103 Chestnut Street and Surrounding Environs: A Historic Tour



This page is an assignment for an undergraduate 300-level class at Bryn Mawr College in Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania. The class is entitled "Advanced Fieldwork Techniques: Places in Time." This is a research-based class that requires students to use primary sources found in historical repositories in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Designed by two undergraduate students, Jordan Teel '06 and Jennifer Wagner '07, the project gathers information on the 100-block of Chestnut Street based around an 1861 watercolor of 103 Chestnut. This watercolor is part of a collection of 57 pencil and wash sketches of Philadelphia-area locations all from the same sketchbook. The volume is located in the Winterthur Museum, in Winterthur, Delaware. James E. Taylor (1839-1901), is believed to be the artist of the watercolors, all done in 1861. For more information on Taylor and his works, click here

Each group in our class was assigned a specific watercolor to research from the website, Places in Time. Our sketch depicts number 103 (old number 11) Chestnut Street located in the 6th ward. While we specifically researched this property, it served as a springboard to understand the development of the 100-block of Chestnut St.


Table of Contents



Introducing the Block...

The 100-block of Chestnut Street is located between Front Street and Second Street near the Delaware River. There is evidence that the block has been predominantly commercial from its inception. 103 Chestnut Street, which, according to an 1850 map (presumably a map from an early fire insurance survey), was 11 Chestnut Street until the Philadelphia address change of 1857, is used here as a case study of a typical property located on the aforementioned block. Historic photographs reveal that the structural composition of this block has remained fairly unchanged since the mid-19th century. Brick rowhouses abound on the north side, on which 103 is located, and on the south side of the block. The 100-block of Chestnut Street is located in the oldest city limits of Philadelphia described by Mary M. Schweitzer in her article, "The Spatial Organization of Federalist Philadelphia, 1790." She writes that "Philadelphia [...] encompassed an area that is considered extremely small by modern standards, stretching only two miles north and south along the Delaware River and one mile west at the cityís widest point [thus creating a] shape [that] was more in the form of a semielipse than a semicircle" (31-2). 103 Chestnut and its surrounding neighborhood were located in the heart of the semielipse, which suggests its importance as a central commercial hub. Click on the thumbnail below to view Schweitzer's depiction of the semielipse:

The numbered grid is used to support Schweitzer's arguement about demographics. However, it also nicely illustrates the semielipse and central location of the 100-block of Chestnut St. While Chestnut St. is not marked on the map, it is one block south of Market St. The red dot depicts the approximate location of 103 Chestnut St. This illustration is also found on page 32 in her article "The Spatial Organization of Federalist Philadelphia, 1790" from vol 24, no 1. of The Journal Interdisciplinary History, Summer 1993, pp 31-57.

Thumbnail of a current map showing 103 Chestnut:

The present day map is from www.mapquest.com. The star indicates 103 Chestnut. The map also depicts the surrounding blocks in the "Old City" district of Philadelphia. Interstate 95 was constructed in the 1960's, taking over the waterfront property from east of Front Street to the Delaware River. All other maps depict the neighborhood the way it was before I 95. All maps except Mary Schweitzer's are oriented north-south (up-down).

Thumbnail of an 1850 map showing 103 as number 11 Chestnut:

The 1850 map is found in the map room at the Free Library in Philadelphia. While the exact origin of the map is unknown, it is most likely from an early fire insurance survey.

The block was literally divided sometime between 1855 and 1860. This is the only known major physical change made to the block as a whole. Old number 23 Chestnut Street was demolished to make way for the construction of Letitia Street, which intercepts Black Horse Alley to the north of the 100-block of Chestnut.


At least two different structures have stood at 103 Chestnut Street, our case study address within the block. Both of these structures have been altered numerous times. We assmume that a two-story brick structure stood on the site from approximately 1810 until the mid 1860's. Evidence from Taylor's watercolor and fire insurance surveys of surrounding buildings leads us to believe that the 2-story brick structure stood during these approximate dates. The 4-story brick building that currently stands on the property probably dates from the demolition of the 2-story structure during the 1860's.


LATE 18TH CENTURY

A graphic depiction of this area illustrates that commercial activity dominated near the Delaware River. Click on the thumbnail below to view the illustration.This illustration is also from Mary Schweitzer's article "The Spatial Organization of Federalist Philadelphia, 1790" and is located on page 45.

A section of a map from 1796 represents the development of the block and surrounding area. Click on the thumbnail below to view the map.

This map was found in the Free Library in Philadelphia. It is a reproduction of the original and depicts the growing city and its environs as it was in that year.

The Jane Campbell Collection, a series of scrapbooks assembled in the early 20th century and currently located in the Historical Society of Pennsylvania, makes retrospective note of the environs of 103 Chestnut Street. The following is information found in the folder from the Campbell Collection on the part of Chestnut St. between Front and Second Streets: On the southwest corner of Front Street and Chestnut there once stood the Mifflin Mansion with a garden extending along Chestnut Street. The mansion was constructed during the American Revolution by John Mifflin, the father of Thomas Mifflin who served as the governor of Pennsylvania from 1788-1799. The Union Hotel supposedly stood on the northeast corner. A tavern called "Ship Aground" formerly stood where the Union Hotel was located. That tavern was offered for sale in 1783 and had been in existence since before the American Revolution. The business of Thomas Khouli Khan, a Persian, was located on another corner, presumably the southeast, from the mid to late 18th Century

Click on the thumbnail below to view a graphic map that depicts the distribution of occupations in this area in 1790.

This illustration is also from Mary Schweitzer's article "The Spatial Organization of Federalist Philadelphia, 1790" and is located on page 46.

The Philadelphia Directory of 1795, found at the Historical Society of Pennsylvania, describes a large number of businesses on the 100-block of Chestnut Street including:

John McLeod, a ship-chandler, old number 1 Chestnut
Philip Burk, an innkeeper, old number 7 Chestnut Street
John Termine and Daniel McLeod, hairdressers, old number 9 Chestnut
Edward McDowell, a nail cutter, old number 13 Chestnut
John Kean, a hairdresser, and Philip Shaw, a dealer at vendues, old number 15 Chestnut Street
John Lodor, a taylor, old number 17 Chestnut
James Leitch, a broker, old number 19 Chestnut

Since 103 Chestnut was originally number 11 (prior to 1857) and 101 Chestnut takes up a large portion of the 100-block, we can assume that old numbers 1,3,5,7, and 9 occupied the site where 101 currently stands. While this may seem unlikely, we have to remember that the depth of 101 lines Chestnut street, taking up a large amount of space. It is therefore probab le that several narrower buildings could have occupied this site in 1795. The absence of number 11 in the 1795 Directory can be interpreted several ways: the site was either vacant at the time (no building was erected), the building was vacant, or the building was strictly residential and therefore would not be listed in the business directory.

Although the value of the land and building at 103 Chestnut during the late 18th Century is unknown, values of comparable adjacent structures have been found. The fire insurance survey of an unknown address on the north side of Chestnut Street is dated October, 1790 and describes a three-story dwelling valued at $250. This was owned by Samuel Pancoast, a gentleman, who resided at 129 South 3rd Street. Pancoast most likely leased the building to be used for commercial purposes. An 1804 fire insurance survey of another unknown address on the north side of Chestnut estimates the total value of several buildings on the site at $1,200. A fire insurance survey from January 12, 1811 of old number 9 Chestnut (directly to the east of 11 and owned by Alexander Henry), assesses the two-story brick building at $500. The survey explicitly states that comparable structures are located to the east and to the west of the aforementioned address.


19TH CENTURY

There is documentary evidence from the Jane Campbell Collection indicating that many merchants were located in the general vicinity of Front and Chestnut Streets during the 1810s. A paper manufactory and a clothing factory operated on the block during the 1830s. As the 19th Century progressed, the 100-block of Chestnut Street became increasingly mercantile. The production of wools, yarns, and teas predominated in this area.

A photograph of Chestnut Street, looking east, from the print and picture collection of the Free Library of Philadelphia dates from 1843 and depicts the row of buildings lining the street. Click on the thumbnail below to view the photograph.

A sketch from 1845, also from the print and picture collection at the Free Library, shows a similar view of the easternmost part of Chestnut Street. Click on the thumbnail below to view the sketch

There is no explanation as to why various drawings (the 1845 sketch and Taylor's 1861 watercolor)depict this street. Because of its high density of commercialism and proximity to the docks, one can assume it was a vibrant and bustling block. Another explanation might be that a proprietor of one or more of the businesses commissioned an artist to document the property they owned. In this case, these early drawings might be a precursor to Baxter's 1879 panoramas. For more information on panoramas, click here

The earliest documents we found specifically about 103 Chestnut Street are deed polls found at the Philadelphia Department of Records in City Hall and the Philadelphia City Archives, which date from the 1860s. Lewis Clark owned the property until 1866 when Stephen Ferry, a drayman (cart operator) purchased the property. The 1865 Philadelphia City Directory lists Stephen Ferry as residing at S.W. 10th and Dickerson Streets, which implies that he rented the building at 103 Chestnut for commercial use. In the 1890 City Directory, Ferry is listed as a carman, and is still the owner of 103 Chestnut. However, Ferry foreclosed on the property in 1894, most likely as a result of financial troubles. A Sheriff's Sale was advertised in an unknown Philadelphia newspaper in April of 1894. The newspaper ad , found on microfilm (along with the deed polls)at the Dept. of Record or in print (along with printed deed polls) at the City Archives reads as follows: "Sheriff's Sale - By virtue of a writ of Levari Facias, will be exposed to public sale on Monday, May 7, 1894 at 4 o'clock pm at the Philadelphia Exchange (NE corner of 3rd and Walnut). All that 4-story brick messuage (number 103) and a lot of ground situate on the north side of Chestnut between Front and Second in Philadelphia; containing in front 13 feet 4 inches and in depth 20 feet." The property is estimated to sell for approximately $1,100.

Deed polls, after Mary M. Calhoun's death, selling her properties at 105 Chestnut:

This deed poll of 105 Chestnut (lot 99 in the 6th ward) was found in print at the Philadelphia Archives. It shows the sale of 105 from the Hospital of the PE Church to Michael J Brown in 1891.

Several properties on the block, such as 105 and 109 were owned and leased by one family, the Calhouns, and were only divided when Mary M. Calhoun died leaving all her properties to the Hospital of Pennsylvania in 1891. The hospital subsequently sold off the properties individually to other businessmen. No deed polls were found on number 107. Upon examining a Hexamer and Locher map from 1897, numbers 107 and 109 were conjoined to house an "O. and S. Mixing and Packing Extracts and Essences" company. From a deed poll dated June 1925, we can assume that William R. Bready who died in 1910 possibly owned the property when it was a mixing and packing plant.

Hexamer and Locher map of 1875 showing 103 Chestnut and its environs:

All Hexamer and Locher maps were found in the map room at the Free Library.

the 100-Block of Chestnut Street as illustrated in Baxter's business panorama of 1879.

This panorama was found on the Places in Time website as cited above.

A closeup of 103 from Philadelphiabuildings.org:

The following lists the owners of 103 Chestnut and the dates they acquired the property:

Lewis Clark (date of acquisition unknown)
Stephen Ferry (1866)
Northern Liberties Building & Loan Association (1894)
Daniel S. Dengler (1898)
Mayer, Patterson, Frank/Carrie Dengler (date of acquisition unknown)
Daniel S. Dengler and Son Corporation (1902)
Maximilian Aron and Morris Perlstein and Ruth Miller (1911)
Maximilian Aron (1911)
William R. Brice and Ella M. Brice (1912)
Clifford M. Drake and Mary W. Drake (1916)
Frank Burnett Jr. and Henry S. Burnett (1919)
Edith May Thomas (date of acquisition unknown)
James H. Caldwell and Jane D. Caldwell (1944)
James H. Caldwell (1966)
Gurmeet Patheja (present owner 2005)

There is evidence that the majority of the buildings on the block were brick, 4 to 5 stories, and were occupied by small industry during the 1890s. According to the 1897 Hexamer and Locher map of Philadelphia the following addresses were occupied by the following industries:
103 Chestnut - cigar factory
107 Chestnut - packing extracts and essences
109 Chestnut - O & S Mixing
111 Chestnut - wool processing
113 Chestnut - steam packaging factory


Industries like 103, 107 and 109 are shaded green, representing a "specially hazardous brick, stone, or iron building.

Click on the following thumbnails to view the 1897 Hexamer and Locher maps:



THE NEIGHBORHOOD IN THE 20TH CENTURY

In December of 1898, Daniel S. Dengler purchased 103 from the Northern Liberties Building and Loan Association. He owned two other properties on the block as well, 102 and 104 Chestnut, directly across the street, and ran a confectionary supplies business in the buildings with his son, Frank S. Dengler. When Daniel purchased the property in 1898, he lived at 1912 Girard Av. The Hexamer and Locher map of 1908 depicts 103 Chestnut as well as the surrounding neighborhood:


North Side of Chestnut St


South Side of Chestnut St

Addresses like 101(also known as 50 S. Front street), 109 and 111 Chestnut street were purchased by the "Lush Realty/Cotton products" company in 1950 and 1951.


This deed poll (like the others) was found at the City Archives.

Another later business on the block was "Chester S. Brett INC." at 105 Chestnut from 1924 to 1941. After the Mid 20th Century, smaller businesses began to move in as the textile companies moved out.

By the end of the 20th Century, 103 Chestnut had changed. A 1981 photograph from the Philadelphia Historical Commission shows an imitation Tudor facade covering the first floor and entrance. Due to the lack of a front entrance, we can assume that 103 was conjoined with an adjacent property.

Click on the thumbnail below to see the 1981 photograph from the folder on 103 Chestnut from the Philadelphia Register of Historic Places. This folder is found at the City of Philadelphia Historical Commission.



THE NEIGHBORHOOD TODAY

Photos (from left to right) show the south side of the block, down the cobblestone street, and the north side of the block with 103. All present day photos were taken 10/20/05.

Today, restaurants, bars and clubs dominate the block. The majority of storefronts are occupied by an assortment of trendy ethnic restaurants including a Mexican restaurant, "Mexican Post" at 104, an Afghan restaurant, "Kabul Afghan Food" at 106, an Asian fusion restaurant, "Taipan" at 108, a bar and lounge at 110 and 112, an Indian restaurant, "Karma" at 114 and a Persian restaurant and hookah bar "Aromatic House of Kabob" at 113. 101 and 103 presently stand vacant. However, occupation and liquor permits indicate that a restaurant will soon occupy 101 and 103. As is evident from the 1981 photograph and the existing permits, we can assume that 101 and 103 were conjoined sometime in the late 20th Century. The restaurant boom on the block is an offshoot from the cluster of restaurants and bars on Market and 2nd. This reveals that the area is being gentrified south of Market St.


OUR SOURCES

City of Philadelphia Historical Commission
Free Library of Philadelphia
Historical Society of Pennsylvania
Mapquest
Philadelphia Architects and Buildings
Philadelphia City Archives
Philadelphia Department of Records (City Hall)


Last updated: 10/05