23 ~ NW Corner Dock & Pear Streets 39 ~ NW Corner Spruce & Dock Streets

 

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#23 ~ NW Corner Dock & Pear Streets | Social Context

Taylor's 1861 Sketch of the NorthWest corner of Dock and Pear Streets.

Residents of the neighborhood surrounding Pear and Dock Streets (now Thomas Paine and Dock) in the late 18th century represented a cross-section of society in a thriving port city. Philadelphia's social directories for the period indicate that gentlemen, physicians and schoolmistresses coexisted alongside tradesmen of varying descriptions. Copperplate printing, millstone making, saddle and harness-making, shoemaking and tanning and currier workshops dotted the street. Being just off the river and being a major thoroughfare for the unloading of merchant ships, Dock Street near Pear was also a natural home to seamen and merchants of all sorts, from china merchants to those selling flour and provisions.

One such man was Benjamin W. Morris. Benjamin Morris makes his first appearance in the area in 1796 as a grocer elsewhere at the street at numbers 58 and 60 Dock Street. Later, the Philadelphia Directory of 1805 includes a listing for Benjamin W. Morris & Co Brewers at the Dock and Pear Street site. Mr. Morris and his descendents remained in the area, plying a variety of trades through the late 19th century. According to fire insurance records, in 1808, Isaac W. Morris, brewer, took ownership of the family property at the northwest corner of Dock and Pear Streets, the site of the sketch, along with two adjoining properties to the north.

By the 1810s, census data indicates that Pear Street was primarily residential, with 21 dwellings (17 brick, 4 Frame), 6 stores (5 brick, 1 frame), 3 Manufacturers (3 brick), 1 public building (frame), and 11 workshops (6 brick, 5 frame). According to Philadelphia's social directories of the period, stockbrokers, and real estate brokers had taken up shop at the north end of Dock Street by the early-mid 19th century. Through the 19th century, the area remained the domain of tradesmen and the merchant class. Cabinetmakers, printers and tavern-keepers also called the area home. Interestingly, Dock Street and the streets surrounding it were also the site of many international ministries and consulates. In fact, in 1858, Charles Edward K. Kortright, Consul for Great Britain, could be found just steps away at 211 Pear Street.

In 1850, Isaac P. Morris, trustee of the property, purchased fire insurance from the Franklin Fire Insurance Company (book #87, policy #11324) which indicated the property's intended use as a store. At that time, the structure was a three level brick building with wide, yellow pine floorboards, plastered interior walls, marble sills and panel shutters on the façade. The third floor included dormer windows overlooking Pear Street and a step ladder to a garret or loft. The structure appeared to be well constructed, with oak and poplar joists supporting the broken-pitched roof, and decorated simply with cornice and shingle roof. To supply the store, there were two cellar doorways on Dock Street. The structure remained a commercial enterprise and brewing company until it was demolished in 1900, being replaced by the Francis Perot Malting Company shortly thereafter.

By the early part of the 20th century, Dock Street had become a hub of commercial activity, with produce distribution centers and their accompanying noise and filth crowding the blocks. As the 1950's came to a close, redevelopment was in the air. Much of Dock Street was leveled and Society Hill was transformed into a fashionable residential area seen today. By wiping away its commercial past and playing up the historic significance of the area, Dock Street near Pear (now Thomas Paine) is a routine stop on the tourist route in Philadelphia.