Dinan Funeral Home
1923 Spring Garden Street

This article, coming in the month of the Feast of St. Patrick. honors the Irish immigrants who were so critical to the success of our country. I will use one family as an example of Irish-American success.

In 1900 the current Baldwin Park neighborhood (which I am defining as within two blocks of the park for this series on history) was an Irish Catholic neighborhood. Irish immigrants prior to 1845 had been migrating to the United States for economic reasons, as the English had over centuries turned Irish landholders into tenant farmers. After the Irish famine began in 1845, the pace of immigration increased as the population of Ireland was starved by the combination of a potato-destroying fungus and English economic policies. This was just after the Nativist riots of 1844 in Philadelphia, and lingering discrimination still held out only the lowliest jobs for the Catholic newcomers. Those jobs included digging canals, building railroads, and, closer to our neighborhood, building locomotives and other machines. The stick of the famine and the carrot of even the toughest jobs drove the Irish to the United States. In 1850, census data showed that 18% of the population of Philadelphia county had been born in Ireland.

If you look at deed abstracts in our neighborhood from around 1900, you will see the names of second and third generation Irish-Americans as owners. Impoverished immigrants could not get mortgages with no credit, but the popularity of fraternal building and loan associations and of ground rents (basically leasing the land under the house rather than owning it) made home ownership possible. A two-story brick home with two bedrooms was a sign of true affluence in their Irish homeland, but within reach of any hard-working Philadelphian.

 

Owners often rented out space at street level to small retail businesses; the upper floors were generally boarding rooms, mostly for Irish immigrants. Bars and barbers came and went in these spaces, the latter often functioning as neighborhood "private clubs" to sell liquor without a license on Sundays. The second oldest business in the neighborhood, McCrossen's Bar at 529 North 20th Street, dates back to 1937. Neil (Cornelius) McCrossen ran the bar on the first floor and raised ten children upstairs, and the bar is still in the family today. In the 1960s there was Flynn's Bar at the southwest corner of 18th and Callowhill and in the 1940s the Dublin Bar at the northeast corner of 19th and Callowhill (today the Rose Tattoo, which opened in 1983). I have read that the Irish Catholic workers at Baldwin Locomotive Works were self-segregated into two neighborhoods: the County Cork Irish residing near 15th and Callowhill Streets; and the Dublin Irish at 19th and Callowhill. The only time they would come together would be to hurl insults (and sometimes objects) at the Orange Order parades on July 12 each year.

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Not to contribute to the Paddywhackery of the Irish-alcohol connection, but this listing shows the retail liquor license applications in 1891 as an example of the neighborhood ethnic demographics judged by surname.
From the May 23, 1891 Philadelphia Inquirer.
Note James Rodgers at 1847 Callowhill Street (sixth from the bottom). Now the Rose Tattoo, this corner has a long history under various owners of providing drinks in the neighborhood, as did many corner buildings. John Carroll was at 1846 Callowhill Street on the corner across the street. Thomas Kelly had a bar/oyster house at 1844 Callowhill as well.
Retail liquor licenses were good for two years, so this listing represents only that half of purveyors up for renewal in 1891.

If you look at newspaper clippings from the late 1800s, you can also catch the ethnicity of a populace by the death notices. In our neighborhood these were mostly Irish names. When a death occurred, the funeral would be held in the parlor of the place where the person lived, if possible. In an Irish wake, women would be summoned to "lay out" the body: washing the body, plugging orifices, and shrouding the body. Candles would be lit, the clocks stopped at the time of death, windows opened, and mirrors covered, all with the belief that this would best expedite the spirit's passage into the afterlife. A celebration of life would be held with all the food and drink that could be mustered. Usually three days after death, the body, within a coffin, would be transported to the cemetery, usually Old Cathedral Cemetery in West Philadelphia or Holy Cross in Yeadon.

 

The practice of embalming has been around in some form for millennia, but was rare in the United States until the 1860s. During the Civil War, the deceased from families with means were embalmed near the battle field in order to ship the remains back to their home towns for interment. In addition, the two week journey of Abraham Lincoln's embalmed and life-like corpse through east coast cities. including Philadelphia, brought appreciation for the embalming arts. Purveyors of embalming fluids began teaching the techniques of embalming in order to sell their product. Howard S. Eckels, a chemist, opened the Eckels College of Embalming at 1922 Arch Street in 1895. At this time mortuary students would take a week-long formal seminar, then do an apprenticeship, before declaring themselves funeral directors (the name adopted in 1895 instead of undertaker). Gradually, embalming and funerals  moved from the home parlor of the deceased to the "funeral parlor" of the funeral director.

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Eckels College of Embalming at 1922 Arch Street on the left in 1929, thirty-four years after chemist Howard S. Eckels founded it. Many funeral directors in Philadelphia had their training here.
The site is now occupied by the 1900 Arch Apartments.
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Joseph Henry Clarke opened the first mortuary science school in Cincinnati in 1882. Training lasted six days. He took his school on the road, proselytizing the techniques of embalming in east coast cities, including Philadelphia in 1882. He trained fifteen morticians here on that visit. He also sold embalming fluid and portable kits, so that undertakers could provide their services in the homes of the deceased.
This ad is from his textbook at outside link here.

In 1890 there was one undertaker in the neighborhood; Ireland-born Michael Dougherty was at 1843 Callowhill Street since 1872. On January 21, 1896, Michael died and was buried from his home/business. 43-year-old Edward Dougherty, also an undertaker at the same address, and presumably Michael's son, died five weeks later, with his cause of death listed as alcoholism. Arrangements for this were made through undertaker Francis X. Gartland at 247 South 20th, since there were no other undertakers in the neighborhood in early 1896.

 

One 1886 burial by Michael Dougherty was that of James B. Dinan (1845-1886), who lived at 1933 Callowhill Street, and was the father of Frank T. Dinan (1875-1937). Frank's mother, Ellen Dinan, had died of Bright's disease at the age of 28 in 1875, six weeks after the birth of Frank. Bright's disease was a non-specific term for kidney disease, and the timing of this case suggests it was an exacerbation due to pregnancy of an underlying kidney disease, or possibly preeclampsia.

 

Nine years after his father died, Frank was listed as an undertaker at 1933 Callowhill. Frank took his business into 1843 Callowhill by December of 1896, and the Dinan funeral business has been in the neighborhood for the last 126 years. Also of note is that Frank's mother had the maiden surname of Dougherty, and I am not sure if she was a relative of Michael Dougherty. If so, it would mean the current family has been in the neighborhood continuously since 1872.

The Dinan business or residences occupied eleven different buildings within our neighborhood, and remarkably, seven of those buildings still exist. As best I can tell, this is the longest running business, and the family with the longest continuous habitation, in the neighborhood. 

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Ad circa 1890
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Death notice from the Philadelphia Inquirer of December 8, 1896, the first newspaper notice I could find with the Dinan name.
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Ad from the 1898 edition of the Boyd's Co-partnership and Residence Business Directory
A "furnishing undertaker" could perform the body preparation tasks of an undertaker, as well as supply other undertakers with the ancillaries like coffins and livery services.

In the 1897 city directory Frank T. Dinan (1875-1937) has his business listed at 1843 Callowhill and his home at 1940 Hamilton Street. By the 1900 census he is living at 2053 Vine street in the house of his mother-in-law Ellen Galbraith, who is listed as the head of household. She was joined there by her six children, all of whom were born in Ireland like herself, having come to the United States in 1851 (towards the end of the famine years.). The youngest daughter, Anna (1880-1940), was joined in the house by her husband of six years Frank T. Dinan and their one living child Marie (born 1896). The couple is noted in that census to have had two other children that died. A daughter had died at less than an hour of age in 1895 due to a protracted labor, while the Dinans were living at 1940 Hamilton Street. A 4-month-old son, Francis, died in 1898 while living at 1843 Callowhill. Statistically, the single most dangerous day of anyone's life is the day they are born. For women, the second most dangerous day is the day they give birth to their first child. Even after birth, one out of four newborns in 1900 would not live to see their fifth birthday. The Dinans were particularly unlucky, losing another child at four months of age in 1902. Child mortality is discussed further in our article on the Matthias W. Baldwin family here. Both the Dinans and the Baldwins lost half their children before the age of five.

After Dinan opened shop in 1896 he was joined by a few other neighborhood undertakers in various locations. In 1897 David Farren, Undertaker, is listed at 324 north 21st Street. In 1899, William J Reynolds first appears at 1845 Callowhill, right next to Dinan. Reynolds expanded from his South Philadelphia primary office. He is the undertaker who took care of the murder victims mentioned in our article on Bridget CareyIn 1900, John Byrne, Undertaker, is listed at 2034 Vine Street. But despite a few difficult years, Frank T. Dinan prospered. I will use his funeral business as an example of how business start-ups in those days would move around until establishing a more permanent presence if successful.

Serial locations, with U representing his undertaker business and H representing his home, are listed below. It should be noted that generally only males are listed in City directories of the era, with the exception of widows who were listed with the spouse's first name attached.

Frank T. Dinan locations: U=undertaking business address; H= home address

  • 1896 U 1843 Callowhill

  • 1897 U 1843 Callowhill, H 1940 Hamilton

  • 1899 U 1843 Callowhill Street, H 956 South Front Street. His mother-in-law and his wife's siblings lived at 1940 Hamilton

  • 1900 U 1843 Callowhill, H 2053 Vine (with three brothers-in-law). Frank also had a liquor business listed at 962 Front Street during this year.

  • 1901 clerk, H 2053 Vine (with three brothers-in-law). Apparently he was out of the undertaking business.

  • 1902 H 2829 Poplar with 2 brothers-in-law and Elizabeth (sic) widow of James. Frank's 4-month-old daughter Gertrude died in 1902 and was buried from here.

  • 1903 U 324 N 18th, H 2829 Poplar with Ellen, widow of James, and 2 brothers-in-law

  • 1904 U 324 N 18th, H 2829 Poplar, with 2 brothers-in-law

  • 1905 U 2007 Vine and 2829 Poplar; H 2829 Poplar

  • 1906 U 325 N 19th. This building was purchased by the Dinans in 1905, and would be sold in 1941 at sheriff's sale.

  • 1907 U 325 N 19th. He could afford to list his business in all capital letters in the directory.

By 1904 undertaker David T. Lamb had taken over at 1843 Callowhill Street. In 1908 Frank was at 325 North 19th Street employing and living with his wife's 44-year-old brother, Patrick Galbraith. Dinan would stay there until his move to 1905 Spring Garden Street by 1935. He expanded into the adjoining 1913 Spring Garden Street until he relocated with the purchase of 1923 Spring Garden Street in 1944. Expansion into 1921 Spring Garden followed its purchase in 1967. The Dinan Funeral Home has been at 1923 Spring Garden for 78 years, and, except for 1901, somewhere in the neighborhood for 126 years.

The original funeral home at 1843 Callowhill was sold as part of the 1839-1843 Callowhill parcel at sheriff's sale in 1915, and torn down in 1940. The Vine Street buildings, 2007 and 2053, were removed during construction of the Fairmount Parkway (since renamed the Benjamin Franklin Parkway). 1933 Callowhill Street and most of the houses on the north side of the 1900 block of Callowhill were demolished in the late 1980s. This is now the site of the Granary Apartments. 2829 Poplar Street is not in our neighborhood, but still exists, as do 1940 Hamilton, 324 North 18th, 325 North 19th, 1905-1913 Spring Garden, and 1921-1923 Spring Garden Street.

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The site at 1843 Callowhill Street. This had been the site of the Dougherty, then Dinan, then Lamb funeral parlors for at least 30 years.
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324 North 18th Street, funeral parlor of Frank Dinan in 1903-1904.
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1940 Hamilton Street, home of Frank Dinan in 1897 and of his in-laws the Galbraiths until 1899.
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325 North 19th Street, his funeral parlor and property from 1905 until the mid-1930's.
324 North 18th, 1940 Hamilton, and this house, all on separate blocks, are almost identical.
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1905 Spring Garden Street (light color facade) next to the shorter brick 1913 Spring Garden Street, the funeral parlor for almost a decade.
1901, 1903, and 1905 are double-wide houses occupying building lots 1901 through 1911, which accounts for the address discontinuity between 1905 and 1913 Spring Garden Street.
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Today at 1921-1923 Spring Garden Street
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Portion of a 1917 Sanborn map. Note the "Undertaker" at 325 North 19th Street. The Dinans bought this house in 1905 and sold it in 1941.
This block between 18th and 19th and Carlton and Callowhill is the most intact block over the last century. 
Note also the "S" for store and the "D" for dwelling on the brick (pink) structures along Callowhill Street. The south side of Callowhill is very much as it is today, with first floor retail and residences above. Almost every corner building in 1917 was a retail establishment of some sort. The wood (yellow) structures in the rear of buildings are privies, although some are more upscale  brick in this sketch.
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Portion of an Aero Services aerial photo from 1928 from the Free Library collection (high-resolution here). The sequence of locations for Frank Dinan in these two blocks is numbered from 1 to 4 in red:
1.   1933 Callowhill Street, where Frank's father died
2.   1843 Callowhill Street where his funeral parlor was in the late 1890s
3.   324 North 18th Street, his funeral parlor from 1903-1904
4.   325 North 19th Street, his funeral parlor from 1905 to 1935

 
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Photo looking east on Callowhill from 20th Street in June of 1962. The red arrow marks 1933 Callowhill Street, a rowhome with a nice cornice and pent roof.  James Dinan died here in 1886 and orphaned Frank at the age of 11.
All but the first three houses in from 20th Street would be demolished.
Starbucks now occupies the corner building then occupied by F. A. Mitchell Co.
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Philanthropist Frank T. Dinan, standing in coat and tie at right in the photo, sponsored a team and helped organize the scheduling of games for the Cathedral's independent baseball team, the Dinan Nine. This photo was taken in 1933 at what was then an open field and is now the site of the old Municipal/Family Court Building.
The view is of the northwest corner of the vacant lot, facing northwest. The buildings in the background are 310-318 North 19th Street, with 314-318 being demolished around 2004. Dinan also sponsored and worked with a parish youth boxing club and a basketball team.
Photo from the May 2, 1933 edition of the
Philadelphia Inquirer.
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Photo from 1936 with the same northwest view, but from the corner of 18th and Vine Street. 310-314 North 19th Street can be seen between the Free Library on the left and Hallahan High School on the right.
The Municipal/Family Court would be completed here in 1941.
A similar high-resolution image is here.
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Independent baseball team scores of neighborhood interest from the June 14, 1949 edition of the Philadelphia Inquirer.
John B. Stetson had lived in our neighborhood at 1717 Spring Garden Street. I-T-E was headquartered at 1900 Hamilton Street, now the site of the Tivoli. The Dinan Athletic Club was based out of the Cathedral and sponsored by the Dinan family.

Frank died in 1937, leaving behind his wife Anna, and two married daughters, Maria and Annie (1908-1965). He left no male heirs. Yet the name of the business stayed on as the Dinan Funeral Home. In 1936 Anne Dinan had married Ireland-born John J. Dinan, with John's brother the Reverend Charles Dinan officiating. The husband and wife were not related, per their marriage certificate. John and Anna ran the business and then passed it on to their son Francis T. Dinan (1939-2021), who went by the name Tim. Tim had been a graduate of the Eckels School of Mortuary Science. His son Chris now is supervisor at the Spring Garden Street funeral parlor, making him the fourth generation in the neighborhood. Margaret Mary, sister of Francis T. Dinan, would marry James McCafferty, himself a funeral home director and likewise third generation in the funeral business. She helped him run the business at 6709-6711 Frankford Avenue in the Mayfair section of Philadelphia. James died in 1992 and Margaret Mary in 2011, but the McCafferty funeral home is still there, with the fifth generation of McCafferty/Dinans attending to the needs of that community.

Frank's obituary highlights several of the institutions that enabled those broke and bewildered Irish immigrants to survive the discrimination to which they were subjected. To be more precise, the discrimination was not anti-Irish, but anti-Irish Catholic. The 19th-century immigrants from Ireland were of rural backgrounds and identified and governed by clan; urban customs and politics were foreign. Combine this with the active discrimination against them in Philadelphia, and one can see the defenses they used;

  • settling in neighborhood enclaves, by nationality, even by county of origin in Ireland, and often by clan within the county;

  • the corner saloon. At a time when there were ten boarders in one rowhouse, with no television, internet, or radio, living space outside the house provided sanctuary in the little down time the boarders had;

  • the parish church as the community center;

  • the establishment of Catholic schools through the parish church, the first in Philadelphia being St. Francis Xavier school in 1839 (see our article on Hallahan High school);

  • the organization of youth programs through the church and schools;

  • fraternal social and benefit organizations like the Friendly Sons of Saint Patrick (officially The Society of The Friendly Sons of St. Patrick for the Relief of Emigrants from Ireland) or the Ancient Order of Hibernians;

  • business entities that functioned to aid immigrant assimilation and success, like building and loan associations.

Frank Dinan's life included participation in all of these institutions for the betterment of Irish-Americans and the neighborhood in general. Another community organization that antedated Dinan was the local volunteer fire company. Ours was located at 1903 Callowhill Street, but the volunteer fire companies were abolished when the City organized the paid fire companies in 1871, as discussed in our article here.

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Obituary from the Philadelphia Inquirer on September 29, 1937. By this time he had been in the funeral business for 42 years, not 22 as in the obituary. In politics he had run for the office of magistrate in Philadelphia and for the State legislature. In business besides funeral directing he had been elected Vice-president of the Market Street Building and Loan Association at the age of 28.

Undertakers were neighborhood businesses that would bury the deceased from many generations of neighbors. One example is that of Paul L. McConomy, who was the druggist in the Bridget Carey arsenic case who made the sale of the poison. He had his most recent drugstore at 19th and Buttonwood (now Hamilton Townhomes) and lived at 1908 Spring Garden Street. His funeral was managed by the Dinan Funeral Home in March of 1955.

Since we are on the topic of funerals, we can mention two casket makers who had a presence in the neighborhood. First, some definitions: a coffin is a six-sided box, traditionally of wood. A casket is a four-sided rectangular box, often made these days of metal. It is difficult to research the early years of coffin makers because they were often carpenters or cabinet makers who had a sideline. One casket dealer had a lasting effect on our neighborhood. As discussed in our article on the first hospital of the Philadelphia College of Osteopathy (PCOM) at 1822 Spring Garden Street, when the medical education business moved out, the F. H. Hill Company rented the corner building as a casket display showroom. In 1937 the casket company demolished the building and replaced it with the current art-deco building. Caskets were on display there into the 1950s.

The biggest casket company in the world, Batesville Casket, had a smaller and briefer presence at 401 N 21st Street from 1987 to 1990. This would be in the building recently evacuated by the 9th District Police.

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Plain wooden coffin. 
Photo credit here, where you can order yours online!
The first "undertakers" were cabinet-makers who supplied a simple wooden box as the only requisite for burial.
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1822 Spring Garden Street, the former PCOM Hospital and then casket showroom, runs from Spring Garden Street to the new townhomes of NxNW. It has several entrances on 19th Street. 
Is that a stone coffin over the door on 19th Street?
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Caskets were not only displayed but also manufactured in our neighborhood. 
The six-story Schrack and Sherwood casket manufactury at 1516-22 Callowhill Street was completely destroyed by a fire on December 16, 1909. Hoseman Joseph Toner of Engine 18 (then at 1920 Callowhill Street) was killed in the line of duty.
Image from The Philadelphia Inquirer 
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The Irish Memorial Monument at Front and Chestnut Streets.
The figure on the left is hailing his relatives being delivered from the Great Famine via "coffin ships" to their new home in Philadelphia. Let us honor those brave and hardy souls who overcame adversity, in Ireland and here in the United States, to become so much a part of our American history.
authored by Joe Walsh, March 2023