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.

Stephen Decatur and the Burning of the Philadelphia

This is an excerpt from Michael Schreiber’s new book, “Unsinkable Patriot: The Life and Times of Thomas Cave in Revolutionary America.” The book has just been published and is available in area bookstores.

U.S. Navy Lieutenant Stephen Decatur, who grew up in Philadelphia [in a house on Front Street in Queen Village], became an American hero for having led the nighttime raid by sailors who torched the frigate Philadelphia in Tripoli harbor. 

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.

Wood Homes in Queen Village

Clapboard, frame, or “stick” houses, which used wood for exterior siding, were built in abundance by early Colonial settlers.  However, due to their flammable nature, the City of Philadelphia outlawed the construction of wood buildings in 1796.  During this time period, the Southwark District municipality governed suburban “Queen Village”.  Despite the elevated risk of fire, frame houses continued to be built in Southwark until the District was merged with the City in 1854.  Perhaps this difference in zoning laws accounts for the many historic and reconstructed wooden gems present in Queen Village today.  Here are stories behind a few of these wonderful homes.

Remapping Streets in Queen Village in the 19th Century

The 1854 Act of Consolidation was passed by the Pennsylvania General Assembly to incorporate all of the townships, districts, and boroughs located in the greater Philadelphia County into the City of Philadelphia.  As a result, neighborhoods like Queen Village, which had operated under independent municipalities, officially became governed by the City.  To further these efforts, additional legislation was passed to provide uniform names for smaller streets that span across neighborhoods.  This list contains some of the alleys, streets, and courtyards in Queen Village that were renamed as part of this remapping project. 

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.