Philadelphia – Girard College

The name of Girard is familiar in Philadelphia, being repeated in streets, buildings, and financial and charitable institutions. On Third Street, south from Chestnut Street, is the fine marble building of the Girard Bank, which was copied after the Dublin Ex-change. This, originally built for the first Bank of the United States, was Stephen Girard’s bank until his death. One of the greatest streets in the north-ern part of the city is Girard Avenue, over one hundred feet wide, stretching almost from the Delaware River westward far beyond the Schuylkill River, which it crosses upon a splendid iron bridge. In its course through the northwestern section, this fine street diverges around the enclosure of Girard College, occupying grounds covering about forty-two acres. Stephen Girard, before the advent of Astor in New York, amassed the greatest American fortune. He was born in Bordeaux in 1750, and, being a sailor’s son, began life as a cabin boy. He first appeared in Philadelphia during the Revolution as a small trader, and after some years was reported, in, 1790, to have an estate valued at $30,000. Subsequently, through trading with the West Indies, and availing of the advantages a neutral had in the warlike period that followed, he rapidly amassed wealth, so that by 1812, when he opened his bank, he had a capital of $1,200,000 ; and so great was the public confidence in his integrity that depositors flocked to his institution. He increased its capital to $4,000,000 ; and when the war with England began in that year he was able to take, without help, a United States loan of $5,000,000. He was a remarkable man, frugal and even parsimonious, but profuse in his public charities, though strict in ex-acting every penny due himself. He contributed liberally to the adornment of the city and created many fine buildings. He despised the few relatives he had, and when he died in 1831 his estate, then the largest known in the country, and estimated at $9,000,000, was almost entirely bequeathed for charity.

Stephen Girard left donations to schools, hospitals, Masonic poor funds, for fuel for the poor, and other charitable purposes ; but the major part of his for-tune went in trust to the city of Philadelphia, partly to improve its streets and the Delaware River front, but the greater portion to endow Girard College. This was in the form of a bequest of $2,000,000 in money and a large amount of lands and buildings, together with the ground whereon the College has been built. He gave the most minute directions About its construction, the institution to be for the support and instruction of poor white male orphans, who are admitted between the ages of six and ten years, and between the ages of fourteen and eighteen years are to be bound out as apprentices to various occupations. A clause in the will provides that no ecclesiastic, missionary or minister of any sect what-ever is to hold any connection with the College, or even be admitted to the premises as a visitor; but the officers are required to instruct the pupils in the purest principles of morality, leaving them to adopt their own religious beliefs. The College building is of white marble, and the finest specimen of pure Grecian architecture in the United States. It is a Corinthian temple, surrounded by a portico of thirty-four columns, each fifty-five feet high and six feet in diameter. The building is one hundred and sixty-nine by one hundred and eleven feet, and ninety-seven feet high, the roof being of heavy slabs of marble, from which, as the College stands on high ground, there is a grand view over the city. Within the vestibule are a statue of Girard and his, sarcophagus. The architect, Thomas U. Walter, achieved such fame from this building that he was afterwards employed to extend the Capitol at Washington. There are many other buildings in the College enclosure, some being little less pretentious than the College itself. This comprehensive charity has been in successful operation over a half-century, and it supports and educates some sixteen hundred boys, the endowment, by careful management, now exceeding $16,000,000.

Philadelphia is great in other charities, and notably in. hospitals. Opposite Girard College are the magnificent buildings of the German Hospital and the Mary J. Drexel Home for the education of nurses, established by the munificence of John D. Lankenau, the widowed husband of the lady whose name it bears. The Drexel Institute, founded by Anthony J. Drexel, is a fine building in West Philadelphia, with $2,000,000 endowment, established for ” the extension and improvement of industrial education as a means of opening better and wider avenues of employment to young men and women,” and it provides for about two thousand students. The Presbyterian, Episcopal, Jewish, Methodist and Roman Catholic hospitals, all under religious care, are noted. Philadelphia is also the great medical school of the country, and the University, Jefferson, Hahnemann and Women’s Colleges, each with a hospital attached, have world-wide fame. The oldest hospital, the Pennsylvania Hospital, occupying an entire block between Spruce and Pine and Eighth and Ninth Streets, was founded in 1752, and is supported almost entirely by voluntary contributions. In 1841 it established in West Philadelphia a separate Department for the Insane. The Medico-Chirurgical Hospital is a modern foundation which has grown to large proportions. There are many libraries—not only free libraries, with branches in various parts of the city, for popular use, supported by the public funds, but also the Philadelphia Library, founded by Franklin and his friends of the Junto Literary Club in 1731, and its Ridgway Branch, established, with $1,500,000 endowment, by Dr. James Rush—a spacious granite building on Broad Street, which cost $350,000. One of the restrictions of his gift, how-ever, excludes newspapers, he describing them as “vehicles of disjointed thinking.” The Pennsylvania Historical Society also has a fine library pertaining to early Colonial history, and many valuable relics and manuscripts, including the first Bible printed in America, and the original manuscripts of Home, Sweet Home, and the Star Spangled Banner.