Graham and Laird Factories

19th and Hamilton Streets

View in 2016, looking east, of the northeast corner of 19th and Hamilton Streets, showing the finishing touches being put on the townhomes fronting Baldwin Park and 19th Street. Hamilton Street ends at 19th Street.
Portion of a map from 1875 showing a rare empty lot in our neighborhood. Hartman Kuhn and family owned most of the half block between Hamilton and Buttonwood Streets. Hamilton Street is the east-west street at the bottom of this image.
Note also the land owned by future mayor William Reyburn at 19th and Spring Garden Streets, as of 1875 without a mansion (see here). William Bement and his son had residences on Spring Garden Street as well, only three blocks from their large factory at 20th and Callowhill.

As noted in the article on Hamilton Street (here), Andrew Hamilton had acquired land from the Penn family as payment for legal services. This estate, called Bush Hill, stretched from 12th to 19th Streets and from Vine to Fairmount Streets. The land passed through his son Andrew II, then his other son James, then grandson William, then William's niece Ann, then Ann's daughter Ellen Lyle who married Hartman Kuhn. Kuhn (1784-1860) and his descendants owned much of the land that made up the former Bush Hill lands when the estate was eventually settled after William's death in 1813. As an aside, Hartman Kuhn was the son of Dr. Adam Kuhn (1741-1817), one of the founders of the College of Physicians whose name you can see carved on the wall in the lobby when you go visit the Mutter Museum. The doctor had married Elizabeth Hartman in 1780.

 

The 1875 map above shows the physical and metaphorical intersection of the Hamiltons, for whom Hamilton Street is named, and the Kuhns, reflecting the inheritance links between the two families.

Ann Hamilton was the daughter of Andrew Hamilton III (1743-1784), the brother of William Hamilton. She lived with William Hamilton until her marriage to James Lyle. In 1797 Ellen Lyle was born, who later would marry Hartman Kuhn.
This portrait had been in William's Woodland mansion from 1813 until the 1880's, when it was acquired by the Historical Society of Pennsylvania (HSP). It is still there, but the HSP is looking to sell it after being displayed there for 140 years.

Philadelphia genealogy is difficult because pride in family makes for reuse of the same names throughout generations, as demonstrated within the Hamilton clan. The Kuhns followed the same path. To the east of the Hartman Kuhn parcel above, there is a small plot owned by Charles Kuhn (1821-1899), his son, and a larger plot owned by Mary Kuhn (1819-1886), his daughter. Mary Kuhn in 1842 married her cousin Hartman Kuhn, so the genealogy gets even more confusing thereafter. Suffice it to say that Mary's second son, Cornelius Hartman Kuhn, will be mentioned at the end of this article for sharing a distinction with Matthias Baldwin. By the way, Matthias Baldwin also married his distant cousin Sarah Baldwin.

In the mid-1800's, the biggest business in Philadelphia was not machine manufacturing, but textiles. The future Baldwin Park neighborhood was almost exclusively in the machinery business, but in 1885 John C. Graham (1826-1888) built a five-story dress trimmings and upholstery factory and sales room on the southern half of the Hartman Kuhn lot. Graham had inherited the business from his father, and had been located in six buildings on the 500 block of Cherry Street, but by 1885 required expansion. His sister was his partner. She predicted  the customer needs and fashion trends while her brother tended to the factory operations. The factory itself  covered 54 x 196 feet of ground and was built expressly for his textile business. Living at 2106 Spring Garden Street, Graham had a short commute. His townhome has since been replaced by the Philadelphia County Medical Society.

Sketch of the Graham factory from 1886.
The ad is part of an aerial map of Philadelphia featuring sponsoring companies around the border. A facsimile is on wall display in the Social Science room in the Parkway branch of the Free Library.

Samuel Laird, his brother-in-law George Schober, and their mutual friend George Mitchell launched a shoe-making business at 1133 Arch Street in 1870. In 1891 they built a large factory at the southeast corner of 19th and Buttonwood, on the northern half of the Kuhn lot and adjacent to the Graham building. The Laird, Schober, and Mitchell Shoe factory was built with a similar design as the Graham's, both factories achieving a unified appearance since they were designed by the same architect firm, Geisinger and Hale. Both were five stories, heavy timber framed, with brick cladding. 

According to the 1891 Philadelphia Statistics of Factories, Graham had 169 employees and Laird 550 employees. The Laird enterprise moved out of our neighborhood in 1915 when it rented the top floors of the new Harris building at the northeast corner of 22nd and Market before buying the building in 1921 (currently occupied by Trader Joe's and apartments). It moved out of that building in 1942 and was in business elsewhere until 1965.

Portion of map from 1888 showing the new trimming factory
Portion of 1895 map showing the addition of the Laird factory.
The history articles on this website have discussed the many machine tool shops just within our neighborhood, all making similar products. In any large city there is intense competition for almost all consumables. This ad for an exhibit at the Bellevue-Stratford shows the regional competition in shoe manufacture. Laird, Schober & Company is halfway down the left column. Ad from a 1921 trade journal here.

Business trade advertising cards were popular collectibles in the 19th century, but the collecting bug really grabbed the populace after intricate chromolithography became less expensive. The 1876 Centennial Exhibition is Philadelphia was an explosion of trade cards. The cards, which were handed out before color magazine ads became common, were quite beautiful. Unfortunately, in late nineteenth century northeast cities, some of the trade cards fed into white supremacy in the face of Black migration from the South. Despicable caricatures and tropes were gratuitously inserted into trade cards, as shown below (see also the ad for the rodenticide in last month's article here).

There is a collection of such ephemera at The Library Company of Philadelphia and a very brief essay at outside link here.

Trade card for Laird, Schober, & Mitchell from 1890. The reverse is below.
This card appeared five years before the move to our neighborhood.
Reverse of trade card.
In 1909 The Cutter Company, which made circuit breakers, moved into the Graham building. This is an ad from a 1910 booklet about circuit breakers.
Times change.
Portion of a map from 1922 showing automobiles and electricity replacing shoes and trimmings. Alex Wolfington was a carriage builder since 1876, first located at the northwest corner of 20th and Filbert Streets, and then the southwest corner. His son Harry moved the business to the 66,000 square-foot Laird building in 1919, until the Depression forced him into smaller quarters in West Philadelphia in 1932. See outside article here for the history of the company, which still makes school buses just outside Philadelphia in Exton, Pennsylvania.
Note for later the extension of the Baldwin Locomotive Works to its maximum contiguous western extent, abutting the former Kuhn property. Baldwin Locomotive Works will be completely relocated to Eddystone by 1926.
1928 photo from the west. The eight-story Baldwin Locomotive Works building with its two rooftop water tanks is in the center, occupying the northern half of the future Baldwin Park. To its left are the Cutter and Wolfington shops. The water tank atop the Wolfington shop is painted with the words "Wolfington Bodies." The three-year-old Reading granary with its signage is in the lower right.
A pretty gritty neighborhood!
Portion of 1942 map showing the I-T-E Circuit Breaker company occupying the Laird building. Cutter would eventually change its name to I-T-E since the I-T-E (inverse time element) type circuit breaker was extremely popular.
As discussed in our article on Franklin Town, I-T-E by 1971 owned a large swath of land in the neighborhood.
View in 1966, looking east, from the corner of 20th and Hamilton Streets.
The joined factory buildings at the northeast corner of 19th and Hamilton Streets can be seen on the left in the distance. The fenced empty lot on the left will become the Hamilton Town Homes in 1976. In 1966 Hamilton Street continued only until 18th Street, when it encountered the Lit Brothers warehouse in the distance.
View in 1971, looking south down 19th Street from Spring Garden Street.
The hipped roof cupola atop the Laird factory stands out. 
Just south of the brick factories is the taller, light-colored I-T-E factory that occupies the northern half of the future Baldwin Park.

The Graham factory and the Laird factory buildings were added to the National Register of Historic Places as a unit in 1978 (see application at outside link here). They were demolished shortly afterwards as part of the Franklin Town development project (see our articles starting here).

View in 1977, in a photo used for the application for inclusion in the National Register of Historic Places. This is looking north on the east side of 19th Street just above Hamilton Street. You can see the junction of the two buildings.

As noted in the caption to the 1922 map above, Baldwin Locomotive Works occupied the land just south of the former Kuhn property. Matthias Baldwin and Hartman Kuhn shared two more connections. 

Hartman Kuhn had built himself a mansion at 1118 Chestnut Street, with a large garden in the rear. After his death in 1860, the house was rented as the first home of the Union League from 1863 to 1864, when the League built its Broad and Sansom Street edifice. Matthias Baldwin then bought the 1118 Chestnut Street mansion as his city house until his death in 1866 at his country house in Wissinoming. Matthias loved his gardening, and was a benefactor to the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society (PHS), which made him its president from 1858 to 1862.

 1863 photograph of the Kuhn-Baldwin house on the left.
In that year Democrat John Brodhead was running for City Treasurer against Republican Harry (Henry) Bumm. The campaign broadsides on the wall demonstrate the still-divided leanings of Philadelphians on the slavery issue, as discussed in the outside link here.
The long exposure time of 1863 photographic plates blurs the passerby in front left.
The Kuhn-Baldwin mansion at 1814-1818 Chestnut Street near the end of its life.
After the death of Matthias Baldwin, the building served as a home to several theaters before being demolished in 1900.
After the mansion was demolished in 1900, Keith's New Theater was built in 1902.
This photo from the first decade of the 20th century shows the magnificent building. For more on this site after Keith's see outside article here. The Collins Apartments, with the main entrance at 1125 Sansom Street, now occupy the site.
Notice also the electric bus on the right edge of the photo. Electric vehicles were popular before gas stations became commonplace (see outside article here and check out photos of the charging stations; they will give you nightmares!).
Portion of map from 1875 showing the large lot at 1114-1120 Chestnut Street. The space bordering Sansom Street (running horizontally on the bottom) was used as a garden by Hartman Kuhn and briefly by Matthias Baldwin. During Baldwin's tenure, between the house and the Sunday School Union next door was a conservatory with tropical flowers and plants, including oranges and pineapples. The glass front was carefully kept free of fog so that the carefully arranged plants could be seen by passersby on the sidewalk.
12th Street runs north-south vertically on the left of this map. Samuel S. White's building on the southeast corner of 12th and Chestnut is still there.
Portrait of Matthias Baldwin, the seventh president of PHS, serving from 1858 to 1862. The portrait is attributed to Rembrandt Peale, half-brother of Franklin Peale, who had given Baldwin his first locomotive order (see here). 
The portrait hangs in the PHS office at 20th and Arch Streets.

One last connection: the previously mentioned Cornelius Hartman Kuhn, son of Hartman Kuhn and a prominent banker, socialite, and philanthropist in Philadelphia, became the 19th president of PHS in 1914.

authored by Joe Walsh, February 2021

Matthias Baldwin Park 

423 N 19th St 

Philadelphia, PA 19130

Friends of Matthias Baldwin Park is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that works to preserve the Matthias Baldwin Park

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