French Theatre People Sold Pastry in Philadelphia’s New Market

In the 1790s, huge numbers of European immigrants flocked to Philadelphia, the capital of the young American republic, and the country’s commercial and cultural center. One eager new resident, advertising himself as a “pastry cook from Paris,” was Etienne Simonet. At his shop, on S. Second Street near Lombard, opposite the covered shambles of the New Market (now Headhouse Square), patrons could buy pies of venison, gammon, and poultry. Simonet put out the word that his tarts, roasted on a spit, had a “goodness he can vouch for, as he makes them in a manner peculiar to himself.”

Captain Morris Sheer

During the 19th century, Philadelphia’s waterfront was lined with wharves which were operated by numerous shipping lines.  Smaller vessels designed for domestic use, called packet boats, carried mail, packages, and a limited number of passengers to major cities across the Eastern seaboard.  Morris Sheer, a parishioner at Gloria Dei, was one of the first captains of the line of packets that ran between Philadelphia and Charleston.

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.

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.

The History of the Headhouse Market and Shambles

On June 18, 2015, neighbors gathered at the Twisted Tail to hear Michael Schreiber speak about the history of Headhouse Square.  The following article has been excerpted from his talk. Schreiber’s book, “Unsinkable Patriot: The Life and Times of Thomas Cave in Revolutionary America.”

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.

Stories Behind Our “Village Greens”

For almost three hundred years, the eastern edge of “Queen Village” was a nexus of commerce and domesticity. Direct access to the river offered trades such as merchants, ship captains, joiners, and sail makers ample employment opportunities. Other residents supported the economy by working in myriad occupations such as tailors, tavern keepers, blacksmiths, and coopers.

Only a few remnants remain from this bustling time in our neighborhood’s history. In the 1960s, preparation for the construction of I-95 began with the demolition of hundreds of buildings along the eastern edge of Queen Village. Gloria Dei (Old Swedes’) Church, founded by some of our earliest settlers, was fortunately spared the wrecking ball. Other significant structures such as Stephen Decatur’s residence and the Mason-Dixon survey site are acknowledged today by historical markers.

While the following buildings are no longer standing, the stories behind the structures offer insight into this lost history.

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 Sign of the Mermaid

By Michael Schreiber and Amy Grant

In the 18th century, South Second Street contained a large number of taverns. Some were alehouses that drew a rowdy crowd. Others were more respectable; farmers who came from the countryside to sell meat and vegetables in the New Market often used their bedchambers for overnight stays.

The Sign of the Mermaid, a tavern on Second near Stamper’s Alley, was a popular destination. The Mermaid was one of Philadelphia’s larger taverns, with three stories, an addition in the rear, and separate kitchen and stables. Despite the tavern’s popularity, the owners faced many obstacles and eventually were forced to go out of business.

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.

Hats off to Richard Tittermary, the 1798 Southwark Direct Tax Surveyor of the Revenue, But a Sad Moment for a Missing Antiquity

Shown below is an example of the A plus handwriting and details recorded by the tax assessor for East Southwark, Philadelphia County, PA in 1798.  Pennsylvania is indeed fortunate that these assessments still exist.
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All the occupants and owners of property on Becks Alley, located between 172 Swanson St. and 453 Front Street, situated in the district of Southwark, were listed in this assessment.

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.