In the 19th Century the area between Vine Street and Spring Garden Streets in northwest Center City was an industrial zone with foundries, the Baldwin Locomotive Works, the US Mint and other manufacturers. The area immediately around Matthias Baldwin Park was cleared as part of urban renewal in the 1960s and the Franklintown Corporation was formed to redevelop the area. The plan for a park at the current location was made and financed by that now defunct corporation in cooperation with the Redevelopment Authority. The park was originally named... more >>
The tolling of church bells announced the death of a prominent Philadelphian, the year 1866. In the funeral procession City dignitaries stood shoulder-to-shoulder with 1,000 workers. They proceeded on foot from center city to Laurel Hill Cemetery. Along the way, the funeral cortege came to a large factory at Broad and Spring Garden Street. As they circled the factory, the bell in its cupola rang out the death of its owner. That man was Matthias Baldwin.
Known for his abolitionist views and philanthropic deeds, Baldwin had built from scratch one of Philadelphia's most successful businesses, the Matthias Baldwin Locomotive Works. ... more >>
Baldwin Locomotive History
In 1835 Baldwin built Baldwin Locomotive Works at Broad and Hamilton Streets. Innovative and forward looking, the company expanded its operation to 39 buildings on 17 acres in this neighborhood. It became a player in the American Industrial Revolution selling locomotives nationwide and worldwide. At its peak in 1907, the company was the largest employer in the Philadelphia region.
By 1928 Baldwin had outgrown its urban site and moved to Eddystone, Pennsylvania. Slow to convert from steam driven locomotives to diesel, the company floundered financially. It merged with Lima-Hamilton engine builders in 1951. All production ceased in 1956. Not to be missed is the locomotive made by Baldwin on display in the Franklin Institute, 20th and Parkway.
Neighborhood boundaries: North to Spring Garden Street, South to Vine Street, East to Broad, West to Schuylkill River.
Imagine this urban neighborhood as a wilderness that catches the eye of William Penn, the founder of Pennsylvania and Philadelphia. He travels from the docks of the Delaware River west toward the Schuylkill River on the rough newly hewed road that he calls Callowhill, the maiden name of his second wife. It is the late 1600's. He makes his way ... more >>
The Philadelphia area was once honeycombed with creeks, springs, marshes and ponds. For good reasons at the time, these waterways were piped underground into combined sewers where raw sewage, rain water runoff and spring water mixed together...more>>
The Gardens at Springettsbury
We admire the gardens in Matthias Baldwin Park. Now that the rains have stopped, everything is green, lush, and blooming. There was once another garden that was the talk of Philadelphia in the 1700's. People walked and rode in carriages to see it. That was the garden of Thomas Penn at Springettsbury Manor House (20th - 21st and Hamilton Sts., currently City View Condominiums...more>>
Why "Hamilton" Street?
With the opening in the neighborhood of two new apartment buildings, one "The Alexander" and the other "The Hamilton," one might think Hamilton Street is named for the current Broadway star and second-place duelist. The name of the street leading into the park comes from a man and his family who came to Philadelphia well before Alexander Hamilton...more>>
The Hangman Comes to Town
William Gross, 27 years old, was hanged on February 7 or 17, 1823 in Logan Square known at the time as North West Square, one of five public squares set aside in 1682 by William Penn for the people of Philadelphia. His was the last public hanging in the City.
Gross, in a jealous rage, stabbed to death his mistress Kesiah Stow, who was keeper of a notorious bawdy house. He was quickly apprehended; he showed remorse and was resigned to his fate...more>>
The Callowhill Cut
One of the more curious landmarks in the Baldwin Park neighborhood is an open subway that stretches from Broad Street to 22nd Street. Known as "The Cut," it traces its origins from waterway, then to railway and, hopefully, to parkway.
William Penn had planned his city at the narrowest point between the Delaware River and the Schuylkill River. This allowed both river fronts to be developed at the same time. Most early development, however, was concentrated on the Delaware waterfront. In order to make a connection between the Delaware waterfront and the Schuylkill...more>>
What is Your Address?
When William Penn located his city of Philadelphia between two rivers, the Delaware and the Schuylkill, he reasoned that ships could use either river to discharge or to take on new cargo. He envisioned the City growing inward from the shores of both rivers toward Centre Square and Broad Street. This plan influenced the numbering of the north - south streets on his famous grid...more>>
Besides the Callowhill Cut, another prominent curiosity in the Baldwin Park neighborhood is the granary at 411 North 20th Street. It is just north of the apartment complex named The Granary (capital letters) that was completed in 2014. The granary (lower case) was originally a wooden structure built by the Reading Company as a grain distribution center around the time of the Civil War. Grain would come into Philadelphia via horse drawn carts and be stored in the granary's internal silos until later distribution by rail...more>>
Spring Garden Towers/PCOM
2018 is the centennial of a hospital building that still stands 300 feet north of Baldwin Park. Many neighbors have been inside without realizing its original purpose. But let's start with a former mayor of Philadelphia who lived in the Baldwin Park neighborhood....more>>
Baldwin Park in Maps: Part 1
In August 2018 some of the streets surrounding Baldwin Park were resurfaced. The milled asphalt exposed concrete overlying Belgian blocks, with embedded trolley tracks. The universal reaction from neighbors, on seeing this paving palimpsest, was delight. There is a fascination in seeing concrete (pun intended) manifestations of prior structures and traces of the everyday lives of our predecessors. This page is the first of two parts looking at the immediate area around Baldwin Park via historical maps, with this page taking us from the time of William Penn through the 19th century....more>>
Baldwin Park in Maps: Part 2
This 1922 Bromley map shows the tension between heavy industry and deindustrialization in the area. We see significant expansion of Baldwin Locomotive westward across 18th Street into the current park area. Tatlow Street has been renamed Noble Street, and Caven Street, the north-south street just west of the current Tivoli Condominiums, renamed Opal. Just north of the future Baldwin Park...more>>
This past December saw the opening of 1600 Callowhill, 95 apartments in a building on both the National and Philadelphia Registers of Historic Places It is one of the few large buildings in the Baldwin Park neighborhood to survive the failed Franklin Town project of the 1970s. The history of the building is kindly mentioned on the 1600 Callowhill website, and this post will explore a little further.
In the 19th century, iron, railroads, and coal...more>>
The Spanish Chapel
This plaque marks the site of the Spanish Chapel of Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal (Capilla Catolica Hispana de la Medalla Milagrosa), the first Spanish language church in Philadelphia. It was at 1903 Spring Garden Street for 101 years, from 1912 to 2013...more>>
Empty Lot 18th and Callowhill
...The Electric Equipment Company made transformers at this site for over thirty years. Polychlorinated biphenols (PCBs) were used as a dielectric (an efficient insulator) in the transformers. Railroad cars would pull up along the plant via the Callowhill Cut. The oily PCB, specifically Aroclor 1260, would be pumped from the train cars into four 12,000 gallon underground storage tanks at the plant, at which time there would be overflow and spillage of PCBs at the site of unloading and storage...more>>
Franklin Town 2.0
...Franklin Town never materialized as a unified project and was not completed as promised in one decade. The empty lots bought up by the Franklin Town Corporation and the Redevelopment Authority were either built on, given to the Community College of Philadelphia (CCP), or sold off over the ensuing five decades. Despite this organic growth, the planned city-within-a-city is almost completely built out and fairly cohesive as a whole. Let's do a rough tally of output today versus the 1971 proposal...more>>
The Lenni Lenape
The long tale of Philadelphia's oldest inhabitants, and some links to the Baldwin Park neighborhood, can be briefly told by discussing the characters seen in the photo below, looking east from the west side of Logan Square....more>>
The Hoopes Mansion
In 2015 the house at the northeast corner of 18th and Spring Garden was sold by an owner who had been there for almost 100 years. Prior to this owner, the house had been built by the nuts and bolts king of Philadelphia in 1878, and then owned by the pavement king of Philadelphia. Here is its history...more>>
Hugo and Baldwin Park
On August 29 at 7:30 the Friends of Matthias Baldwin Park are hosting a free outdoor movie screening in the Park. The feature is Hugo, a 2011 film based on Brian Selznick's 2007 book The Invention of Hugo Cabret. When the Friends of Matthias Baldwin Park were debating which movie to show for our first movie night (hopefully an annual event!), someone suggested Hugo because it was about trains, an obvious connection to our Park, but there are other neighborhood connections between the movie and the Park...more>>
Hallahan High School
...down 19th Street from the current Baldwin Park is the first all-girls diocesan high school in the country. Over 40,000 students have passed through its doors. In its early years it was surrounded by coal yards, factory smoke, the sounds of banging steel and railroad engines, and working class residences. John W. Hallahan Catholic Girls High School at 311 North 19th Street has been a neighborhood anchor for over 100 years...more>>
There are only two State of Pennsylvania historical markers within two blocks of Matthias Baldwin Park, the area I have been calling the Baldwin Park neighborhood. The first is at the northwest corner of the Park and honors Matthias Baldwin, the founder of Baldwin Locomotive Works. The second stands at 1937 Callowhill Street, and honors a pioneer of helicopter flight, born 100 years ago this month. ...more>>
The Schuylkill River in Geologic Time
In the history articles on this website we have looked back at the current neighborhood in what seem like grand time scales: decades back to Franklin Town; centuries back to the Baldwin Locomotive Works, Andrew Hamilton's Bush Hill, William Penn's Springettsbury Manor; and millennia back to the Lenni Lenape. Those time scales are miniscule compared to the intervals discussed in this article...more>>
Central Manual Training School/NOVO
In early 2020 ten new town homes at 17th and Wood Streets will be nearing completion. This site was originally the location of the first Manual Training High School in Philadelphia. See more>>