Places in Time: Project 1: Anna Blinn and Claire Mahler

The Block.

When investigating the history of the 401 block of Arch Street, one needs to piece together small findings to inform the whole. By honing in on the importance of individual discoveries from fire insurance records, fire insurance maps, and scrapbook collections, the history of dwellings and businesses on Arch Street come to life. The story of the block then continues with an intersecting history, that of the United States Mint in Philadelphia. The diagram below shows the change in building height from 1870 to 1958, shortly before the block was demolished.

Fire Insurance Records for two houses and accompanying buildings on what was at the time the north side of Mulberry Street (for a description of how the street name changed see Surrounding City), give a detailed description of what two row houses were like around the turn of the 18th century.

One of these houses belonged to Samuel E. Howell. His house and stable were insured with Mutual Assurance in 1806 for a total value of $3,400.00 (house $3,000, stable $400). The house's dimensions were 18 feet front and 39 feet deep. The stable, which was located behind the house, faced "Apple Tree Ally" (later named Appletree Alley as shown on maps beginning in 1860) and had similar dimensions as the house. Howell's house had three stories and sat approximately where number 409 currently stands.

Another Mutual Assurance record describes the insured property of Frederick Shinkle in 1810. Shinkle's house was seventeen feet front by nineteen feet deep and two stories high. Shinkle also had back buildings, but no stable. The insured value of this property was $1,066.67. This house is estimated to be 423 Arch St. (Both Mutual Assurance records were obtained in the Historical Society of Pennsylvania: Policy numbers 2386 and 3054, respectively).

A Franklin Fire Insurance record dating from January 17, 1866 was for new buildings at former 413 and a half, 415 and 417 (later renamed 415, 417 and 419). The property was insured under the Estate of George Wormwrath decd. for $5,000. These three buildings all extended back from Arch Street 138 ft, just short of the entire depth of the block, being the first buildings to do so on the block. The panorama pictured above from the Dreer Manuscripts shows these conjoined buildings, which in fact appear to be one building (there are some boxes in front of the buildings on the sidewalk). The fire insurance record goes on to say that the building at 415 was initially occupied by manufactures who produced silk, lace, and neck ties. The building at 417 was initially occupied by a furrier (there was some question in the legibility of this sentence). The building at 419 was initially occupied on the first floor by a machine store and on the second story a wholesale shoe store and on the upper stories a shoe factory. From the 1901 Hexamer and Locher Map of the block we can see that while 419 is no longer occupied by shoe manufacturing, numbers 411, 413 and 415 now deal in some way with shoe production. (Frankling Fire Insurance record was accessed at the Historical Society of Pennsylvania, v.

These insurance records, while only a small sampling in a given period of time, reveal specific information that shines light on houses that existed before Fire Insurance maps. In these particular examples we see two significantly different monetary values assigned to houses insured at roughly the same time.

Fire insurance maps also shed light on the environment built on the 401 block of Arch Street. Note the dotted lines within the edges of numbers 421, 423, 431 and 433 (see the Hexamer and Locher 1860 map in the maps supplement). These dashes indicate the presence of an alleyway. In the late 1700s these paths became increasingly common in Philadelphian urban development. Alleys allowed for traffic to enter rear courtyard areas from the main thoroughfare. Frequently, in fact, the width of the first floor would be narrowed to allow for the passage of carriages and/or pedestrians while the upper floors widened to take advantage of limited real estate in the rapidly-growing city (Salinger, 15). (Salinger, Sharon B. "Spaces, inside and outside, in 18th century Philadelphia." Journal of Interdisciplinary History, v.26, no.1: Summer 1995)

The Scrapbook collections at the Historical Society of Pennsylvania provide snipits of information collected from newspapers and other contemporary sources from the early 20th century. The Campbell Collection, in particular, contains a series of artilces published in 1917 in The Public Ledger of Philadelphia about the Arch St. In the article on Fourth and Arch Streets the author discusses a number of notable people living on the block at one time or another, important events that happened on Fourth Street and in the local vicinity and also the socio-economic nature of the block during the 18th and 19th century. At the close of the 18th century, 5th Street was still on the edge of the city and few fashionable people lived out that far. Burial grounds were relegated there and "consequently, in 1795 the north side of Arch Street from Fourth to Fifth was occupied by a rather democratic collection of residents. There were hatters, skin dressers, bakers, a brass founder, boarding houses, school teachers and a hair dresser, as well as a physician" (pg. 33, v.1, Jane Campbell Collection, HSP).

History of the U.S. Mint in Philadelphia

Philadelphia, the original capital of the United States of America, became home to the country's first mint in 1792. The smelting building stood at 37 and 39 Filbert Street shortly followed by an additional building, this one on Seventh ("Ye Olde Mint" emblazoned across the facade). In 1816 a fire broke out in the smelting house that was not subsequently rebuilt. After seventeen years of employing an off-site smelting service and four years of greater demand than supply of U.S. coinage, the entire minting process moved to the second mint. This structure, a white marble building of Grecian influence, served the needs of the country until 1901 when a mint still larger than the previous took over. The third mint, on Spring Garden Street, still stands though currently with a different purpose: it is the home of Philadelphia Community College. In 1969 the production of coinage in Philadelphia relocated yet again in order to accommodate the country's growing economy, this time replacing the entirety of the 401 block of Arch Street. The Arch Street Mint still produces vast amounts of coinage (it is the largest coin manufacturer in the world) and, with the help of a handful of other mints around the country, provides the United States with all its metallic monies.

(Information and photos of the Mint through history were found at The map is digitized from a "Local Bike Map" from 1897 found at

Putting the Pieces Together

The block, despite being on the outskirts of Philadelphia in the early years, was an active sector of the city by the turn of the 18th century. At this time the block was made up of residences as well as mixed-use stores/dwellings as well as miscellaneous craftspeople. The second Ketterlinus Building, built in 1905 (Sanborn Map of Philadelphia, 1958), helped to push the block foward in technology and away from residential purposes. The block became concentrated with companies like Ketterlinus Printing Co. and the Curtis Publishing Co. (located at 421-7 and constructed between 1896 and 1901) that produced well-known publications like the Ladies' Home Journal and the Saturday Evening Post. Along with printing and publishing establishments there were other two manufacturing companies that produced supplies for druggists like Charles F. Grosholz's company and Smtih, Kline and French Co. (Engelhardt, G. W. The Book of Its Bourse & Co-operating Bodies, Philadelphia Lippincott Press, 1898-99). The block remained light-industrial throughout the first half of the 20th century until the 1960s when the extant buildings were demolished to make room for the relocation of the Philadelphia Mint.

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