Market Street in West Philadelphia

The following is Chapter XXV of Joseph Jackson's Market Street, Philadelphia: The Most Historic Highway in America, Its Merchants and Its Story. Originally published as a series of articles in the Public Ledger in 1914 and 1915, it was republished by the newspaper in book form in 1918.



West Philadelphia in 1839, from the map of Charles Ellet
Market street, from the Schuylkill to Mill creek, at this time, was known as Washington street. The streets in Hamiltonville bore the names of members of the Hamilton family. Cramond street is the present Thirty-third. Till street is now Fortieth, etc. No vestige of the West Philadelphia railroad survives.

On some of the old maps of the city there is indicated a canal around the western approach to the bridge over the Schuylkill at Market street. This mysterious waterway was not so mysterious when it is understood for what purpose it was constructed. The bridge was without out a draw, and for the benefit of small ships which were to be sailed north of Market street it was necessary to provide a way for them. This was done by the digging of a small, semicircular canal around the western end of the bridge in 1833 by the West Philadelphia Canal Company, but it never became anything more than a nuisance, and half a century ago was filled in, the corporation of the District of West Philadelphia being authorized to do so under the act of 1849.

Until about the beginning of the last century Market street in West Philadelphia was known as the West Chester road, but after the death of Washington it was renamed Washington street, through that section of it known as Hamiltonville. West of Mill Creek, at Forty-sixth street, the western bounds of the village, it retained its earlier name. The name Washington clung to it until the time of the consolidation of the various townships, boroughs, etc., into the city of Philadelphia in 1854. It is true that it was customary for Philadelphians to refer to the street as Market street, in spite of its proper name, just as they insisted upon calling High street by that name.

From the western end of the bridge to Cobb's creek, the county line, the distance is three miles, and from a point near the river westward to about Forty-sixth street, it formerly passed through the tract of the Hamiltons. This tract comprised six hundred acres, and the upper part was laid out in Hamilton village. Market street seems to have been the northern boundary of the estate, the remains of which may now be seen in the eighty-six acres comprising Woodlands Cemetery. The estate early in the eighteenth century was owned by Andrew Hamilton and descended to his son, William, who liked to call himself William Hamilton of the Woodlands, the name of his estate. Before West Philadelphia became a political part of the city of Philadelphia there were recalled in the names of the streets in Hamilton village the names of the Hamiltons.

There was Andrew street, now Walnut street, named for Andrew Hamilton the second; Till street, Fortieth street, named for his wife, who was a Miss Till; William street, or Thirty-ninth, for their son, William Hamilton "of the Woodlands." Ludlow street was called Oak street, and few of the thoroughfares within the bounds of the village were known by their present names. Thirty-third street was Cramond; Thirty-fourth, Moore; Thirty-sixth, Margaret; Thirty-seventh, Park; Thirty-eighth, Mary, and Chestnut, James. North of Market street Fortieth street was known as Cedar lane.

West Philadelphia originally was a very small section of Blockley Township. In 1840 it was regarded as insignificant, and, containing few inhabitants and fewer buildings, it was mainly confined to a little district around the western end of the Market street bridge. It was bounded by the villages of Hamilton, Greenville, Powelton and a part of Mantua. On the other hand, Hamiltonville was the choicest part of this section of the county, and Powelton, whose name was taken from the Powell family who had a magnificent estate just north of Market street at Thirty-second, was then a new and promising village.

A description of Hamiltonville at this time gives an indication of the esteem in which it was held:

"A handsome village of West Philadelphia, situated about one mile west of the Market street bridge," notes this description, "It is on the road to West Chester. Its plan is regular, and the streets, most of which are prolongations of those in the city, are wide and well regulated. The buildings, about eighty in number, generally stand apart from each other, leaving garden spaces between them. Taken altogether, Hamilton is probably the prettiest village in the neighborhood of Philadelphia. The dwellings are occupied principally by families who reside in the city during the winter season, or merchants and others, who reside here and transact business in the city."

West Philadelphia, however, at this time contained about 150 buildings, including extensive furnaces and other manufacturing establishments. It was predicted by the guide-book writer that "it is rapidly improving, and will ultimately form an important suburb of the city."

In l844 the Borough of West Philadelphia was incorporated, and its title was changed to the District of West Philadelphia in 1851. When the Commissioners issued their "Digest of Ordinances," in 1852, the compiler by way of preface noted some of the good features of the district as a place of residence. It was more of a promise than the description of a work achieved as will be perceived from a few quotations. Look at this beckoning finger across the river:

As a place of residence, it may safely be said, that no other location in the vicinity of Philadelphia offers superior attractions. The ground in general Is elevated, and remarkably healthy; the streets are wide, and many of them bordered with rows of handsome shade trees; and a large portion of the District has been covered with costly and highly ornamental dwellings. New streets are being opened, graded, and paved; footwalks have been laid and gas introduced, and arrangements will soon be made for an ample supply of water. Omnibus lines have been established, which run constantly, day and evening, thus enabling its residents to transact business in the City of Philadelphia and adjoining districts without inconvenience. A number of wealthy and influential citizens now reside in the District, and there is every Indication that the tide of population will flow into it with unexampled rapidity.

Provision by law has been made for the erection of two additional bridges over the Schuylkill, and these will afford facility and convenience to the great amount of travel and intercommunication which the present avenues are inadequate to accommodate.

The present Thirtieth street, prior to the consolidation of the city, was named Bridgewater and earlier Upper Ferry road. It was the shortest avenue of communication between this part of Market street and Mantuaville, which in these days was reached by the upper permanent bridge, now Callowhill street bridge. In earlier times the road led to the Upper Ferry at the same place. Lying east of the road, and not far from Market street, was from very early times a burial ground which never seemed to have an owner. The absence of all jurisdiction gave the impression that the ground was dedicated to public uses. But after the victims of the gallows had been laid away there for years without protest, and in-numerable other burials conducted there, the Society of Friends made it known in 1806 that the cemetery had been given to them.

Beside the burial ground, probably a century before this time, was the farm of a Friend named Duckett, in whose house the members of the society held meetings. In the course of a petition to the Legislature in 1809 it was stated that the ground had been surveyed and had been held by the Society of Friends for one hundred and twenty years, or since 1689. The Friends admitted that their title was not complete, but insisted that the presumptive evidence was in their favor. They declared that they had exercised ownership for sixty years, and, as the ground was not vacant nor unappropriated land, the Legislature had -no right to interfere. This appeal came in response to an action on the part of citizens to have the ground declared public property, after the Friends, in 1809, had suddenly taken possession and refused permission to other denominations to use the cemetery. The controversy, which engaged the Society on one hand and the Board of Health on the other, finally resulted in a compromise in 1819, when the Society agreed to relinquish possession to the Board with the understanding that the ground be used as a place of interment of the dead forever. When the Pennsylvania Railroad began operation and desired to pass through this part of West Philadelphia, in 1850, the plot was sold to the railroad company. In this little cemetery were buried, during the latter years of the eighteenth century and the early ones of the nineteenth, several notorious murderers, among them Lieutenant Smyth, who murdered Captain Carson, the husband of the strange woman, Ann Carson.

A map of West Philadelphia made in 1839 defines a railroad running from a point on the west bank of the Schuylkill river, at about Chestnut street, in a more or less northwestern course through the west side of the county until it joined the Columbia Railroad at a point near Buck Tavern, in Merion township, about six miles from the place of beginning at the river. This road, known as the West Philadelphia Railroad, which was to eliminate the inclined plane, and which was not completed until 1850, crossed Market street at Thirty-sixth, and then continued in a line nearly parallel to Lancaster avenue.

The West Philadelphia Railroad was projected by persons who objected to the use of an inclined plane at Belmont, and believed that the Philadelphia and Columbia Railroad should enter the city at a lower grade. When the road was finally built, and the inclined plane abandoned, it was on a route very different at the eastern end from what is to be found in these old maps. On the new route the road stopped at the western end of the Market street bridge, and ran along virtually the line now in use by the Pennsylvania Railroad to a point near Ardmore station. At this time it was deemed essential that the road should enter Philadelphia at Market street, and in 1850 the remodeling of Market street bridge was finished and the first trains on the new line, to cross the bridge, were run on October 14. The old bridge was destroyed by fire on November 20, 1875, and on November 29th the Pennsylvania Railroad was running trains across the temporary bridge that had been constructed in ninety working hours.


Built in 1864, most of the passenger traffic with Philadelphia passed through this humble building until 1876. Although it was advertised as located at Thirtieth Street, it really was close to Thirty-first street. The photograph gives an aexcellent idea of the type of horse cars used by Philadelphians until 1893.

In 1864 the Pennsylvania Railroad erected a passenger depot at Thirtieth and Market streets, and for some time this was one of the principal stations for passengers for the West and for New York. The depot was abandoned in 1876, when the large station at Thirty-second and Market streets was opened for the Centennial Exposition rush. This was a busy neighborhood during the next four years, but this station, too, was finally abandoned when Broad Street Station was opened in 1881. The former station was built in a few days more than two months, in time for the Centennial. It was burned April 18, 1896.


Erected in 1876 to take care of the crowds visiting the city for the Centennial Exposition, it proved its incapacity within a few years when Broad Street Station was erected. The station was destroyed by fire in 1896. Its site was west of the present West Philadelphia Station.

On the lot at the northwest corner of Lancaster avenue and Thirty-second street, partly occupied by the Armory for the Cavalry Squadron erected three years ago, was held the first electrical exposition in this country. This was organized successfully under the auspices of the Franklin Institute, and was opened in 1884.

On Market street, from the bridge westward to Mill Creek, there were four inns or taverns in the early years of the last century, and one of them survives to the present day. Between Thirty-seventh and Fortieth streets were several horse bazaars and mule yards, and the vicinity is still noted for this business. In 1814 there was a tavern which hung out the sign of the "Golden Fish," at the west end of the permanent bridge. This place was at the northwest corner of Thirtieth street, and was kept by C. Young, one of whose advertisements gives the information that a fox is to be liberated there for the benefit of the city fox hunters, for it must be remembered that a hundred years ago this section of West Philadelphia was almost a wilderness so far as habitations were concerned.


A stage to Newtown Square set out from here until 1897

Near the corner of Thirty-second and Market streets stood a tavern long known as the Mansion, although in 1839 this was, the Liberty. At the southeast comer of Thirty-sixth and Market streets stood the William Penn House. At the same time there was a William Penn Hotel on Market street above Thirty-eighth, where the City Troop occasionally met in the 50's. The William Penn near Thirty-eighth street is still standing, and has the distinction of being the last coaching house in the city. Until the West Chester trolley line was established, about twenty years ago, a stage carrying the mail used to set out for Newtown Square twice a day from the William Penn. Between Thirty-seventh and Thirty-eighth streets, on the south side of Market, stood Ball's Inn, later known as the Bull's Head. Not many years ago the original building was removed and the present horse auction house erected on the site.

At Thirty-second street two diagonal avenues run off Market street. The old Lancaster road starts off in a northwestern direction, and a little east of it the Darby road, now Woodland avenue, runs off in a south-western way. The Lancaster road is the older of the two, and was opened early in the eighteenth century. The road to Darby until late in that century was from Gray's Ferry, but in 1780 a petition was received by the Assembly asking that the road be opened to Market street. This appears to have been reported favorably the following year, and the act passed to have the road opened through Hamilton's land. The Lancaster road had the distinction of being the first turnpike road in this country, and was the forerunner of "pikes" all over the United States. Some of these survive much to the annoyance of motorists, who do not relish the payment of tolls at frequent intervals.

At the southeast corner of Thirty-seventh and Market streets stands the last of the commissioners' halls, a relic of the days before the consolidation of the city municipalities. This building originally was erected for a Masonic hall, and several lodges of that fraternity used to meet there. About 1850 the Commissioners of West Philadelphia, which had been erected into a borough in 1844, and who had formerly held their meetings in a schoolhouse at Thirty-third and Ludlow streets, and in Keen Hall, then on Market street west of Thirty-third, removed to the building at the southeast corner of Thirty-seventh and Market streets, which they renamed Commissioners' Hall.

There is still another relic of the early days of West Philadelphia in the headquarters of the West Philadelphia Engine Company, which structure was occupied up to the time the city fire department was organized. This building is now numbered 3420 Market street.

On Market street, a little west of Thirty-seventh, the Western Provident Society and Children's Home was founded in 1851. The organization was chartered in 1858 and afterward erected the present building at Forty-first and Baring streets. The title of the institution has since been shortened to The Western Home for Poor Children. It maintains on an average sixty or more white children.

Until about ten years ago the West Philadelphia Institute occupied its building at the northwest corner of Fortieth and Ludlow streets. It was one of the group of mechanics' institutes which came into being in the early 50's. There were five of them in all, one the city proper, the City Institute, still in active service at Eighteenth and Chestnut streets, and one in each of four districts-Spring Garden, Southwark, Moyamensing and West Philadelphia. The latter was incorporated in 1853, at which time it occupied a building on Thirty-ninth street, north of Market. The West Philadelphia branch of the Free Library occupied quarters in the Fortieth street building, until its new home at Fortieth and Locust streets was completed about ten years ago. The original purpose of the Institute having been supplanted by other agencies, especially the growth of the Free Library, the old building was sold.


It became the residence of Dr. Thomas S. Kirkbride

From Forty-second street to Forty-ninth street on the north side of Market, or rather from Forty-fourth street, now, runs the walls of the Pennsylvania Hospital for the Insane, familiarly known to old Philadelphians as "Kirkbride's," after the name of the first superintendent, Dr. Thomas S. Kirkbride. This large estate was the property of Paul Busti, whom we mentioned as living on Twelfth street below Market about the close of the eighteenth century, in one of the houses south of Dunlap's mansion. Mr. Busti was an Italian by birth, but had been in commerce in Amsterdam before coming here in 1799 as agent for the Holland Company. The house on the estate was built in 1794, and the farm, with its mansion house, were occupied by Busti from about the beginning of the last century until his death in 1824, as his country place. In 1836 the property was purchased by the managers of the Pennsylvania Hospital for their newly planned department for the insane. About twenty years ago Markoe street was opened through the grounds, and now there is a movement on foot to have the property acquired by the city for a park and a recreation centre, but principally in an effort to aid transit in that part of West Philadelphia.

In 1913 citizens of West Philadelphia succeeded in having an ordinance to cut Forty-fourth street through the grounds of the hospital passed by City Councils. In a legal battle which followed with the hospital corporation, the right of the city to open the street was sustained by the Court of Common Pleas. In appeals successively to the State Supreme Court, and the Supreme Court of the United States, whither the hospital authorities carried their opposition, the decision of the lower court was sustained.

The opening of the Market street elevated and subway railroad, in 1907, was responsible for the building up of Market street from Forty-sixth street to the City Line, at Cobb's Creek. Before the advent of the road there were -numerous vacant lots and even farm lands in the neighborhood of Fiftieth street and westward, but within a few years, or while the elevated structure was in the course of erection, these lands were rapidly covered by rows of houses and stores, and a new city came into being, thus proving the correctness of the prophecy made as far back as 1840.

The old woolen mills of E. Wrigley, now occupied by the United Gas Improvement Company at Farragut street, alongside Forty-sixth street station of the Market street elevated road, were for many years a landmark on the West Chester road, as this part of Market street then was known. It was the custom to give a popular name to mills, which was branded upon their products; so this one bore the name "Good Intent Mills." Until about forty years ago Mill creek passed the mills to the east, and in those days ran through the hospital grounds.

Just beyond the hospital grounds, until about twenty-five years ago, ran Rabbit lane, a diagonal road which originally crossed Market street near Fiftieth, but later had to be entered from Fifty-second and Walnut streets. This road ran in a southwestern direction down to Baltimore avenue, and near the latter road, then the Chadd's Ford turnpike, was an old farm house which had been obtained by a party of well-known horsemen in Philadelphia, such as Captain Joseph Lapsley Wilson, Wayne MacVeagh, A. J. Cassatt, Edward Rogers and Hartman Kuhn. These organized themselves into a driving club called the Rabbit, after the farm on Rabbit lane. From 1867 until 1872 the house on Rabbit lane was occupied by the club, but later the headquarters were removed to Hay lane, and not so many years ago to a spot near Christ Church Hospital, just outside the bounds of the West Park.

On the old maps of eighty years ago, from a point about Forty-fifth street, west, we find scattered widely apart the names of Lewis Bills, at Forty-fifth street; Pennel, a little west; and further on Cuthbert, Gamber, J. Sellers, Hoffman and Plankley. At Fifty-sixth street stood the Farmers and Mechanics Inn; at Fifty-ninth street, the Blockleyville Hotel; and at Sixtieth street, the Cross Keys Tavern, the site of a theatre of the same name. At the end of Market street runs Cobb's creek, the county line, passing through the recently opened Cobb's Creek Park.