Encyclopedia of Greater Philadelphia

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Greeks and Greece (Modern)

Philadelphia’s encounter with Modern Greece dates from the Greek War of Independence in 1821, and thousands of Greek immigrants arrived in the region beginning at the turn of the twentieth century. In the post-World War era, the upward social mobility of the children of the Greek immigrants ensured a continued strong relationship between Philadelphia’s region and Greece and the Greeks. A replica of the ancient Charioteer of Delphi statue, a gift of the Greek government cast in 1977 and placed on the grounds of the Philadelphia Art Museum, marked these ties.

[caption id="attachment_29683" align="alignright" width="227"]Black and white photograph of Michael Dorizas sitting, wide legged, behind his desk at the university of pennsylvania. He is middle aged with dark hair and wears a full suit with tie. Michael M. Dorizas (1886-1957), a Greek Olympic athlete who was appointed professor after coming to study at the University of Pennsylvania in 1913, was the first Greek to hold such a position. (Historical Society of Pennsylvania)[/caption]

Philadelphia’s close connection to the Greek Classical legacy created an especially close relationship between the city and Greece. Appropriately for a city with a Greek name (phileo meaning love and adelphos meaning brother) and with ties to Classical Greece represented in its architecture and fine arts (inspiring the nickname “Athens of America”), in the nineteenth century Philadelphia became an important venue of American philhellenism, a movement aimed at assisting the Greeks in achieving independence from Ottoman rule. In 1821, an uprising modeled on the liberal principles of the French Revolution began a struggle against the Ottoman Turkish overlords that lasted almost a decade. Americans and Europeans supported and sympathized with the Greek cause, which they viewed as being waged by descendants of the Ancient Greeks, the cornerstone of Western Civilization, and by Christians versus Muslims. Greece’s admirers, known as philhellenes, mobilized public opinion to try and get the U.S. government to take the side of the Greeks. Failing that, they organized committees to gather funds to aid the rebel cause.

In Philadelphia, a committee for “the relief of the Greeks and their fellow citizens” formed in 1823. The committee cast its appeals in terms that alluded to the connection between Ancient and Modern Greece but soon found it would be more effective to appeal to the Christian and humanitarian sentiments of middle-class Philadelphians. The region’s strong Quaker tradition of pacifism prevented a number of individuals from supporting measures begun in Boston and New York to aid military operations in Greece. The Philadelphia Greek Committee’s fund-raising activities, which included theater performances and music concerts, came in two phases that corresponded to the surges of the rebel operations in Greece and the hardships of the civilian population. By May 1827 the fund had reached $23,000, and the committee sponsored two ships to carry supplies to the Greeks. Within a year, the European powers rewarded the Greeks with diplomatic recognition, paving the way for the establishment of an independent Greece.

Greek Immigration, 1890s-1920s

Support for Greece echoed in 1897 when the Philadelphia Inquirer gave front-page coverage to the Greek-Turkish War. However, further encounters between the city and Greece were mediated by Greeks who began arriving at the turn of the twentieth century. The first of two waves of immigrants from Greece to the region came between the 1890s and the 1920s. During that period, about 400,000 Greeks entered the United States but only a few thousand settled in Greater Philadelphia because the city’s most attractive employment opportunities in sectors such as small manufacturing and printing required a knowledge of English, which they lacked, and because most manual labor jobs they might have filled had been taken by earlier-arriving Italians.

Brothers Constantine (1865-1944) and Stephen (1869-1956) Stephano arrived in the Philadelphia in this era and established the important Greek-owned cigarette manufacturing firm Stephano Bros., which began in a basement in Center City Philadelphia and eventually acquired its own building at 1014 Walnut Street. The company grew into one of the largest producers of Turkish and Egyptian tobacco cigarettes in the United States and at one point employed almost five hundred workers. By the 1920s the Stephanos had become a prominent Philadelphia family and contributed generously to community organizations, campaigns to support the homeland, and to the building of the first Greek Orthodox Church in Philadelphia. In 1901, the Stephanos presided over the establishment of the Greek Orthodox Community of Philadelphia, which in 1908 purchased All Saints Episcopal Church at 745 S. Twelfth Street and converted it into an Orthodox Church renamed Evangelismos (Annunciation).

Located in a part of the city which already had a few Greek families and businesses, Evangelismos Church attracted more Greeks who formed a small “Greektown” that spread across roughly six blocks centered on Locust and Tenth Streets. In addition to Evangelismos, the community grew to include St. George, established in 1921 and designated as the region’s Greek Orthodox Cathedral in the 1930s. St. George’s building at 256 S. Eighth Street, originally St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church, was designed by architect John Haviland (1792-1852) with inspiration from the ancient Greek temple of Dionysus. The neighborhood around the two churches also included Greek-owned businesses, diners, a Greek senior citizen housing development, and a travel agency that specialized in travel to Greece and Cyprus.

Emigration from Greece effectively halted in the mid-1920s, when the United States limited entry to quotas based on numbers of immigrants from each country in 1890, which was just before Greek transatlantic migration began. Nevertheless, by the mid-twentieth century, more than fifteen thousand first- and second-generation Greek Americans lived in the Greater Philadelphia area. Community life revolved around seven Greek Orthodox churches: Evangelismos; three named after St. George in Philadelphia, Trenton, New Jersey, and Media, Pennsylvania; St. Demetrios in West Philadelphia; Holy Trinity Church in Wilmington, Delaware; and St. Nicholas in Atlantic City, New Jersey. There were also numerous fraternities of Greeks who originated from the same region or island in the homeland, such as Chios, Cyprus, Epirus, Ikaria, Macedonia, Peloponnesos and the Pontus (Black Sea) region. Greek-American professionals formed the Hellenic Medical Society of Philadelphia, local chapters of the American Hellenic Educational Association, and a society of those who had obtained university degrees, the Hellenic University Club of Philadelphia, which began in 1936 to pursue cultural and social activities and later raised money for scholarships for young Greek Americans. The need to coordinate the growing number of organizations led to the creation of the Federation of Hellenic American Societies of Philadelphia and the Greater Delaware Valley in 1949.

[caption id="attachment_29681" align="alignright" width="300"]Color photograph of st. george's greek orthodox cathedral. The shot is taken from across the street and shows a large white stone building with two floors of windows along the sides. There are greek style columns in the front and a small white cross at the top of the arched roof. Dedicated in 1921, the Cathedral of Saint George is the mother Church of seven Greek Orthodox communities in the greater Philadelphia area. (Wikimedia Commons)[/caption]

Philadelphia’s status as a significant Greek center in the United States was affirmed in 1942, when the city hosted the eighth Clergy-Laity Congress of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of North and South America, attended by Greek King George II (1880-1947) and Prime Minister Emmanuel Tsouderos (1882-1956). Previous venues included cities with a significant Greek presence such as Chicago, Detroit, and New York. Another sign of the growing community of Greeks in the Greater Philadelphia came in the early 1950s, when the Federation of Hellenic American Societies of Philadelphia and the Greater Delaware Valley began the tradition of an annual Greek parade in Center City to commemorate the 1821 uprising that led to national independence.

Post-World War II Growth

The Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965 relaxed the restriction that had stemmed immigration from Greece in the 1920s and brought a new wave of arrivals to the Philadelphia area. By the time this influx subsided in the late 1970s, the numbers of Greeks or persons of Greek descent in the region had more than doubled to about thirty-five thousand. The new wave of Greek immigrants largely settled in a new “Greektown” —much bigger than the one in Center City—that emerged west of Philadelphia in the Township of Upper Darby, Delaware County, after World War II. A steady trickle of Greeks from Center City and West Philadelphia to Upper Darby grew during the 1950s and prompted St. Demetrios Church to move from West Philadelphia to Upper Darby in the early 1960s. But it was the settlement of post-1965 immigrants that created a Greek enclave that included businesses, white-collar professionals advertising their services in Greek, stores with Greek food products such as cheeses, herbs and spices, olive oil, Greek coffee shops, Greek-language radio stations, and a newspaper, the Hellenic News of America. In 1991, the newspaper began sponsoring an annual Greek and U.S. trade fair, “Hermes Expo.” The fair coincided with a significant growth in trade relations between Greece and the United States. Greek products exported to the United States have included food and agricultural products, tobacco, razors, petroleum products and by-products, cement, clothing and apparel, fur articles, marble, steel products and pipes. U.S. exports to Greece have consisted mainly of telecommunications equipment, electrical equipment, computers and electronic equipment, medical and pharmaceutical items, machinery and parts, timber and wood-pulp, and agricultural products.

Upper Darby’s “Greektown,” which numbered roughly five thousand Greeks in its heyday, lasted just over two decades until upward social mobility led most of the Greeks farther west to suburban townships in Delaware and Chester Counties, a trend marked by the creation of St. Luke’s church in Broomall, Pennsylvania. The drift of the Greeks to these and other suburbs led to the formation of three more churches, St. Thomas in Cherry Hill, New Jersey; St. Anthony in Vineland, New Jersey; and St. Sophia in Valley Forge, Pennsylvania. The Greek newspaper also moved its offices from Upper Darby farther west in Delaware County to Concordville, Pennsylvania. Nevertheless, Upper Darby remained a point of reference for Greek Americans of the region. A web-based local Greek news organization (Cosmophilly.com, established in 2012) made its headquarters there, and St. Dimitrios church continued to host the very popular Philadelphia Greek Basketball League (established in 2007).

From the 1970s onward, Greeks maintained a strong presence in the region’s food industry. Many immigrants turned to this sector because it required a minimal knowledge of English, it was a good fit with the gregarious and sociable nature of many Greeks, and because some Greek-owned diners already existed, making this an easy way to gain employment and a foothold in the business. As was the case elsewhere in the United States, many Greeks owned diners in the Greater Philadelphia area. A large number of Greeks also ran coffee shops, pizza restaurants, and sandwich shops. Many post-World War II immigrants and their children also became white-collar professionals.

The Greeks made their presence felt in the Greater Philadelphia area even though their numbers were relatively small compared to other European ethnic groups. By the early twenty-first century the thirty thousand Greeks in the Greater Philadelphia could be found in a wide range of professions, from white-collar professionals to small-business people operating restaurants and pizza shops. Ethnic associations, Greek Orthodox churches, and events such as the Greek parade and church-based Greek food fairs anchored community life. Although emigration from Greece decreased significantly after the mid-1970s, the creation of the Greek American Heritage Society of Philadelphia in 2002 was emblematic of an American ethnic group continuing to honor and preserve its immigrant past.

Alexander Kitroeff is an Associate Professor of History at Haverford College. His research and publications focus on the history of the Greek diaspora.

Montgomery County, Pennsylvania

The early Europeans who settled in what would become Montgomery County in the eighteenth century tended prosperous farms, forges, and mills. They depended on the Philadelphia market to sell their products and on its port to connect them to the wider colonial world. Subsequent generations built a dense transportation network that linked county laborers, suppliers, and consumers with each other and with the city, fueling the county’s prosperity across the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Beginning in the 1950s, however, county residents depended less on Philadelphia for employment, entertainment, shopping, and other daily activities. By the close of the twentieth century, Montgomery County had become an economic engine in its own right, boasting the largest population and by far the largest job base among the counties surrounding Philadelphia.

Lenape people, along with some Dutch and Swedes, inhabited this land before William Penn (1644-1718) acquired it in 1681 and sold what he called the Welsh Tract to Quakers fleeing from persecution in Wales. The newcomers gave Welsh names like Gwynedd and Bala Cynwyd to their communities. English Quakers also acquired land in the area that eventually became lower Montgomery County. Many Germans arrived during the eighteenth century, including Schwenkfelders who settled there as a group.

[caption id="attachment_29491" align="alignright" width="300"]Watercolor depicting the King of Prussia Inn from the mid-nineteenth century. A small farmhouse built in 1719 by Welsh Quaker and farmer William Rees Sr. became the King of Prussia Inn. (Historical Society of Pennsylvania)[/caption]

Penn encouraged early settlers to form townships and practice self-government. Among the earliest to incorporate were areas located nearest to the port of Philadelphia. They included Cheltenham Township, incorporated in 1683, Plymouth in 1701, Abington in 1702, Whitemarsh in 1704, and Lower Merion in 1714. Those early incorporations were hardly surprising, since originally those townships were included within Philadelphia County. After the American Revolution people in the upper part of Philadelphia County petitioned the state Assembly for a separate county, complaining about the inconvenience of traveling all the way to Philadelphia to conduct business at the county seat. In 1784, state authorities carved Montgomery County out of the original Philadelphia County and placed the county seat in Norristown.

From the county’s earliest days, farmers participated in long-distance commodity trading through the Philadelphia port. They sent much of their wheat crop to Philadelphia to be milled into flour for export to Europe. Later the railroad system opened broader domestic markets to county farmers, but at the same time brought greater competition from elsewhere. Local farmers eventually reduced their grain crops in the 1880s when cheap Midwestern grain flooded East Coast markets. Montgomery County farmers shifted more heavily toward dairy production, because rail lines could quickly carry perishables to broader markets.

Building a Dense Transportation Network

Beginning in the early 1800s, the county embarked on an era of turnpike construction. Companies built hard-surface, all-weather roads to serve forges and mills, and the freight hauling necessary to operate them. They maintained those roads by selling stock and collecting tolls. Across the nineteenth century, turnpike companies built at least two hundred miles of such roads in Montgomery County.

Germantown Pike had served from 1687 as a simple cart road from Philadelphia through Germantown, and northward to Plymouth Meeting. Between 1801 and 1804, investors lengthened and improved it, transforming the road into the Germantown and Perkiomen Turnpike. Eventually investors extended the road as a turnpike all the way to Reading, completing that project in 1815. Another major north-south route originated as a road connecting Philadelphia to Bethlehem during the 1700s; in 1804 it became a toll road, the Bethlehem Turnpike.

[caption id="attachment_29493" align="alignright" width="300"]A sepia tone illustration of Norristown from the Schuylkill River framed by smaller illustrations of industrial buildings Norristown’s position on the Schuylkill River was advantageous for industry. The opening of the Schuylkill Navigation Company’s system of canals helped transport manufactured goods from the borough to Philadelphia. (Library of Congress)[/caption]

Starting in the 1830s county residents could travel by rail as well. Residents of Lower Merion Township gained easy access to Philadelphia when the Philadelphia and Columbia Railroad’s Main Line passenger service crossed through the lower corner of Montgomery County on its way outward to Chester County. Taken over by the Pennsylvania Railroad during the period of rail consolidation, it eventually became one of the busiest commuter rail lines on the East Coast.

The Philadelphia, Germantown and Norristown Railroad (PGN) began operating within Philadelphia County in 1832, and by the spring of 1835 it had made its way outward to Norristown. (PGN became part of the Reading Railroad system in 1869.) In 1841, when the Philadelphia and Reading Railroad opened its line along the Schuylkill River to the coal fields in northeastern Pennsylvania, it began hauling anthracite to power factories in Pottstown and Norristown as well as Philadelphia.

Rail Competition Builds

In 1884, the Pennsylvania Railroad built a competing line along the Schuylkill River to haul both freight and passengers. After World War II the fortunes of anthracite coal declined as the nation relied more on oil and natural gas, and both rail lines eventually ceased hauling coal.

Rail lines pushed development northward beyond the well-traveled southern portion of the county. The North Pennsylvania Railroad line (which later became the Lansdale Regional Rail Line) made Cheltenham Township the city’s gateway to the northern suburbs and gained importance as a local carrier of passengers along Bethlehem Pike, with branch lines from Lansdale to Doylestown (1856), from Glenside to Hatboro (1872), and on its Jenkintown-Beth Ayres-Langhorne-Bound Brook line (1874-76).

To attract passengers, rail investors promoted leisure travel. Shortly after the Civil War, the Perkiomen Railway Company started running a passenger line from Valley Forge north along the Perkiomen Creek up to Pennsburg Borough. In the 1920s the Perkiomen Valley became a favored vacation spot served by rail. The Reading Company bought the line in 1944, but the advent of the automobile forced passenger trains on this route to cease operations by 1955.

With leisure travelers in mind, investors in the Pennsylvania Railroad guided real estate development in Humphreysville, a town that straddled the border between Montgomery and Delaware Counties. The railroad company acquired large tracts of land in the area and built a posh hotel for summer visitors, creating by the 1880s a booming summer resort business. To burnish the reputation of the new development, the railroad rebranded Humphreysville in 1871, giving it the Welsh name of Bryn Mawr. With a similar intent to develop Main Line suburbs as affluent enclaves, the railroad company also renamed Athensville in 1873, preferring the Scottish name of Ardmore.

In the 1880s trolley companies began serving passengers for short trips. The first horse car lines ran on DeKalb Street in Norristown in 1885, and Pottstown soon got streetcars as well. Like the railroads, some trolley companies lured new customers by offering leisure travel. Willow Grove Park operated for eighty years as an amusement park from 1896 until 1975. The Philadelphia Rapid Transit Company conceived the park as a way to encourage weekend customers to patronize the trolley lines. One of the biggest attractions was the music pavilion, where John Philip Sousa (1854-1932) and his band played annually from 1901 to 1926, along with other important bands and orchestras.

Another trolley company, the Philadelphia Transportation Company, ran lines from Germantown Avenue to Bethlehem Pike. In 1897 they opened the Chestnut Hill Amusement Park (also known as White City) at the corner of Bethlehem Pike and Paper Mill Road. They intended to provide a park for Philadelphia’s working classes by charging a trolley fare of only a nickel, far less than their competitor’s thirty-cent fare to Willow Grove Park. Nearby residents complained that the new park lowered the tone of the area, however, and by 1912 it closed. A handful of wealthy Chestnut Hill families living near the amusement park had pooled their money, bought the park for about $500,000, and immediately shut it down.

The trolley companies prospered for only a half century. By the 1950s, all these routes had closed and the tracks had disappeared to make way for automobiles.

Mills, Mines, and Manufacturing

Many streams flowed into the Schuylkill River, including the Wissahickon, Plymouth, Sandy Run, Skippack, Pennypack, and Perkiomen Creeks. Early settlers erected dams and built mills to produce grain, lumber, oil, paper and powder. In 1795 the county boasted ninety-six gristmills, sixty-one sawmills, six fulling mills, and ten paper mills. The Langstroth paper mill opened on the Pennypack in Moreland township in 1794. Riverside paper mill in Whitemarsh Township began in 1856 to produce a fine grade of book, card, and envelope paper. Lower Merion Township was especially noted for its mills, including plaster, grist and saw mills.

Water power also enabled early settlers to exploit the area’s rich iron ore deposits. Valley Forge was named for the Mt. Joy iron forge built on Valley Creek in 1742. Those ironworks on Valley Creek devoted a large part of their production to the Revolutionary War effort, which prompted British forces to target that location in September 1777, burning the forge and carrying off supplies. Not long afterward, General George Washington (1732-1799) arrived at Valley Forge in December 1777 to winter his troops there.

Pottstown on the Schuylkill River initially relied on grain mills for local livelihoods. Local mills transported their flour to both Philadelphia and Reading markets. However, by the 1850s the iron and steel industry had surpassed grain mills in economic importance. A bridge-building company founded in 1877 as Cofrode & Saylor was acquired by Bethlehem Steel in 1931, providing thousands of jobs. Pottstown-made iron and steel contributed to major national and international projects like the Panama Canal and Golden Gate Bridge.

[caption id="attachment_29531" align="alignright" width="300"]Aerial view of the Alan Wood Iron and Steel Company in Conshohocken, Pennsylvania. This 1915 aerial view of the Alan Wood Iron and Steel Company along the Schuylkill River shows the factory complex in proximity to the railroad and a bridge over the river, with portions of Conshohocken in the distance. (Library Company of Philadelphia)[/caption]

Conshohocken, another important industrial town on the Schuylkill River, initially produced spades, saws, iron pipe, and machinery in the 1840s. Alan Wood Iron and Steel Company built the Schuylkill Iron Works there in 1857, and the plant became a mainstay of the borough’s economy. So successful was that enterprise that the company built its own railway in 1907—the Upper Merion and Plymouth Railroad Company—a wholly owned subsidiary operating on both sides of the Schuylkill River. Lee Tire and Rubber Company, founded in 1912, made automobile tires and accessories there until 1980.

The borough of Ambler depended on grain milling to power its early economy, but it suffered losses when the coming of the railroads made it possible for Philadelphia merchants to buy cheap Midwestern grain and grind it themselves. In 1896 Henry Keasbey (1850-1932) and Richard Mattison (1851-1935) built an asbestos plant in Ambler and launched the industry that powered the town for almost a century. They used asbestos mined in Quebec to manufacture asbestos-treated fabric used for wrapping steam pipes as well as asbestos fireproof roof shingles. In the late twentieth century, public health officials publicized the health dangers of asbestos and that industry collapsed, leaving Ambler to once again renew itself.

The dense rail network that emerged in the latter half of the nineteenth century allowed individual towns to specialize in manufacturing and fostered a resilient economy whose diversity of products and services kept the area strong across the economic upturns and reversals of the decades. The variety of products included automobile works in Ardmore, worsted and felt textiles in Bridgeport, shovels and spades in Cheltenham, flags and banners in Collegeville, men’s clothing in Lansdale, and cigars in Schwenksville.

Social Disparities

Even with its diverse and productive economic base, Montgomery County always included residents who did not share in its prosperity. The early European settlers who worked modest-size farms owned some African-descended slaves, though in small numbers. The first U.S. census in 1790 reported a total of 118 enslaved people in the county. By the 1810 census, that number had dropped to three. Many of the county’s Quaker, Mennonite, and Schwenkfelder landowners opposed slavery, and some actively undermined that system.

Starting in the 1830s, thousands of escaping slaves traveled through Montgomery County by the Underground Railroad. Abolitionists would conceal them in homes and barns until the evening hours when they could take night trains on the Norristown Railroad to Philadelphia, where a well-organized network could set them on the path to Canada. One resident in Plymouth Township, George Corson (1803-1860), hid escaping African Americans on his property and also built Abolition Hall as a meeting place for the anti-slavery movement on Butler Pike, near its intersection with Bethlehem Pike. Frederick Douglass (1818-1895) and other famous abolitionists visited there.

Farm workers came mainly from Germany, Britain, and Ireland through an indenture system. Known as “redemptioners,” they bargained with ship captains to give them free passage across the Atlantic; in exchange, the ship captains sold their labor to buyers who came to the Philadelphia docks. The purchaser would buy an immigrant’s labor contract for a specified number of years of service. After working off that contract, the immigrants were free to pursue their livelihoods as independent citizens. Not all succeeded in supporting themselves in farming or trades, sometimes ending up in the county’s poorhouse.

Religion exercised significant influence on daily life, including on education. So strongly did residents prize faith-based education that proponents of universal public education met considerable opposition in Montgomery County. When Pennsylvania passed the Common School Law of 1834, the state allowed residents of local school districts to decide whether to adopt the state requirements and become part of the state system. A majority of local school districts in Montgomery County initially opposed joining the state system, not because they refused to support public education but because they did not want their schools secularized. German Lutherans as well as the Amish, Catholics, Episcopalians, and Quakers preferred faith-based schools. Not until 1853 did the last district in the county join the state system.

Camp William Penn

[caption id="attachment_29533" align="alignright" width="300"]A color illustration of a group of USCT soldiers in uniform with a white officer. One soldier holds a US flag and a small child stands with them in uniform playing a drum. Text reads "United States Soldiers at Camp "William Penn" Philadelphia, PA. Rally Round the Flag, boys, Rally once again, Shouting the battle cry of FREEDOM!" The 10,950 men recruited to the United States Colored Troops in Philadelphia trained at Camp William Penn. (Library Company of Philadelphia)[/caption]

The county’s diversity stemmed not only from differences between towns, but even within towns, one of the best examples being Cheltenham Township immediately across the county border from Philadelphia. One prominent nineteenth-century resident, railroad tycoon and financier Jay Cooke (1821-1905), contributed significantly to that town’s social mix. Cooke had helped finance the Civil War by selling government war bonds. Having been involved in both the abolitionist movement and the Underground Railroad, Cooke along with fellow businessman Edward M. Davis (1811-87) leased land for the U.S. government to operate Camp William Penn, a thirteen-acre training compound for African American soldiers. Frederick Douglass helped recruit volunteers to form so-called “colored regiments,” and in 1865, Harriet Tubman (1822-1913), the legendary Underground Railroad operator, gave a stirring speech to one of the last detachments of soldiers trained there. The camp opened in the summer of 1863, and by the time it closed in 1865 it had trained about eleven thousand soldiers. Cheltenham Township subsequently drew African American residents who regarded it as hospitable.

After the Civil War, Jay Cooke and Edward Davis turned to land development that served their own social class. They promoted Cheltenham Township as a place where rich industrialists and merchant families could build mansions befitting their newfound wealth. While Philadelphia families with inherited wealth generally preferred the Main Line or Chestnut Hill, many self-made millionaires built estates in Cheltenham, including a number designed by the noted architect Horace Trumbauer (1868-1938). Subsequent generations often converted Trumbauer’s monumental estates into schools, colleges, seminaries, and other religious institutions.

[caption id="attachment_29494" align="alignright" width="300"]A black and white photograph of a Greek-Revival mansion with a columned portico Philadelphia architect Horace Trumbauer built Whitemarsh Hall in Springfield Township for Edward T. Stotesbury, a prominent investment banker. (Library of Congress)[/caption]

Even while Gilded Age industrialists chose Cheltenham for their lavish estates, the township gained significant numbers of lower-income Italians who came to work in quarries in the township’s Edgehill section (later known as Glenside). Also in the twentieth century, Koreans established themselves in large enough numbers that Cheltenham became the Korean epicenter of the metropolitan region. Other Asian immigrants arrived, along with many African American residents, so that by the end of the twentieth century Cheltenham was one of the two most diverse municipalities in Montgomery County.

The other markedly diverse municipality was the county seat of Norristown. In the mid-nineteenth century, its mills and factories had drawn large numbers of Irish immigrants, followed by Italians. The Great Migration from the American South to northern cities during and after World War I brought many African American residents to work in Norristown. During the second half of the twentieth century, Latino immigration, especially from Mexico, became the overwhelming source of the increase in Norristown’s foreign-born population. By 2000, Montgomery County had attracted a percentage of foreign-born residents (9 percent) that was smaller than the 11 percent foreign-born in Philadelphia, yet higher than the three other suburban counties in Pennsylvania.

Development Patterns

In the 1950s, the construction of the Pennsylvania Turnpike played a significant role in shaping the county’s development. Philadelphia’s business leaders saw the turnpike as an opportunity to link the city to the national highway network, and they vigorously supported construction of the Schuylkill Expressway in 1958 to connect downtown Philadelphia with the turnpike at Valley Forge. What they did not anticipate, however, was the turnpike’s impact in creating a major east-west route across Montgomery County that bypassed Philadelphia entirely, creating new employment and shopping centers along its path and enabling a pattern of daily trips from suburb-to-suburb that eventually surpassed the suburb-to-city travel pattern established during the rail era.

The turnpike exit serving Valley Forge/King of Prussia turned a small village in the 1950s into the most significant job center in Montgomery County. Located at the confluence of the turnpike with Route 202, Route 422, and the Schuylkill Expressway, King of Prussia drew companies in aerospace, defense, and security industries like General Electric and Lockheed Martin, along with many pharmaceutical companies. This prime location also gave rise to the King of Prussia Mall. In 1963 the Kravitz Company began building a strip of anchor stores (Korvette, JC Penney, John Wanamaker, Gimbels) around a supermarket. Starting from that midmarket retail cluster, the mall gradually expanded into one of the nation’s largest shopping centers and shifted toward luxury goods for higher-income shoppers.

To the east of King of Prussia, a pair of turnpike exits created a growth center spanning Plymouth and Whitemarsh Townships. At the Plymouth Meeting exit, an interchange with Germantown Pike provided access to Norristown in 1954, while the second exit opened in 1955 headed north as the Northeast Extension of the turnpike. In 1950, the townships of Plymouth and Whitemarsh had barely begun to suburbanize, but their populations grew dramatically once the turnpike arrived, doubling from 1950 to 1960 and tripling by 1970. The highway interchange also drove business and retail development in the area. The James Rouse Company of Baltimore built a shopping center aimed at middle-income consumers in 1966 at Plymouth Meeting, anchored by Strawbridge & Clothier and Lit Brothers department stores. Plymouth Meeting office complexes attracted many companies, scoring a coup in 1985 when Swedish furniture company IKEA purchased and renovated space for its first U.S. location.  

East of Plymouth-Whitemarsh, the turnpike intersected with Route 309 at its interchange in Fort Washington. There a huge business complex, the Fort Washington Office Park, opened on over five hundred acres in 1955. McNeil Pharmaceuticals, a division of Johnson & Johnson, located there, as did Rohm and Haas Chemical Company (which subsequently moved a short distance north on Route 309 to Lower Gwynedd Township).

Willow Grove Naval Air Station

Finally, near the eastern edge of Montgomery County, the Willow Grove turnpike exit at the intersection with Route 611 served the already-existing employment center at Willow Grove Naval Air Station, an airfield built originally in 1926 when Harold Pitcairn (1897-1960) tested airplanes there. The field served as a military base in World War II. (Its advantageous turnpike location later helped the surrounding area to survive the drastic military cuts imposed on the Naval Air Station in the early twenty-first century.) Willow Grove Park Mall opened in 1982 a little more than a mile from the turnpike exit on the former site of the Willow Grove Amusement Park, which had closed in 1975.

The 1980s witnessed the completion of the Route 422 expressway stretching through the county’s quiet west end. Completed in 1985, it connected Pottstown in the north and Collegeville in midcounty with the King of Prussia megaplex. That made the Route 422 corridor attractive to developers. Businesses, most notably pharmaceutical companies, built facilities employing hundreds along Route 422 near Collegeville. Pfizer and Dow Chemical shared a global research and development campus. GlaxoSmithKline located a research and development facility nearby. Wyeth also came to Collegeville. So many pharmaceutical jobs located there that one GlaxoSmithKline vice president referred to the Collegeville area as “the legal drug capital of northeastern America.”

An important path connecting other towns to King of Prussia was Route 202, an east-west route that increased population along its path during the 1980s, when low mortgage interest rates spurred residential construction. Route 202 was a convenient path across the midcounty suburbs carrying local traffic to workplaces, shopping centers, and other destinations inside the county, giving them less incentive to travel into Philadelphia. The boroughs of Lansdale and North Wales became home to multiple facilities owned by Merck Sharp and Dohme, creating a strong employment base in midcounty.

By the opening of twenty-first century, Montgomery County received more daily commuters traveling to its employment hubs than it sent outward. It epitomized the pattern of suburb-to-suburb commuting. It even enjoyed a positive commuting balance with Philadelphia, receiving more daily workers from Philadelphia than it sent into the city. As in earlier eras, the diversity of the county’s modern economic base remained an important strength. The county developed advanced manufacturing specialties like precision instruments, business machines and electronics, along with industrial chemicals and pharmaceuticals. It added high tech jobs in the fields of computer science, information technology, and telecommunications. Service jobs were also abundant in education, health care, retail, financial and professional services.

Coping with Economic Success

The county’s enviable economic growth created winners and losers among its towns. Highways made it convenient to locate production near off-ramps instead of in older population centers. Many companies operating in the county’s older manufacturing centers moved to new facilities. Newer retail developments lured customers away from older shopping districts, causing their deterioration. Over time, the shift of employment and retailing into job centers defined by highway interchanges generated marked differences in taxable resources available to different local jurisdictions.

Towns with commercial development possessed significantly stronger tax bases than neighboring towns without that advantage. The disparities became most evident in school spending. Among the twenty-two school districts in Montgomery County, the highest spending district in 2015 (Lower Merion) spent over $28,000 per student, while the four lowest-spending districts (Pottstown, Spring-Ford, Perkiomen Valley, and Upper Perkiomen) invested less than $17,000—a dramatic difference of more than $11,000 per child.

Aggravating such stark inequalities, the lower-spending districts were educating higher shares of low-income children. For example, in 2015 only 9 percent of the school population in high-spending Lower Merion Township had incomes low enough to qualify for free- and reduced-price lunches. During that same year in low-spending Pottstown School District, 95 percent of children qualified.

Not only did older industrial towns lose jobs and employers, they also faced environmental costs left behind when manufacturing plants closed. However, some real estate investors saw opportunities in brownfield sites. After an industrial landmark, Lee Tire Factory, closed in Conshohocken in 1980, developer Brian O’Neill (b. 1960) transformed the vacant factory into an office and light industrial complex called Spring Mill Corporate Center. His brother Michael O’Neill (b. 1962) transformed a 1929 chemical plant, adding an office extension for the Quaker Chemical corporate headquarters. These projects triggered an office and condominium boom in Conshohocken, helped by the town’s advantageous location at the intersection of the Schuylkill Expressway and the Blue Route.

[caption id="attachment_29492" align="alignright" width="300"]Colorful map representing household income. Map is in the shape of Montgomery County. The key notes that areas filled in with green make over $75,000 in household income and areas in red or orange make less than $75,000. Most of the map is green, but red and orange areas are visible, mostly neat the borders of the county map. Montgomery County has long been home to wealthy and not-so-wealthy residents and, over time, farmers, free African Americans, new immigrants, and industrialists shaped the townships and boroughs they lived and worked in. (Map by Michael Siegel, Rutgers Geography Department)[/caption]

In Ambler, the closing of the former Keasbey and Mattison asbestos company in the 1970s also left behind a major brownfield site. After nearly ten years of environmental remediation and financial problems, the Ambler Boiler House rose from the neglected site as a multi-tenant office building that provided a new workplace within a two-minute walk of a regional rail station. Shortly after that, a nonprofit organization bought the historic downtown Ambler Theater and spent millions restoring its original character. That project anchored additional main street development.

Even the U.S. government left environmental contamination in its wake when it de-commissioned the Willow Grove Naval Air Station, leaving the groundwater in and around the base tainted from years of chemical dumping. When the township of Horsham launched plans in 2015 to develop a multimillion-dollar residential-retail-office complex to replace the military base, its first challenge became environmental remediation.

Planning for the Future

The twentieth century transformed a county that had once boasted a sizable rail network into a suburban landscape shaped largely by highways. Travel from suburb to suburb increased, creating a pattern that was ill-served by rail lines constructed to carry passengers back and forth to Philadelphia. According to the 2015 American Community Survey, 80 percent of Montgomery County workers got to work by driving alone. More than half of all county residents had access to two or more vehicles, and 95 percent had access to at least one vehicle.

Facing this reality of auto dominance in the early twenty-first century, municipalities adopted different development strategies. Some towns sought to take advantage of highway-based transportation patterns. For example, planners in the county seat of Norristown saw their town’s resurgence tied to the very turnpike that had earlier undermined their commercial vitality. For decades, the King of Prussia and Plymouth Meeting malls and suburban industrial parks arrayed along the turnpike had drawn commerce away from Norristown. At the turn of the twenty-first century, Norristown boosters lobbied the state to build a new exit off the turnpike at Norristown in order to spur redevelopment. In 2016 the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission committed to build that interchange, projected for completion by 2020.

Other towns tried to limit auto dependence by creating walkable environments within town centers. Pottstown, for example, worked to reinvent itself as a walkable main street community, restoring its disused train station as a bank and transforming a long-vacant shirt factory into a mixed-use arts center along with affordable housing. By promoting their sidewalks, historic architecture, street trees and storefronts, Pottstown leaders hoped to attract young adults to an urban-style setting.

Despite the successes of some plans adopted by individual municipalities, the county failed to address the broader issue of the massive daily commute caused by so many workers living at significant distance from their workplace, unable to find affordable housing near the job centers where land and housing prices were high. Some communities had adopted zoning laws making it impossible for entry-level workers to find housing near their jobs. In 2006, the Montgomery County Planning Commission began urging municipalities to increase the housing stock accessible to moderate-income workers. However, planners could do little more than urge local officials to promote what they labeled "workforce housing," since municipalities carried responsibility for land-use and zoning under Pennsylvania law. As a result, housing choices remained limited in many towns and progress towards diversification was slow at best.

The history of Montgomery County more than justified the early settlers’ confidence that they need not depend entirely on Philadelphia markets, wealth, and employers to achieve prosperity. By the opening of the twenty-first century, they had built an economic base and quality-of-life in many communities that ranked among the highest in the metropolitan region.

Carolyn T. Adams is Professor Emeritus of Geography and Urban Studies at Temple University and associate editor of The Encyclopedia of Greater Philadelphia.

Alexander Kitroeff

Alexander Kitroeff is an Associate Professor of History at Haverford College. His research and publications focus on the history of the Greek diaspora.


While Philadelphia has not been alone in experiencing sharp undercurrents of nativism, virulent rhetoric and periodic waves of violence aimed at the foreign-born have often wracked the city. Clashes between nativists and immigrants between the 1720s and the 1920s helped to set the boundaries of the city as well as define the limits of American citizenship. A renewal of nativism in the Philadelphia region in the early twenty-first century rested upon a long history of misunderstanding and exclusion. 

[caption id="attachment_28921" align="alignright" width="226"]Photogrpah of Morton McMichael. The image is sepia toned. McMichael is an older white man wearing a three piece suit, seated and looking slightly to his right. He holds a rolled up paper in one hand and his pipe in the other, which is across his chest. A successful newspaper editor, Morton McMichael (1807-79) was able to use his popularity among nativists to win election as Philadelphia’s sheriff in 1843. (Historical Society of Pennsylvania)[/caption]

William Penn (1644-1718) founded Pennsylvania on principles of tolerance, and the earliest settlers of Philadelphia included English, Scots Irish, and German immigrants, among others. By the early eighteenth century, however, the influence of German-speaking peoples, settled primarily in and around Germantown, provoked the antagonism of Philadelphia’s English elites. Comprising nearly one-third of the region’s population, German voters became a vital political bloc courted by both Quaker and Anglican politicians. Germans allied politically with Quakers, who conducted business with German merchants and shared pacifist views. With their failure to sway German voters, Anglican politicians, led by William Allen (1704-1780), initiated a wave of election-day violence in 1842 to prevent Germans from voting. A large group of Anglican-affiliated sailors verbally and physically assaulted German voters, but the Quakers, with their German allies, won in a landslide.

Leading city figures, including Benjamin Franklin (1706-90), harbored some of the most virulent anti-German sentiments. In his Observations Concerning the Increase of Mankind, Franklin argued that Germans were of inferior intellectual and biological stock. He asked, “Why should Pennsylvania, founded by the English, become a Colony of Aliens, who will shortly be so numerous as to Germanize us instead of our Anglifying them, and will never adopt our Language or Customs, any more than they can acquire our Complexion?”

After the American Revolution, Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826) suggested that immigrants were unfit for citizenship because many were raised in anti-democratic, monarchical European countries. Fears of immigrants heightened in the 1790s as thousands of men, women, and children fled from the French Revolution. Philadelphia, then serving as the nation’s capital, and its surrounding region became home to a robust French community that included radicals exiled from Paris. Ironically, American officials who came to power via revolution became concerned about the revolutionary rhetoric espoused by French emigrants. In response to tensions between the French and American, and during the Quasi-War with France, the United States Congress passed the Naturalization Act of 1798 as part of the Alien and Sedition Acts. The Naturalization Act, enacted in part due to French naval attacks on American shipping lines, extended residency requirements for citizenship from five to fourteen years and barred newly arrived immigrants from voting.

Irish Catholics

During the first half of the nineteenth century, nativism focused especially on Irish Catholics, then immigrating to the Philadelphia region in increasing numbers. In the early 1840s, Bishop Francis P. Kenrick (1797-1863) set in motion a series of events that hardened nativist sentiments in Philadelphia. Kenrick, an Irish immigrant, questioned an 1838 law that mandated the use of the King James (Protestant) Bible in public schools. In a written appeal to the Philadelphia school board, Kenrick sought to allow Catholic students to read from the Douay Bible used by Roman Catholics. While Kenrick retreated from his position after intense resistance, Protestant clergy and politicians capitalized on the Bible issue to win several elected offices, including Morton McMichael’s (1807-1879) victory as sheriff of Philadelphia. While the Bible controversy metastasized both nativist and anti-Catholic feelings, organizations such as the American Protestant Association and the American Republican Party targeted a wide range of immigrant groups, including German Americans.

Intra-religious debates between natives and immigrants turned to violence in Philadelphia and other cities. As the Irish potato famine sent an influx of Irish men and women fleeing to the United States, native-born Philadelphians grew fearful of the masses of Catholic immigrants. Goaded by the inflammatory rhetoric of publications that stoked racialized fears, nativists violently clashed with immigrants from May to July 1844. The riots began at the Nanny Goat Market in Kensington and quickly spread across the city. Nativist rioters beat, shot, and stabbed immigrants and burned St. Augustine’s, an Irish-Catholic church at Fourth and Vine Streets. Eventually, Sheriff McMichael and Brigadier General George Cadwalader (1806-79) restored order through martial law.

In the aftermath of the riots, nativist candidates swept to significant victories in the election of 1844. Philadelphians elected Lewis C. Levin (1808-60) and John Hull Campbell (1800-68), both members of the nativist American Party, to the United States House of Representatives. Levin, the editor of the Daily Sun, became a vigorous proponent of extending the naturalization period for citizenship to twenty-one years as well as banning immigrants from holding elected office. The American Party’s success in Philadelphia politics solidified with Levin’s reelection in 1846 and 1848 as well as McMichael’s reelection as sheriff. With nativist politicians in office across the Northeast, especially in Boston and New York City, the American Party nominated Daniel Webster (1782-1852) as its candidate for president in 1852. When Webster died a few days before the election, nativists threw their support behind a Philadelphian, Jacob Broom (1808-64). Although Broom received less than 1 percent of the popular vote, he recovered to win election to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1854 from Pennsylvania’s Fourth Congressional District.

Consolidation of 1854

The election of 1854 was a watershed moment for nativists in Philadelphia city politics. Samuel J. Randall (1828-90), running on the American Party ticket, won election as a city councilman while Robert T. Conrad (1810-58), a playwright and editor of The North American, was elected mayor with the backing of a coalition of the Whig Party and the Know-Nothings nativist movement. Conrad implemented the Consolidation Act of 1854, which was crafted as response to the lawlessness of the nativist riots and granted the City of Philadelphia enhanced powers while incorporating the county of Philadelphia into the city’s jurisdiction. Conrad used the patronage of his office to fill city positions, especially the Philadelphia Police Department, with his nativist supporters. Under Conrad, the city government became an instrument through which nativists could surveil and police immigrant communities.

Moreover, nativist political candidates co-opted imagery from the American Revolution for political purposes. Nativists argued that the signers of the Declaration of Independence were of virtuous stock, either native-born or born in England. Independence Hall was seen not only as the seat of power for nativist officials (who installed the city council chambers in the second floor) but also a visible symbol of American identity. In 1856, Millard Fillmore (1800-74) ran for president as the candidate of the American Party using slogans such as “Beware of Foreign Influence.” After Fillmore’s defeat, many nativists defected to the fledgling Republican Party, which actively courted the nativist vote by including anti-immigrant planks in its party platform. While many Republicans, especially abolitionists, were uncomfortable with nativist rhetoric, the party subsumed much of the nativist vote.

Following the Civil War, Philadelphians elected stalwart nativists to Philadelphia’s most important political offices. Samuel J. Randall (1828-90), who ran as a Democrat, was elected to the House of Representatives. Randall served in Congress for nearly twenty years and acted as Speaker of the House from 1876 to 1881. In 1866, Morton McMichael, former sheriff of Philadelphia, became the first elected Republican mayor of Philadelphia. While McMichael’s time in office was less inflammatory than his time as sheriff, he held anti-Catholic and anti-immigrant views his entire life.

Chinese Exclusion Act, 1882

By the 1880s, nativists began to target immigrants from Asia, particularly in the western United States. The Page Act of 1875 barred Chinese women from entering the country, and in 1882, the Chinese Exclusion Act made all immigration from China illegal. Assaults on Asian communities drove Chinese immigrants in the West to escape to northeastern cities, including Philadelphia. A small but vibrant Chinese community formed along the 900 block of Race Street. With limited job opportunities, Chinese workers established laundries, grocery stores, and restaurants. Their shops became targets for police who periodically raided Chinatown under the guise of preventing immorality. After the Philippine-American War in 1898, the Philadelphia chapter of the American League argued that imperialism threatened to open the door to waves of Filipino immigrants.

[caption id="attachment_28922" align="alignright" width="300"]A political cartoon of an Irish-American and a Chinese-American eating Uncle Sam, illustrating xenophobic sentiments in the United States during the late 19th century. The xenophobic and racist mindset of many Americans of the late nineteenth century is graphically illustrated by this political cartoon. Many native-born Caucasian Americans feared the new wave of immigration and many considered Chinese Americans a negative influence on American society. (Library of Congress)[/caption]

Millions of Italians, Jews, Poles, and Slavs migrated to the United States during the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, generating intense fear and hatred of immigrants among many Americans. Responding to nativists who demanded limits on the number and national origins of immigrants, in 1924 Congress passed the Johnson-Reed Act, which implemented a rigid quota system. By basing immigration quotas on 1880s census data, politicians slowed immigration levels until after the Second World War. Russian, Polish, and Italian immigrants were particularly targeted by the Johnson-Reed Act, which slowed immigration from Southern and Eastern Europe to a trickle. The act disrupted chain migration patterns and dislocated families who could not enter the United States as a single unit. Support of immigrant quotas undercut the popularity of Pennsylvania U.S. Senator George W. Pepper (1867-1961) among Italian Americans. Pepper lost the 1926 Republican nomination to William Vare (1867-1934), who ran on an anti-Prohibition and anti-Johnson-Reed platform.

The immigration laws of the 1920s remained in place until 1965, when the Immigration and Nationality Act redistributed the quota system to allow for a greater diversity of immigrants. From the mid-twentieth century into the twenty-first century, Philadelphia received increasing numbers of immigrants from South Asia, Africa, and the Caribbean. In the 1990s, Philadelphia became a “sanctuary city,” preventing the deportation of undocumented immigrants who had not been charged with a crime, without a warrant. Nevertheless, while new immigrant communities carved out niches in the region’s economy and culture, nativism remained an acute issue. In 2006, Geno’s cheesesteak founder Joey Vento (1939-2011) controversially placed a sign reading “This is America When Ordering Speak English.” Despite media attention and boycotts, Vento defiantly refused to remove the sign. Following a campaign stop by Donald Trump (b. 1946), then Republican nominee for president, in fall 2016, Vento’s son, Geno Vento (b. 1971), quietly removed the sign.

In the first decades of the twenty-first century, vandals targeted mosques and Jewish cemeteries. In December 2015, a severed pig’s head was found outside the Al Aqsa Islamic Society in Kensington. Amid a national wave of anti-Semitism in early 2017, the Mount Carmel Cemetery in the Wissinoming section of Philadelphia was desecrated. In response to these ethnically motivated attacks, Muslim and Jewish activists banded together to raise funds for the restoration of holy sites. With renewed waves of violence, immigration relief organizations, such as the Nationalities Service Center and Welcoming Center for New Pennsylvanians, remained newly arrived immigrants’ best option for sound legal and employment advice.

The historical trajectory of nativism in Philadelphia paralleled that of the rest of the country. In periods of political turmoil, Americans often resorted to nativist rhetoric to defend their position in society. Despite Philadelphia’s reputation as the Cradle of Liberty and the City of Brotherly Love, at times the city repulsed its newest residents. Nativism in Philadelphia served as a reminder of the tensions between American ideals and American actions.

James Kopaczewski is a Ph.D candidate in the Department of History at Temple University.


Beginning in the eighteenth century with the botanical enthusiasts who explored the world around them as part of a larger interest in natural history, botany became an integral part of the Philadelphia region’s national and international reputation. It brought scholars and enthusiasts from across the globe to study and explore Philadelphia’s collections and gardens, influenced the development of medicine and medical institutions, and cemented the intellectual reputation of Philadelphia as a place of scientific discovery. As individual efforts gave way to institutions in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, organizations such as the Academy of Natural Sciences funded and publicized botanical expeditions and events, furthering Philadelphia’s botanical renown.

[caption id="attachment_28046" align="alignright" width="300"]Scan of a postcard that shows, in black and white, the home of John Bartram. The home is a large, three story structure surrounded by ample grounds and many trees. America’s first botanist, John Bartram was a Quaker farmer with only a primary education. Bartram traveled the widely unknown terrain of the American colonies in an attempt to document the native species of the land. (Library Company of Philadelphia)[/caption]

The Philadelphia region’s history as a botanical paradise and center of discovery began in the eighteenth century with the work of individual collectors and enthusiasts such as John Bartram (1699–1777), who used his home at Bartram’s Garden to cultivate and sell native plants to an international group of botanists and collectors, including Peter Collinson (1694–1768), Sir Hans Sloane (1660–1753), and Carl Linnaeus (1707–78). Linnaeus even named a variety of moss after Bartram in recognition of his botanical efforts. Bartram introduced as many as two hundred North American plant species into Europe, including the magnolia, mountain laurel, azalea, and rhododendron, and by the nineteenth century the botanic collection at Bartram’s Garden was the most extensive and varied collection of North American plants in the world.

Another eighteenth-century botanist operating in Philadelphia was Bartram’s neighbor, William Hamilton (1745–1813), who turned his country estate on the west bank of the Schuylkill River, The Woodlands, into a botanical paradise with a collection of native and exotic plants said to number ten thousand. The Woodlands and Bartram’s Garden drew plant enthusiasts of all kinds to Philadelphia, from medical students studying botany and materia medica at the University of Pennsylvania to such international luminaries as André Michaux (1746–1802), Alexander von Humboldt (1769–1859), and Peter Kalm (1716–79).

Hamilton, John Bartram’s son William (1739–1823), and other area botanists ensured that later generations of botanists would continue to make their mark in the science by establishing Philadelphia as a training ground: Hamilton employed several gardeners who went on to international careers, such as nurseryman John Lyon (1765–1814) and botanist Frederick Pursh (1774–1820). Benjamin Smith Barton (1766–1815), professor of botany and materia medica at the University of Pennsylvania, sent his student and protégé Thomas Nuttall (1786–1859) to both The Woodlands and Bartram’s Garden for training.

Philadelphia continued to dominate the botanical scene in the nineteenth century. When, as president, Thomas Jefferson (1743–1826) sought to expand the sciences on a national level, he sent Meriwether Lewis (1774–1809) to study with Barton, Hamilton, and William Bartram before he headed west to explore the recently acquired lands of the Louisiana Purchase. As there was yet no national botanic garden or arboretum, both Jefferson and John Adams (1735–1826) saw Bartram’s Garden as the appropriate substitute.

Botanical practice underwent a number of changes in the nineteenth century, both in Philadelphia and farther afield. As the century wore on, reliance on individual botanists gave way to various new institutions focused around the promotion and propagation of scientific discovery. The American Philosophical Society begun by Benjamin Franklin (1706–90) had long been a promoter of enterprising individuals working to advance understanding of science, medicine, and literature, as had other, more narrowly focused Philadelphia institutions. The Philadelphia Society for Promoting Agriculture, the oldest agricultural society in the United States, had been sponsoring scientific farming experiments and developments since 1785 and included among its early members Benjamin Franklin, George Washington (1732–99), and George Logan (1753–1821), a politician and gentleman farmer whom Thomas Jefferson considered the best farmer in Pennsylvania. However, it was not until 1812, when the Academy of Natural Sciences was founded, that Philadelphia—and the entire Western Hemisphere—had an institution specifically and explicitly devoted to the study of the “natural sciences.”

[caption id="attachment_28045" align="alignright" width="241"]Copy of a print of inked nature pressings. Nine inked pressings of leaves of various types and sizes take up the page An amateur naturalist and friend of Benjamin Franklin, Joseph Breintnall used a copy press to create accurate prints of plant life. A member of the city’s elite, Breintnall worked closely with John Bartram to catalogue botanical life in North America. (Library Company of Philadelphia)[/caption]

The Academy of Natural Sciences promoted botanists and other scientists through the publication and dissemination of their work. It provided an alternative for young researchers who had plenty of ambition but lacked a wealthy elite patron or an independent income that would allow them to pursue botany as more than a hobby. The academy, which sponsored public lectures on botany for women beginning in 1814, popularized the discipline and made it accessible. It also funded increasingly ambitious collecting expeditions to the Arctic, Central America, Africa, and Asia. Other institutions soon followed, including the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society, founded in 1827, which brought together botanical and horticultural enthusiasts; the Wagner Free Institute of Science, formally established in 1855, with the goal of bringing free science education to the wider public; and the Philadelphia Botanical Club (1891), which counted among its members several prominent naturalists such as Thomas Meehan (1826–1901) and John Harshberger (1869–1929). Institutional support of botanical and other scientific activities in Philadelphia contributed to the founding of the first college of pharmacy in North America in 1821, the Philadelphia College of Pharmacy, which drew broadly on Philadelphia’s reputation as a center for botanical and medical science.

The later nineteenth and twentieth centuries saw even more expansion in botanical activities in Philadelphia and beyond as interest in new areas of study including conservation, evolutionary biology, and ecology grew along with a devotion to a more general public audience. In 1907 Pierre S. DuPont (1870–1954) established Longwood Gardens in Chester County as a botanical conservation and horticultural sanctuary outside the city, which grew into an extensive landscape devoted to public education in horticulture and ecological conservation. Other institutions furthered interest in botanical activities by capitalizing on the public’s interest in horticultural displays revived by the 1876 Centennial Exhibition and the construction of Horticultural Hall. A century later, the modern Horticultural Center in Fairmount Park replaced Horticultural Hall and brought visitors to the display and demonstration gardens all year round. The Pennsylvania Horticultural Society built on this interest with its annual Philadelphia Flower Show (first established in 1829), which drew an estimated 250,000 visitors annually by the early twenty-first century, and its locally targeted efforts coordinated through the Philly Green program (established in 1974).

In the later twentieth century, institutional support for botanical activities expanded through consolidation as Philadelphia-area universities formed partnerships with other local institutions including the Morris Arboretum (University of Pennsylvania) and the Academy of Natural Sciences (Drexel University) to further ecological, horticultural, and biological research across multiple platforms. Botanical activities, consolidated under the larger umbrella of biology and life science departments and medical research programs, continued to expand our understanding of the natural world.

The story of botany in the Philadelphia region is a story of individuals and institutions that, from the eighteenth century forward, established Philadelphia as a city of botanical discovery and abundance as well as a destination for botanical enthusiasts from around the world.

Sarah Chesney is a historical archaeologist who earned her Ph.D. in anthropology from the College of William and Mary in 2014. She has worked on several landscape archaeology projects in Philadelphia exploring the intersection of archaeology, landscape, and early modern science. Her publications include “The Root of the Matter: Searching for William Hamilton’s Greenhouse at The Woodlands Estate, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania,” in Historical Archaeology of the Delaware Valley, 1600–1850, edited by Richard F. Veit and David G. Orr (University of Tennessee Press, 2014).

Magdalen Society

Founded in 1800, the Magdalen Society of Philadelphia was the first institution in the United States concerned with caring for and reforming “fallen women.” A good many women in nineteenth-century Philadelphia apparently preferred prostitution for a variety of reasons, notably as a means of support in order to achieve economic independence from an oppressive family or as a preferred alternative to other wage work. The Magdalen Society Asylum offered them a temporary home, seeking in the process to redeem and reform them.

[caption id="attachment_28053" align="alignright" width="300"]A print of a drawing of the Magdalen Society building, which is a 4 story brick building with an eleven foot wall surrounding the peremiter. Founded in 1800, the Magdalen Society was located at Race Street and Schuykill Second Street, later named Twenty-First Street. (Historical Society of Pennsylvania)[/caption]

The inspiration for the Philadelphia institution, which was created by an interdenominational group of Protestant religious leaders, merchants, and master craftsmen, was most likely London’s Magdalen charity of 1758 whose program combined Christian penitence, obedience, industry, and discipline.

Bishop William White (1748-1836), first bishop of the Episcopal Church of the United States as well as the first bishop of the Diocese of Pennsylvania, served as the society’s first president until his death. The society sought to help women who had strayed from the paths of virtue, and who, in the opinion of the founders, were desirous of returning to a moral life. Since the women in question, however, often did not see themselves as morally degraded, very few came and many stayed only a short time, using the asylum as a temporary, sometimes seasonal, refuge. In line with the temper of the time, pregnant women and African Americans were barred from its services.

The original Philadelphia asylum was located at Race and Twenty-First Streets, a relatively isolated location designed to effectively separate the women from their former lives and identities. Eventually, the society built a high wall around the property. After a storm destroyed the original asylum in 1842, a new building replaced it several years later.

The reform program of the asylum had two components: moral guidance and skills for economic security. The daily routine thus was meant both to reform and to train. The reform came by way of daily Bible readings, worship, and time spent with visiting clergy. Asylum staff directed training to existing social structures, involving tasks like laundering, sewing, and cooking. The reformed prostitute would then be prepared to rejoin society as a domestic worker, as a laundress, as a worker in the textile trade, or as a wife and mother.

Recruiting Residents

The records of the society imply that women were “recruited,” much as prospective college students were in later times. In the beginning, there were seldom more than a handful of residents at a time. Eventually, the board of managers hired a man specifically to bring women into the home. The board also suggested to city officials that certain offenders might be sent to the asylum rather than to prison. By 1850, 925 women had passed through the asylum but, as the trustees themselves conceded, few were converted to lives of piety.       

Like the changing attitudes of society itself, the Magdalen Society evolved over the years. In 1847, the Rosine Association for Magdalens was founded by women of Cherry Street Friends' Meeting and the First Unitarian Church presided over by the Reverend William Henry Furness (1802-1896). It served as a place where delinquent young girls could be taught respectable trades. The new association took a different tack from the existing Magdalen Society, both because its founders objected to the latter’s supervision by men and because they considered its approach to be repressive. Philadelphia's Rosines insisted on female management, both at the policy-making level and in the daily supervision of the institution, promising sympathy and the example of "respectable" women to the inmates. The Rosine Association determined that the “girls” needed marketable skills and training in household management, so their approach included education and even some free time, with no emphasis on moral regeneration.

In the 1870s, perhaps in response to the Rosine movement, women also took over the leadership of the Magdalen Society. At the same time, they began to transform the asylum into a home for wayward girls and thus no longer ministered to prostitutes. They sought to transform such a girl into a healthy woman able to function as the moral anchor of a family. The society sheltered, cared for, and educated these girls. Vocational training became an integral part of the society’s programs. Religion was still important but, since the emphasis was now on prevention rather than reform, it was not as heavily stressed.

A Move to Montgomery County

In 1914, the city condemned the Magdalen house, which forced its board to look for a new location. Facing financial difficulties and a diminishing number of residents, the board shifted its activity to the suburbs. In June 1915, residents moved to Fairview Farm in Montgomery County.

Still facing financial difficulties, the leaders of the Magdalen Society decided to change the society’s name and its mission. Accordingly, in 1918 the Magdalen Society became the White-Williams Foundation for Girls, taking its name from Bishop White and from George Williams (c. 1777-1852), a Quaker philanthropist. Its new role was to act as a clearinghouse for other institutions for girls and to work with the Philadelphia Public Schools’ Placement Bureau, subsequently the Office of Student Enrollment and Placement. In 1920, the foundation dropped “for Girls” from its name and admitted boys. In 1994, the name again changed, this time to White-Williams Scholars.

In 2011, White-Williams Scholars merged with Philadelphia Futures, a nonprofit organization providing Philadelphia's low-income, first-generation-to-college students with the tools, resources, and opportunities necessary for admission to and success in college. So the seed planted in the 1800s in an effort to reform and educate prostitutes, Philadelphia’s “fallen women,” continued to evolve, bearing entirely new benefits in another era.

Marie A. Conn is Professor of Religious Studies at Chestnut Hill College in Philadelphia. She holds a doctorate in Theology from the University of Notre Dame. Her books include C. S. Lewis and Human Suffering: Light among the Shadows, and Noble Daughters: Unheralded Women in Western Christianity, 13th to 18th Centuries.

Marie Conn

Marie A. Conn is Professor of Religious Studies at Chestnut Hill College in Philadelphia. She holds a doctorate in Theology from the University of Notre Dame. Her books include C. S. Lewis and Human Suffering: Light among the Shadows, and Noble Daughters: Unheralded Women in Western Christianity, 13th to 18th Centuries.

Oh, Dem Golden Slippers

“Oh, Dem Golden Slippers,” the unofficial theme song of the Philadelphia Mummers Parade, is both an enduringly popular song and a revealing example of the complex, multilayered interplay between black and white music in America. Written by African American songwriter James Bland (1854–1911) as a parody of a Negro spiritual, “Oh, Dem Golden Slippers,” published in 1879, enjoyed great popularity as a blackface minstrel song. It later became a staple of two very different, predominantly white, American musical traditions: bluegrass and the Philadelphia Mummers.

The story of “Oh, Dem Golden Slippers” begins with the Negro spiritual “Golden Slippers.” Negro spirituals were African American religious songs created in the pre-Civil War era by southern slaves. Part of an oral folk tradition originally practiced exclusively by and for blacks, spirituals were brought to broader public attention in the 1870s by the Fisk Jubilee Singers, a Fisk University African American choral group that toured and concertized extensively in this period. The group presented Negro spirituals in more polished form, transformed from rough-hewn, improvisatory slave songs into formally arranged choral pieces. One of the spirituals they popularized in this fashion was “Golden Slippers,” a joyful song that described what the singers hoped to wear when they entered heaven: a long white robe, a starry crown, and golden slippers.

[caption id="attachment_26321" align="alignright" width="231"]Yellowed song book with a cartoon drawing of an african american woman and an african american man standing outside near a field, arguing This sheet music, published in London in the 1880s, is illustrated with racial stereotypes of African Americans that were common at the time. Such imagery could be found in the published music of James Bland and most other minstrel songwriters of the era. (Charles L. Blockson Afro-American Collection, Temple University Libraries)[/caption]

Meanwhile, another type of vernacular music with African American roots was enjoying great popularity: blackface minstrelsy. Minstrelsy grew out of white entertainers imitating blacks with derogatory depictions of African American life and mannerisms. White entertainers would “black up” their faces with burnt cork and perform exaggerated songs and dances supposedly based on black music and speech patterns. Such performances were common in the early nineteenth century, and by midcentury the minstrel show had evolved into a standardized, enormously popular form of theatrical entertainment. Philadelphia was an important center in the early development of minstrelsy and minstrel shows remained a popular form of entertainment in the city into the early twentieth century. Minstrel songs became part of the broader body of American popular song in the nineteenth century as well.

African Americans had occasionally performed as minstrels since the mid-nineteenth century, but in the years following the Civil War they began to enter minstrelsy in large numbers. With limited career opportunities otherwise in show business, many African American entertainers became minstrels, blacking up their own faces and performing the stereotypical portrayals of black life their white counterparts had popularized. Thus evolved the ironic situation in late nineteenth-century American popular culture of blacks imitating whites imitating blacks. Some African American minstrels became famous in this period, especially James Bland, dubbed the “World’s Greatest Minstrel Man.”

Inspired by a Street Musician

James Bland was born in Flushing, New York, to a free, fairly well-to-do African American family. The family lived in Philadelphia for a while when James was young and it was here that he purportedly first fell in love with the banjo after hearing an elderly black street musician playing one. After the Civil War the family moved to Washington, D.C., where James attended Howard University for a time before pursuing a career as an entertainer. In addition to enjoying great success as a minstrel performer, Bland was a prolific songwriter. Of the hundreds of songs he is reported to have written, only a few dozen have survived, including several that he wrote in a short creative burst in the late 1870s and early 1880s that were hit songs at the time and later became standards in American folk and popular music. These include “Carry Me Back to Old Virginny,” “In the Morning by the Bright Light,” and “Oh, Dem Golden Slippers.”

One of the hallmarks of minstrelsy was parody, satirizing the mannerisms and pretentions of others through song and dance. It was in this vein that Bland wrote “Oh, Dem Golden Slippers,” a parody of the spiritual “Golden Slippers.” “Oh, Dem Golden Slippers” was a lively dance tune with a stomping rhythm and a simple verse-chorus form. Lyrically, it used the same clothing imagery as the original spiritual, although with a less religious theme, and was squarely in the minstrel tradition, with comedic words in fractured “Negro dialect,” a defining feature of minstrelsy.

Tradition holds that local minstrel man Charles Dumont (1884–1959) introduced “Oh, Dem Golden Slippers” to the Philadelphia Mummers around 1905. Charles Dumont was the nephew of Frank Dumont (1848–1919), a well-known minstrel performer who operated minstrel theaters in Philadelphia in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. However, “Oh, Dem Golden Slippers” was a hit song in the 1880s and it may have been during this earlier period that it entered the repertoire of the Mummers, whose music was heavily influenced by minstrelsy and whose performances were largely based on parody.

The Mummers grew out of Christmas and New Year’s celebrations in Philadelphia dating back to colonial times in which various nationality groups observed the holidays by masquerading and reveling in the streets. These celebrations evolved over time into parades and other festivities with very elaborate costumes and unique styles of music and dancing. By the late nineteenth century, mummer celebrations had become quite large and raucous, particularly in South Philadelphia, the heart of the mummer tradition. In 1901 the City of Philadelphia established the annual New Year’s Day Mummers Parade, an organized parade up Broad Street featuring performances by various mummer clubs.

Golden Slippers on Their Feet

[caption id="attachment_26320" align="alignright" width="300"]close up photograph of mummer's feet, from the shin down. Pieces of colorful costumes flow over work boots that have been spray painted gold In the twenty-first century, many Philadelphia mummers carried on the tradition of wearing golden “slippers” during their performances. (Photograph by Donald D. Groff for The Encyclopedia of Greater Philadelphia)[/caption]

How and when “Oh, Dem Golden Slippers” became the unofficial theme song of the Mummers Parade is difficult to determine. (No song was ever officially designated as the Mummers theme.) By the early twentieth century it was a mainstay of the music of the New Year’s Parade and over time emerged as the song most closely identified with the Mummers, who even began a tradition of painting their shoes gold as part of their costumes.

Although its theme song was written by an African American, the Mummers Parade was largely an all-white event. A few black clubs participated in the early twentieth century, but by the late 1920s they had dropped out due to the racially offensive nature of the performances, which continued to feature minstrel elements and often included provocative parodies of different ethnic groups. Blackface performers remained part of the parade until the 1960s. Efforts to make the parade more racially sensitive and diverse began in the late twentieth century and continued into the early twenty-first.

James Bland may have heard “Oh, Dem Golden Slippers” performed by Mummers towards the end of his life, when he lived in Philadelphia in the early 1900s. Bland had toured England in the early 1880s with Haverly’s Colored Minstrels, a prominent black minstrel troupe. He remained there when the troupe returned home and enjoyed a very successful career as a celebrated minstrel performer in Europe. He moved back and forth between Europe and America in the 1890s before returning to the United States permanently in 1901. By this time Bland’s star had faded, as minstrelsy lost popularity to new forms of entertainment such as vaudeville and musical comedy. Philadelphia was among the major cities where minstrelsy remained fairly popular into the early twentieth century and Bland settled there hoping to find work. His career continued to decline, however, and he died forgotten and destitute in Philadelphia in 1911.

Several of Bland’s songs lived on long after his death. “Oh, Dem Golden Slippers” became a standard both in bluegrass, the rural string-based folk music of the Appalachian region, and in Philadelphia, where its role as the unofficial theme song of the Mummers Parade made it one of the most widely known songs in the city’s history.

Jack McCarthy is a music historian who regularly writes, lectures, and gives walking tours on Philadelphia music history. A certified archivist, he recently directed a major project for the Historical Society of Pennsylvania focusing on the archival collections of the region’s many small historical repositories. Jack serves as consulting archivist for the Philadelphia Orchestra and the Mann Music Center and worked on the 2014 radio documentary Going Black: The Legacy of Philly Soul Radio. He gave several presentations and helped produce the Historical Society of Pennsylvania’s 2016 Philadelphia music series, “Memories & Melodies.”

British Occupation of Philadelphia

On September 26, 1777, the British army marched into Philadelphia, beginning an occupation that lasted until the following spring. Its arrival led patriots to flee and Loyalists to rejoice, although wartime shortages soon led to suffering for those who remained in the city. The occupation, however, led to no concrete gains, and the British abandoned the city the following June.

[caption id="attachment_24552" align="alignright" width="197"]Drawing of William Howe, reclinging slightly against a hill, holding a sword and looking to the side. British General William Howe took Philadelphia in September 1777 and led the bombardment of Fort Mifflin and Fort Mercer later that year to open a supply line to the occupied city. (Library of Congress)[/caption]

The occupation of Philadelphia deviated from a British plan to conquer New England in 1777, after two years of inconclusive war. To conquer New England, the British intended to send two armies into New York state. The first, headed by General John Burgoyne (1722-92), proceeded south from Canada. At the same time, forces led by General William Howe (1729-1814) would have headed north from New York City along the Hudson River. These two armies would have divided New England from the other colonies, allowing the British to invade and conquer.

Howe, to the surprise of his superiors, did not follow through on this plan. Whether from personal dislike of Burgoyne, fear of allowing General George Washington (1732-99) time to rebuild his army, or doubts about his own ability to prosecute the Hudson River campaign, he rejected the plan. Instead, with a force of about fifteen thousand English and German soldiers, he sailed south along the coast and then headed up the Chesapeake Bay toward Philadelphia. In August 1777, he landed at Head of Elk, some fifty miles from the city.

Howe set his sights on Philadelphia for a number of reasons. Philadelphia, of course, was the American capital and the meeting place of the Continental Congress. Howe also apparently hoped to draw Washington into a battle that might destroy the Continental Army once and for all. Furthermore, prominent Loyalists, including Joseph Galloway (1731-1803), had claimed that more than 75 percent of Americans in Philadelphia and the surrounding region were loyal to the crown and would welcome and aid the British.

Battle of Brandywine Creek

Washington, watching Howe’s movements carefully, attempted unsuccessfully to stop the British advance at the Battle of Brandywine Creek (September 1777). It was a costly loss–Washington suffered some nine hundred casualties (of eleven thousand soldiers), while Howe lost only 550. As the British army approached Philadelphia, thousands of patriot citizens fled, including the delegates to the Continental Congress. Sarah Logan Fisher (1751-96), the wife of a prominent Philadelphia merchant, described “wagons rattling, horses galloping, women running, children crying, delegates flying, & altogether the greatest consternation, fright & terror that can be imagined.” One estimate suggests that more than 10 percent of Philadelphia’s homes were abandoned by their owners before the British arrived, and reports of looting and theft grew. When Howe entered Philadelphia on September 26, 1777, Loyalists lined the streets to welcome the return of British authority. On October 5, Washington tried to dislodge the British at the Battle of Germantown, but this effort also failed.

[caption id="attachment_24551" align="alignright" width="300"]Map drawing of the Delaware River, showing Fort Billings, Fort Mifflin, and Fort Mercer. This map of the Delaware River just south of Philadelphia shows three American-occupied fortifications that British naval ships attacked during the summer and fall of 1777. (Library of Congress)[/caption]

Once in control of Philadelphia, Howe faced serious problems. Even though thousands of Americans had fled, the civilian population still numbered some fifteen thousand. Howe’s forces added another fifteen thousand. But Howe’s supply lines were inadequate. Having marched overland to Philadelphia, he needed to control the Delaware River to ensure an adequate supply of provisions. The Delaware, however, was guarded by two American forts, Fort Mifflin on Mud Island and Fort Mercer on the New Jersey side of the river. The Americans successfully defended both forts for almost seven weeks. Suffering followed in Philadelphia, as food and other provisions were in short supply. British officers quartered with local citizens, churches became hospitals for sick and wounded soldiers, and Philadelphians described British and German soldiers stealing horses, cattle, wood, food, and clothing. The suffering of American prisoners in the Walnut Street Jail was especially severe, as prisoners endured hunger, cold, and abuse from their jailers. In October 1777, the Quaker diarist Elizabeth Drinker (1735-1807) described the suffering of the city, writing “if things dont change 'eer long, we shall be in poor plight, everything scarce and dear, and nothing suffer’d to be brought in to us.” The forts fell in November, relieving the blockade, but prices in the city remained high and citizens continued to complain of theft and other crimes committed by soldiers. Howe tried, without much success, to deter such behavior. He offered monetary rewards for information about crimes, and frequent courts-martial sentenced men to up to a thousand lashes for plundering and other crimes.

During the long fall and winter months, the British built up the city’s defenses, kept an eye on the American army at Valley Forge, and sent foragers into the countryside to search for wood and hay. But such tasks could not occupy the thousands of men in the army, and the British also turned to a wide variety of leisure activities. Some occupied themselves by playing cards, drinking, gambling, and visiting prostitutes. Others sought more elaborate entertainments, arranging dinner parties and taking part in amateur dramatics. British officers put on plays at the Southwark Theatre on Monday nights from January to May, performing at least fourteen different plays.

Howe’s Resignation

When Howe resigned in April 1778, his officers planned a grand celebration to honor him before his departure. This “Meschianza” (in Italian, “medley”) began with elaborately decorated flatboats and galleys carrying officers and hundreds of guests down the river. This procession was followed by a tournament in which British officers dressed as medieval knights jousted in honor of the “Ladies of the Blended Rose” and the “Ladies of the Burning Mountain.” The tournament was followed by a feast, fireworks, and dancing. Participants judged the event a stunning success, but not all Philadelphia citizens agreed. The Meschianza cost more than three thousand guineas, a stunning amount of money in an occupied city where citizens complained regularly of shortages and high prices. The diarist Drinker criticized the officers’ extravagance, writing, “How insensible do these people appear, while our Land is so greatly desolated, and Death and sore destruction has overtaken and impends over so many.”

While Howe and his army spent the winter in Philadelphia, the fortunes of war were turning. On October 17, 1777, Burgoyne (lacking support from Howe) surrendered at Saratoga. This American victory encouraged the French to make an alliance with the Americans. With British plans in America threatened by the French fleet, the British could no longer afford to occupy Philadelphia, especially as they had gained nothing from being there. General Henry Clinton (1730?-95) was ordered to abandon Philadelphia and retreat to New York. The British army left Philadelphia in June 1778, accompanied by some three thousand loyalists.

The British occupation and abandonment of Philadelphia also led to difficult choices for black residents of the city, both free and enslaved. In 1777 and 1778, it was not clear whether an American or a British victory would be more likely to lead to freedom and greater rights. On the one hand, Quaker and abolitionist sentiment in Philadelphia had been growing in the decade before the war. As masters freed their slaves, the free black population of the city grew. Slaves in Philadelphia might have hoped that an American victory would lead to yet more manumissions, or even the outlawing of slavery. During the war, thirty-five black men served in the Second Pennsylvania Brigade of the Continental Army, and others served on American privateers. On the other hand, black men and women in Philadelphia quickly learned of Lord Dunmore’s Proclamation (November 7, 1775) offering freedom to patriots’ slaves who joined the British forces. Although Dunmore was the royal governor of Virginia, news of his proclamation reached Philadelphia within a week. During the occupation, many Africans and African Americans seem to have decided that the British offered better prospects than the Americans, and served among them as soldiers, guides, and laborers. When the British evacuated, dozens of slaves fled with them.

The occupation of Philadelphia did little for the British war effort. The American government survived, as the Continental Congress fled the city. Washington’s army survived the harsh winter at Valley Forge. Relations between the British and Loyalists in Pennsylvania worsened. Worse, Howe had lost a vital opportunity. By failing to meet Burgoyne in New York, he had thrown away the best chance the British would have to conquer New England.

Martha K. Robinson is an Associate Professor of History at Clarion University of Pennsylvania. Her publications include “New Worlds, New Medicines: Indian Remedies and English Medicine in Early America,” Early American Studies 3 (Spring 2005): 94-110.

Root Beer

Root beer, a popular beverage in the United States since the late eighteenth century, began as a medicinal beverage produced at home. In the nineteenth century, carbonated root beer grew in popularity, particularly after Philadelphia pharmacist Charles Elmer Hires (1851-1937) presented his version of root beer at the 1876 Centennial Exhibition. Although the popularity of root beer decreased in the latter half of the twentieth century, Philadelphia continued to play a role in its resurgence.

Root beer, and similar beverages such as spruce and ginger beer, originated from “root tea,” a general name for beverages popular in European and Native American cultures served hot and brewed from roots, barks, and berries. By the eighteenth century, “root beer,” which added yeast and later soda water for carbonation, had become a popular drink in the United States. To make these non-alcoholic beers, roots, barks, flowers, herbs, and other plants were boiled, the resulting liquid strained and reduced, and yeast, sweetener, and water added. As early as 1842, various manufacturers advertised root beer in Philadelphia newspapers as a health beverage, blood purifier, and cure for the “summer complaint,” cholera. Many of these companies, such as Dr. J. A. Brown in Philadelphia, distributed their finished products throughout the northeast. Others, such as Aschenbach & Miller, also located in Philadelphia, sold root beer extract to store owners, who produced their own.

[caption id="attachment_23655" align="alignright" width="300"]Photograph of a Hires Root Beer stand, situated along the side of a road. The stand is oblong, shaped like a capsule, with one large window in the center for serving customers. Above the stand a sign runs along top and reads "Hires". A clerk stands at the window. By 1926, when this photograph was taken, roadside stands were popular locations to buy soft drinks, especially as the automobile grew in popularity and affordability. (PhillyHistory.org)[/caption]

Charles Elmer Hires revolutionized the manufacture and distribution of root beer in the early 1870s, when he developed a powder to allow easier home production. Each packet of powder cost 25 cents and yielded five gallons. At the 1876 Centennial Exhibition, Hires served free glasses of root beer and sold the packets, a significant success that led to rapid growth for his business, including a factory at 117-119 Arch Street. In 1890, the business incorporated as The Charles E. Hires Company. In 1904, with the decline of home brewing and increasing popularity of soda fountains, the Hires Company developed root beer syrup and began to distribute it. At its height, the Hires Company had offices throughout the United States and internationally in countries including Australia, Denmark, and England, a subsidiary company in Canada, and a sugar plantation in Cuba.

Hires Understood Advertising

Much of Hires’ success was due to innovative advertising. Understanding the importance of building a strong brand, Hires became the first major advertiser and mass marketer in the beverage industry. Beginning in the 1880s, full-page Hires ads, unheard of at the time, appeared in newspapers and magazines across the country, as far away as Hawaii. The Hires Company produced trading cards featuring healthy, rosy-cheeked children consuming frothy mugs of root beer with information about health benefits and the company’s commitment to pure, natural ingredients on the reverse. The company placed the Hires Root Beer logo on booklets for children, trays, pocket mirrors, lamps, mugs, and other novelties. The story of how Charles E. Hires invented root beer became a feature in the company’s ads. Like the popular rags-to-riches stories by Horatio Alger Jr. (1832-99) in the same era, the ads portrayed Hires as a small-town boy who built an empire through his own ingenuity and determination, while maintaining his commitment to an authentic, honest product.

[caption id="attachment_23657" align="alignright" width="195"]Photograph of Charles E. Hires, shown from the waist up, profile view with head turned slightly toward the camera. He appears to be in his 50s, wears a suit, and smiles slightly. After opening his own pharmacy in his early adult years, Hires created a version of “root tea” that was popular among Native American tribes and some Europeans. (Historical Society of Pennsylvania)[/caption]

By the 1950s, the Hires Company was struggling as it faced increased competition from other root beer manufacturers such as Barq’s in New Orleans, Louisiana (1898); A&W in Lodi, California (1919); Independent Breweries Company in St. Louis, Missouri (1919); Dad’s Old-Fashioned in Chicago, Illinois (1937); and Mug in San Francisco, California (1947). The root beer industry also competed with more popular sodas and other confectionery, such as noncarbonated drinks, candy, gum, and ice cream. Despite steady and sometimes rising sales, the increased cost of materials and labor caused a decline in profit. The Hires family sold its majority share in the company in 1960 to Chicago-based Consolidated Foods Corp. (CFC). Later that year, Hires was liquidated and became the Charles E. Hires Division of CFC. Operations continued under local management, with a general office at 206 S. Twenty-Fourth Street and a bottling plant at 326 S. Twenty-Fifth Street in Philadelphia, and an additional seven plants and four hundred franchised bottlers in the United States and abroad.

In 1962, Crush International Ltd. purchased CFC’s Hires Division and moved its headquarters to Evanston, Illinois. After several more sales of the brand, in 1989 the Hires brand was acquired by Cadbury Schweppes. In 2008, the beverage portion of Cadbury Schweppes separated to form the Dr Pepper Snapple Group, located in Plano, Texas, the current owner of the Hires Brand. By this time, the Dr Pepper Snapple Group had phased out Hires Root Beer to focus on promoting only one root beer, the more popular A&W brand. By 2016, Hires Root Beer was still listed on the Dr Pepper Snapple Group website as a current product, but it had become rare and difficult to find except online.

Philadelphia played an immense role in the growth in popularity of root beer. Although the sale of root beer lagged behind colas and other sodas after the 1950s, it resurged among small, artisan brewers in the twenty-first century. With craft brewers such as Yards Brewing Company, Hank’s Gourmet Beverages, and Olde Philadelphia Soda Company, Philadelphia continued to play an integral role in root beer production.

Theresa Altieri Taplin earned an M.A. in history from Villanova University. She is a Certified Archivist and museum professional in Philadelphia.

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