Meet “The Ingenious Mr. Peale”

As a young man in Maryland, Charles Willson Peale felt he could do just about anything. Evidently, he was correct.

Today, he’s known mostly for more than 1,100 paintings of Revolutionary War colleagues and notables he created. Over 100 of them are in the Second Bank of the U.S. at 420 Chestnut Street.

But Peale, who never saw a painting before he was 20 years old, was far more than a painter. He was also an inventor, a silversmith, a watchmaker, a soldier, and a leader in just about everything he touched.

Gone Missing: The bronze historical marker of Francis Daniel Pastorius

When I began writing a story about the 11 Pennsylvania historical markers in Queen Village, it seemed like a pretty simple assignment:

Go to the various sites, research the subjects and plot the spots on a map so our readers could find them.

But it didn’t turn out to be that easy. Why? The very first place I went to – 502 S. Front Street – the home of Francis Daniel Pastorius – was missing its historic plaque.

And I have no idea where it is.

Color Him Extraordinary: Philly’s Famous James Forten

Like many Philadelphians, I’ve long known of James Forten’s reputation as a successful black sail-maker and businessman.

But I had no idea how loyal, courageous and generous he was. After doing more research on him, I’m ready to place him high on the list of Philadelphia’s civic heroes.

Triple Philly Treat

Enjoy 3 magnificent buildings in 3 different styles … all within 300 steps of each other

Most of us know our city is chock-full of historic Colonial buildings, such as Independence Hall, Carpenter’s Hall and Christ Church.

But few realize Philadelphia is home to three architectural masterpieces – as eclectic and extraordinary as you’ll find anywhere in the world – all bunched together on N. Broad Street.

What’s more, these three marvels are all designated as U.S. National Historic Landmarks.

Robert Smith: Philly’s Foremost Master Builder

Whether you call Robert Smith a master builder, architect or just a magnificent carpenter, one thing is clear…

If you removed his many stunning Philadelphia buildings – including 8 churches – our city would be far less beautiful and impressive.

As it is, this Scottish immigrant from a family of masons has been called the most important builder/architect in the colonies. But possibly because his last name is so common, he’s simply not that well known today.

Among the 52 projects he created in his 29-year work history, though, are some of Philadelphia’s most important buildings.

The PSFS Building

There’s much more to this deceptively simple, skyscraper with the famous neon sign than meets the eye. It’s timeless!

“The PSFS Building is one of the city’s most important buildings,” claims Ken Hinde, former director of the Tour Program for the Foundation for Architecture.

“Why? I asked myself at one of Ken’s lectures. My untrained eye just couldn’t see it.

So I set up a meeting with Ken and his colleague, Arthur J. Petrella, one day recently at 1200 Market Street to better understand what I was missing. I came away a believer.

First, Arthur, a walking encyclopedia of Philadelphia history and architecture, pointed out the building’s three distinctive parts, coverings and colors.

The Library Company of Philadelphia

If you’re looking for books, prints, periodicals, photos or ephemera from Colonial America through the 19th century, this is the place to go!

Like so many things in our city, the Library Company of Philadelphia (LCP) was a Ben Franklin creation.

He started the Junto, a self-improvement club that debated morals, politics and natural philosophy. When members realized they needed printed matter to prove their points, Franklin and the Junto began the Library Company of Philadelphia, the first subscription library in the U.S.

The African American Museum of Philadelphia

Where you’ll meet a “Who’s Who” of remarkable Americans many of us know little about

Growing up in Delaware County, I heard family horror stories about the discrimination Irish Catholics faced when they landed here. And about ads that said: “No Irish need apply.”

But not until I visited the African American Museum in Philadelphia did I really understand the extraordinary discrimination blacks faced in our city. It was pervasive and relentless.

The Acadian Connection

Longfellow’s popular poem Evangeline still has people searching for the tombs of the Acadian heroine and her lost lover Gabriel in Philadelphia – even though they’re fictional characters!

Until recently, I only vaguely knew about the Acadians or “Cajuns” who came from the Nova Scotia region of Canada and ended up in Louisiana.

Since then, I’ve learned that about 11,500 Acadians were brutally displaced by the British in 1755. Some 453 of these unfortunates ended up living in Philadelphia on the north side of Pine Street between Fifth and Sixth, some for many years.

The Magnificent Masonic Temple

Inside are seven spectacular halls representing different cultures and styles – each one more dazzling than the last. The building is an architectural tour de force.

Some years ago, a Philadelphia tour guide – who saw me near the Reading Terminal Market – asked if I had ever been inside the Masonic Temple.

When I replied “No,” he said, “You don’t have to go to Europe. You can see everything you want right there.” He wasn’t far wrong.

This stunning building just north of City Hall on Broad Street is like a fantasyland. Impressive on the outside, it is absolutely mind-blowing inside.

Captain Gustavus Conyngham, USN, King George III’s Worst Nightmare

This daring Errol-Flynn-type character terrorized English ships, capturing more vessels than Commodore John Barry and Captain John Paul Jones combined

In my youth, when my family drove to upstate Pennsylvania on summer vacations, I remember noticing the name “Conyngham” on road signs along Route 80 near Luzerne County.

I always wondered about the origin of this strange name. Little did I know it belonged to one of the most important – and now least-known heroes of the Revolutionary War.

Gustavus Conyngham (or Cunningham as some spell it), started the war as a privateer, bringing needed supplies back to the colonies. On March 1, 1777, he received a commission from Benjamin Franklin in Paris signed by John Hancock.

Reading Terminal Market

If the 123-year-old Reading Terminal Market (RTM) were a boxer, it would have been knocked out in the 1970s.

By 1979, eight years after the Reading Company declared bankruptcy, the once-proud market was stumbling badly. The building was a mess. It was only 20% occupied. And the future looked bleak.

For Bassetts Ice Cream, today’s only remaining original vendor, sales barely totaled $25 some days.

Fortunately – during the 1970s – Philadelphia preservationists staved off efforts by Market East developers to demolish the building. In 1980, after emerging from bankruptcy, the Reading Company began investing in the market again.