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.
Whether you love it or hate it –Philadelphia’s remarkable City Hall is unique, impressive and a world leader in several categories.
Built over a 30-year period at a cost of $24.5 million, the French Second Empire structure is the largest all-masonry load-bearing building in the world.
Without the benefit of a steel frame, this mammoth structure of some 700 rooms is larger than the U.S. Capitol building, has a floor space of 630,000 sq. ft. and may be the largest municipal building anywhere!
Between 1681 and 1682, a fleet of twenty two ships brought William Penn and the first 2,000 colonists across the Atlantic Ocean. Although the ship manifests from these vessels have not survived, it is likely that James Thomas and his family were amongst the earliest group of settlers to arrive in Pennsylvania.
James Thomas was born in 1660 in Pontemoil, a small village located at the foot of the Drynos mountains in Monmouthshire, Wales. His parents Lewis (d. 1689) and Grace (d. 1694) had married and settled in the area sometime before 1650. Quaker meeting records indicate that James had six siblings: Micah (b. 1650), Elizabeth (b. 1652), Rebecca (b. 1655), Mary (b. 1657), Gabriel (b. 1661), and Rachel (b. 1665). Another sister named Mary, born in 1654, may not have survived to adulthood.
With a soaring 196-foot steeple that towers over newer structures nearby, Christ Church is both a spectacular historic building … and living history at its best.
No musty old buildings or artifacts untouched by human hands here. Instead, this is a flourishing, active modern parish – where members still worship under a brass chandelier (with real candles) that has hung since 1744.
Parishioners continue to be baptized at a 15th century octagonal walnut font used by William Penn in 1644. And, says senior guide and historian Neil Ronk, “The bells we rang for the Revolution will ring for a wedding tonight.”
When I was young, I toured the Atwater Kent museum and was fascinated by the toys, drawings of the city and Philadelphia objects on display.
But I don’t recall ever going again.
And that’s a problem for a small museum like the renamed Philadelphia Museum at the Atwater Kent. It needs repeat visitors to help stay open and thrive.
So the newly named museum, which reopened in September 2012 and has over 100,000 items in its vast collection, now will change exhibits several times a year.
Considering all that William Penn did for Philadelphia and our nation – while living here less than four years – he is seriously unappreciated by the very city he founded.
In part, that’s because the remarkable Benjamin Franklin overshadows just about everybody else in local history.
But when you start looking closely at what Penn really accomplished – we should be celebrating his birthday every October 14th at Welcome Park, just across from the City Tavern at Second Street above Walnut.
Paul LaBrousse (also known as Paul L’Abrousse or Paul Le Bruce or Paul LaBrousse Dubreuil) was born in 1758 in France. A few years after moving to Philadelphia, Paul LaBrousse established a vineyard on the former Bankson family plantation in Southwark.
Believe it or not, some of our early colonists thought that Pennsylvania offered ideal conditions for harvesting grapes and producing wine. Shortly after arriving on this side of the Atlantic, William Penn boasted of discovering an “extraordinary” native grape plant which could be “cultivated into an excellent wine.” According to estate records, Penn had installed a vineyard at “Springettsbury Manor,” his property located outside of the city, in the neighborhood we know today as Francisville. Unfortunately, Penn’s attempts to produce wine were ultimately unsuccessful as all of his grape vines had reportedly died by 1699. Francis Pastorius, the founder of Germantown, had also experimented with winemaking at his own estate around the same time with little success.
Walking through the tranquil churchyard at 4th and Pine Streets one day, I looked down at a small gravestone and felt as if I’d been hit in the stomach.
The flat white stone simply said: “Our Charley.”
I wondered: Was this a child? A pet? Who was it? And why was it causing me such an emotional reaction? I’d never seen a stone like this before.
Below is a brief sketch of the life of Anders Bengtsson (called “Andrew Bankson” in the English language). Andrew Bankson (1640-1705) was one of the earliest Swedish settlers in Southwark and owned a large plot of land located between Wicaco and Moyamensing where his family operated a plantation. Today, that land makes up the southern portion of the bustling neighborhood we call Pennsport.