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Southwest Corner of 17th and Spring Garden Street

The southwest corner of 17th and Spring Garden Street has a history that deviates from the usual trajectory of factory to warehouse to apartments. On this half-block, bordered by Spring Garden and Buttonwood Streets and 17th Street, there was a hotel, multiple brewers, and a Carnegie library. Let's look first at what has already been discussed in prior articles.

In 1818 Isaac Macauley purchased the Bush Hill mansion for use as an oil-cloth manufactory as discussed in our article here. This extended from Spring Garden Street south to Buttonwood Street. In 1833 William Norris acquired the southwest corner of Spring Garden and 17th Streets for his locomotive factory, as discussed here

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Portion of an 1810 map showing the Bush Hill Mansion in upper right.

The Bush Hill mansion is between Fairview and Morris Streets (now Buttonwood and Spring Garden Streets respectively) and between Schuylkill Fourth and Sixth Streets (19th and 17th Street respectively).

The streets on the map north of Callowhill and west of 19th were sketched in with dotted lines, as they were planned but not laid out as of 1810.

Brewery and Hotel

Lips' Brewery began in Philadelphia in 1843 at various locations, one of which was at the northwest corner of 17th and Buttonwood (I will use the modern street names for the rest of this article). The brewery enveloped the Bush Hill Hotel, which faced Buttonwood Street. The plot of land and buildings changed hands in the following sequence (which also shows brewing was a tough business):

  • 1865 brewer John Lips to brewer Charles Rittmaier

  • 1874 Charles Rittmaier back to John Lips in a sheriff's sale

  • 1879 Catherine, wife of John Lips, to Caroline, wife of baker Jacob Raule

  • 1885 the Raules to brewer Joseph Kohnle

  • 1901 Kohnle Brewing Company to Bush Hill Building Association #2 via sheriff's sale

  • 1902 Bush Hill Building Assoc to BLW

Charles Rittmaier ran the brewery and hotel from 1865 to 1879. Joseph Kohnle ran the brewery from 1885 to 1901. In that year and next the Baldwin Locomotive Works (BLW) bought 3/4 of the block for expansion purposes and would build a new four-story structure on the southern half of the block from 17th almost to 18th Street in 1901.

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Portion of the Hexamer map from 1866 showing Thomas Potter's Oil Cloth Manufactury at the southeast corner of Spring Garden and 18th Street. Spring Garden Street runs horizontally at top and 18th Street vertically on the left. On the top right are the buildings of the defunct Norris Locomotive Works.

John Lips' Brewery and the Bush Hill Hotel are seen in the lower right. The brewery suffered heavy damage in a fire in 1862 but was rebuilt.

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Sketch from the Historical Society of Pennsylvania, by David Kennedy in 1842, of the Bush Hill Hotel, just east of the Bush Hill mansion. The hotel was on Buttonwood Street, not Hamilton as the caption states.

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Portion of 1875 map showing the brewery of Charles Rittmaier.

Isaac Budd acquired the Bush Hill mansion in 1871 and built residences along Buttonwood, 18th, and Spring Garden Streets. 

Notice William Sellers & Company shafting works in pink catty-corner to the brewery across 17th Street.

breweries sellers ad the western brewer

Niche marketing to brewers by Sellers in the trade periodical The Western Brewer from 1896.

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A taste of Big Sky country right in the future Baldwin Park neighborhood.

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Photo circa 1890. The L-shaped Bush Hill Hotel building is still there in back left. There is a brick livery stable at the very right of this photo, at the northwest corner of 17th and Buttonwood Streets. Horses were needed to haul those beer carts.

Was the Kohnle brewery responsible for beer cans? According to a blurb in the August 15, 1888, edition of Western Brewer journal:

A one-gallon beer can with the lid serving as the glass!
The owners of the Bush Hill Iron Works and of Baldwin Locomotives, next door to the brewery, complained to authorities that "the introduction of gallon cans in Kohnle's business had resulted in the demoralization of the workers in the vicinity" (May 8, 1889, Philadelphia Inquirer). Kohnle temporarily lost his brewery license over the matter.
brewery sale notice 1901.jpg
End of the line for brewing in our neighborhood.
This legal notice was attached to the deed abstract from the 1901 sheriff's sale to the Bush Hill Building Association #2. It was sold to the Baldwin Locomotive Works (BLW) in 1902.
BLW would also acquire the residences fronting Spring Garden Street north of this property.


Andrew Carnegie (1835-1919) was a Scottish-born industrialist and philanthropist. Carnegie's family moved to the suburbs of Pittsburgh in 1848, and the 13-year-old immigrant went to work as a bobbin boy, working 12 hours a day, six days a week changing the spools of thread in a cotton mill. He was largely self-educated and was aided by the generosity of a local businessman who allowed young workers to borrow books from his private library. He apprenticed under Tom Scott, a railroader and President of the Pennsylvania Railroad. In the second half of the 19th century in America, there were four men vying to become America's wealthiest man: Cornelius Vanderbilt (1794-1877, railroads), John D. Rockefeller (1839-1937, oil), J. Pierpont Morgan (1837-1913, finance), and Carnegie (steel). All, except Morgan, were self-made visionaries who built profit-maximizing industries, and all, including Morgan, were ruthless. Carnegie was probably the least ruthless. After the Johnstown Flood killed 2,208 people in 1899, the fishing club owned by Pittsburgh society men was blamed for the poor upkeep of the dam. In 1892, Carnegie associate Henry Frick violently squashed a strike at the Homestead Steel Works while Carnegie was vacationing in Scotland. Carnegie felt guilt over both events and decided to contribute to the public good. This intensified when he sold Carnegie Steel to J. P. Morgan for $480 million in 1901 ($14 billion today's dollars), thereby becoming the wealthiest man in America. He vowed to give it all away, and he did give away 90% of his wealth before he died.

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Portion of map from 1901 looking at the 1700 block of Spring Garden Street at top. Ever expansionist Baldwin Locomotive Works (BLW) owned much of the land between Spring Garden and Buttonwood Streets on this block. Joshua Evans owned several livery stables in the neighborhood and sold the one in the photo to BLW in 1905. The Spring Garden Library would occupy 1700 through 1706 Spring Garden Street on land donated by BLW.

Carnegie had dabbled in philanthropy in the 1880's, but after 1890 he upped the ante. He built Carnegie Hall in New York City in 1891. He built the Carnegie Institute of Technology in 1900. Lower brow but more cherished by the lower classes was his funding of free public libraries throughout the world. He had four stipulations for any city to receive a grant:

  • the city must own the land under the building. Baldwin Locomotive Works (BLW) donated the southwest corner of 17th and Spring Garden Streets to the City;

  • There had to be room for future expansion of any library building. BLW owned the buildings adjoining the western side of the proposed library;

  • the City had to fund books, maintenance, and staffing at an annual cost of 10% of Carnegie's bequest. This stipulation took one year of debate to fulfill in Philadelphia;

  • and, after 1908, the library building layout had to be approved by Carnegie.

Philadelphia in 1900 had a main library in rented space on Chestnut Street, 14 branch libraries mostly in rented space, and 92 travelling libraries. Carnegie donated $1.5 million to fund construction of 30 new branch libraries, each at a cost of $50,000 (roughly $1.4 million today). City officials took over a year to debate the merits of the gift, considering the City's annual operating and maintenance expenses would be $150,000. In 1903 the gift was accepted with the Carnegie stipulations, and construction began. Twenty five branch libraries of the Free Library of Philadelphia were eventually built between 1905 and 1930.

The Spring Garden Library at the southwest corner of 17th and Spring Garden Streets was built in 1907 with money from Andrew Carnegie, land donated by Baldwin Locomotive Works, and architecture design in the Collegiate Gothic style by Field & Medary. It opened as the 7th Carnegie library in Philadelphia on November 18, 1907. The third United States Mint had just been built six years earlier on the other side of 17th Street, the same year a new Baldwin Locomotive Works building went up at Spring Garden and 16th Streets and another along the north side of the 1700 block of Buttonwood Street.

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From the 1911 report of the libraries to the City.

24-year-old Amy Ridgway, who lived at 716 North 19th Street, was the Librarian-in-charge.

Not sure if this librarian-in-charge was related to Jacob Ridgway, whose money ended up funding the massive Ridgway Library on Broad Street in 1878.

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1907 photo of the new library from here.

Carnegie did not have the requirement for his review of the architecture of the building until 1908. The Spring Garden Street branch is more ornate than later libraries in Philadelphia for this reason.

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1907 sketch of the trim for the library

The words carved in stone under the seal of the Philadelphia libraries, from the top, include:

  • Liber Lidere Me (the book leads me, my translation)

  • The Free Library of Philadelphia

  • Spring Garden Street Branch

The phrase Liber Lidere Me would be changed to Liber Libere Omnibus (Books Free to All) in the final carving. The latter motto is the motto of the Philadelphia Free Library system.

Unlike many philanthropists of today, Carnegie did not require his name be on the libraries, although a third of his 2,509 libraries worldwide do carry his name. None in Philadelphia do.


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1907 photo of the upper floor of the library.

The floor below had a 500-seat auditorium for lectures.

Carnegie wanted the librarian's central desk to be able to observe the whole floor, in case libraries would wish to allow patrons to retrieve their own books from the shelves (under the ever vigilant gaze of the librarian).

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Portion of 1917 Sanborn insurance map showing the library.

This same year the Parkway Central Library would begin construction.

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1928 photo 

BLW has several blocks of interconnecting buildings south of the Spring Garden Library, which is dwarfed by its surroundings. This was the last year for any BLW business in this neighborhood.

The building in the lower right with the twin water tanks is in what is now the northern half of Baldwin Park.

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Photo from 1939 showing the BLW buildings cleared south of the library to the Callowhill Cut. Residences along Spring Garden Street remain, as well as the Spring Garden Library marked with the pink balloon at the top of the photo.

The Spring Garden Street branch closed in 1955, the Parkway Central Library being only four blocks away. In 1957 the branch building reopened as the Library for the Blind, until the building was demolished between 1970 and 1975. The Library for the Blind and Physically Handicapped was relocated to the Robert Morris Building at 919 Walnut Street. In 2018 it moved back to the neighborhood at 1500 Spring Garden Street, Suite 230.

Of the 25 Carnegie libraries opened in Philadelphia between 1906 and 1930, 17 still function as libraries. Three have undergone conversion for other uses, and five have been razed. You can get a quick summary of the architects of the 25 libraries at outside link here and see postcards of the 25 libraries on the outside link here. 


There is more info on the history of the library buildings in Philadelphia in this outside article from 2008 prepared for the Historic American Buildings Survey. In addition, in July 2021 the Philadelphia Carnegie libraries were put in the Philadelphia Register of Historic Places as a thematic district. Alas, too late for our neighborhood branch. The application for the register is here.

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1958 photo of the Library for the Blind.

The Library for the Blind and Physically Handicapped is now one block away on the second floor at 1500 Spring Garden Street. 

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There is another Carnegie/library connection in Philadelphia, this one to the Central library, not a branch library. The Central Library began in a corner of City Hall in 1891, then moved to the 1200 block of Chestnut Street. It quickly outgrew this site as well. When Dr. Thomas Mutter died in 1859, he bequeathed his 1,300 medical specimens to the College of Physicians with the condition that they build a fire-proof building to house them. A new two-story building on 13th and Locust was that building, completed in 1863. A third story was added in 1885. The growing collection required more space, and a site was chosen at 22nd and Ludlow Street. Andrew Carnegie contributed $100,000 of the $289,266 needed for that construction, completed in 1909. When the College of Physicians moved out of 13th and Locust, the Central Branch of the Free Library moved in, and stayed there until the Parkway building was completed in 1929. Thanks to Carnegie, the library had upgraded digs for twenty years. For more see outside link here.

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