Philadelphia – The Quaker City

The great city thus founded by William Penn is built chiefly upon a broad plain between the Delaware and Schuylkill Rivers, about one hundred miles from the sea, and upon the undulating surface to the north and west. The shape of the city is much like an hour-glass, between the rivers, although it spreads far west of the Schuylkill. The Delaware River, in front of the built-up portion, sweeps around a grand curve from northeast to south, and then, reversing the movement, flows around the Horseshoe Bend below the city, from south to west, to meet the Schuylkill. The railway and commercial facilities the proximity to the coal-fields, and the ample room to spread in all directions, added to the cheapness of living, have made Philadelphia the greatest manufacturing city in the world, and attracted to it 1,300,000 inhabitants. The alluvial character of the shores of the two rivers surrounds the city with a region of the richest market gardens, and the adjoining counties are a wealthy agricultural and dairy section. Clay, underlying a large part of the surface, has furnished the bricks to build much of the town. Most of the people own their homes; there are over two hundred and fifty thousand dwellings and a thousand miles of paved streets, and new houses are put up by the thousands every year as additional territory is absorbed. When Penn laid out his town-plan, he made two broad highways pointing towards the cardinal points of the compass and crossing at right angles in the centre, where he located a public square of ten acres. The east and west street, one hundred feet wide, he placed at the narrowest part of the hour-glass, where the rivers approached within two miles of each other. This he called the High Street, but the public persisted in calling it Market Street. The north and south street, laid out in the centre of the plat, at its southern end reached the Delaware near the confluence with the Schuylkill. This street is one hundred and thirteen feet wide, Broad Street, a magnificent thoroughfare stretching for miles and bordered with handsome buildings. Upon the Centre Square was built a Quaker meeting-house, the Friends, while yet occupying the caves on the bluff banks of the Delaware that were their earliest dwellings, showing anxiety to maintain their forms of religious worship. This meeting-house has since multiplied into scores in the city and adjacent districts for the sect, while not increasing in numbers, holds its own in wealth and importance, and has great influence in modern Philadelphia. Afterwards the Centre Square was used for the city water-works, and finally it was made the site of the City Hall.

The bronze statue of the founder, surmounting the City Hall tower at five hundred and fifty feet elevation, clad in broad-brimmed hat and Quaker garb, carrying the city charter, and gazing intently north-eastward towards the “neutral land of Shackamaxon,” is the prominent landmark for many miles around Philadelphia. A blaze of electric light illuminates it at night. This City Hall, the largest edifice in America, and almost as large as St. Peter’s Church in Rome, has fourteen acres of floor space and seven hundred and fifty rooms, and cost $27,000,000. It is a quadrangle, built around a central court about two hundred feet square, and measures four hundred and eighty-six by four hundred and seventy feet. The lower portion is of granite, and the upper white marble surmounted by Louvre domes and Mansard roofs. This great building is the official centre of Philadelphia, but the centre of population is now far to the northwest, the city having spread in that direction. The City Hall, excepting its tower, is also being dwarfed by the many enormous and tall store and office buildings which have recently been constructed on Broad and other streets near it. Closely adjacent are the two vast stations of the railways leading into Philadelphia, the Broad Street Station of the Pennsylvania system, and the Reading Terminal Station, which serves the Reading, Baltimore and Ohio and Lehigh Valley systems. Also adjoining, to the north-ward, is the Masonic Temple, the finest Masonic edifice in existence, a pure Norman structure of granite two hundred and fifty by one hundred and fifty feet, with a tower two hundred and thirty feet high, and a magnificent carved and decorated granite Norman porch, which is much admired.

The great founder not only started his City of Brotherly Love upon principles of the strictest rectitude, but he was thoroughly rectangular in his ideas. He laid out all the streets on his plan parallel to the two prominent ones, so that they crossed at right angles, and his map was like a chess-board. In the newer sections this plan has been generally followed, although a few country roads in the outer districts, laid upon diagonal lines, have been converted into streets in the city’s growth. Penn’s original city also included four other squares near the outer corners of his plan, each of about seven acres, and three of them were long used as cemeteries. These are now attractive breathing-places for the crowded city, being named after Washington and Franklin, Logan and Rittenhouse. The east and west streets Penn named after trees and plants, while the north and south streets were numbered. The chief street of the city is Chestnut Street, a narrow highway of fifty feet width, parallel to and south of Market Street. Its western end, like Walnut Street, the next one south, is a fashionable residential section, both being pro-longed far west of the Schuylkill River. In the neighborhood of Broad Street, and for several blocks eastward, Chestnut Street has the chief stores. Its eastern blocks are filled largely with financial institutions and great business edifices, some of them elaborate structures.