New Mural in the Neighborhood

This month a new mural was unveiled on the south side of 417 North 20th Street, joining the Baldwin Park neighborhood's two other murals (for the other two see here).

Industrious Light: Baldwin Locomotive Works
The new mural by Phillip Adams for the Mural Arts program.
Note turtle; flowering plants; locomotive; and factory shop with wheels, hoist, and rivets on steel support columns. 

Local artist Phillip Adams created this masterpiece as part of his Industrious Light series about Philadelphia's industrial history. The mural is rich with connections to the Baldwin Park neighborhood, some of which will be discussed in this article.

One way to look at the mural is as a chronology, from front to back, of the cosmology of the original inhabitants of the neighborhood, the Lenape (see article here). The Lenape, and other eastern Native Americans like the Iroquois, believe that at first there was only water. Then the Great Turtle rose above the water and the Creator placed mud on his back, out of which grew trees, from which branched the first humans. The Lenape viewed life, time, and turtles as steadily moving from east to west.

In the mural, the turtle in the lower right foreground metaphorically carries the rest of the painted objects on its back as it moves from east to west. The plants on either side of the turtle grow from the mud. There are no human figures, but in the background are the products of man. Turtle. Earth. Plants. Man.

Turtle in lower right foreground of mural
The Lenape creation myth, as drawn by 20th-century artist William Sauts Bock, a member of the Lenape wolf clan.

Another more ominous interpretation may be spatial as well as temporal. The original inhabitants of Philadelphia, the turtle clan of the Lenape, were steadily pushed westward by the Europeans' quest for land. The turtle is directly in the path of the machinery of the invaders and no match for the powerful tools of conquest. To the Native Americans, the completion of the transcontinental railroad in 1869 further opened up their traditional lands to conquest by land hungry settlers. The locomotive was a weapon against them.

Clear artistic juxtaposition just outside our neighborhood.
This relief on the side of the Perelman Building five blocks west of our mural shows a Plains Indian separated by the approaching locomotive by what looks like a horse.
Coincidentally, the Perelman sits almost atop the tunnel holding the abandoned Reading Railroad tracks.

Besides these cosmological and national connections, there are more direct neighborhood connections. The turtle clan of the Lenape was the local group inhabiting Lenapehoking, the land of the Lenape. The first European inhabitant to occupy this neighborhood after the Lenape was William Penn, who built his estate called Springettsbury at what is now the City View Condominiums. His gardens, as discussed here, were in the area now directly across 20th Street from the new mural. Eventually Penn's widow gave part of his estate to Andrew Hamilton, and this latter parcel was called Bush Hill, as discussed here. Springettsbury and Bush Hill both morphed from lush estates into the industrial center of Philadelphia in the 19th century. The exquisite flowers in the mural, representing the nearby gardens at Springettsbury, lie spatially, as they once did temporally, between the turtle (the Lenape) and the iron beasts of the 19th century industrialists. The flowers also represent the future Rail Park in the Callowhill Cut from which the mural will seem to arise. Greenery and flowers will envelop the old rail line within this planned linear park.

Detail from 1888 map here. 15th Street is on the right and 17th is on the left running vertically.  Note the Baldwin Locomotive Works, Wm. Sellers & Company, Asa Whitney & Son Car Wheel Works, and the two coal yards.

The most obvious machine in the mural is the Baldwin 60000 locomotive. This was the 60,000th locomotive built by the Baldwin Locomotive Works, which dominated the neighborhood until 1926. The Baldwin 60000 was an experimental engine that was built in 1926, but in testing over the next 6 years it proved to be too heavy and too complex for commercial use. In 1933 it was loaned to the Franklin Institute, and was moved down temporary tracks through the unfinished west wall of the new Franklin Institute building at Winter and 21st Streets. In 1939 the locomotive was sold to the Franklin Institute for $1. It is still there, impressing countless children and adults with its sheer mass and engineering.

Image, looking west, from September 22, 1933.
The Baldwin 60000 is being moved into the open west wall of the Franklin Institute.
The one-year-old Philadelphia School Administration Building is seen across 21st Street.

The Asa Whitney & Sons Car Wheel Works ("car" referring to railroad car) was located at what is now a public parking garage, on the north side of Callowhill Street between 16th and 17th Streets. Whitney was actually a partner in Baldwin & Whitney Locomotives from 1842 to 1846, at which time he left and decided to specialize in making wheels for trains. 

Image from 2019 of an Asa Whitney & Sons wheel on a different locomotive in the Train Factory exhibit at the Franklin Institute. There are train wheels of all sizes in the mural.

The William Sellers Company was located between 16th and 17th and between Buttonwood Street and Pennsylvania Avenue, roughly the two square blocks south of today's Mint Building on the campus of the Community College of Philadelphia. Sellers made machines for machine makers. In the mural, the rectangular mobile crane that is lifting the locomotive engine in back right was made for Baldwin by Sellers. Sellers also made all the steel girders for the Brooklyn Bridge, and may have made the dark vertical steel support columns seen in the front of the factory in the mural. See here for more on the Sellers brothers.

 

The rivets in those columns were possibly made at Hoopes and Townsend, just across Broad Street from the Baldwin Locomotive Works, as Hoopes was the largest manufacturer of rivets in the world in the late 19th century. See here for more on Hoopes, who lived at the northeast corner of 18th and Spring Garden Streets.

1900. The new erecting shop at Baldwin Locomotive Works with the Sellers overhead hoist lifting a new engine. In 1890 William Sellers & Co. sold two 100-ton high-speed electric cranes to the Baldwin Locomotive Works.
Compare to the mural background: this image appears to be the same shop location.

Another heavy machine manufacturer in the neighborhood was the Bement & Daugherty Company at the northwest corner of 20th and Callowhill, now the site of the Target store and within sight of the mural. Bement, like Sellers, sold big machines to machine makers. There was interdependence in this neighborhood among manufacturers, much of which involved the Baldwin Locomotive Works, which itself employed 20,000 workers.

There are two large rocks lying between the rails just in front of the locomotive in the mural. With reference to the Callowhill Cut, these may be interpreted to be chunks of coal, specifically the anthracite coal that burned hot and supplied the high temperatures for the foundries in the neighborhood. Anthracite coal was first discovered in the United States in Pottsville, Pennsylvania, in 1790. This coal was originally brought to Philadelphia via carts, then by canals in the 1820's, and then by railroad starting in the 1830's. The businessmen who controlled the railroads often owned the mines as well. Those rocks provided the energy needed for the growth of industry and jobs, and helped create the nouveau riche in 19th century Philadelphia. The rocks knocked loose from railroad cars also provided a free source of home heating for the poor, but coal-picking was dangerous, with most fatalities among women and children.

Newspaper clipping from March 22, 1881.

The Mural Arts murals are site specific. Here are a few images of the current site of the mural looking back to 1955 and 1894.

Looking up from the rail cut towards the east under the 20th Street bridge in 1955. The smooth, blank south wall on the upper left is on 415 North 20th Street, which would be torn down a few years after this photo. This would expose the south wall of 417 North 20th Street on which the mural is painted. The concrete granary is on the right.
This photo would be impossible now as the rail cut is covered by Target and its parking lot.
Scene from 1894. The rail tracks are on surface roads, here looking east on Pennsylvania Avenue from 20th Street.
The wooden granary is on the right foreground. The building on the left foreground is 412 Caven (later Opal) Street, two houses south and just behind or east of the mural site at 417 North 20th Street. The boards in the immediate foreground running perpendicular to the railroad ties are on 20th Street. This corner was a loud, dirty, and busy intersection.
413 and 415 North 20th Street, and the houses running north-south along Opal Street, were demolished in the 1940's and 1950's. The south edge of 413 North 20th Street would have extended as far south as the north edge of the current sidewalk in the Tivoli driveway off of 20th Street.
Note also the logo for the Reading Lines railroad in the upper right. It is a black diamond, the nickname for anthracite coal, which was the primary freight for the early railroad.
Detail from Baist's Property Atlas of the City of Philadelphia, 1888 (see full map here).
19th Street is at far right on the edge of the image. The mural site in 1888 was surrounded by an engine house to the west, surface tracks running down Pennsylvania Avenue to the immediate south, and coal yards to the east. The turntable just west of the engine house would be relocated to the southwest corner of 21st and Hamilton Streets (the future site of the 2100 Hamilton Condominiums) when the Callowhill Cut was completed.
Title plate in lower left of mural.
authored by Joe Walsh, November 2019

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