Horses near the Park

A horse trotting through the Baldwin Park neighborhood today would certainly elicit curiosity. In the early days of our neighborhood, the absence of horses would be the unusual event. Can we find traces of those horses still?

Bolton's Philadelphia car Works specialized in streetcars, here pulled by a spirited duo of horses. This location is now the CVS in the Dalian.

Horses were the primary means of local transportation in the 19th century, whether hauling passengers, coal, iron, ice, trash or milk. According to the 1890 census, there were 618,660 horses and 29,325 mules in Philadelphia, at a time when the human population of Philadelphia was just over one million. In our neighborhood there are a few remnants of this horse era. 

A marble carriage step along the curb at 2036 Spring Garden Street.

These were used to allow a more delicate entry into your personal carriage.

Horse-drawn city coupe in front of 1725 Spring Garden Street in 1890, the home of retailer George Allen. Allen's family had a department store in Center City since 1837.

Apparently no carriage step needed here. The house has been replaced by the electrical union building.

Boot-scrapers on either side of the steps at 1937 and 1939 Spring Garden Street.

Another boot-scraper at 2006 Spring Garden Street.

The average horse exhausts 40 pounds of manure and 20 pounds of urine each day, accumulating in 1890 city-wide to 13,000 tons of manure and 6,500 tons of urine each day. Guess what boot-scrapers scraped?

As noted in our article on the Dalian, the sequence of technology for local passenger commuting in Philadelphia was:

  • private carriages;

  • then horse-drawn multi-passenger omnibuses, like elongated carriages, running on surface streets;

  • then horse-drawn streetcars on rails starting in 1858, the rails smoothing the ride and lowering rolling resistance and therefore the workload on the horses;

  • steam engine-powered cars called steam dummies that unfortunately scared the horses;

  • cable cars briefly in 1883;

  • then conversion of streetcars to electricity via an overhead electric line connected to the streetcar by a rod called a "troller," beginning in 1892.

Colored engraving of a drawing by August Kollner around 1855 showing three early forms of horse-powered transport: the mounted horseman on the left; the carriage on the right; and the omnibus in the foreground. Most omnibuses were pulled by a team of two horses, less well-dressed.

Reproduction of a wood engraving showing a freight train of the Union Line being pulled down Market Street by a team of horses. Steam locomotives were not allowed within Philadelphia City limits in the early decades of train service, due to the soot and fear of fires. Train cars would be disconnected at the city edges and be pulled by horses or oxen to the final destination.

A horse-drawn streetcar in 1894.

The use of iron wheels on iron rails smoothed the ride for the passengers and reduced friction, thus lessening the burden for the horses. Generally there were two horses, a driver, and a conductor. The Route 16 streetcar ran south on 20th Street through our neighborhood, but this photographed streetcar is the Sixth Street streetcar.

The Route 16 Streetcar ran on these trolley tracks south on 20th Street.

Photo from November 2020 during the placement of the new water lateral for the Granary at Logan Square at 411 North 20th Street. Construction workers had to work around the 160-year-old trolley tracks. The rails are the standard streetcar rail width of 5 feet 2 inches. The standard gauge for railroads is 4 feet 81/2 inches.

Street car routes in 1894. Electrification of the routes to convert streetcars into trolleys first began in 1892, but was a slow process. Almost every major street had a streetcar line, all powered by horses until 1892 and most continuing with horsepower for a decade after that. There was a northbound line on both 18th and 19th Streets.

1898 photo looking north on 18th Street from just above Callowhill Street. If your display has enough resolution, you can just make out the overhead trolley wire. The paired tall dark poles on the sidewalk are the poles that support the horizontal wires. The multiple mounds of manure tell us that horses shared the road with the electric trolley.

Notice the tracks embedded in 4 inch wide Belgian blocks (solid granite blocks). Just four years prior to this photo, this street was paved with cobblestones.

Pickering Springs on the left would become part of the Baldwin Locomotive Works, then a roller rink, then an empty lot, and then the southeast quadrant of Baldwin Park.

Baldwin built many of the steam dummies used throughout the world, starting in 1875. These "inclosed (sic) noiseless locomotives," as Baldwin Locomotive Works advertised them, were commonly called "dummies" because they were really steam locomotives concealed in a box to look like a streetcar. The moving parts were concealed; anthracite coal or coke was burned to lessen the soot; the steam exhaust was condensed to prevent hissing. They still, however, scared the horses with whom they shared the streets and therefore only had a brief trial in 1877 in Philadelphia.

The model pictured here was pretty deluxe compared to the one in the 1881 catalog here.

1917 sketch of the Fairmount Market at the northwest corner of 22nd and Pennsylvania Avenue. There is an electric trolley at left, along with horse-drawn carts and automobiles.

Paving of Philadelphia streets began in earnest in 1761, funded by lotteries. Cobblestones and rubble were the main surface until 1848, when 12 x 12 inch blocks of granite began to be used. Within a few years it was determined that the solidity of the large granite blocks was offset by its flat slippery surface, which made the large stones unsuitable for horses. Four-inch-wide granite stones, were chosen to improve horse traction. The lengths were variable, running from 8 to 12 inches. and were 6 inches deep. The four-inch surface measure was in the same direction as the path of the horse, as seen in the photo of 18th Street above.

Examples outside our neighborhood: Cobblestones on the left; Belgian block on the right.

Looking east down the 1800 block of Carlton Street in 2020.

The charming 1800 block of Carlton Street seen in the photo above shows a few horse-y features. Residents on the street claim that the cast iron horse heads are 19th century hitching posts. The heads may be original, but the placement of so many posts on a residential street, and not a commercial building, seems odd. I presume they were grouped there as protective bollards.


The Belgian blocks are for traction, and the four-foot length of bluestone on the sides of the cartway allows a smooth ride for the wheels. From the center of one bluestone to the center of the other is 5 feet 2 inches, the same distance as the streetcar rails. I suspect the streetcar rail width, or gauge, was arbitrarily copied from the cartway width. For more about the status of paving in Philadelphia in 1880, see outside link here.

Speaking of gauge, or the distance between the rails on a railroad, there is no truth to the myth that it was set to 4 feet 81/2 inches because that is the distance between the wheels on a Roman chariot, which rutted ancient roads at that width. In the mid-19th century there were over 20 competing railroad gauges in the United States. Trains would have to be unloaded and reloaded at points where two distinct gauges met, for example in Erie, Pennsylvania. The people of Erie opposed any standardization, because a break for train transfer meant a break for food or even an overnight stay, benefiting the local economy. Eventually, as railroad lines expanded and joined up, standardization came about.

Current map showing Philadelphia historic districts and streets in black outline. The large box at top demarcates the Spring Garden Historic District.

Carlton Street between 18th and 19th Street is near bottom center. There are 484 blocks of historic paving surface in Philadelphia, of which the 1800 block of Carlton is one.

Shamokin Street behind the Rose Tattoo, despite having a surface similar to nearby Carlton Street, did not make the Historic Streets list. 

Also, not quite as charming.

If you want to see the most concentrated evidence of horse life in the neighborhood, take a walk down the 1900 block of Brandywine Street. There you will find apartments and condos built in the former carriage houses and livery stables that lined the street in the 19th century. If you think parking for cars is tough, try parking a horse for the night. Only the wealthy had private stables, and Brandywine Street, and the 1900 block of Monterey Street just south of it,  were filled with the stables from the wealthy industrialists on Spring Garden and green Streets. A livery stable, like the one that was at 20th and Brandywine, would stable your horse if you did not have a private carriage house, and also would have horses and carriages for hire. 

Portion of 1910 map showing pink blocks with an X through them, representing brick or stone stables. Spring Garden Street is the wide street running left to right. The block between Monterey and Brandywine was almost all stables owned by the wealthy on Spring Garden and Green Streets. Note for later the large livery stable in upper left.

The stable at 1733 Spring Garden Street on the right was a carriage house, then a printing press for Pravda, and now apartments, as discussed in our article about the Hoopes Mansion here.

Magnificent stone stables, now apartments or condos, on the south side of the 1900 block of Brandywine

What appears to be an original hitching post in front of 1922 Brandywine Street.

Carriage entrance with beam for block and tackle at the front entrance of 1912 Brandywine Street.

The rear of 1912 Brandywine Street facing Monterey Street.

The block and tackle is still there to hoist bales of hay into the second story loft should the need ever arise.

Apartments in the former three-story livery stable at 1938 Brandywine Street.

Our own granary in 1890.

Two mules (judging by the ears and hooves) await their grain load to be dispersed in the neighborhood, while the workers pose.

The first granary was wood on a brick pedestal. It blew up around 1924 and was replaced in 1925 by the poured-in-place concrete granary/apartments we have now at 411 North 20th Street.

And one final horse connection to the Baldwin Park neighborhood, not far from the granary: the cavalry.

At 22 South 23rd Street in Philadelphia is a castle-like building which serves as the armory for the First Troop Philadelphia City Cavalry. This unit, begun in 1774, is the oldest military unit in continuous service in the United States, and while a private military unit of volunteers, is now deployed with the Pennsylvania Army National Guard as the 104th Cavalry Regiment, 28th Infantry Division. The troop has served in every conflict in which the United States has been involved. It is part private military (think French Foreign Legion) and part social club (think Union League) with a fairly exclusive membership.


Of the 2500 or so members of the troop since 1774, are included Philadelphia elites, the printer of the Declaration of Independence, and an Apollo astronaut who has walked on the moon. Membership also includes a Baldwin Park neighbor, Dennis Boylan, who has served as Captain of the troop from 1983 to 1988.

One of two marble plaques in the entrance of the armory, covering the first 226 years.

authored by Joe Walsh

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

© 2018 Friends of Matthias Baldwin Park