INHP Commercial Block Historic Reconstruction Projects

INTRODUCTION: These projects were part of the student work for a course, Cities 377, Building the American Downtown, in the Growth & Structure of Cities Program at Bryn Mawr College.

They projects were meant to document some of the commercial streetscapes of Philadelphia's 19th-century downtown that once stood in the area around present-day Independence National Historical Park.

The blockfronts shown on the linked student websites were the product of a sweeping transformation of this part of the city around the middle of the 19th century. As attested to in an 1857 article, "Disappearing," discovered by our "blue group" and heading their introductory page, business uses displaced almost all others, and called for the replacement or adaptation of most older buildings.

The late-19th-century streetscapes seen here were in turn largely erased in the decades between the 1880s and the 1920s by larger office buildings made possible by steel frame and skyscraper construction techniques. Some were spared by the coeval westward shift of business interests to a new, taller "midtown" business area closer to Broad Street, but many of the buildings of the older downtown, especially between Walnut and Chestnut streets, made way in the 1950s for the green swaths or new brick buildings of the National Park.

Five two-student teams (identified by colors on the sketch map above) were asked to combine block footprints from old atlas plates published in Ernest Hexamer and William Locher, Maps of the City of Philadelphia, 7 vols., Philadelphia, 1858-62 (courtesy of the Free Library of Philadelphia), with block fronts as depicted in commercial panoramas by Dewitt Clinton Baxter, Baxter Panoramic Business Directory (1857-80) and Julio Rae, Philadelphia Pictorial Directory and Panoramic Advertiser (1851) (courtesy of the Athenaeum of Philadelphia and the Historical Society of Pennsylvania).

For two lacunae in 19th-century panorama coverage, however, students drew new ones from illustrative evidence. The teams each combined the fronts and plans of their blocks with other evidence about these buildings drawn from several area archival repositories and information resources.

The students in the course were:

· Katie Baumann, BMC '04
· Robert Douglass, HC '05
· Aashna Hossain, BMC '04
· Afshan Khan, BMC '04
· Caleb Linville, HC '04
  · Leah Min, HC '05
· Stephanie Riley, BMC '04
· Sonam Tamang, BMC '04
· Junette Teng, BMC '04
· Linda Wisniewski, BMC '04

Special thanks also to Laura Blankenship of BMC's Information Services, Laura Beardsley of the Historical Society of Pennsylvania, Bruce Laverty of the Athenaeum of Philadelphia, Erika Piola, Sarah Weatherwax, and Jennie Ambrose of the Library Company of Philadelphia, John Hinchman of Penn's Historic Preservation Program, and Karie Diethorn and Charles Tonetti of Independence National Historical Park for their generous help during the semester.

Temporary links to students' websites:

 red: Sonam & Katie

98-block S. 3rd (wsd)
301-block Chestnut (nsd)
300-block Chestnut (ssd)

  blue: Leah & Junette

99-block S. 3rd (esd)
201-block Chestnut (nsd)
200-block Chestnut (ssd)

purple: Robert & Stephanie

301-block Walnut (nsd) (drawn)
401-block Walnut (nsd)

  green: Linda & Afshan

101-block S. 3rd (esd)
200-block Walnut (ssd)
201-block Walnut (nsd)

yellow: Caleb & Aashna

300-block Walnut (ssd) (drawn)
400-block Walnut (ssd)


blocks.html; last rev. = 9 Feb. 04 jc.