Encyclopedia of Greater Philadelphia

News » Author Archives: alaina noland


Armories served as military training and recruiting sites, arms depots, headquarters, and social clubs for the nation’s citizen-soldiers. Early armories in Philadelphia were simply rented spaces in commercial buildings. After the Civil War, permanent structures for the exclusive use of the Pennsylvania National Guard supplanted these ad hoc armories as business interests responded to labor unrest by funding an armory construction boom. In the twentieth century, government-funded armories evolved into community centers as well as military sites. Armory design reflected these changes in purpose, patronage, and function.

[caption id="attachment_28698" align="alignright" width="300"]color lithograph of 1863 armory building with horsemen and pedestrians in the foreground. The First Troop armory building, seen here in an 1863 lithograph drawn by James Fuller Queen and published by P.S. Duval & Son, was on the corner of Twenty-First and Barker Streets, Philadelphia. It was the headquarters of the First City Troop of Philadelphia Cavalry, a unit that survives today as an all-volunteer group.[/caption]

During the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, Philadelphia and other cities lacked permanent armories. Militia units such as the First Troop, Philadelphia City Cavalry, the Second Troop of Light Horse, and the State Fencibles met in hotel rooms and taverns and drilled in public parks and squares, riding schools, and circuses. For drill, these units often rented floors in multistory commercial buildings, including the Union Building at Eighth and Chestnut Streets, the cast-iron Swain Building at 503-7 Chestnut Street, and a restaurant in the Northern Liberties neighborhood known as Military Hall. However, these facilities were not structurally strong enough to support drills by large units or secure enough to protect arms and equipment from theft.

In 1857, Philadelphia became one of the first cities to possess a permanent armory when the Infantry Corps, National Guards, purchased ground opposite Independence Hall and built the three-story National Guards Hall. In addition to quarters, storage, and meeting rooms, the building contained a drill hall on the second floor that could support an entire regiment.

[caption id="attachment_28692" align="alignright" width="300"]Color photo of Oktoberfest revelers inside Armory building, October 2016 The Twenty-Third Street Armory, built for the First City Troop of Philadelphia Cavalry in 1901, has expanded its roles over time. The armory is available for rental, and this Oktoberfest celebration took over on October 8, 2016. (Photograph by Donald D. Groff for The Encyclopedia of Greater Philadelphia)[/caption]

The First Troop constructed its first armory, a two-story structure, in 1863. In 1874, the troop commissioned the architectural firm Furness & Hewitt to design a new armory, to be built at Twenty-First and Ash Streets with funds bequeathed by wealthy members. Frank Furness (1839-1912) designed a compact three-story structure with a drill hall annex in the style of a medieval castle. According to historian Robert Fogelson, the building was one of the nation’s first castellated armories, which were distinctive for their thick walls topped with battlements, narrow windows, and bartizans. Industrialists and National Guard officials favored this style because it provided greater security for personnel and equipment in times of labor unrest. Architects embraced it because it unified form and function.

Armories Privately Funded

In an era of labor unrest, fundraising for armory construction in Philadelphia accelerated as wealthy private donors increasingly came to view the Pennsylvania National Guard as a strikebreaking force. In the wake of the nationwide Great Railroad Strike of 1877, Philadelphia gained new armories for the First Regiment, Second Regiment, and First Troop. James H. Windrim (1840-1919) designed the First Regiment Armory (built in 1884), located at Broad and Cherry Streets until it was demolished in 1979. The Second Regiment Armory (1895-97), designed by the firm Rankin & Kellogg, stood at Broad Street and Susquehanna Avenue. The First Troop’s third armory (1901), at Twenty-Third and Chestnut Streets, replaced the Furness armory, which suffered a collapsed roof in 1899 following a snowstorm. The local firm Newman, Woodman, & Harris designed the new armory, which continued to be used by the First Troop into the twenty-first century. All three castellated armories limited access to the interior with raised windows and single entranceways. As a cavalry armory, the First Troop Armory’s interior contained a spacious central hall with a dirt floor to serve as a riding ring (later paved to accommodate motor vehicles). These buildings received funding almost entirely from private donors. For example, the patrons of the First Regiment Armory included the Pennsylvania Railroad Corporation, merchant John Wanamaker (1838-1922), and Edwin Benson (1804-1909), an ex-National Guard officer and future president of the Union League.

[caption id="attachment_28694" align="alignright" width="300"]black and white photo of the front of the First Regiment Armory. James H. Windrim designed the First Regiment Armory (1884), at Broad and Callowhill Streets. It was demolished in 1979 and for years the site served as a parking lot. In 2017 an apartment building was taking shape there.[/caption]

By the end of the century, Philadelphia boasted six permanent armories. In New Jersey, meanwhile, officers of New Jersey’s Sixth Regiment successfully lobbied the state legislature to approve construction of a new armory in Camden to replace the old one at Bridge and West Streets (which remained standing until destroyed by fire in 1906). A Philadelphia contractor completed the new armory in 1897, and it remained in use as an armory, and after 1953 as a convention center, until its demolition in 1977 to create a site for a Veterans Administration hospital. For state officials and guardsmen, protecting the men and stores from attack by a mob was the primary purpose of the armory. Toward that end, architect Charles A. Gifford (1861-1937) designed the Camden Armory on Haddon Avenue to look like a fortress and a line of railroad track was laid alongside the structure to allow for the safe transport of troops out of the city. Gifford’s design for the Second Regiment Armory (1905), in Trenton, likewise retained many of the features of the castellated style. In the early twentieth century, Camden gained an additional armory on Wright Avenue to serve as the headquarters of a field artillery unit.

[caption id="attachment_28696" align="alignright" width="300"]color postcard of the armory in Media, Pennsylvania. Public funding for armories commenced in Pennsylvania when the legislature created its armory board in 1905. The influx of this new source of funding led to a surge in construction in the Philadelphia suburbs, including this one in Media, Delaware County, in 1908, depicted in a postcard. It became home to Company H of the Sixth Infantry Regiment of the Pennsylvania National Guard. (Wikimedia Commons)[/caption]

Unlike Pennsylvania, New Jersey built its armories mostly from public funds. The state legislature passed armory bills—five in the span of a decade—that authorized appropriations and established a state armory board that supervised the construction of new facilities. Pennsylvania followed suit when that state’s legislature created its armory board in 1905. The influx of this new source of funding led to a surge in construction in the Philadelphia suburbs, with armories sprouting in Media (1908), West Chester (1916), Reading City (1919), and Norristown (1928). Delaware also shifted from private to public funding of its armories. Troop B, First Delaware Cavalry, was able to raise money from private sources to build its home at the Wilmington Armory, located on Twelfth and Orange Streets. From 1890 to 1925, this “State Arsenal” served as quarters for all of the city’s National Guard units. When guardsmen complained that the space was too cramped, the Delaware legislature authorized a State Armory Commission to build a new armory and appropriated $250,000 for that purpose.

Military Use Gives Way to Civilian Use

[caption id="attachment_28693" align="alignright" width="300"] James H. Windrim also designed the Third Regiment Armory (1898) at Broad and Wharton Streets, in the Romanesque style typical of the day. But it also included the features of a medieval castle, such as crenellations. (PhillyHistory.org)[/caption]

As the perceived threat of a revolution by labor subsided and the federal Militia Act of 1903 transformed state militias from industrial police forces to reserve forces for the regular Army, the purpose and form of armories underwent a marked change. With armories no longer considered targets of attack, federal, state, and city governments hired architects to design new armories with civilian functions in mind and adapted existing armories for public use. Armories in a diversity of architectural styles superseded the fortresses of the late nineteenth century. In Philadelphia, Windrim designed the Third Regiment Armory (1898), Broad and Wharton Streets, in the Romanesque style typical of the day but also included the features of a medieval castle, such as crenellations. The armory became the site for circuses, prizefights, and fraternal club meetings, and was converted into loft apartments in 2003. Philip H. Johnson (1868-1933) designed two armories in the Classical Revival style: a three-story cavalry armory (1916) resembling a railroad station at Thirty-Second and Lancaster, later adapted into a gymnasium by Drexel University, and the two-story General Thomas J. Stewart Memorial Armory (1928) in Norristown. Delaware architect Edward Canby May (1889-?) chose an Egyptian Revival style for his design of the Wilmington Armory (1928), located on Tenth and DuPont Streets. During the 1930s, the armory construction program of the Works Progress Administration and Public Works Administration continued this process toward civilian-oriented armory functions and design. To save taxpayer money, economy of design became the watchword, in stark contrast to the monumental privately-funded armories of the nineteenth century. Armories typically followed standardized designs with T-shaped or I-shaped plans in Art Deco or Art Moderne style. The New Deal dramatically increased the amount of federal funds disbursed by the states for armory construction. As a result, armories proliferated across the region, especially in towns and suburbs. Examples include the Hamburg Armory (1937) in Berks County and the Special Troops Armory in the Ogontz neighborhood (1938-39) of Philadelphia and company-sized armories in Milford (c. 1938) and New Castle (c. 1934-35?), Delaware.

[caption id="attachment_28695" align="alignright" width="300"] This armory in Hamburg, Berks County, Pennsylvania, is an example of WPA-era armories around the country. (Boston Public Library/Tichnor Brothers Postcard Collection)[/caption]

At the turn of the twenty-first century, a few of these suburban and small town armories were turned over to local communities to use as they saw fit. For example, the Borough of Media donated the Media Armory to the Pennsylvania Veterans Museum and the West Chester Armory was converted into a theater for the performing arts.

National Guard armories in the region developed in tandem with architectural fashion, the mission of the citizen-soldier, and the role of government in the social life of the nation. The ornate castellated armories of Philadelphia, Camden, and Wilmington provide physical evidence of domestic turmoil and close links between the National Guard and their wealthy patrons during the post-Civil War era. Guardsmen’s reliance on private funding for armory construction not only helped turn state militias into a police force for industry, but also enabled local architects to develop a distinctive style for a building type that had never had one. The shift to public funding in the twentieth century armories meant that armories were often the product of pork barrel legislation or took the form of government make-work projects. States responded to the public desire for more civic spaces by expanding construction to small towns and suburban neighborhoods. Architects, in turn, embraced contemporary styles and the armories lost much of their aesthetic distinctiveness.

Jean-Pierre Beugoms is a Ph.D. candidate in History at Temple University. He is working on a dissertation about the logistics of the U.S. Army during the War of 1812.


Horses played a critical role in Philadelphia’s growth and development as an industrial city, but over time their role as prime movers gradually diminished, and after the mid-twentieth century their role was primarily recreational. Although horses have become associated with the countryside or the American West, American cities had large, concentrated populations of horses well into the twentieth century, especially in the Northeast. A banker in nineteenth-century Philadelphia would have encountered more horses than a cowboy in Montana.

As elite animals, expensive to maintain, horses did not work in agriculture until the invention of the reaper and other mechanical devices in the nineteenth century. They were present but not plentiful in the colonial period. In Philadelphia, a compact preindustrial “walking city,” the wealthy used horses for riding, carriage travel, and sport. Most other people walked where they needed to go and hauled goods in handcarts and oxcarts. In the region, wagons drawn by horses and oxen brought agricultural products to Philadelphia’s port over rudimentary wagon roads. Completion of the Philadelphia-Lancaster turnpike (1795), the first paved long-distance road, dramatically increased traffic of Conestoga wagons drawn by “Conestoga horses” (a regional type of draft horse) and stagecoaches.

[caption id="attachment_25404" align="alignright" width="300"]black and white photo of a horse drawn streetcar The horse-drawn streetcar was introduced in 1858 and operated in Philadelphia until around 1897, when electric trolley cars became a more reliable and less expensive alternative. (Library Company of Philadelphia)[/caption]

Industrialization intensified the use of horses for power. The period from the American Revolution to World War I might be called the golden age of horse power, in which horses became singularly important in moving goods and people. Commercial development, westward expansion, market access, and national security all drove the construction of transportation infrastructure in the form of roads, canals, and railroads. Each created the conditions for using more horses. A wave of turnpike building across the Northeast increased wagon and stagecoach traffic to Philadelphia, while local stagecoaches, called omnibuses, with regular routes and schedules, provided the first public transit system. This stimulated the wagon industry to produce stronger, lighter, more affordable vehicles that still further expanded horse use. A canal network connected Philadelphia to the anthracite coal region in northeast Pennsylvania, fueling its industrial growth as “the Workshop of the World” and strengthening its connection to the agricultural hinterland. Horses and mules (half-horses) pulled canal boats until late in the nineteenth century. On farms, horses pulled mechanical reapers, which helped to double agricultural production in the United States between the Civil War and the end of the nineteenth century and meet the food demands of growing urban populations of both humans and animals.

Rail Lines Linked by Horses

The expanding railroad network also caused a dramatic increase in the use of horses starting in the 1850s. Railroads increased the amount of freight, which then had to be transported to and from the depots. The fragmented railroad network also required transporting of people and goods from one railroad depot to the other. In addition, with steam engines initially banned from central Philadelphia due to danger from fire and explosions, horses pulled railroad cars from the city limits into downtown depots.

Railroads stimulated urban growth, but horses made the cities work, providing the circulation of people and goods within the city, and from the hinterlands to the city. Horse-drawn streetcars expanded Philadelphia’s residential area and suburbs, carrying 222 million passengers on 429 miles of track by the 1880s. Streetcar companies owned more than five thousand horses, which lived in large multistory stables akin to modern parking garages. Horse-drawn traffic—single-horse drays, huge multihorse wagons, carriages and cabs—filled the streets. Horses worked in construction, shipping, manufacturing, and shipping by hauling, excavating, and powering cranes, equipment, and capstans. The consolidation of Philadelphia city and county in 1854 created municipal departments for fire, streets, health, and sanitation, all using horses. By 1900, Philadelphia had four hundred horses per square mile, or nearly fifty thousand horses overall, including a small number of donkeys and mules. An 1872 epidemic of horse influenza, called “the Great Epizootic,” demonstrated the importance of horses by bringing Philadelphia to a complete halt for several days—a nineteenth-century version of a blackout.

Horses were urban residents and consumers as well as prime movers. They lived in small stables scattered around the city and suburbs as well as in the large stables of department stores, police and fire departments, and streetcar, railroad, and express companies. As consumers, they needed food, equipment, and services. Many businesses served horses’ needs, and the University of Pennsylvania founded its School of Veterinary Medicine in 1883 because of the presence of so many potential patients. Horses affected the urban environment by adding four to ten tons of manure and hundreds of gallons of urine to the streets each day, creating an issue for the growing public health movement. During the cholera epidemics of 1832, 1849, and 1866, officials focused on cleaning stables. In addition, city dwellers had the problem of removing several thousand horse carcasses a year, many left on the streets for days after horses died on the job.

[caption id="attachment_25953" align="alignright" width="300"]color photo of rider competing in Devon horse show, September 2012. After the U.S. Civil War, horses became a sporting pastime for wealthy society. Here, a rider competes in September 2012 in the Fall Classic of the Devon Horse Show, which was founded in 1869. (Photograph by Donald D. Groff for The Encyclopedia of Greater Philadelphia)[/caption]

After the Civil War, horses gained a new role as equine recreation became an important pastime for members of a new, wealthy upper class who modeled themselves on British gentry. They rode, drove coaches and carriages in Fairmount Park, and went fox hunting and played polo, establishing such institutions as the Rose Tree Hunt Club in Media, Pennsylvania, in 1859 and the Devon Horse Show in 1896.  Although Pennsylvania banned horse racing for much of the nineteenth century and until 1959, prominent Philadelphians such John C. Craig, George D. Widener Jr. (1889-1971), George Elkins (1858-1919), and Samuel Riddle (1861-1951) (who owned Man O’War and War Admiral) bred racehorses and became prominent in the world of racing in New York and elsewhere. The upper classes supported the growing humane movement, closely linked to other reform movements of the era such as temperance, public health, and urban reform. The humane movement focused primarily on horses and founded such organizations as the Philadelphia Society for the Protection of Animals (1869) and its offshoot, the Philadelphia Fountain Society (1870). As expanding horse use made abuse more conspicuous, these reformers built water fountains for horses, monitored the treatment of work horses, and lobbied for limiting streetcar capacity and improving street pavements.

The Decline of Horse Use

[caption id="attachment_26116" align="alignright" width="300"]color photo showing one-horse tourist carriage alongside bus eastbound on the perimeter road along the south side of city hall, philadelphia. Twenty-first-century horses in Philadelphia adjust to challenges their colonial predecessors would be skittish about--like sharing the environs of City Hall with buses and other vehicles. (Photograph by Donald D. Groff for The Encyclopedia of Greater Philadelphia)[/caption]

Horse use began to decline in the early twentieth century. By 1900, streetcar electrification had eliminated most streetcar horses, which had made up a large part of the urban horse herd. The growing use of electric and internal combustion trucks and motorized equipment began to eliminate roles for urban horses. While automobiles were less important in replacing urban horses than trucks—few urban residents had owned private horses—automobiles changed the mindset of urban residents about the use of streets. City streets had traditionally been social spaces, but automobile drivers viewed them more as transportation routes and argued that horses should be banned as dangerous nuisances. Between 1910 and 1930 the horse population of the United States leveled off, but in cities it dropped by 50 percent.

Horses did not entirely disappear from Philadelphia in the twentieth century, but they came to occupy specialized niches. Milk delivery used horses for a long time because the horse memorized the route and moved the wagon from house to house as the milkman walked back and forth making deliveries. As late as the 1950s, individual vendors sold meat, produce, and other goods from horse-drawn wagons. The City of Philadelphia employed horses at the city dumps until the 1950s and continued to employ police horses in the twenty-first century. Horses also continued to work pulling carriages in the historic district around Independence Hall.

Outside the city, the Amish and some organic farmers continued to farm with horses.  The primary use of horses, however, remained recreational, for riding and driving. The counties of Pennsylvania and New Jersey surrounding Philadelphia, especially Chester County in Pennsylvania, became well known as horse country. The Devon Horse Show continued to be a premier event on the horse show circuit. Several horse stables remained within the city limits, including Chamounix Equestrian Center in Fairmount Park, where the “Work to Ride” program involved disadvantaged urban youth with horses and fielded a championship polo team.

In 2010, an automobile crashed into a horse carriage near Independence Hall, injuring two carriage drivers. Even though the driver of the car was at fault, the accident set off a debate about whether horses belonged in cities. Horses have been domesticated since about 3,500 BCE; since that time they have lived in and around humans, often in cities and towns. Whatever the future of horses in cities, their past is urban.

Ann Norton Greene is a historian of environmental and technological history in the History and Sociology of Science Department at the University of Pennsylvania, with expertise in animal history and energy history.  Her book, Horses at Work: Harnessing Power in Industrial America, analyzes the use of horses in creating modern industrial society in late nineteenth and early twentieth century America.

Ann Norton Greene

Ann Norton Greene is a historian of environmental and technological history in the History and Sociology of Science Department at the University of Pennsylvania, with expertise in animal history and energy history.  Her book, Horses at Work: Harnessing Power in Industrial America, analyzes the use of horses in creating modern industrial society in late nineteenth and early twentieth century America.

Reminder Days

On July 4, 1965, thirty-nine individuals gathered outside Independence Hall to picket for homosexual rights. This event, one of the earliest organized homosexual rights demonstrations in the United States, sought to remind the public that basic rights of citizenship were being denied to homosexual individuals. Reprised each year through 1969, the year of the Stonewall Uprising in New York City, the “Annual Reminders” helped define the outward presentation of homosexual activism going forward.

[caption id="attachment_24368" align="alignright" width="300"]A black and white photograph of picketers whose signs read: opportunity, equality, and no society can be great without All of its citizens Pickets promote acceptance in front of Independence Hall during the first Reminder Day on July 4, 1965. (New York Public Library)[/caption]

The 1965 Reminder picket, organized by the East Coast Homophile Organization (ECHO), responded to a similar successful picket at the White House in April 1965. The leader of the Washington demonstration, Frank Kameny (1925-2011), together with Philadelphia activist Barbara Gittings (1932-2007), helped orchestrate the 1965 picket in Philadelphia in just three months. Kameny insisted that everyone participating in the demonstration wear business-appropriate dress in an effort to show the normalness and employability of the homosexual community. The emphasis on societal conformity led some to question whether the Reminders represented all homosexual people, especially transgender individuals. 

Projecting an appearance of normality was of particular importance to Kameny, who had fought a protracted legal battle with the federal government from 1958 to 1961 over his dismissal from public service due to his sexual orientation. With Independence Hall and the Liberty Bell as a background, the professionally dressed picketers carried placards demanding equal treatment under the law for more than two hours in front of a sizable crowd. 

At the time of the 1965 march, the demonstration constituted the largest known demonstration for homosexual issues in the United States. The “Annual Reminders” also became the first such demonstrations to be repeated over consecutive years (1965-69).

[caption id="attachment_24370" align="alignright" width="300"]Gay pride parade with banner reading Phila. Gay Pride Day '72 The first Philadelphia Gay Pride Parade took place in 1972. (William Way LGBT Community Center)[/caption]

The Reminders reflected broader trends in civil rights activism in their organization, evolution, and eventual dissolution. While the pickets were peaceful, they were a step up from sit-ins such as the Dewey’s Lunch Counter sit-in by gender-variant teenagers just months earlier, in May 1965. In the mid to late 1960s, civil rights demonstrations became more overt and confrontational, a trend that culminated for the homosexual movement with the Stonewall Uprising on June 28, 1969, in New York City. The final Reminder Day protest occurred that year on July 4. Although forty-five individuals participated, the organizers concluded that the course of homosexual activism had been changed with the events of Stonewall and so the Reminders were put aside in favor of events that evolved into the pride parades that continued into the twenty-first century.

[caption id="attachment_24371" align="alignright" width="300"]Locust St. rainbow sign The rainbow strip added to street signs in the Gayborhood symbolizes Philadelphia's commitment to diversity and inclusiveness. (Photograph by Bob Skiba)[/caption]

In 2005, the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission placed a marker at Sixth and Chestnut Streets, near Independence Hall, to commemorate the Annual Reminders as a pivotal moment in the homosexual movement. In 2015, a weekend-long celebration and reenactment paid tribute to the fiftieth anniversary of the first Reminder Day picket. The placement of the marker, as well as the continued celebration of the Reminder Days, sought to assure that Philadelphia’s contribution to homosexual activism would have a place in history alongside Stonewall.

Alaina Noland is a graduate student in history at Rutgers-Camden.

Alaina Noland

Alaina Noland is a graduate student in history at Rutgers-Camden.


Share This Page: