The architectural journal, The American Architect and Building News (AABN), was published from 1876 until 1938, when it merged with Architectural Record. It was the first successful architectural journal in the United States. According to Mary Woods, the journal was edited and published by architects and played an important role in the development of the architectural profession in America. Part of the late 19th-century communications revolution in architecture, it was also the first architectural periodical to reproduce photos. As a policy, the AABN did not argue for a particular architectural style, and was, instead, more interested in architectural education and professionalism. The journal also avoided overt architectural criticism in order not to upset their contributors, especially the sources of the illustrations that were so vital to the fledgling journal.

The "Letters from Philadelphia" appeared as part of AABN’s series of anonymous editorial correspondence about the built environment in major American cities, such as New York and Boston, and offer a unique eyewitness account of developments in Philadelphia’s architectural scene, as well as a snapshot of American architecture in the late nineteenth century. Unlike other sections of the journals, the Letters were not illustrated.

This project seeks to contextualize and illustrate the letters for 1876, the first year of the journal's publication, bringing the letters, and the buildings they discuss, to life for the contemporary reader. The letters for 1876, the year of Philadelphia Centennial Exhibition, as well as a high point for the work of architect Frank Furness, provide a fascinating glimpse into Philadelphia's architectural history.

The following web pages contain transcriptions of the three letters that appeared in 1876, with links to illustrated descriptions of the buildings mentioned. To develop the descriptions, we have located images and used a combination of primary and secondary sources. Wherever possible, we have tried to provide a "voice from the past" by searching for articles in The Philadelphia Inquirerand The Public Ledger describing the buildings.

These descriptions are only starting points. Philadelphia’s archives offer a wealth of information about the city’s architectural history, and wherever possible we have provided suggestions for further research. The 1876 letters themselves represent only a small sample from the correspondence series, which appeared sporadically and is not included in AABN’s index. A complete survey of the “Letters from Philadelphia” remains a challenge for future researchers.


Letters from Philadelphia, 1876

American Architect and Building News: October 14, 1876, Pages 334-336

The Philadelphia Row House, the New York Mutual Life Insurance Company, Philadelphia City Hall, Philadelphia Masonic Temple, Works of Frank Furness

American Architect and Building News: December 2, 1876, Page 390

Gifts to the City (Centennial Buildings), the Times Building, the Y.M.C.A., St. Mark’s Church, Obituary for William Struthers

American Architect and Building News
: December 23, 1876, Pages 43-44

The Castellani Collection at the Centennial, Sale of Centennial Buildings, Centennial National Bank


Building Index

A list of buildings mentioned in the 1876 letters, with links to descriptions



Sources Cited:

Web Site Prepared by L. Friedman and S. Katz, University of Pennsylvania, Department of Historic Preservation

November 2004