Preliminary Study
Beginning with the Baxter panoramas, this page explains the commencement of research on textile-related commerce on Chestnut Street.


 


[figure 1]

I commenced my research of Chestnut Street commerce by first tackling larger questions and subsequently narrowing the field of study. I first turned to panoramas of Chestnut Street. Julio H. Rae created what are presumably the first commerce-related architectural studies of this sort (see figure 1). As described by the site, "Places in Time: Historical Documentation of Place in Greater Philadelphia," "Rae interleaved the panorama plates with typeset sheets laid out with approximations of business cards for those who paid for these, giving this publication advertising value. In addition, he would add names on otherwise blank signboards for those who purchased volumes" (Cohen et. al. 5 June 1998 al. http://www.brynmawr.edu/iconog/panos.html). Rae produced a valuable resource. Not only did businesses in operation in 1851 garner greater publicity through advertising but the panoramas also provide a fairly comprehensive documentation of the architectural and business form of 19th century Philadelphia. I also drew from Baxter's Panoramic Business Directories, a similar compilation as Rae's that was published in 1879. I noticed a significant population of shops relating to the textile trade within a handful of the easternmost blocks of Chestnut Street. Having discovered a trade with sufficient representation to warrant a comparative study, I chose this as my focus. Included in the mix: Samuel O. Stokes & Co. Manuf'rs & Dealers in Woolen Cotton & Worsted Yarns (figure 2); Irvine C. Beatty & Co. Cotton, Woolen & Silk Yarns (figure 3); Joshua L. Baily & Co. Commission Merchants Philadelphia Made Cottons & Woolens (figure 4); Blacking, Wm Curry's Wholesale & Retail Trimming Store (figure 5); Penrose Fell, Tailor (figure 6) and H. B. Heston & Co. Wool (figure 7).

[fig.s 2-7]

Media dictated to others the styles of NYC and Philadelphia (Scranton, 9) This concept of using architectural renderings as a means of promoting ones business (or onesself as a prominent donor to the project) creates a link between the space and the owner. Presumably with closer study, a bridge may be built between the function of the lots and their structure or perhaps a tie between the owner himself (or herself) and the form of the building.

The first thing one may notice about these stores is that they tend to deal in basic goods (meaning yarns and trimmings) or locally made goods. In researching the early history of the textile industry in the United States, I found that the production process split in production. Mass production of everyday yardage was generally produced further north in mill towns such as Lowell, Massachusetts, whereas more fashionable or delicate pieces were worked in smaller batches in Philadelphia (Scranton, 10-11). These findings coincide with the name plates on the Rae and Baxter panoramas.

Another immediate point is that two of the aforementioned shops were sited on the same plot of land. Was this chance or did the site have some particular asset for the textile trades? This question warrants more discussion but as yet I do not have any facts that would strengthen an argument.

All of the buildings have a ground floor storefront and three upper stories except for the rebuilt 210 shop which has four. A common height for Philadelphia buildings of the time, these structures fit easily into the fabric of the city.

It is hard to tell for certain whether the buildings housed mixed use, that is, a store as well as housing, but my hypothesis is that this is the case. Closer inspection of fire insurance surveys and fire insurance maps may provide the answer.

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