Dear Friends,

It appears that April showers truly have ushered in May flowers! Along with the glorious blooms of peonies, roses, bridal wreath spirea, and other spring lovelies, May has ushered in allergies and spring fever . . . on my trip to the Athenaeum and downtown USPS last week I noted many more residents out and about just as our streets are becoming more congested in the suburbs. Many of us seem to be hitting the proverbial wall as we pass the two-month mark of this pandemic shutdown. Nesting is losing its charm among those of us with the capacity to remain safely ensconced in our homes, while the burden of exposure while keeping us safe and caring for our needs falls most heavily on our neighbors who lack the safety nets we may have. As we wait and do our part, I hope we can each remain grateful for the many gifts that fill our lives and do what we can to ease the challenges that others are facing.

This weekend, my daughter and I baked French baguettes using flour we sourced from a baking supply store in New York, and my husband and I built three large raised beds so I can again grow many of our vegetables. I alternated reading Stolen by upcoming Athenaeum speaker Richard Bell (an excellent and accessible book on a chapter of America’s sordid history of slavery) and a “beach read” by Jane Corry, and playing lots of card games with my family. These were my little ways of getting around that wall of frustration and stress. What are you doing? Drop me a line at . It is always a pleasure to hear from Athenaeum members and friends.

We have a fabulous line-up of speakers for a virtual series that starts this Wednesday evening at 5:30 pm with a talk by Kathy Peiss,"Women as Information Hunters in World War II Europe.” See our full schedule below and links to register.  

Don’t forget to check out our ever-growing selection of ebooks . If you do not see a book that you would like to read, share your request with Jill LeMin Lee ( Also contact Jill for the password to our Periodical and Newspaper Reader for access to hundreds of magazines and newspapers.

New eBook acquisitions:

Apprehension by Mark Bergin
Beyond Blue by Austin S. Camacho
Broken Places by Tracy Clark
Rachel's Holiday by Marian Keyes 
Trace Elements by Donna Leon
Tracking Game by Margaret Mizushima
Wear Your Home Like a Scar by Nik Korpon
Dirt by Bill Buford
Sister Dearby Hannah Mary McKinnon
Far from the Madding Crowd by Thomas Hardy
Friendship by Lydia Denworth
Jefferson's Daughters by Catherine Kerrison
Stolen by Richard Bell
The Lincoln Deception by David O. Stewart
Visionary Women by Andrea Barnet

Staff dove into National Preservation Month with gusto this week. We each took walks around our neighborhoods and documented buildings that intrigue us. I hope that you will enjoy our offerings and share with us your own photographs and stories of buildings in your neighborhood that you particularly enjoy. We invite you to explore the Philadelphia Architects and Buildings , Geohistory Network , and Philadelphia Builder’s Guide sites to see what you can learn about where you live.
Monday, May 18

Reserve your spot for our upcoming online events! All events are Wednesdays at 5:30pm on Zoom.

And stay tuned for additional event announcements!
Wed, May 20, 2020 5:30 PM EST
Kathy Peiss on Women as Information Hunters in World War II Europe
Wed, May 27, 2020 5:30 PM EST
Richard Bell on Stolen
Wed, Jun 3, 2020 5:30 PM EST
Catherine Kerrison on Jefferson's Daughters
Wed, Jun 10, 2020 5:30 PM EST
Lydia Denworth on Friendship
“Delaware River Bridge Foot Path,” Robert M. Skaler Postcard Collection, Athenaeum of Philadelphia,  Athenaeum of Philadelphia Featured Collections
Tuesday, May 19

Benjamin Franklin Bridge by Denise Fox

I’m quite fond of the Ben Franklin Bridge. Until the great Covid-19 lockdown of 2020 began two months ago, I’ve commuted every day for nearly 30 years from New Jersey to Philadelphia on the PATCO high speed line that hugs the sides of the bridge. I miss the experience of riding the train along the cantilevered tracks, seemingly floating above the water some 135 feet below, and gliding past all the cars stuck in traffic on the bridge deck. There is yet another mode of transportation that most bridge users have never experienced: walking along the elevated pedestrian walkways, enjoying spectacular views of the Philadelphia and Camden waterfronts.

Without a doubt, walking the bridge has provided me with the most vivid appreciation for this magnificent structure designed by Polish-born engineer Ralph Modjeski and French-born architect Paul Cret. When it opened on July 1, 1926, the Delaware River Bridge (as it was known then) was the world’s longest suspension bridge. The fare was 25 cents for cars, and 15 cents for horses and buggies; walking on the elevated path was (and still is) free. The 1.5 mile p edestrian walkways line both sides of the bridge, elevated above the train tracks and vehicular lanes. Normally, one side of the walkway is open at a time. As of this writing, the south side is open for walkers, runners and cyclists. If you wish to walk the bridge, check this Delaware River Port Authority website for more detailed information, including hours and guidelines for social distancing: . Remember to dress warmly; it gets windy up there! 
Wednesday, May 20

Dream Houses (518 Spring Avenue, Elkins Park) by Beth Hessel

Two springs ago, my now-husband and I were looking for the right home to combine our “Brady Bunch” family in Elkins Park. Our search led to several breathtaking “stretch” homes, including a Horace Trumbauer Georgian Colonial at 518 Spring Avenue. While we settled on a more modest home a few blocks away, this one still makes my mouth water! Its history also fascinates me.

In 1899, the Rev. Dr. Edward W. Appleton, rector at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Elkins Park, hired Trumbauer to prepare drawings for the $7,000 home. Appleton paid Trumbauer $210.00 for a series of drawings and specifications. The beautiful home featured a deep glass-enclosed front porch with French doors opening to the front rooms and a gracious open floor plan on the first floor. Parishioners wishing to visit their rector would wait on a settee by a fireplace in the large foyer with a direct view across the hallway to a sitting room. Hidden behind the sitting room were the pastor’s study and a family room. The home, by far the most elegant I have seen for a minister’s abode (coming from generations of pastors and a pastor myself!) included a butler’s pantry off the kitchen and servants’ quarters on the third floor. 

By 1905, the house had become the property of industrialist George L. Adams, who hired Trumbauer to build an imposing carriage house and stables in the back. One horse stall is still extant in the carriage house and rather run-down quarters for the stable servants remain above.

Appleton was likely near the end of his career in 1900; the records of the Diocese of the Protestant Episcopal Church of Pennsylvania listed him as a candidate for Holy Orders in 1841; in 1865 he was the rector of St. Michael’s Church in Trenton, NJ and arrived in what was then Ogontz Park to serve St. Paul’s in 1870. The church is a small Gothic splendor originally built by abolitionist and financier Jay Cook and boasting additions by Trumbauer and lovely Tiffany windows. It has been a hub of abolitionist and civil rights work since its founding in 1851. 

The few references I can find to the Rev. Dr. Edward W. Appleton come from the minutes of the American Colonization Society. Founded in 1816 to encourage securing the freedom and voluntary resettlement of African Americans as Christian missionaries in Africa (leading to the founding of Liberia), the ACS was controversial within the antislavery movement. Some prominent African American leaders revived the ACS with the failure of Reconstruction in the 1870s, believing the only hope for African Americans lay outside the United States. Appleton participated in this movement to educate and prepare interested African American men and women to help populate and Christianize Liberia. Thankfully, St. Paul’s long history demonstrates a much more robust commitment to civil rights here in Philadelphia. ( )

Resources at The Athenaeum of Philadelphia:

The Horace Trumbauer drawing registers list the drawings that were prepared in 1899 for Dr. Appleton (Commission 1714)

The Horace Trumbauer Account Book from 1899 shows that the house cost $7000.00 at 3% interest:

The 1916 North Penn atlas shows that the house at 513 Spring was owned by George L. Adams:

A Builders Guide citation for the property:
Thursday, May 21

Historic Strawberry Mansion by Tess Galen

On May 15, the Athenaeum was scheduled to take a tour of Historic Strawberry Mansion . Personally, I was really looking forward to this event because I moved to the Strawberry Mansion neighborhood last spring, but hadn’t visited the historic site yet. Instead, my husband and I took advantage of a sunny Saturday and walked around the area outside. We were immediately greeted with the buzzing of bees (a welcome sound in today’s climate) and noticed a few apiaries as well as a garden full of raspberry bushes, grape vines, and more. We learned about the history of the mansion, the people who used to own it, the strawberries and cream that used to be sold (can we bring that back?!) and the Committee of 1926 that came together to restore the house and its grounds. 

Behind the house are the most beautiful azalea bushes I have ever seen, and a path that led along the perimeter of the property, perfect for a social distance stroll. A side garden was just screaming for a bottle of ros é and good conversation.

The home was originally built in 1789 to be the summer home of Judge William Lewis, an important early abolition supporter who wrote the first abolition legislation in America. In 1825, the second owner, Judge Joseph Hemphill made the two Greek Revival additions that still stand to this day. The mansion was sold to the city by owner George Crock in 1867 where it served a few public minded purposes before officially opening to visitors in 1930.

I look forward to the day I can finally step inside the historic property and see what lays inside. If it is as good as the outside, I’m in for a treat. Until then, I’ll continue my explorations of Fairmount Park, and encourage my azalea bush to grow big and strong!
Friday, May 22

A Quarantine Walk in Northeast Philadelphia by Bruce Laverty

To most Philadelphians, a mention of “the Northeast” conjures images of strip malls by the mile, tens of thousands of brick row houses, and a 12-lane vehicular death trap ambitiously named Roosevelt Boulevard. It’s safe to say that the two thirds of Philadelphians who don’t live in the Northeast, and a fair share to those that do never reflect on the remarkable historic assets to be found here. The impression is that somehow Northeast Philadelphia was sprung fully-formed in the 1950s. A cheeky writer for Philadelphia Magazine once said that “driving down Bustleton Avenue was like being trapped in a time machine---stuck in the year 1959!” 

I’ve been a resident of the Northeast for 45 years. My own housing history reveals that the Northeast “neighborhood” is by no means monolithic. I’ve lived in Parkwood Manor, Frankford, Oxford Circle, and Lawncrest. Since 2002, Fox Chase has been my family’s home. Tucked into the western boundary of the Northeast, it borders Abington and Cheltenham Townships, and Rockledge Borough. Fox Chase is convenient to public transportation, just a 25 minute commute to Center City via SEPTA.

Having been mostly developed before World War II, Fox Chase is an exceptionally walkable part of the city; something that I’ve come to appreciate even more since walking is my only exercise since the COVID quarantine began. Fortunately for me it’s impossible to walk my neighborhood without seeing some of the city’s best specimens of 19 th century architecture. I share with you today three of them.

If I leave the front door of my 1955 two story brick twin house and turn right, an 11 minute walk brings me to Burholme , the grand Italianate-style residence built in 1859 by Philadelphia lawyer and railroad tycoon, Robert Waln Ryerss. Burholme ’s design was clearly influenced by Philadelphia architect, Samuel Sloan, whose wildly popular house pattern book, The Model Architect , was published in 1852. Perfectly sighted on the crest of a hill, the mansion has sweeping views of the Center City skyline, 10 miles to the southwest. 
Just west of the house, under an ancient shade tree is the Ryerrs family pet cemetery, complete with marble gravestones. Their love of animals did not stop at their own doorstep, however. Mrs. Ryerss was a founding benefactor of the Pennsylvania Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. Her husband endowed the delightfully named Ryerrs Infirmary for Aged Equines, still going strong and now located in Chester County.  (Whenever I drive by this farm, I imagine rows of rocking chairs; all occupied by blue-haired nags complete with lap blankets, shawls and granny glasses!) 

In 1905 Burholme and its 65-acre grounds were left to the City of Philadelphia as a park forever. The mansion houses a museum of the Ryerss Art Collection and a branch of the Free Library of Philadelphia.
 Above: 1895 View from Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia, A Camera and Pen Sketch of Each Presbyterian Church and Institution in the City . Courtesy of the Presbyterian Historical Society

If I leave my front door and head northeast, a 10 minute walk brings me to the Memorial Presbyterian Church of Fox Chase. The church was endowed in 1883 by Gustavus Benson, a member of West Spruce Street, now Tenth Presbyterian, Church. Benson was a trustee of Princeton Theological Seminary and the father of Rev. Louis Benson, a minister and hymnologist. ( The younger Benson’s 25-volume collection of Philadelphia building scrapbooks is available at the Athenaeum ). The church was built in the English rural gothic style to the designs of Theophilus P. Chandler, Jr., who in1890 became the first head of the department of architecture at the University of Pennsylvania.

Another 15-minute walk brings me to Knowlton, a remarkable survivor on a number of counts. The mansion was designed by Frank Furness between 1879 and 1881 for William H. Rhawn. 
The Athenaeum has Rhawn’s meticulously detailed manuscript pocket expense book that lists every cent he paid for the design and building of this grand house. The first page records $1.25 for carfare for Furness’s three trips to the worksite. Rhawn’s attention to financial detail came naturally. He was President of the National Bank of the Republic. Rhawn must have been pleased with Furness’s design at Knowlton. In 1883 he hired him to design his new bank building at 311 Chestnut Street. Sadly, neither Furness’s banks nor his residences fared well. As early as 1900 Furness’s stylistic exuberance was being publicly shamed. Three of his Chestnut Street banks (including Rhawn’s) were demolished in the 1950s. As open space in Northeast Philadelphia disappeared at an alarming rate after 1950, Knowlton remained a private residence for more than 100 years. Its owners resisted selling the 13-acre site to deep-pocketed developers. Their decades-long recalcitrance kept the house standing till Furness’s reputation rebounded and the economic benefits of historic preservation matured. The site was purchased by Conroy Catering in1997 and is used as an event venue, an excellent example of adaptive reuse.

 *Except where noted, photos are by the author.
Saturday, May 23

A Tale of Two Libraries (Kind of) by Gabrielle Rodriguez

I’ve lived in the Roxborough/Manayunk area for almost three years now, and I could easily write an entire essay about how much I love this neighborhood. Here in the lower northwest section of the city, we have direct access to the Wissahickon Creek and the Schuylkill River, unique historic built environments , and more than 50% of the land is designated as either residential or park/open space. In the time that I’ve been here, one of my only disappointments was realizing that walking to the closest library required a roughly 40 minute uphill hike. And while that situation certainly isn’t uncommon, I do recall making a mental note of the Roxborough library’s location at the top of Ridge Ave and the relatively unassuming structure that houses it.
So I was somewhat surprised to find the image on the right while browsing through some postcards in The Athenaeum’s Robert M. Skaler Collection , depicting an impressive building at a different address, and referred to as The Free Library of Philadelphia Manayunk Branch. I decided to do some research into why I’d never seen nor heard of this library before. Another search in our database revealed a second post card showing the same branch. 
With some quick online research I learned that while this area is currently only served by one public library, for quite some time it actually had two! The Wissahickon and Manayunk branches were both funded by the Andrew Carnegie Library Endowment Program and opened in 1909. Sixty years later both were closed and consolidated into the Roxborough branch that exists today. After reading that much of the original structure of the Manayunk building still stands (the Wissahickon’s sadly burned down) I decided I needed to pay them a visit.

Having the privilege of working at The Athenaeum of Philadelphia in an original 19 th century structure has definitely impacted my feelings towards historic preservation – so I admit I was disappointed to learn the building is now owned by a developer who converted it into luxury apartments. That being said, to this day the design by architect Benjamin Rush Stevens remains breathtaking. 

I highly recommend this 2012 Hidden City piece for more on its history and context:
I look forward to seeing many of you on our upcoming Speaker Series events. As always, know that I and the rest of the staff are here to serve you, even if remotely. We all look forward to connecting, growing, learning, and enriching our lives together.

With care and gratitude,
Beth Shalom Hessel
Executive Director