. Although he was himself a failed artist, Barnes was a highly successful collector of (then) modern art, and started a school with John Dewey to teach art appreciation to poor people. One by one, the local universities snubbed his wishes for an art appreciation school, and the local Philadelphia museums were pretty sniffy about his favorite artists.
In fairness to them, Barnes was probably pretty pushy in his demands. Unfavorable local reception to an exhibition which had received rave applause in Paris, convinced Barnes he was right and they were wrong. After this, Barnes developed a lasting hatred of Philadelphia and all its stuffy ways; he definitely didn't want his own impressionist art to be in Philadelphia, which would never appreciate it. While Philadelphia finally woke up to the value of Impressionist painting, Barnes never relented while he was alive. I hope I give a fair portrayal of the argument except for the politics and the legalities, that I know very little about.
But hearing the arguments, I see an entirely different moral to the saga. Ever since the inflation of the 1930s, fine art has appreciated in value, faster than the endowments to maintain the art. (That's probably a useful tip to investors, too.) It's fairly standard for a wealthy person to donate his art collection, plus a sum of money to endow the maintenance of the art. Most of the time, the size of the endowment is carefully calculated to grow at least as fast as the value of the paintings, because you have to insure them, and pay for increased security, and increasing attendance. With the new trend toward inflation of at least 2% a year, the old premises don't work any more, and the endowment eventually runs out. At that point, it runs into restrictions which -- to be perfectly blunt -- were created to prevent the trustees from pilfering the museum. A museum may not sell its art to pay for administrative expenses.
Consequently, The Barnes ran into a situation where it had billions of dollars worth of paintings in the basement, which it could not sell, and could not even hang in the museum because of Barnes' specifications for what went on the walls. This situation isn't going to change, because a dollar in 1913, when the Federal Reserve was created, is now scarcely worth more than a penny. And the present Fed is committed to 2% inflation, forever.
So, how about this: let the lawyers who write wills, and the Orphan's Court which administers them, insist that the art collection be divided into two parts. One would be the permanent collection, just as at present, and the other would be eligible for sale in the judgment of the Orphan's Court.
|Samuel Y. Harris|
The Right Angle Club was recently visited by two sprightly young ladies who run a historical building reconstruction firm. Sam Harris once ran the firm and built it into the pre-eminent example of its type, with the quirk that he surrounded himself with women. So, after Sam's unfortunate early death, two of the ladies decided to carry on the business. It was a little hard to picture these two young ladies in blue jeans, climbing all over the rafters of old buildings, but they showed plenty of slides of their work, which in the background showed the ladies doing just that.
Historical old St. Peter's Church at 2nd and Pine called the ladies in to consult on why the beautiful old church built in 1764 would develop a dip in its roof, and were soon told that a rafter had rotted underneath the dip. Further investigations showed that all of the rafters were rotted at the point where they joined the top of the walls, and had to be replaced or reinforced. It eventually developed that a two-million dollar campaign had to be undertaken to finance the restoration. The details of the problem were the rafters had been made of gum wood, which is now unobtainable, and substitute wood of the same quality had to be identified, located, and transported. The original builder named Smith had also built Carpenter's Hall, so he knew what he was doing; it was just hard to find the same materials. The original construction might have lasted another couple hundred years, except there was a time when the upscale Society Hill neighborhood had largely been abandoned to fruit and vegetable distribution, and the congregation dwindled. To save money, the attic had been insulated to save heating costs. It did that, all right, but unfortunately it caused moisture to form, and rot to ensue. Bob Linck, a roofing contractor who was sitting near me, commented that it just went to prove an old adage. Eventually, the economy of excellence would emerge, and demonstrate its value. If reduced cost is what you want, just build things right, and leave them alone.
|South Street Bridge|
When the South Street bridge was reconstructed over the Schuylkill, it was just a bridge. When the Schuylkill around the Art Museum was dressed up for joggers and azalea fanciers, it was just an enhancement for the Museum. But now that the plans are announced for filling in the gaps, even a dumbell like me can see what's afoot to enhance and gentrify the whole Schuylkill, at least on the East side, and at least for the whole width of Center City. The river was once entirely industrial from Chestnut Hill to the Airport, and smoky railroads ran on both banks for at least half of that distance, so the city was a curious mixture of upscale housing right next to some pretty noisome industrial areas, right in the center of things. Now, you can tell at a glance that someone, somewhere has decided to beautify and gentrify the whole river. That's sort of turning the city inside out, because for a long time the banks of the Delaware were the elite place to live, and the Schuylkill was the hidden river, lined with noxious industrial pollution like an open sewer. As long as the politicians seem intent to put gambling casinos on the Delaware waterfront, that river's probably going to seem honky-tonk for a long time. But the Schuylkill, the hidden river, seems destined to be the place you take your friends. Violent city planning and redesign used to imply that Edmund Bacon was at work, but someone else has apparently replaced dear Edmund, without even claiming much credit for it. That isn't like what you would expect from architects, who tend to run around like rainmakers.
|South Street Bridge WalK|
It suddenly dawns on the whole city that there are plans afoot on a grand scale, like West Park in New York, or at least San Antonio, or maybe the Chicago River region, to transform Philadelphia's useless and decaying industrial area into the fashionable place to live. When the planned 1300 feet of remaining Schuylkill waterfront are next filled in, the whole Center City will have a new residential face. And indeed, the railroads and their marshaling yards mostly haven't been removed, since the hidden river is hidden because it is lined with hills which conceal the railroads until you are right on top of them. And another fortuitous circumstance is that railroads have been split apart into freight and passenger lines using the same rails. The passenger trains run during the day and the freight trains run at night, with the freight trains "side-lined", during the day, right in the center of town. You don't notice them much, because they sit down out of sight during daylight hours, and no one notices at night. The marshaling yards are too big to hide, but I understand the plan is to cover them over and build skyscrapers on top. That's fine with me, except for those stories you hear about condominium fights over who should pay for repairs of a jointly owned skyscraper. Maybe that's why apartment dwellers move to a new one every few years; maybe it's a gigantic game of hot potato, running until the music stops.
|Schuylkill River Dog Park|
In any event, the architects seem to be outdoing each other, designing town houses with front and back garages, fronting on the river or fronting on the city park on the second story. And everybody using the dog parks. My goodness, there are several dog parks along the river, with zillions of little dogs running around. They seem to be having a wonderful time sniffing each other, and chasing balls. There are a few basketball courts, but no tennis courts are in sight; mostly, it's dog parks. The streets all seem to be running one-way the wrong way, but if you live there you are probably told the secret passage in, and the secret passage out. Everything else seems to be one-way, do not enter, but of course that doesn't bother people who mainly want to walk their dogs. Imperceptably, the new townhouses merge with the stately old town houses, which as I recall once used the Baltimore and Ohio station in the area. The armory for the First City Troop is still there in the midst of the new revival, reminding folks of the days when the troopers brought their horses into town that way. In case you have forgotten, the city ordnance is that an out-of-control horse always has the right of way. Perhaps that could be re-asserted in some way to pekinese and other toy dogs, too.
The big feature on display is the walk way, built right out over the water in the river for about five blocks. It takes some elaborate twists and turns to get over the sleeping freight trains on the railway below. But no doubt it builds big muscles to get over the hump, and maybe even discourages dogs from escaping to freedom.
|Philadelphia's Quaker Meetinghouse|
There are about forty thousand bodies buried in Philadelphia's Quaker Meetinghouse grounds at Fourth and Arch Streets, which contain only two tombstones. The yellow fever epidemics of the era account for much of that, but it's nevertheless a striking portrayal of early Quaker aversion to anything resembling idolatry. It underlines this attitude by sharp contrast with more recent uproars about desecrating statues of Confederate generals in public spaces of the Old South, which even Robert E. Lee objected to constructing. They led plausibly to erecting and then defacing Union generals in Northern states as well; since it seemed natural for statue-desecration to evolve into an equal-opportunity demonstrations. A little primitive perhaps, but even-handed.
|The Fourth Crusade|
Worshiping graven images has a long history. You needn't be a public-statue expert to remember the terracotta Chinese soldiers are two thousand years old, and the Egyptian pyramids are even older. The chariot horses over the Brandenburg Gate make a stronger illustration of the idea, intertwined over the shorter length of Western civilization. Although carvings might be older, we also have a reasonably accurate history of the bronze statues of these horses. The technique evolved with different proportions of copper and tin, with other metals sometimes added, but the underlying idea is to make a hollow bronze statue, giving the appearance of a much heavier solid bronze one, apparently originating in the Greek islands off the coast of Turkey in the second Century. There were in fact two such statues, with different subsequent histories. The Fourth Crusade was the one where Western European Christian Crusaders invaded Constantinople the main eastern Christian capital, never getting to the Holy Land. Even if they started with good intentions, Christians were content to carry off Christian booty, including the bronze horses. One set was sent to Venice and the other set got to the Christians in Southern France.
|Frederick the Great|
Frederick the Great put one set in the center of Berlin. In time, Napoleon took both statues to Paris, but later returned them. The one in Berlin, or perhaps copies of it eventually came to symbolize Nazi Germany, but later Checkpoint Charlie. The details of these conquests and adventures are not not of much consequence today, leaving only the central point that someone conquered someone else, and God must love the victor. The main point became victory, dogmas have been forgotten. Only the Quakers seem to be willing to mention another main point: Thousands of people died for these statues, but very few tourists could now tell you why. The Quakers reached a conclusion we might reconsider. Pulverize all statues and churches, thus saving the world from future grief. Since the Quakers also were first to free the slaves but later mostly disapproved of the Civil War, the irony was not lost on them. But most of their grandchildren reversed the assessment. It's too early to say how another generation will be persuaded to feel.
|General Lucius Clay|
During the War against Nazi Germany, my uncle was General Lucius Clay's room-mate, and the two of them were appointed to oversee de-Nazification of the defeated Germans by a third Pennsylvania Dutchman, Dwight Eisenhower. The concept was devised by Henry Morganthau, then Secretary of the Treasury, in a famous letter urging a program to make Germany into an agricultural nation "for a thousand years". Accordingly, my father's brother oversaw the public burning of tons of postage stamps containing swastikas, plus every photograph of Adolph Hitler the Army could locate, along with similar symbols of the Third Reich. Nearly eighty years have passed since then -- essentially two generations, but it still remains illegal to possess such documents. Evidently, a sense of vengefulness so regularly outlasts its provocation, that passing the grievance on to children is usually hard to justify.
Doylestown is trapped between the steadily advancing edges of New York and Philadelphia, and must soon submerge. For now, the town's a lovely little jewel.
Battleship New Jersey: Home is the Sailor
The battleship New Jersey, mightiest dreadnought in our history, now rests in Camden. At one time, it could have blown up Valley Forge without moving from that position.
When American tourists notice this, they are very smug.
A charming little colonial village in the Pine Woods of New Jersey has a long history, few visitors, and nothing reconstructed. It's the real thing.
Charles Peterson and Amity Buttons
Most of our really historic buildings have an ivory button nailed to the newel post, and there is the only word of mouth to explain why. America's most famous preservation architect tried very hard to document some proof but couldn't.
The original house in the old Welsh barony gave its name to Bryn Mawr, and once was the home of the secretary of the Continental Congress.
Slum Creation and Urban Sprawl
Suburban sprawl leads to urban home abandonment. Nobody likes the process, but varying factors continue to promote it.
Slums are occasionally created deliberately ... when skyscrapers are conceived, the neighborhood must change, even if it's a nice neighborhood.
Fairmount Park Historic Preservation Trust
First you must learn how colonial buildings were made, then you have to learn how to do it yourself. And after that, this imaginative preservation society has branched out to help other regions restore colonial buildings.
Henry George, Single Tax
The Henry George idea of a single tax still lives on in a school run in his old house on Eleventh Street.
Christ Church and Elfreths Alley
Two of our oldest and most charming tourist attractions are just across the street from each other..
Eakins and Doctors
Philadelphia's art world joined its medical world in reacting fiercely to Jefferson Medical College's sale of the best painting by the best artist of Philadelphia's Nineteenth century.
Friends of Boyd
The last movie palace in Philadelphia is either ready for restoration, or the wrecking ball.
Venturi's Franklin Museum in Franklin Court
For several decades there has been a splendid museum of Franklin's personal life, hidden within the famous block where he once lived. Children love it. .
Armonica, Momentarily Mesmerizing
The armonica was a musical instrument invented by Ben Franklin, who else. Beethoven and Mozart wrote music for it. It made people sick and may even have killed someone.
Perth Amboy Revisited
Perth Amboy was once the capital of New Jersey, and the entry point of General Howe's invasion of the rebellious colonies. Except for one old building, you might never guess.
The Delaware River takes an abrupt right turn at Trenton, creating extensive wetlands for miles around. Whatever its environmental drawbacks, the river delta is moving toward landfill and "development". Come back in fifteen years and be amazed.
Sacred Places at Risk
Church structures don't migrate, but church members do. A volunteer organization in Philadelphia has formed, to help endangered congregations decide how to review their options and act on the best choice.
The University Museum: Frozen in Concrete
Archaeology has long been at the center of Philadelphia culture. The University Museum of Archaeology, the largest of its kind in America. is a victim of success, stranded in a congested and overbuilt corner of town.
Quilts, Patchwork Style
Although quilting can be found in the tombs of ancient Egypt, American farm women are correct that they invented an art form.
Furniture for the Horse Country
Fine art is generally the product of rich people demanding something special from a nearby artisan community. Furniture making in Chester County is sort of like that.
Chester: To the Dark Tower
The ancient town of Chester struggles to revive..
Hunting rabbits with a pack of French hounds scarcely sounds like a matter to agitate the Pennsylvania Legislature and its Governor, so maybe something else is afoot.
Germantown Avenue, One End to the Other
An old Indian trail cuts diagonally across Penn's street grid, from the Delaware River, to Chestnut Hill, and beyond. Lots of history, there.
Burlington County, NJ
Burlington County in New Jersey is on the move. This rural county puts the urban ones to shame.
Authors, Writers, Poets, Reporters and Publishers in Laurel Hill Cemetery
Authors, Writers, Poets, Reporters and Publishers in Laurel Hill. Naturally, lots of other people are buried there, too.
Rise and Fall of Books
The The Director of America's first library sees books as mainly a 19th Century phenomenon.
SCUBA Tours of the Andrea Doria
The Stockholm collided with the Andrea Doria and sank her in 1956 in 250 feet of water. Lots of weekend visitors still wander around inside the ship.
Frank Furness,(3) Rush's Lancer
One of Philadelphia's most famous architects had two notable exploits as a Civil War cavalry officer, one of which won him the Congressional Medal of Honor.
New Museum of Chemical Heritage
There's a stunning new museum on Chestnut Street, right across the street from Carpenters Hall. It's intended to convince everybody that chemistry is fascinating, particularly those who incline to doubt it.
Wagner Free Institute of Science
The Wagner science museum may not be the oldest museum in Philadelphia, but it is certainly the only one that is exactly the same as it was in the Nineteenth Century. It's a museum museum.
HSP: Philadelphia's Attic
The Historical Society of Pennsylvania started out in 1824 as a repository of family treasures. Several mergers and changes of direction have given it a new mission.
Barringer Crater in Winslow AZ
The crater is in Arizona, but the owners are in Philadelphia.
Saving the United States
For the past 13 years the SS United States has lain idle at a dock in Philadelphia and is facing the scrap heap should efforts by volunteers in several conservancies to save her not succeed.
Thirteen stars and stripes became the National Flag in 1777, but a rather similar flag was the National flag from 1775-1777. It was also designed by a Philadelphia milliner, Margaret Manny.
Water Works, Emblem of the Past
Water pollution doesn't cause Yellow Fever, but in 1799 Philadelphians thought it might, and united to make a work of art out of a new water utility. Eventually, it did eliminate Typhoid deaths.
Camden NJ: The Third, or Irish, Tenth
Early settlers of the Delaware Bay, generally picked the eastern, now New Jersey, side of the river because the terrain was easier to farm. In time, the vast wilderness on the western, or Pennsylvania, side led to more commerce.
The University City
Ben Franklin would scarcely recognize the college he created. It isn't named for him, but he probably would be concerned about how quickly it is changing.
Thieves of Baghdad
American troops recovered most of the antiquities looted from the Baghdad Museum, tracing many of them through the international black market. The museum turns out to have been secretly a private treasury.
Willow Grove Park
There were dozens of Amusement Parks run by trolley companies in 1900, and Willow Grove was the acknowledged Queen of the trolley parks.
Bergdoll the Rich Draft Dodger
Now that the Fairmount Section of Philadelphia has had a revival, an astonishingly large mansion emerges into plain sight, inevitably sparking a discussion of its lurid history.
Selling Entire Towns
Some builders build whole towns without houses and then sell them to custom home builders.
Serpentine Rock From Serpentine Barrens
Nice green serpentine stone was a popular building material until its disadvantages were recognized.
Monocacy Creek and Monocacy River
An ancient Shawnee Indian word causes confusion along the Blue Mountain.
Powel House, Huzzah!
On 3rd Street in Philadelphia's Society Hill, stands the finest surviving Georgian House of what Washington and Madison called the Republican Court. A great many traditions of American high society were formed in the second-floor dining room of this house.
Reviving Schuylkill: Eight Miles From the Dam to Ft. Mifflin
Cleaning up eight miles of banks of the Schuylkill from Fairmount Dam to Fort Mifflin, is Philadelphia's share of the Obama Stimulus Package. It will take a decade to know whether it was worth it, but as the program begins, it stirs a lot of excitement.
In or around Philadelphia, money no object, what's the best place to build a super-mansion?
Not a Single Red Knot
Between the Dover Air Force Base and the west bank of the Delaware River is a large area of wetland and fertile soil centered on what is called the Bombay Hook. Benjamin Chew, Caesar Rodney and John Dickinson all had extensive plantations there. In some ways, remarkable wealth is all centered on the fertility deposited over the centuries by the eggs of horseshoe crabs along the bank s of the river.
Battle of Monmouth
The British Army evacuated Philadelphia in June, 1778, retreated across the narrow waist of New Jersey for the safety of their Navy at Sandy Hook. Washington caught up with them at Monmouth and fought a very creditable battle.
A Time to Read Books
Retirement is a good time to read all those books you meant to read. But certain things stand in the way.
Museum of the American Revolution
The old Visitors Center at Third and Chestnut has been vacant for more than a decade. Its new occupant is going to be a Museum dedicated to the causes and sacrifices of the American Revolution.
Peggy Shippen and Benedict Arnold: Fallen Idols
The hero of the Battle of Saratoga married the Queen of Philadelphia society, but then betrayed the country.
Main Line: Overbrook to Paoli
The Main Line was a spur of the Pennsylvania Railroad, connecting Philadelphia to what was the real main line, running north of Philadelphia from New York to Pittsburgh. Times change, the Main Line is a commuter railroad, and there is only one passenger train daily to Pittsburgh. Meanwhile, the real main line is called the Northeast Corridor, Boston to Washington DC.
Barnes Foundation -- Drawing a New Moral
Inflation makes for a new slant on the saga of the Barnes Foundation.
The Eventual Economy of Excellence
In the long run, it's cheaper to leave good construction alone.
Hidden River (2)
The East side of the Schulykill, from Locust to South Street, is all gussied up for dog lovers. Or maybe for the dogs.
Quakers and Idolatry
Early Quakers were so opposed to idolatry, they wouldn"t allow tombstones.