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Northwest corner of Ridge and Thirty-Second
(Google maps)


Little had changed from the 1750 map (above left) in the immediate vicinity of the house according to an 1857 engraving (Bachman 1857) (above right) which shows a more or less pastoral scene with a few larger factory-like buildings here and there, but of course these engravings were meant for aesthetic not cartographic value.  Nonetheless, the view of open spaces with industry scattered around and a few homes, dwarfed by their smoke-spewing neighbors, does foreshadow the changes to come in the remainder of the nineteenth century.

The land at the intersection of Thirty-Second and Ridge Avenue bear’s Corleis’ name in an 1875 map (above) along with several other parcels in the area (Hopkins 1875), but no structure is pictured on the property at that time.  Another survey (Franklin Fire Insurance 20188-89, HSP) covers a building on another country estate belonging to Corleis in Fairmount, “near the Waterworks.”  Apparently he had several farms of which any or all may have functioned as a retreat, a working farm creating profit, or both.  But as it was so far away from “The City” little record of these farms or their buildings survive.

The first definite trace of a structure which can be exactly located at this intersection is a roughly triangular one built to suit the size and shape of the lot, a description which does not suit the Taylor image or the insurance survey, on an 1884 insurance map (Hopkins 1884)(above left).  An 1870 Engraving (Anonymous 1870)(above right), although potentially stylized, shows this area of the city crowded with small houses all the way up to the Falls of the Schuylkill (today known as East Falls).  However, a similar map dating from 1886 (Burk & McFetridge 1886)(below), which has more detail in the area contradicts this, showing three or four buildings on each block only.  Still, this is a marked change from the earlier open spaces depicted in 1857 by Bachman, and shows the short time span of the progression from rural to urban.  The intersection of Thirty-Second and Ridge is visible in the 1886 engraving, and appears to hold a triangular building, as depicted on the 1884 Hopkins map.

There is still a triangular structure on the lot in 1916 which is described in detail through the markings on Sanborn’s map of that year: a brick building with a frame sides, it is three stories tall rising to a height of thirty-five feet.  The roof is “composition” and the walls are a foot thick on the first two stories, eight inches on the third.  There is a store present by 1916, although no hint of the building’s purpose is present in the 1884 map.

It is not unusual for urbanization to follow transit lines; such was the case for West Philadelphia when the trolley lines were laid (see Warner 1962), and this holds for Ridge Avenue as well.  According to the Hopkins 1875 map, the Ridge Avenue Rail Road owned the lot immediately across the street from the house pictured in Taylor’s drawing, where it had a stable for the horses which pulled the street cars in the days before electrification and a terminal thereafter.  In fact, according to Kenneth Jackson, professor of History at Columbia University, Ridge Avenue was Philadelphia’s “most important axis of growth” during the third quarter of the nineteenth century (Jackson 1987).  The “country” aspect of Corleis’s country farm would not last much longer.

The 1884 Hopkins map supports the 1886 depiction in Burk & McFetridge’s engraving of an area which still has some open spaces.  But the population pressures of the rapidly growing city would not allow this to stand long: from the already sizable for its time population of 120,000 in 1850, the city became the second largest in the country by 1860 with more than half a million residents (US Census Bureau).  All those people had to go somewhere and many went north along Philadelphia’s “most important axis of growth:” Ridge Avenue

By 1916, the property across the street had been taken over by the Philadelphia Rapid Transit Authority, a precursor to SEPTA (Sanborn 1916), and was no longer home to a few horses but to a fleet of electrified rail-cars and all the noise and bustle a railroad yard must have had.  However, more fundamental changes are evident in this map: the entire area had been built up, and houses had been designed to fit virtually every scrap of ground, including the irregular lots caused by Ridge Avenue’s diagonal path.  Most were single-family dwellings, with a very few larger apartment buildings catering to those unable to afford an entire house. 

The version of the 1916 map (above left) which was updated through 1951 (Sanborn 1951) (above right) shows yet a new face on this area.   Although the building at the intersection of Thirty-Second and Ridge was the same in 1951, it had been subdivided into two stores, and many of the neighboring structures had changed from single family dwellings to apartments.  Many more were abandoned.  Today the land where Taylor’s building once stood is vacant, along with hundreds of others in the vicinity (Philadelphia City Planning Commission [A]).   It is part of a blighted area in serious need of redevelopment, which has seen drastic depopulation (Philadelphia City Planning Commission [B]).  The property’s current owner owes almost $10,000 in back taxes on the property, which is assessed as being worth only that amount (Philadelphia Board of Revision of Taxes).  Clearly the revitalization movement which has begun to reshape Adam Everly’s former land in Mantua is not yet being felt here, but recent efforts on the part of City Government have at least removed some of the more dangerously decayed buildings, and reminded people that all areas of the city are important to someone.

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The 1750 Scull and Heap map (see below) shows a scattering of houses in what would have then been rural Philadelphia County.  In 1865 Taylor took a walk along Ridge Avenue, to area that was and is referred to as “North Penn” and encountered an odd looking building that might have been half of what an architect intended.  Little information survives about the building which had been so interesting that Taylor was inspired to take out his pencil and draw it even though his caption betrays no hint that he knew anything about its owner or history.  The image he made is labeled simply, “Northwest corner of Ridge and 32nd.”

However, more survives about the building’s owner.  Samuel Fisher Corleis is listed in City Directories as an attorney in his younger years, but after about 1857 he is referred to only as “gentleman” and then without epithet at all.  Like many elites, including Adam Everly, Corleis maintained a home in town as well as country retreats, residing at 1717 Arch Street throughout his life (McElroy 1855, 1857, 1858, 1865, Gopsill 1870, 1880, 1885), which his wife continues to occupy after his death, June 13, 1888 (Philadelphia Will Book 140, p. 270, Gopsill 1890).  Corleis invested heavily in real estate, as evidenced by the number of deeds that bear his name: during the period of August 1852 through September 1857 alone, he purchased at least 11 lots (HSP, Grantee Indexes).

His success in this endeavor and in others is visible in several ways.  His will unfortunately does not describe his holdings in detail, but does list the impressive sum of $20,000 to be distributed among his four daughters, with the balance going to his wife (Philadelphia Will Book 140, p. 270).  He is listed in the elite Philadelphia “Blue Books,” and also for his last year of his life only, as having a summer residence in Strickerville, Chester County, PA (Boyd 1882, 1888).

The Historical Society of Pennsylvania possesses another interesting artifact of the leisure and success of Corleis: a journal he wrote describing a two-month vacation for sightseeing and buffalo hunting in the Midwest (Corleis 1858).  Even in his relative youth, he was able to take the time and money to make such a journey.  Its pages relate a straightforward trip with few hardships and a great deal of dining.

We know that Corleis operated a farm in the area of Thirty-Second and Ridge as early as the 1850’s, as he insured a building on that land (Franklin Fire Insurance Policy 20300-01); Click here for more on this policy and to read its text.