Encyclopedia of Greater Philadelphia

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Sara E. Wermiel

Sara E. Wermiel is a historian of building construction and the construction industry. She has a Ph.D. from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Her book, The Fireproof Building: Technology and Public Safety in the Nineteenth-Century American City (2000), treats the history of structural fire protection in buildings.

Lawnside, New Jersey

Located approximately nine miles from Philadelphia and with a population of 2,995 as of 2010, Lawnside, New Jersey, has been one of only a handful of jurisdictions in the United States that has maintained a primarily African American population throughout its existence. Formed out of the experience of slavery, the community evolved during the twentieth century into a thriving suburban enclave despite the widespread Jim Crow discrimination that existed in New Jersey until the civil rights campaigns of the 1960s.

[caption id="attachment_34118" align="alignright" width="300"]Color map indicating outline of borough of Lawnside with surrounding towns. Lawnside, highlighted in yellow in the map above, remains one of the few boroughs in the United States that has had a primarily African American population throughout its existence. (United States Census Bureau)[/caption]

In the eighteenth century, New Jersey’s burgeoning industrial and agricultural enterprises generated a great demand for labor, one result of which was the importation and use of enslaved laborers of African ancestry. The presence of slavery in Camden County was mitigated by the abolitionist influence of the Haddonfield Monthly Meeting of the Quaker Society of Friends in conjunction with the Gloucester County Abolition Society. Due to their efforts, the number of slaves in Camden County dropped by more than two-thirds between 1790 and 1800, from 191 to 63. 

Seeking to foster mutual aid and collective security from the widespread threat of kidnapping and return to enslavement, freedmen sought protection by concentrating near Quaker allies in Camden County. For example, people formerly enslaved by the Hugg family founded the community of Guinea Town in the area that later became Bellmawr in the late eighteenth century, and others founded the settlements of Davistown and Hickstown in Gloucester Township. Saddlertown in Haddon Township was founded by Joshua Saddler (1785-1880), whose freedom was purchased by Friends at the site that became Croft Farm in Cherry Hill. Over time the free African American population of Camden County more than doubled between 1790 and 1810, from an estimated 180 to 490, and continued to grow to 1,104 by 1840. In old Union Township, where the original settlement that became Lawnside was located, 22 percent of the population was African American.

African American habitation in Lawnside dated to the eighteenth century. Organized Methodist meetings began in 1797, and in 1811 Philadelphia’s Bishop Richard Allen (1760-1831) formed an African Methodist Episcopal Church (AME) Church that later became Mount Pisgah AME Church. The majority of the residents served by these institutions were formerly enslaved people or their descendants. The original male inhabitants worked mostly as farmers and woodcutters, and some women earned income as domestic workers.

First Known as Free Haven

In 1840, a Quaker abolitionist and member of the Philadelphia Vigilance Committee named Ralph Smith further advanced the prospects for settlement by purchasing land to convert into inexpensive lots for sale to African Americans. A prominent African American barber, physician, dentist, and community leader from Philadelphia, Jacob C. White Sr. (1806-72), also contributed to Lawnside’s early development by purchasing additional land to expand the village. The community was first named Free Haven because it served as a stop and way station along multiple routes of the Underground Railroad. By 1856, the area had grown to support at least twenty-four buildings.

Shortly after the Civil War, Free Haven’s name changed to Snow Hill, reportedly for the prominence of sugar sand atop the hill where early settlement formed. Following the arrival of the Philadelphia and Atlantic Railroad (later the Reading Railroad) in 1876, the name of the stop changed from Denton to Lawnton and finally Lawnside in 1907. Often attributed to the beautiful sloping lawn that adjoined the station, the name was adopted by the community to conform with the new rail stop.

[caption id="attachment_34117" align="alignright" width="300"]Color photograph depicting white sign that reads "Mount Peace Cemetery Lawnside Established 1900." An American flag is next to the sign. Graves are visible in the background. Mount Peace Cemetery was established in 1900 to inter those who were excluded from white-only cemeteries. It serves as the final resting place for many African Americans freed from slavery and at least seventy-seven Civil War veterans, including Congressional Medal of Honor winner John Lawson. (Jason Romisher)[/caption]

On March 24, 1926, Lawnside was incorporated as an official borough in the state of New Jersey as part of the broader trend of municipal incorporation in Camden County. Located on unincorporated land in old Centre Township from 1855 to 1926, Lawnside as well as other nearby communities felt the need to incorporate. Lawnside’s incorporation bid experienced boundary disputes with both Barrington and Haddonfield. Lawnside resolved matters with Barrington by ceding 170 acres of land along the Clements Bridge Road in exchange for a parcel that included the Mt. Peace Cemetery on the White Horse Pike. With Haddonfield, the issue concerned two parcels with high assessments inhabited by whites who did not want to be included in Lawnside because it was to be governed by African Americans. The parties reached settlement when Lawnside officials handed over the land in exchange for $25,000 payable in five yearly installments.

A small number of whites still remained within Lawnside’s newly incorporated boundaries in an area known as Woodcrest. These families sent their children to Delaware Township schools until 1931, when this municipality began demanding tuition payments for the accommodation of these children. The Woodcrest residents refused to then send their children to the Lawnside elementary school and responded by burning crosses in Lawnside and then launching a failed bid for incorporation as an independent borough. The situation was resolved only when these residents moved out of Lawnside.

Demographics Prevail

[caption id="attachment_34116" align="alignright" width="300"]Black and white photograph depicting a man driving a fire engine out of a garage. Volunteer firefighters, like the one pictured in this Works Progress Administration photograph, protected Lawnside even before the town was officially incorporated in 1926. (New Jersey State Archives, Department of State)[/caption]

Lawnside’s act of incorporation did not designate it as an African American community. Its demographics in 1926, however, allowed African Americans to control the municipal power structure, and its historical trajectory allowed this to continue. After incorporation, residents worked hard to develop new institutional facilities such as a borough council and police force to add to an existing volunteer fire department, post office, and elementary school dating back to 1848.

The town’s rail connection to a string of communities from Philadelphia to Atlantic City opened up employment and travel opportunities for some residents, while also drawing visitors to the community and offering employment to African American professionals such as teachers who lived in other communities. Despite these transportation links, Lawnside remained a largely rural and agricultural community until World War II, when many men gained employment from defense industry jobs. Women in Lawnside commonly worked as domestic workers in nearby communities such as Haddonfield and Haddon Heights. 

Many Lawnside residents attained the American dream of home ownership despite a long history of banks refusing loans to African Americans. In 1909, the Home Mutual Investment Company incorporated in Lawnside to help residents secure mortgages and financing for the construction of homes. It was succeeded in 1915 by the Lawnside Mutual Building and Loan Association. Residents benefitted in the early years of Lawnside’s incorporation by having almost no political red tape for housing construction. Most addresses in the community were simply made up by the homeowners, and there were no restrictions placed on the building of homes on vacant land. Despite such informal control over land use, by the postwar period Lawnside’s rural character began to give way to an advancing suburban look and feel. 

[caption id="attachment_34115" align="alignright" width="300"]Black and white photograph depicting a man behind a bar preparing a drink while talking to a seated man. The bartender at the High Hat Club prepares a drink while chatting with a guest in this Works Progress Administration photograph. (New Jersey State Archives, Department of State)[/caption]

Lawnside’s existence and reputation as a distinctive black community was supported in the 1930s through the presence of a thriving jazz and barbecue scene in the wake of prohibition with venues named the Cotton Club, The High Hat Club, Dreamland Café, and Club Harlem. These establishments attracted patrons from all over the northeast to hear and rub shoulders with top African American performers and celebrities such as Joe Louis (1914-81), Sarah Vaughn (1924-90), Ella Fitzgerald (1917-96), Duke Ellington (1899-1974), Billie Holliday (1915-59), LaWanda Page (1920-2002), Billy Eckstine (1914-93), and Arthur Prysock (1929-97). Arnold Cream (1914-94) worked as a bouncer at the Dreamland Café before becoming heavyweight champion of the world under the fighting name Jersey Joe Walcott.

The Lure of Lawnside Park

Lawnside’s proximity to Philadelphia and reputation as an African American cultural and community space drew talented artists and patrons to the community. Lawnside also attracted visitors because of Lawnside Park, an amusement park and picnic area with two small man-made lakes that began to be developed in the late 1920s. These venues thrived for years, until the 1960s when the clubs and associated dining establishments declined and ultimately closed. Lawnside establishments could no longer compete with the high rates that desegregated mainstream clubs could pay to high-profile African American performers. Lawnside’s conservative and religious community character also played a role in the clubs’ decline, as most locals stayed away from places with reputations for vice and lewd conduct.

At a time when both federal loan procedures and suburban zoning restrictions limited choices for black home ownership, Lawnside’s attractive location and status as an autonomous African American community boosted further settlement. The newcomers included returning servicemen, government employees, and professionals who could afford to purchase new homes constructed in Lawnside by developers. For example, Howard University graduates Dr. William Young Sr. and his wife Dr. Flora Young (1928-2012), a professor at Glassboro State College (later Rowan University), moved to Lawnside in 1954 when Dr. William Young opened a medical practice in Lawnside. The Friendship III Barber Shop, opened in 1959 by its founder Percy Bryant (b. 1938), became a thriving gathering place that provided an essential service for African American men, including celebrities such as Muhammad Ali (1942-2016).

Lawnside grew at a rapid pace in the 1950s and 1960s with the construction of new housing developments. The first, Home Acres (1954), consisted of modest homes and contributed to an increase in population by 369 residents between 1950 and 1960. From 1960 to March 1970, an additional 273 housing structures went up and the population rose from 2,155 to 2,757. This included the stylish Warwick Hills development, which featured modern two-story homes. Commercial investment increased the town valuation 2,000 percent in just a six-year span from 1967 ($1 million) to 1973 ($21.5 million). 

Without a secondary school of its own, as far back as 1916 Lawnside sent some of its young people to nearby Haddon Heights High School, where they paid a per-pupil flat rate tuition fee after 1924. As a distinct minority within the school, children from Lawnside experienced a great deal of discrimination in academics, athletics, extracurricular activities, and school culture. Academically, they were frequently steered into general level courses and discouraged from pursuing the college preparatory track. Although the baseball, football, and basketball teams integrated in 1922, many African American athletes were discouraged from participation. African American students were never elected prom or homecoming king or queen until the late 1970s, few participated in student government or the yearbook, and school dances remained the domain of whites until the 1960s.

Youth Embrace the Rights Movements

As young people in Lawnside were influenced by the wider civil rights and black power movements of the 1960s, they bridled at the discrimination they experienced in school. From 1965 to 1971, students from Lawnside, including several young women, led sit-ins and protest marches, issued demands, served as media spokespersons, and wrote politically themed articles in the student newspaper. These activist efforts took place with little direction from Lawnside parents, civic leaders, or African American organizations. They were successful in forcing a change in the school administration, gaining more equitable representation in student life, instituting black studies courses, and forming the Afro-American Cultural Society.   

As integration progressed, African Americans from Lawnside played important roles in the larger society. Morris L. Smith (b. 1933) had a long and distinguished career as an executive at Scott Paper company. As president of the Lawnside Board of Education he orchestrated a resolution on April 9, 1968, that declared the birthday of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. (1929-68) a holiday. Lawnside civic leaders believe they were the first governmental entity in the United States to bestow this honor, just days after King’s assassination. One of Smith’s sons, Morris G. Smith (b. 1960), developed a successful law firm, served as both a state and federal court judge, and was the vice chairman of the New Jersey State Advisory Committee to the United States Commission on Civil Rights. Wayne Bryant (b. 1947) created a thriving law practice in Camden, served as an assembly member in New Jersey (1982-95) and state senator (1995-2008), before being jailed on corruption charges. Always a welcoming place for other racial and ethnic groups, Lawnside acquired a small degree of diversity in the latter decades of the twentieth century.

Long committed to the preservation of its rich past, the Lawnside Historical Society centered its activities on the Peter Mott House. Built in 1845 and believed to have been used to harbor people fleeing slavery, by the early twenty-first century it survived as the oldest building in Lawnside. Opened to the public as a museum in 2001 after activists saved it from demolition, the Peter Mott House demonstrated Lawnside’s deep regard for its history and close community ties.

Jason Romisher is a Canadian historian whose M.A. thesis, “Youth Activism and the Black Freedom Struggle in Lawnside, New Jersey,” explores the topics of African American high school student activism and black power in a self-governing African American community. He is  working on a research project about Helen Hiett, an American scholar, journalist, and Second World War correspondent. He holds degrees from Simon Fraser University (M.A., 2018), Lakehead University (B.Ed., 2002), and Queen’s University (B.A. Honours, 2001).

John E. Smith III

John E. Smith III is a 2018 graduate from Temple University’s Center for Public History. He is the Assistant Archivist at the Chester County Archives in West Chester, Pa.

Jason Romisher

Jason Romisher is a Canadian historian whose M.A. thesis, “Youth Activism and the Black Freedom Struggle in Lawnside, New Jersey,” explores the topics of African American high school student activism and black power in a self-governing African American community. He is  working on a research project about Helen Hiett, an American scholar, journalist, and Second World War correspondent. He holds degrees from Simon Fraser University (M.A., 2018), Lakehead University (B.Ed., 2002), and Queen’s University (B.A. Honours, 2001).

Nationalities Service Center

The Philadelphia branch of the International Institute, renamed the Philadelphia Nationalities Service Center in 1963, opened in June 1922 and initially operated under the auspices of its sponsor, the Young Women’s Christian Association (YWCA). Like the four to five dozen other International Institute branches in operation by the 1920s, the Philadelphia effort aided immigrant women in learning English, developing employment skills, and navigating the naturalization process. In the 1930s, the group incorporated independently of the YWCA and expanded its focus to include men and families. After World War II, the organization increasingly turned its attention to fostering and moderating community discussion about race and culture and helping to resettle thousands of refugees to the greater Philadelphia area.

Often compared with settlement houses, which shared similar aims and originated at similar times, the International Institutes were founded in 1910 in New York City by social worker Edith Terry Bremer (1885-1964). Historian Kristin Hoganson has argued that the Institutes represented a part of the “immigrant gifts” movement in which, like settlement houses, non-immigrant whites appropriated the folk traditions of immigrants to celebrate a vision of pluralism and acculturation. Institute branches sponsored folk festivals, internationality dinners, and other programming that celebrated immigrant folk traditions (and, to some degree, the modern scientific and cultural innovations that immigrants contributed to the United States).

[caption id="attachment_33876" align="alignright" width="300"]Black and white photograph showing adult students sitting at desks. Instructor is pointing at something in the front of the room. The International Institute began offering English language classes shortly after it started operations. In this 1957 photograph, Dr. Frederick Patka instructs Hungarian refugees in the International Institute’s auditorium. (Special Collections Research Center, Temple University Libraries)[/caption]

While the Institute began as a social organization for immigrant women, it soon offered courses in English and, with the advent of restrictive immigration quotas under the National Origins Act of 1924, began casework assisting young immigrant women in understanding and completing the naturalization process. Such efforts were not without the paternalist assumptions of almost all Progressive Era, white-organized immigration services. But unlike settlement houses, in which white middle class “settlers” lived among immigrants and promoted middle class beliefs about domesticity, most served by the organization lived outside the Institute headquarters, which employed first or second-generation caseworkers fluent in immigrant languages. By 1929, the Institute had caseworkers who spoke Russian, Czech, Armenian, Italian, Polish, and German; by 1933, staff and volunteer interpreters spoke over a dozen languages, including Hindi, Armenian, Portuguese, Polish, Arabic, and Greek.

Facing fragmented social service and immigration systems, which rarely offered new Americans the same opportunities as those born in the United States, immigrants came to the International Institute to develop employment, social, and naturalization strategies. Institute caseworkers also could often help with matters such as proving that immigrants had arrived in the country prior to the quota system, identifying documents necessary for naturalization, answering questions about immigration status related to a marriage or divorce, or helping immigrants extend their stay. For example, the Institute helped a young man born in Turkey achieve permanent residency after he faced deportation because his father’s marriage, and therefore his own citizenship, had been declared illegal. The Institute helped a Chinese immigrant family secure passage for a child who had been left behind due to pneumonia. As early as the 1950s, the Institute offered interpreter services for community groups interacting with English-language learners. In performing its work, the Institute frequently collaborated with Jewish, Catholic, Quaker, and Protestant social service agencies in the city, but it claimed to be the first nonsectarian organization of its type to serve Philadelphia.

During the Second World War, the U.S. government commissioned the Philadelphia Institute to help immigrants comply with the Smith Act (Alien Registration Act) of 1940 by providing loans for citizenship applications, interpreting the requirements of the act, and serving as a liaison with naturalization services. When Pennsylvania prevented immigrants who had not declared their intentions to naturalize from obtaining welfare, the Institute offered funds for immigrants to initiate the naturalization process. Similarly, naturalized immigrants needing documentation to work for defense contractors frequently came to the organization to help.

Before and after the war, immigrants (and non-immigrants) also used the organization to build community within and across ethnic groups, and second-generation youngsters came to the Institute to socialize with children outside their own ethnic groups and to reconnect with their heritage. Immigrants took classes in English, Spanish, and other languages. Affiliated organizations of immigrants and non-immigrants—like the Polish KOP Club, the Japanese-American Citizens’ League, the Women’s International Council, or the American Indian Society—held events in the organization’s space. From the 1920s through the 1950s, an annual Internationality Dinner celebrated different national foods, and Sunday Teas and Starlight Balls in the 1950s and 1960s offered opportunities for immigrants of different national origins to socialize. Between 1956 and 1984, the organization sponsored a folk festival, which at its peak attracted tens of thousands of visitors over three days and represented more than five dozen nationalities.

Refugee Resettlement Efforts

[caption id="attachment_33878" align="alignright" width="300"]A color photograph depicting a sign with a Cuban flag and the text "Cuban Community Center." The hand-painted sign in this 2003 photograph welcomes visitors to a Cuban community center in the Olney neighborhood of Philadelphia. Some of the city’s Cuban residents arrived as part of a resettlement effort led by the Nationalities Service Center after the Cuban revolution. (Historical Society of Pennsylvania)[/caption]

Under the federal Displaced Persons Act of 1948 and the Refugee Relief Act of 1953, the organization became increasingly involved in refugee and displaced person resettlement. Its most high-profile effort involved refugees fleeing the fallout from the Hungarian and Cuban revolutions, and in the 1970s the NSC helped thousands of refugees from Southeast Asia resettle in Philadelphia. The group’s role in resettling refugees varied. In the late 1940s and early 1950s, caseworkers primarily helped displaced persons from Europe find employment. During the resettlement of about 100 Cuban families in the early 1960s, it communicated with the International Rescue Committee (IRC) in Miami to select families, plan their well-publicized “Freedom Flights” to Philadelphia, and identify southeastern Pennsylvania families to sponsor them (usually through religious groups). The Institute helped identify possible jobs for the groups or connect them with employment agencies, provide temporary housing, connect with Cubans living in Philadelphia already, disburse funding from the IRC, access furniture and clothing from public assistance programs, arrange for English classes, and coordinate with other resettlement groups.

Resettlement efforts were rarely without complications, and new Philadelphians who resettled with the NSC’s help repeatedly advocated for improved access to adequate resources for making a new life in their new city. Refugees who had been highly skilled workers and professionals raised concerns that they were overqualified for the unrewarding jobs found for them—often clerical or custodial. At one point, a group of nine recently-resettled Cuban families wrote to the NSC requesting better treatment and considered reporting inadequate conditions to the newspapers. Refugee communities proved resilient, entrepreneurial, and resourceful: a 33- year-old Cambodian man named Hort helped Cambodian arrivals who resettled with the assistance of the NSC to secure better lodging and fix heat and gas utilities that would not turn on. With his own money, he purchased a van to take community members to English lessons, teach them to drive, purchase groceries, and wash clothes at the laundry.

The Institute’s name change to Nationalities Service Center in 1963 reflected a desire to differentiate itself from the International House, with which it was often confused, and signaled a broadening of the organization’s scope during the 1960s and 1970s to include services and engagement for non-immigrants. (The Institutes’ umbrella organization also changed its name, from the Institute for Immigrant Welfare to the American Council of Nationalities Service.) Beginning in the second half of the 1960s—pushed by the accomplishments of freedom and civil rights movements and a growing understanding of the intertwined dynamics of immigrant life and racial justice—the organization attempted to influence broader conversations about race, ethnicity, and cultural understanding. During the 1960s and 1970s, the Center sponsored conferences on subjects like bilingual education and affirmative action and held cultural workshops and training. It secured a grant in 1968 to fund the “Nationality Race Community Relations” project. Partly driven by concern about rising racism among ethnic whites in Philadelphia, the project produced a World Cultures curriculum taken by 63 black and white students from William Penn High School and John Hallahan Catholic Girls School. The project director, Jaipaul, and school officials later testified at Congressional hearings that led to the passage of the 1974 Ethnic Heritage Study Center Act.

[caption id="attachment_33875" align="alignright" width="238"]Black and white photograph showing two seated women holding a model boat. A Man stands behind them. Nationalities Service Center employees celebrate the opening of “El Centro,” the center’s Spanish-language satellite, in 1971. (Special Collections Research Center, Temple University Libraries)[/caption]

Some projects were brief and troubled. Starting in the mid-1960s, the Center expanded its outreach to Puerto Rican Philadelphians, culminating in 1971 with the creation of “El Centro,” a Spanish-language satellite center in North Philadelphia intended to build connections with Spanish-speaking Philadelphians, organize child care services, and serve as a bilingual community space. The program was short-lived, however. Puerto Rican community leaders in Philadelphia asked that services for their community be designed and administered by Puerto Ricans, and some asked that El Centro serve more as a neighborhood center rather than an extension of Nationality Service Center services.

Shifting immigration patterns during the 1960s also meant a shifting range of services for immigrant Philadelphians. Assisting relatives in coming to the United States became increasingly important as chain migration and numbers of highly skilled immigrants grew. In the mid-1970s, the NSC continued its important role in resettlement by aiding thousands of Vietnamese, Cambodian, Laotian, and Hmong refugees. Because federal resources for resettlement were inadequate, these refugees often found themselves in substandard housing or without an infrastructure for finding sustainable work. In addition to helping to secure housing and offering classes in English language and practical skills, the NSC in this period employed bilingual mental health workers to provide counseling for refugees, chaired a Refugee Task Force, and partnered with other organizations to coordinate medical care.

After 1980, the NSC continued to grow and worked in coalitions to advocate for immigration reform and continued refugee resettlement, helping political refugees resettle from Albania, Kosovo, the Congo, Eritrea, Bhutan, Nepal, Iraq, Syria, and elsewhere. The organization’s services expanded in the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries to reflect the complexities of resettlement, including refugee healthcare, legal services for unaccompanied minors, initiatives opposing human trafficking, and legal advocacy. As anti-immigrant politics of the 2010s restricted the number of refugees for resettlement, the Nationalities Service Center faced new challenges, including hiring freezes and staff layoffs. But as the city’s first nonsectarian organization dedicated to assisting in the naturalization process, the Nationalities Service Center had a record of welcoming thousands of new Americans as they sought to make their homes in Philadelphia.

Andrew McNally received his Ph.D. from the University of Minnesota in 2017. His dissertation explored the history of the international understanding movement in U.S. education.

Philadelphia Museum of Art

The Philadelphia Museum of Art—originally known as the Pennsylvania Museum and School of Industrial Art—developed from collections exhibited in 1876 at the Centennial Exhibition in Fairmount Park. Modeled on the South Kensington Museum in London, the new institution sought through both collections and classes to teach design so that goods produced in Philadelphia would be more competitive with those made in Europe. By the 1920s, however, the museum shifted its emphasis toward cultivating elite taste as it constructed a monumental new building, acquired landmark collections, and courted wealthy patrons. With 90 percent of its collection acquired from donors but also a longstanding, if declining, financial relationship with Philadelphia’s city government and the Fairmount Park Commission, the museum negotiated a tension familiar to most art museums between the aesthetic values of high-society collectors and a charitable mission to enhance public life through art.

[caption id="attachment_33848" align="alignright" width="300"]Aerial photograph showing the Philadelphia Museum of Art, a Greek Revival building, and surrounding environment. Originally located in Fairmount Park’s Memorial Hall, the museum moved into its current location on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway in 1928. Architects designed the Greek Revival building as a shell in which the museum could gradually build galleries for new collections. (Visit Philadelphia)[/caption]

The Pennsylvania Museum and School of Industrial Art was founded in 1876 and opened to the public in Fairmount Park’s Memorial Hall in 1877, but members of the Fairmount Park Commission had discussed the idea even earlier. The Centennial brought the museum idea to fruition as members of the semiautonomous Park Commission, other city officials, and appointees to the federally authorized Centennial Commission worked together to stage the Exhibition. A combination of the Park Commission, the City, and museum trustees continued to make decisions—and to complicate decision-making—about the institution throughout its history.

The Museum and School of Industrial Art arrived at a moment of change both in American history and in the history of museums. The Centennial Exhibition, while celebrating the history of American independence, also promoted the country and the city of Philadelphia as progressive, post-Civil War societies at the forefront of modernity and the Industrial Revolution. However, when Americans compared themselves to their European counterparts in science, industry, or art, they often feared they were lacking. During this period, elites generally designed museums as sites for the middle and upper classes to cultivate or prove their good taste. At the Museum and School of Industrial Art, however, the decorative objects retained from the Centennial were also a teaching collection viewed by working people—factory laborers, artisans, and industrial designers—who might be inspired to make and consume better, more beautiful industrial goods.

Much like the Academy of Natural Sciences (founded in 1812) and the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology (founded in 1877), the Museum and School of Industrial Art organized its collections scientifically and systematically. Large glass cases in Memorial Hall displayed arrays of artifacts according to function and material, progressing through time. However, over the next few decades, the collections began to change. The 1893 bequest of Anna H. Wilstach (1822-92) to the Fairmount Park Commission and to the museum began the institution’s move toward fine art. The paintings she donated were valuable, but the $500,000 discretionary fund she left for purchases had even more dramatic impact. Over time, the bequest led to nearly one thousand acquisitions including innovative masterpieces by Paul Cézanne (1839-1906) and Henry Ossawa Tanner (1859-1937), an African American.

Prominent Philadelphia Donors

[caption id="attachment_33851" align="alignright" width="300"]life-sized figures of Indian deities carved into stone pillars with ornate decorations. These life-sized figures carved into the pillars of the Pillared Temple Hall represent deities and characters from important Hindu texts the Ramayana and the Mahabharata. The temple fragments came to the museum from the Madana Gopala Swamy Temple in the south Indian city of Madurai in 1919, after a wealthy Philadelphian purchased them while on her honeymoon. (Philadelphia Museum of Art)[/caption]

Other valuable collections of Western art followed in the early twentieth century, including those of William L. Elkins (1832-1903), an oil and transportation magnate, and his son George W. Elkins (1858-1919); John Howard McFadden (1850–1921), a wealthy cotton merchant; and John G. Johnson (1841-1917), a lawyer for corporations like Standard Oil, Baldwin Locomotive, and United States Steel. These men—some of them also powerful Fairmount Park commissioners with vested interests in the museum already— officially bequeathed their collections to the city and the Park Commission, but the museum then cared for and exhibited them. All the donors were prominent Philadelphians and very wealthy, but also philanthropic and civic-minded. Johnson, whose collection of European Renaissance art was the biggest prize out of any acquired at this time, said in his will: “I have lived my life in this City. I want the collection to have its home here.”

Elkins and McFadden made their bequests contingent on the creation of a new building to house them, and further donations of collections made more space in a grander setting, closer to City Hall, a priority. By 1917, the museum trustees and staff finalized plans to leave Memorial Hall for a new building on the almost-completed parkway extending from City Hall to Fairmount Park. Horace Trumbauer (1868-1938), Paul Cret (1876-1945), and the firm of Zantzinger, Borie, and Medary designed the building collaboratively with labor by numerous others including perspective drawings by Julian Abele (1881-1950), a rare opportunity for an African American architect at that time.

In 1928, the eclectic Greek Revival building opened at a cost to the city of $12 million. Because the building sat on city land, the Fairmount Park Commission managed it with city funds. When seeking financial donations, some of the museum’s leadership emphasized the new building as a matter of civic pride for all citizens. Yet for museum president Eli Kirk Price (1860-1933), such a monumental building also served to “encourage men who already have bought pictures to give them to the museum.”  In the spirit of both cutting costs and encouraging Price’s donors, the building was strategically constructed as a massive shell into which the museum could gradually build galleries for new collections. Those empty galleries could promise donors that their collections would not go into storage, but they also became a promise that the city would not just support public space in its parks, but also elite taste in its museums.

A New Organizational Scheme

[caption id="attachment_33849" align="alignright" width="300"]Interior of eighteenth-century parlor room with portraits on the walls, blue furniture, a fireplace, and a crystal chandelier. Among the period rooms installed under director Fiske Kimbell, the plaster ceiling decoration and architectural woodwork in this photograph are the surviving elements of the parlor room of Philadelphia Mayor Samuel Powel’s eighteenth-century house. In the parlor, considered the best room in the house, Powel hosted many important occasions, including George and Martha Washington’s twentieth wedding anniversary party. (Philadelphia Museum of Art)[/caption]

Starting in 1925, director Fiske Kimball (1888-1955) oversaw the building of galleries and the donation and purchase of new collections, but he also implemented a new organizational scheme for the works displayed in the new building. The new exhibits were not a systematic array, but a history of art. The second floor used masterworks to show the evolution of European art from the Middle Ages to the modern era. Kimball also innovated in embedding period rooms that further illuminated this chronology. While other museums staged rooms to represent specific times and places, Kimball began importing whole architectural elements to create context for furnishings and art. Combined with his floor-wide history of art, the museum became a “walk through time” both within and across galleries. By the mid-1930s, Asian galleries in the South Wing housed art from India, China, Japan, and Iran but offered little explanation as to how they fit into the grand narrative and inevitable march of Western progress portrayed elsewhere in the museum.

The first floor, meanwhile, presented “study collections.” In the South Wing, these more in-depth exhibits included displays of decorative arts that followed in the tradition of the original Pennsylvania Museum and School of Industrial Art. The works in the North Wing focused on specific eras and areas of Western art, but tellingly, maps for visitors labeled the galleries by collector with subject matter indicated in secondary text. Thus, while the South Wing’s curation reflected the institution’s original educational intention, the arrangement of the North Wing, much like the architecture of the museum, catered to wealthy donors. The new building contained these study collections, but it did not house the school. Although the two were still officially connected, by 1938 the institutions became the Philadelphia Museum of Art (PMA) located on the Parkway and the Philadelphia Museum School of Industrial Art located on South Broad Street.

Despite the museum’s dwindling relationship to the school, other kinds of outreach extended to the public. Under Kimball the museum founded a Division of Education in 1929 and in 1931 opened a short-lived branch at Sixty-Ninth Street Terminal in conjunction with the Carnegie Foundation and a developer in West Philadelphia. Long-lasting affiliations that began in the 1920s included two Fairmount Park historic houses (Cedar Grove and Mount Pleasant) and the Rodin Museum on the Parkway. In 1944, the museum established another enduring relationship by agreeing to administer the Fleisher Art Memorial at Eighth and Catharine Streets. Fleisher’s free classes, unlike those at the School of Industrial Art, taught art as recreation not profession.

Progress Even During the Depression

Although not immune to the impact of the Great Depression, the PMA completed dozens of galleries throughout the 1930s to house acquisitions such as the Edmond Foulc Collection of Medieval and Renaissance Art. Much of this construction occurred with help from New Deal programs like the Works Progress Administration. The museum also gained artworks, especially African American prints, from the Public Works of Art Project. While the PMA’s finances suffered in the 1930s, it continued to spend, and some raised questions about whether art was a worthy cause when so many people were out of work and hungry. Among those raising these questions in the early 1930s were Mayor Harry A. Mackey (1869-1938) who, with City Council, controlled much of the museum’s budget. Cartoonists at The Philadelphia Record echoed those concerns when the museum bought Cézanne’s The Bathers for $110,000 in 1937.

[caption id="attachment_33847" align="alignright" width="244"]Mannequin wearing white wedding dress with lace details, a wreath-shaped crown, and matching clutch. This seemingly simple wedding dress contains many details, including lace with floral motifs, seed peal accents, and a crownlike wreath headpiece. The dress belonged to actress and Philadelphia native Grace Kelly, who donated it to the museum in 1956 after marrying Prince Rainier of Monaco. (Philadelphia Museum of Art)[/caption]

During the Kimball era, the museum made huge acquisitions including an intact French Medieval cloister, but the emphasis on recreating the past concerned some who felt the museum was falling behind by not collecting more innovative modern art. The museum acquired some modern works—like The Bathers and the photography collection of Alfred Stieglitz (1864-1946)—in the 1940s. It was later, in the 1950s, that the Walter and Louise Arensberg Collection—including many works by Marcel Duchamp (1887-1968)—and the A. E. Gallatin Collection (also known as The Museum of Living Art) established the PMA as a major repository of modern and contemporary art.

The Arensberg and Gallatin collections, donated from outside Philadelphia, demonstrated the growing reputation of the PMA and the work it contained. The Arensbergs, for example, selected the PMA because they believed their collection would be most valued and do the most good in Philadelphia. Some Philadelphia collectors, however, spurned the museum. Joseph Widener (1871-1943)—a Philadelphian who was heir to his father’s transportation fortune and had longstanding, multigenerational connections to the city and the museumslighted Philadelphia and in 1942 opted to enshrine himself and his collection at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. With the opposite motivation, yet similar result, in 1922 Albert Barnes (1872-1951) created his own educational foundation so his collection might be used to combat the elitism of the art world in general and Kimball’s PMA in particular.

The First Admission Fee, 35 cents

In 1962, the museum which was previously free began to charge an admission fee of 35 cents, but during that decade it also expanded its education programs for adults and schoolchildren, and in 1970 it created a Department of Urban Outreach (DUO). If the admission fee made the museum less accessible, programs like DUO’s murals and other public works made it more so.

 Throughout the 1970s, the museum responded to other trends in the museum world as well. It added visitor-centered amenities like a restaurant and air conditioning. It also began hosting more blockbuster shows featuring recognizable artists like Duchamp and Vincent Van Gogh (1853-90). However, the PMA was more often an early adopter than an innovator. Although the museum’s founding as a school for industrial designers once set it apart from institutions like the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, by 1964 the school officially separated from the museum, eventually becoming known as the University of the Arts.

The d’Harnoncourt Era

In 1982, Anne d’Harnoncourt (1943-2008), a Duchamp scholar and longtime modern art curator at the museum, became director. She continued to build the modern and contemporary collections with major acquisitions by artists such as Cy Twombly (1928-2011) and Bruce Nauman (b. 1941). She also acquired the Muriel and Philip Berman Collection of prints and drawings by old masters and presided over a 1989 legal victory that allowed the Johnson collection to be integrated into the collections at large. This led to reorganizing the European art galleries in an even more monumental narrative of Western masterpieces that better realized Kimball’s vision of exhibiting the paintings as a walk through time and a march of progress. While more spectacular according to many standards because of the quality of the work, the exhibits changed little about the standard narrative of art history. In contrast, the African American Collections Committee, created in 2001 for the museum’s 125th anniversary, made the collections more inclusive by purchasing works that filled gaps where other donors failed to collect.

[caption id="attachment_33846" align="alignright" width="241"]Oil painting depicting a surgeon surrounded by assistants in an amphitheater performing an operation on a patient's thigh. In 2007, the Philadelphia Museum of Art in a partnership with the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts purchased The Gross Clinic, Thomas Eakins’ iconic painting of a surgery being performed in Philadelphia, for $68 million. This purchase epitomized the museum’s dedication to fine art and the city at a time when Philadelphia was investing less in its cultural institutions. (Philadelphia Museum of Art)[/caption]

In many ways, d’Harnoncourt continued in the tradition of Kimball as she expanded the reputation of the PMA and Philadelphia as an elite center of art collecting and exhibition. The $68 million joint effort with the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts in 2007 to purchase Thomas Eakins’ (1844-1916) The Gross Clinic when Thomas Jefferson University wanted to sell it epitomized a dedication to fine art and the city at a time when the city was perpetually on the verge of bankruptcy and investing less and less in its cultural institutions. Yet the Gross Clinic campaign to keep the iconic painting in Philadelphia also showed commitment to an art world steeped equally in money and taste as in public service and inclusive civic pride. Likewise, the addition of the Perelman Building on Pennsylvania Avenue primarily provided more space for existing collections, although it also held the promise of being a more flexible and more community-oriented space than the museum’s main temple on the hill.

Plans for an expansion designed by Frank Gehry (b. 1929) began during d’Harnoncourt’s tenure, then commenced construction in 2017 under the directorship of Timothy Rub (b. 1952). It continued projects undertaken since the 1970s to make the museum more welcoming to visitors, especially those with cars, and easier to navigate both inside and out. At the same time, digital initiatives and educational outreach promised to expand the reach of the museum in ways that paralleled earlier efforts to create audio guides for the galleries, develop curriculum for schools, and provide distance programs through teleconferencing and telephones.

The Iconic Museum Steps

The museum, a home to 240,000 priceless objects and an ongoing recipient of funding from the city which owned its building, always identified itself as a civic institution for Philadelphians. This extended to the museum’s most visible public space, the iconic seventy-two steps leading up to the museum’s Parkway-facing entrance. With a spectacular view of City Hall down the Benjamin Franklin Parkway, the steps became a must-see attraction for tourists, the lead-in on sports broadcasts and other televised events, and shorthand for the city in popular media. However, this was as much because of Rocky Balboa’s training montage in the Oscar-winning film Rocky (1976) as it was because of John Johnson or Fiske Kimball. Instead of creating literal common ground between elite, private benefactors and a broader public, a debate emerged over where the statue of Rocky donated by actor and star of the movie Sylvester Stallone (b. 1946) should stand. Many at the museum argued that it was a movie prop, not properly art, and the statue spent years at the Spectrum arena in South Philadelphia before being placed not at the top of the steps but at the bottom in 2006. This was revealing of how the museum negotiated the interests of different audiences who sometimes struggled to find common ground in fine art, especially when the icons of one class could be pushed to the side to legitimate those of the other.

Despite the snub of Rocky, the PMA embraced more accessible, community-driven interpretations of its collections and the broader role of the art museum. A cheeky ad campaign from 2017 featured nonchalant visitor commentary—Botticelli’s Portrait of a Young Man was captioned, “I think he’s throwing some serious shade”—that sanctioned laughter at the obscurity of high cultural taste. Even more progressively, the “Philadelphia Assembled” exhibit, also in 2017, combined art and civic engagement. As an example of the museum’s efforts to become more politically relevant to a changing society, the exhibit gave space—albeit only at the Perelman Building—to individuals and organizations to create stories of resistance and community building, challenging the cultural hierarchies of the past and sharing authority with a more inclusive community.

The Philadelphia Museum of Art in most ways fit the paradigm of the encyclopedic art museum as it had existed in Europe and North America since the nineteenth century. It had unique origins in education and industrial design, but it quickly fell into the patterns of similar institutions that showcased monumental narratives of Western art. Over time it became more inclusive with programs to sponsor public art and to acquire and exhibit more art by women and people of color, although funding, purchases, and outreach programs to under-served communities could only begin to address the history of an institution whose world-renowned collection reflected the hierarchical tastes of elite donors and curators. By the twenty-first century, exhibition and program strategies sought to mobilize the museum and its collections in multiple and sometimes surprising ways, despite the heritage they most visibly embodied.

Mabel Rosenheck is a writer and historian in Philadelphia. She received her Ph.D. in media and cultural studies from Northwestern University and works at the Wagner Free Institute of Science, Temple University, and elsewhere. 

Andrew McNally

Andrew McNally received his Ph.D. from the University of Minnesota in 2017. His dissertation explored the history of the international understanding movement in U.S. education.

Train Derailments and Collisions

[caption id="attachment_33587" align="aligncenter" width="540"]Black and white lithograph depicting a twisted train wreckage, injured animals, and a crowd gathering to observe the scene. On August 29, 1855, a crowd gathered to observe the twisted wreckage after a train near Burlington, New Jersey, reversed direction and struck a horse-drawn carriage. This lithograph, created shortly after the event, depicts the aftermath. (Historical Society of Pennsylvania)[/caption]

Since the earliest days of railroads, collisions and derailments have been a constant danger for both passengers and railroad workers. Large-scale disasters have been relatively rare in the Philadelphia region, despite its important role in railroad operation and development. However, news coverage, public outrage, and government intervention resulting from rail accidents around the country forced prominent companies such the Pennsylvania Railroad to adopt new safety technologies and regulations to ease public fears, restore efficiency, and increase daily traffic. Accidents highlighted failures or absences of railroad safety measures locally and across the United States.

Collisions and derailments occurred despite ongoing efforts to improve railroad safety. In the late nineteenth century, railroad companies sought to improve the durability of tracks by switching from iron to steel rails and to reduce accidents by building parallel tracks that allowed trains to pass each other. The Interstate Commerce Commission, created in 1887 to regulate transportation, issued a series of regulations requiring railroad companies to comply with safety regulations. Over time, new technologies such as Automatic Train Stop and eventually electric Automatic Train Control systems and in-cab signaling developed to forcibly stop trains if warning signals were ignored. However, many railroad companies hesitated to implement such costly equipment.

On early railroads of the nineteenth century, multiple trains traveled inbound and outbound on the same lines, making communication key to avoiding collisions and other track hazards. On a single-track road, a train would have to use a siding track off the main line to wait for another train to pass. Before the days of two-way radios, train crews had to rely on schedules, telegraphs at station stops, or simple line of sight in order to locate another train. These capricious methods were often vulnerable to a large degree of human error.

Great Train Wreck of 1856

[caption id="attachment_33628" align="alignright" width="300"]Color illustration of train wreck showing flames and people leaping from the train car. Chaos ensues as passengers jump from a train car to escape the smoke and flames in this lithograph, produced from a drawing created at the scene of the Great Train Wreck of 1856. (Library Company of Philadelphia)[/caption]

Such was the case on July 17, 1856, in an event that came to be known as the Great Train Wreck of 1856. That day at the Cohocksink depot in the Kensington section of Philadelphia, a North Pennsylvania Railroad excursion train called the “Picnic Special,” carrying children from St. Michael’s Roman Catholic Sunday School, left the depot later than scheduled. Farther down the line at the Wissahickon station, the crew of the regularly scheduled train the Aramingo had no way of knowing that the Picnic Special was running late and so, after a brief period of waiting, pulled out of the station on the single-track line. The conductor intended to use a siding at Edge Hill to allow the Picnic Special to pass. However, the two trains collided around a blind curve by Camp Hill station, near the site of future Ambler, killing fifty-nine and injuring around one hundred. Immediately following the accident, Wissahickon resident Mary Johnson Ambler (1805-68) packed first-aid supplies and traveled the two miles from her home to care for the wounded. Years later, her heroics inspired the North Pennsylvania Railroad to rename the Wissahickon station as Ambler after her, and the town also took her name in 1888.

A similar incident had occurred in South Jersey on the Camden-Amboy Railroad on August 29, 1855. In this accident, two trains traveling in opposite directions on the single-track line between Philadelphia and New York spotted each other down the road near Burlington. The northbound train began to reverse. Down the line at a road crossing, a local doctor was driving his two-horse carriage, but windy weather caused dust clouds and made it difficult for both the brakemen and the doctor to see. The train struck the two horses and derailed four of the five train cars. This accident left twenty-one dead and sixty to one hundred wounded, although the doctor was unharmed. These accidents and subsequent derailments, among other highly publicized disasters nationally in the 1850s, aroused public outcry for increased railroad safety and highlighted the dangers of railroad travel in absence of safety measures.

Many railroads did not become double-tracked until traffic increased during and after the Civil War. The Pennsylvania Railroad Company planned its Main Line, connecting Philadelphia to Harrisburg and Pittsburgh, to be double-track from its inception. However, the economic Panic of 1857 halted the double-track progress until the increased traffic of the Civil War made it necessary.

During the Civil War, as Union and Confederate forces used railroads heavily, railroad companies depended on poor quality British iron for tracks that quickly wore out and caused numerous derailments. After the war, railroads turned instead to steel as sturdier and better suited for newer, heavier cars and more powerful locomotives. By the late 1870s, the Independent Philadelphia, Wilmington and Baltimore Railroad became one of the first American railroads to install steel rails along its main line. By 1914, Pennsylvania Railroad executives concerned with railroad productivity, more than passenger safety, also recognized broken rails to be a leading cause of derailments.

Automatic Train Stop Systems

Automatic Train Stop (ATS) systems, first patented by Pennsylvania Railroad workers in 1880, added an element of safety by preventing trains from passing restrictive signals. The initial system worked by dropping a bar on the train if it passed a stop signal. The bar would smash a glass cylinder on the locomotive, which would then release air pressure from the brake line and stop the train. In 1922, the Interstate Commerce Commission mandated that forty-nine major railroads implement ATS on at least one passenger division by 1926. However, ATS could not prevent derailments caused by speeding or stalling on a descent. This still remained in the hands of the engine man.

After excessive speed caused a train to derail in February 1947 near Gallitzin in central Pennsylvania, the ICC required all railroads to install cab signaling (in-cab displays corresponding with outside signal lights) or ATS where passenger trains exceeded 72 miles per hour. Finally, after an engine, Red Arrow, sped through a stop signal and collided with the rear end of the Philadelphia Night Express at Bryn Mawr on May 18, 1951, the Pennsylvania Railroad committed to installing cab signaling and Automatic Speed Control, or Automatic Train Control (ATC) as it came to be known. ATC uses electric pulses from the rails to apply the brakes on trains exceeding the speed limit. Similarly, on diesel and electric trains, “dead man” switches could stop the engine should the engineer become incapacitated.

[caption id="attachment_33585" align="alignright" width="300"]Black and white photograph depicting a crowd gathering to observe a train wreck. On September 6, 1943, the Congressional Limited derailed at the Frankford Junction curve as a result of loose equipment in the train’s undercarriage. In 2015, an Amtrak train approaching the curve at over 100 mph crashed in the same spot. (Special Collections Research Center, Temple University Libraries)[/caption]

One location, the Frankford Junction curve in Philadelphia, became the site of two accidents seventy-two years apart. On September 6, 1943, PRR’s Congressional Limited derailed as a result of loose equipment in the train’s under carriage. Due to its speed, the train could not respond to the signalman’s warning in time to stop. This accident left seventy-nine killed and 118 injured. Years later, on May 12, 2015, Amtrak train 188 entered the Frankford Junction curve at around 102 mph and flew off the tracks. The track had been recently equipped with Positive Train Control (PTC, a more advanced form of ATC), but it was not yet operational. Had PTC been active, the train’s excessive speed would have triggered the brakes upon passing a warning signal. Eight people were killed and more than two hundred were injured.   

The absence of safety measures continued to be one of the leading causes of train derailments. Public outcry over accidents in the earlier, unregulated days of railroads precipitated the creation of safety innovations that protected and saved lives. With a large degree of railroad traffic, the greater Philadelphia region became a testing ground for these innovations. The decline in accident frequency demonstrated that with increased safety technologies, railroads could operate more efficiently and safely. Although train crews no longer operated blindly, in the absence of long-developed safety measures, the rails could still be a dangerous place.

Leonard Lederman earned his master’s degree in history at West Chester University of Pennsylvania.

Major Train Derailments in Greater Philadelphia

November 8, 1833: Hightstown Rail Accident, Hightstown, New Jersey. An overheated journal box caught fire underneath one of the carriages on a Camden & Amboy train between Hightstown and Spotswood, New Jersey, causing an axle to break and derailing the train. The derailment killed one and injured twenty-three. Among the wounded was future New York Central railroad magnate Cornelius Vanderbilt (1794-1877). Also on board the train was former president John Quincy Adams (1767-1848) who, in his journal, recorded the horror of witnessing the wounded victims. This derailment may have been the first fatal passenger train accident in U.S. history.

August 2, 1853: Sunset Cow Wreck, Bulls Island, Lambertville, New Jersey. At sunset, a Belvidere Delaware Railroad train struck a cow on the tracks. Six cars derailed, killing eleven.

August 29, 1855: Camden-Amboy Railroad Wreck, Burlington, New Jersey. Twenty-one people died and sixty to one hundred were injured after a train struck two horses pulling a carriage, causing four cars to derail.

July 17, 1856:  Great Train Wreck of 1856, Ambler, Pennsylvania. A regularly scheduled North Pennsylvania Railroad passenger collided with a late excursion train, killing fifty-nine and injuring around one hundred.

October 4, 1877: Milford Wreck, Kimberton, Pennsylvania. Torrential rain from a large tropical storm caused the ground under the tracks near Kimberton to erode. A three-car Philadelphia and Reading Railroad train plunged into the thirty-foot chasm, killing seven.

September 19, 1890: Shoemakersville, Pennsylvania. After two coal trains collided and spilled timber and coal onto a passenger train track, a fast-moving Pottsville Express passenger train struck the coal debris and plunged into the Schuylkill River. Twenty-two people died and more than thirty were injured.

July 30, 1896: Atlantic City, New Jersey.  A Reading Railroad Express train plowed into the side of Pennsylvania Railroad Red Men’s excursion train, killing around fifty and injuring over sixty.

December 3, 1903: Greenwood, Delaware. A winter snowstorm, resulting in decreased visibility, caused two trains to collide in the town of Greenwood. One train carried naphtha, a highly flammable liquid, which exploded with such force that Greenwood inhabitants reported glass shattered in almost every building in town. Only one brakeman and a nearby infant were killed, but the resulting fires wounded many and destroyed nine buildings, leaving locals homeless during the snowstorm. Firefighters could not respond until the following morning because the explosion had destroyed telegraph lines.

October 18, 1906: Atlantic City. Improperly placed tracks on a trestle bridge outside Atlantic City caused a West Jersey and Seashore Railroad train to derail, plunging several cars into the mud and water. Fifty died from drowning in the mud and rising water levels. A grand jury exonerated the elderly bridge tender but found the railroad company at fault for improperly placed tracks and a lack of mechanical warning signals.

November 27, 1912: “Sagging Bridge,” Glen Loch, Pennsylvania. The Cleveland Flyer train derailed as the result of a sagging bridge on the Pennsylvania Railroad line. Eight cars derailed, killing four and wounding forty-nine. Investigations found that a cover plate on the bridge had ruptured but could not determine the cause. Evidenced also showed that the train began to derail before it reached the bridge.

September 6, 1943: Frankford Junction, Philadelphia. The Pennsylvania Railroad Congressional Limited derailed on the Frankford Junction curve as a result of loose equipment in the train’s undercarriage. Due to its speed, the train could not respond to the signalmen’s warning in time to stop. This accident left seventy-nine killed and 118 injured.

May 18, 1951: Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania. A Pennsylvania Railroad train, Red Arrow, sped through a stop signal and collided with the rear end of the Philadelphia Night Express at Bryn Mawr, killing eleven and wounding fifty-seven.

December 26, 1961: York-Dauphin Station, Philadelphia. A four-car SEPTA subway on the Market-Frankford El line entered a curve just before the York-Dauphin station where it hit a guardrail causing the first three cars to derail. One man was killed and thirty-eight people were injured.

March 7, 1990: Philadelphia. Between 30th and 15th Street Stations, a dragging motor box caused a subway car to crash through a pillar, killing four and injuring 162.

May 12, 2015: Frankford Junction, Philadelphia. Amtrak train 188 entered the Frankford Junction curve at around 102 mph and flew off the tracks. The track had been recently equipped with Positive Train Control, but it was not yet operational. Had PTC been active, the train’s excessive speed would have triggered the brakes upon passing a warning signal. Eight people were killed and more than two hundred were injured.

April 3, 2016: Chester, Pennsylvania.  A maintenance crew foreman neglected to confirm that dispatchers were routing trains around the work zone. As a result, an Amtrak train on the New York to Savannah line collided with a backhoe, killing two maintenance workers and injuring around forty passengers.

Leonard Lederman

Leonard Lederman earned his master’s degree in history at West Chester University of Pennsylvania.

Philadelphia Sketch Club

Founded in 1860, the Philadelphia Sketch Club became one of the oldest and longest continually operating American sketch clubs. Open to amateurs, students, and professionals, it became integral to Philadelphia’s artistic history. Initially founded as a weekly workshop by Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts (PAFA) students and alumni, who sought drawing training and criticism, the club began sponsoring exhibitions in 1865, awarding prizes and supporting an artists’ “relief fund.” The Sketch Club continued to sponsor exhibitions and workshops, remaining a vital artistic institution in the city.

In November 1860, sixteen PAFA students and alumni signed a charter for “The Crayon Sketch Club,” to support drawing and structured critique. Adopting the moniker “The Philadelphia Sketch Club” in 1861, their aim “was to stimulate creativity through regular meetings at which members would propose motifs or subjects … for general criticism” and operate the relief fund to support sick or impoverished artists and pay burial expenses. Members met weekly to sketch subjects decided by committee and submit monthly entries. Behavior and participation were policed and members were fined for swearing or failing to produce sketches. The club organized dinners and encouraged camaraderie among members, then limited to men.

[caption id="attachment_33538" align="alignright" width="243"]Color print featuring cherubs drawing and text that reads "first annual prize exhibition of the Philadelphia Sketch Club held at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts". This print advertised the Philadelphia Sketch Club’s first annual prize exhibition, held in December 1865. (Library Company of Philadelphia)[/caption]

In December 1865, the club held its first Annual Exhibition at PAFA and offered a $2,000 cash prize for the “finest work illustrative of the great American Rebellion,” the American Civil War then in its final months. Philadelphia sculptor Howard Roberts (1843-1900) exhibited three sculptures alongside works by landscape painter Albert Bierstadt (1830-1902), portraitist G.P.A. Healey (1813-94), marine painter Edward Moran (1829-1901), Hudson River School artist Sanford Gifford (1823-80), and Italian expatriate Charles Caryl Coleman (1840-1928). The Philadelphia-based Evening Telegraph described it as the “most important display of … American works … ever made.”

When PAFA sold its Chestnut Street location in 1870, commissioning a Frank Furness (1839-1912) building at Broad and Cherry Street that opened in 1876, Academy students and alumni utilized and animated the Sketch Club. In the winter of 1873, founding member and art critic Earl Shinn (1838-86) invited Thomas Eakins (1844-1916) to provide biweekly evening life-drawing classes for male members and nonmembers, which continued until 1876 when Eakins took an Academy assistantship. He also lectured on human anatomy and taught watercolor. Club enrollment increased. The club made Eakins a lifetime member, while students created a photographic parody of The Gross Clinic. In 1886, though, scandals surrounding Eakins’s instruction at PAFA and the club led Thomas Anshutz (1851-1912) to charge him with “conduct unworthy of a gentlemen and discreditable to this organization” and forced his expulsion from the club. 

In 1874, club member and illustrator Frank Hamilton Taylor (1846-1927) published the “Philadelphia Sketch Club Portfolio,” replicating with photo-lithographs twenty-five original works by club members across twelve monthly volumes. The first folio included caricatures of eighteen members, such as Earl Shinn and Howard Roberts.  As club president from 1873 to 1877, Roberts had a prominent role in planning the 1876 Centennial Exhibition, organizing the “Address to the Artists of the United States” at club headquarters and winning a medal for his sculpture Première Pose. The following year, Anshutz premiered his painting Ironworkers’ Noontime, judged an “outstanding work of the show.” Anshutz, who officially joined the Sketch Club in 1877, served as PAFA director in 1909 and Sketch Club president from 1910 to 1912.

[caption id="attachment_33537" align="alignright" width="300"]Color photograph of Camac Street in Philadelphia The Philadelphia Sketch Club established its permanent headquarters at 235 S. Camac Street, pictured in the left of this photograph, in 1902. (Wikimedia Commons)[/caption]


Throughout its early years, the Sketch Club occupied various temporary lodgings, including at 524 Walnut Street, No. 10 Northwest Penn Square, and 1328 Chestnut Street. In 1902, however, the club established a permanent headquarters by purchasing two adjacent row houses on Camac Street, adding a third in 1908. Following extensive renovations completed in 1915, the new headquarters included a skylighted gallery, meeting rooms, an archive, billiard room, library, gardens, sitting room, dining room, kitchen, etching room, and activity spaces, which served an expanded membership. Joseph Pennell (1857-1926), illustrator and president of the club in 1921, called Camac “The Little Street of Clubs,” also home to the women’s arts group The Plastic Club and the Franklin Inn Club. The Sketch Club’s headquarters, 235 S. Camac Street, gained listings on the Philadelphia and National Registers of Historic Places.

By the middle of the twentieth century, membership included a significant number of Pennsylvania Impressionists, master blacksmith Samuel Yellin (1884-1940) and renowned illustrator N.C. Wyeth (1882-1945). However, the club also limited the scope of participation. In an interview published in 2015 by the Woodmere Art Museum, painter Moe Brooker (b. 1940) recalled that artist Julius T. Bloch (1888-1966) boycotted Sketch Club exhibitions in the 1960s because the club refused to exhibit African American artists. Women artists, such as Violet Oakley (1874-1961) and Betty Bowes (1911-2007), exhibited with the club at the first exhibition and won prizes and medals; however, women were not allowed to become members until 1991, when the club became tax-exempt and had to comply with government mandates.

Although challenged by the proliferation of innovative galleries and more inclusive clubs and cooperatives founded since the 1970s, the Philadelphia Sketch Club remained an active part of Philadelphia’s artistic and cultural landscape in the early twenty-first century. By 2019, the Philadelphia Sketch Club retained approximately two hundred active members and ran public art workshops, sponsored exhibitions, and awarded competitive prizes and medals. These activities, and the club’s archive and art collection, including forty-four portraits by Anshutz of club members installed as a frieze in the library, have provided a vital link to Philadelphia’s cultural past and assured the club’s importance to Philadelphia’s art world.

Naomi Slipp is Assistant Professor of Art History at Auburn University in Montgomery, Alabama, has a Ph.D. from Boston University (2015), and publishes on Thomas Eakins, art and medicine, and the history of science. She worked at the Philadelphia Museum of Art in 2005-8 and 2014-15.

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