Eastern Pennsylvania

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Holy Experiment to Wholly Experimental
I do not know what it is that is so welcome to me in the Pennsylvania landscape, but it is the same quality—perhaps of reposing in the certainty that truth is good—that exists in Pennsylvania faces.

—JOHN UPDIKE, “Packed Dirt, Churchgoing, a Dying Cat, A Traded Car,” The New Yorker, December 16, 1961

Eastern Pennsylvania's history makes it unlikely that any other volume in this series can match the architectural variety, ranging from New England–flavored villages in the north (for example, Milford) to the German medieval Cloister at Ephrata (LA34) and the village of Bethlehem, to the industrial iconography of Frank Furness's energetic buildings toward the end of the nineteenth century (PH52) and the descriptive expressionism of Louis Kahn's (PH147.13) and Robert Venturi and Denise Scott Brown's Las Vegas–tinted works that continue now into the twenty-first century. Pennsylvania's structures describe in bold forms and subtle detail the identities and values of the many peoples who first took advantage of the religious freedom offered by William Penn's “Holy Experiment” as well as those who later came for the economic opportunities and personal freedom of the growing nation. The national influence of Pennsylvania's architects is proof of the crucial role of William Penn's utopian community in the history of American architecture.

From America's first novelist, Charles Brockton Brown, at the end of the eighteenth century to the brilliant early-twentieth-century essayist and novelist Christopher Morley, through such post–World War II writers as John O’Hara and John Updike, who both escaped the dreary edges of the coal country for the lights and stimulation of New York City, Pennsylvania and its people have often been described with the sharp insights of native eyes. They guide our eyes to what Updike described half a century ago as a landscape that unrolled like a “brown scroll scribbled with industry.” Now, at the beginning of the twenty-first century, much of that industrial landscape is rusted, abandoned, and, increasingly, demolished—evidence of a changing world that postindustrial Pennsylvania has not easily accepted. But all is not lost. Here and there, old towns have been reinvented as leisure towns pouring the new wine of consumer pleasures into the old downtown bottles with surprisingly successful results. Philadelphia's Chestnut Hill (including West Chestnut Hill and Modern Chestnut Hill), the Main Line's Wayne (DE46), and Bucks County's Doylestown are good examples near Philadelphia, while Lititz and Civil War theme park Gettysburg mark the same forces in outlying towns.

Plantation, Township, County, Commonwealth: Secular Hierarchy

In 1681 King Charles II, owing vast sums to Admiral William Penn for his services in the wars against Holland, awarded Penn's son, William, a grant of land in North America to settle that debt. The younger Penn immediately set about developing these lands, with the hope of gaining a return on them. Purchasers of plantations of five thousand acres would be known as “First Purchasers” and would form a hereditary aristocracy of the region.1 This suggests that Penn's first ideas about government reflected the court culture to which he had been exposed and perhaps explains the concentration of political power in the county and the governor's office. These first purchasers, who would have a hereditary seat in the Assembly, were expected in turn to develop their holdings, increasing the regional economy and funneling their goods through Penn's property along the Delaware. Using incentives that eerily anticipate telemarketers of the present, Penn offered:

William Penn's original scheme, as shown in “A Map of the Improved Part of Pennsylvania in America” by Thomas Holme (1687), was an abstract division into three counties, each of which had water access to Great Britain with Philadelphia in the central location.

All Purchases of One Thousand Acres and upwards have the [opportunity to have city lots on the High Street or river] Fronts, and to every five Thousand Acres Purchase, in the Fronts about an Acre.2

Later inducements also included medium-sized estates of up to eighty acres in the so-called liberty zones above the city where suburban houses could be built and where activities prohibited by the city charter could be undertaken. This subdivision corresponded to the historical pattern of land use around the city of London and is evidence that despite Penn's idea of a Holy Experiment, he generally expected cultural continuity with Britain.

There were significant consequences to sharing power with citizens whose interests soon differed from the proprietor. Penn's idealized community proved no more realizable than his initial ideas about the government of the commonwealth. His own land sales met with only moderate success, leading him to cooperate with a favored corporation, the Free Society of Traders. This was a joint-stock company, created by London merchants who hoped to monopolize trade to the new port. In Philadelphia, the Free Society of Traders is memorialized in the name Society Hill that has gained something of the cachet of Boston's Beacon Hill.3 Monopolies such as the East India Company had already been proven as a method to encourage investment in risky but potentially profitable schemes. However the society's monopoly conflicted with the goals of the individual citizens, and as a result the charter was not approved by the first Assembly when it met in December 1682.

Penn's other initiatives for controlling development fared no better. Philadelphia residents quickly disregarded his proposed monopoly of trade through a single wharf. And Penn's city did not develop as he had intended from both riverfronts toward a common center, but instead concentrated on the shores of the navigable Delaware River that in turn concentrated the institutional buildings of the city on the eastern side as well. The idea of an open “Greene Countrie towne” devoted to large houses centered on spacious sites was quickly subverted by those who subdivided their properties to create the convenience of the typical English coastal village. Penn learned that even though he had kept three votes for himself, personal interest continually outweighed the connections of party or even class. Modern Pennsylvania is a product of the conflicts that characterized Penn's conception.

Pennsylvania's Historical Geography

Underpinning the evolution of eastern Pennsylvania is a complicated and ancient geology that forms the stage on which the region's building history has been played. To the east the Delaware River slices its way through the silt deposits of the coastal plain that spans from New York to Delaware. This plain is the remnant of a vast delta, created by an even larger river that before the last ice age comprised the watersheds of the present Delaware and Hudson rivers. The Delaware provided easy inland access, prompting William Penn to situate Philadelphia on the flatlands of the coastal plain, just below the “Fair Mount” that marks the first rise of the Piedmont. His first county boundaries were arbitrary, administrative lines drawn across the terrain without respect to geography. Subsequent county borders, though, deferred more to the landscape. Inland, just beyond the Piedmont, rises a series of concentric ridges, hills, and ancient mountains that form the foothills of the Appalachians, the oldest mountains of the continent. The valleys of the so-called Endless Mountains created isolated settlements that encouraged strong community identity that was quickly reflected in political subdivisions.

As is confirmed by its early buildings—those built before rail transportation made possible long-distance shipping of building materials—the geology of eastern Pennsylvania is rich and variegated. Its rock strata are arrayed in a series of wide bands that run diagonally from northeast to southwest, following the lines of the mountain ridges. The southeastern corner of the state is rich in schist and gneiss, which is reflected in the stone walls of the barns and houses in the counties surrounding Philadelphia. Farther north are rich veins of marble, much used in local architecture and prized for their attractive coloration, running from blue in Montgomery County to white in Chester County. North of this is a belt of transitional limestone, which runs through a broad region from Dauphin and Lancaster counties to Lehigh and Northumberland, and accounts for much of its fertility. Farther north is a belt of slate, extending diagonally from Northampton to Dauphin counties. Finally, there are the sedimentary sandstones of northeastern Pennsylvania along with the thick anthracite coal deposits that literally fueled the commonwealth's economy.4 Similar botanical divisions can be seen across the commonwealth. To the south, native species included oaks, hickory, walnut, tulip poplars, and the now nearly extinct chestnut. Across the middle of the state, white pines, hemlocks, and hardwoods predominate while the Northern Tier holds beech, birch, and maple forests, the woods of southern New England.

The numerous mountain ridges ensured that most early travel was by water, although much use was made of Indian trails, which set the course for some of the region's oldest historic roads, such as Ridge Pike, which runs through northwestern Philadelphia.5 These same mountains were drained by many streams, along whose courses small manufacturing villages prospered. Even before Penn's arrival, an early Swedish mill was located on Cobb's Creek along the western edge of what is now Philadelphia.6 The earliest mill in Quaker Pennsylvania, however, was built by Caleb Pusey in partnership with Penn, and was located on Chester Creek at the descriptively named “Upland”7 (DE5). The numerous Mill Creeks and various towns with “mill” in their name commemorate the impact of waterpower for milling grains, sawing lumber, and producing the rag pulp that was the basis for Pennsylvania's paper industry. Eventually these waterways led to the region's great industrial towns and cities, including Manayunk, Conshohocken, Reading, Allentown, Bethlehem, and Easton.

By the mid-eighteenth century, Philadelphia was concentrated on the Delaware River, with a fan of roads radiating out to other destinations and with country seats in the near hinterland, as is evident in “A Map of Philadelphia and Parts Adjacent” by N. Scull and G. Heap (1752).

Indian trails were soon succeeded by roads of varying quality, which linked inland settlements that were not on great rivers. The most important westbound route was the road to Lancaster, first opened in 1687, improved in 1741, and turned over to a private company that began operating it as the United States’ first toll road in 1794.8 It is now U.S. 30. Another early road was the King's Highway, which in 1696 connected Philadelphia to Wilmington, Delaware, and the southern portions of Penn's grant, and whose course the present U.S. 13 more or less follows. By the late eighteenth century, Pennsylvania began to charter private concerns to build toll roads or turnpikes on major routes to important destinations. Roads radiated out from the chief destination, the capital and port city of Philadelphia. The Baltimore Turnpike (chartered 1809) followed an early westward route via Chadds Ford over Brandywine Creek to its target city of Baltimore. Another cluster of roads fanned out from the northwest portion of Philadelphia County, most of which connected to the Germantown road, opened in 1683 over what was probably also an Indian trail, now Germantown Avenue. The Germantown road was improved in 1709 and again in 1801, when its western end was extended beyond Chestnut Hill to Reading and became a turnpike, hence the common name of Germantown Pike, or Germantown and Reading Pike. The Bethlehem Pike heads north from Chestnut Hill toward Bethlehem, another German settlement, while the York Road (1711) and Bristol Pike head north and northeast toward the falls of the Delaware, Trenton, and beyond to New York City and Boston.

County Expansion

William Penn's survey of 1683 established Chester, Philadelphia, and Bucks counties on the coastal plain and piedmont, just below the first rim of the mountains.9 At first, their western boundaries were indeterminate, and they remained unfixed until the establishment of the counties of the second ring, Lancaster (1729), York (1749), Cumberland (1750), and Berks (1752). These marked the expansion of settlements and the opening of western routes from Philadelphia, while Northampton (1752) and Northumberland (1772) counties marked the limits of northern expansion prior to the Revolution. For a brief moment after its establishment in 1750, Cumberland County encompassed the entire western portion of the commonwealth, while Northumberland County included lands to the New York border that were eventually subdivided into more than twenty counties. With the exception of Philadelphia, all of the pre-Revolutionary counties had namesakes in England.

The Revolution ended the control of the Penn family over the commonwealth and its central portion that had remained in their hands was then opened for settlement. The new counties established between the Revolution and the War of 1812 are marked by names that honor revolutionary heroes and themes, including Montgomery (1784, created out of Philadelphia), Franklin (1784), Mifflin (1789), Wayne (1798), Adams (1800), and Bradford (1812, named for the nation's second attorney general and son of the Philadelphia patriot of the same name). Other names paid tribute to Revolutionary ally France: Dauphin (1785) and Luzerne counties (1786). Natural features such as rivers were given their due as well in naming Delaware (1789, created out of Chester County) and Schuylkill (1811) counties. The Holy Lands gave Lebanon County its name, while Union County (1813) was more political. Because of the growing importance of the Susquehanna River trade, the Northern Tier counties along the New York border also were settled in this same period, among them Lycoming (1795), Tioga (1804), Susquehanna (1810), and the previously noted Bradford (1810, renamed two years later). The discovery of coal deposits led to the establishment of Carbon County (1843), while lumber and trade along the Delaware caused the subdivision of Monroe County (1831). The central counties opened in the years after the War of 1812 with the establishment of Columbia (1813), Perry (1820), and Juniata (1831). The last county to be established, Lackawanna (1878), was carved out of the northeast counties to benefit the iron magnates of Scranton. Counties in eastern Pennsylvania vary significantly in size, ranging from Philadelphia, at 135 square miles it is the second smallest but the most densely populated with 1.5 million residents, to Lycoming with 1,500 square miles; Sullivan is the smallest in population with fewer than 7,000 in 2000.10

Boats, Trains, and Trucks

In 1823, Pennsylvania undertook the construction of “the Main Line of Public Works across the State,” a belated effort to compete with New York's Erie Canal.11 This vast project, combining canals, inclined planes, and eventually rail travel, was intended to link Philadelphia to Columbia on the Susquehanna River and eventually to cross mountains to Pittsburgh where it would join the western rivers. These in turn would link to the Mississippi, serving to funnel the goods of the continent's interior to Philadelphia rather than Baltimore or New York City.

Because of the impossibility of raising canal boats across mountains, however, the western portions of the route languished until a private corporation, the Pennsylvania Railroad, took over the project in 1847, and reached Pittsburgh in 1852. Much of Pennsylvania's future development would occur along the tracks of the Pennsylvania Railroad and along those of its various affiliates and competitors. These included the Philadelphia and Reading Railroad, which connected north to Reading and the coal country; the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad, which linked the southern edge of the commonwealth to Baltimore and the Chesapeake; and subsidiaries of the New York Central Railroad, which linked the Northern Tier to New York City. Pennsylvania's railroads ran parallel to the Mason-Dixon Line and when the Civil War broke out in 1861, they were in a prime position to capture wartime markets. Carrying troops and materials to the front and shipping raw materials and finished products to centers of manufacturing, the Pennsylvania Railroad became the nation's largest corporation and a major engine of the commonwealth's wealth.

Through the patronage of the leaders of the Pennsylvania Railroad, who built homes along its Main Line, the western suburbs of Philadelphia became one of the nation's residential showplaces12 (Lower Merion and Bala Cynwyd/Ardmore and Haverford/Bryn Mawr and Haverford/Villanova/Wayne). Perhaps even more significant was the railroad's progressive corporate culture. It was an early leader in the development of standardized parts and engines, following the doctrine of William Sellers, preeminent Philadelphia machine tool maker and president of the Franklin Institute, who was an advocate of industrial standardization as national policy and whose significant role in creating the regional aesthetic is discussed below. Today the nation still uses the railroad's standard time zones that were necessitated by the railroad's broad reach from Philadelphia to Chicago.

In the twentieth century the more open system of the highway regained prominence, but with motor trucks and automobiles rather than horses and wagons. In the 1930s the nation's first high-speed highway, the Pennsylvania Turnpike, emphasized the rising role of the automobile and trucking in the region. Laid out along a route from Pittsburgh to Carlisle that had been acquired by competitors of the Pennsylvania Railroad, it quickly supplanted old National Road (U.S. 40) and the Lincoln Highway (U.S. 30). After World War II, the interstate system incorporated the Pennsylvania Turnpike as I-76. A new north–south viaduct, I-81, was constructed across the Northern Tier of the commonwealth in the 1970s, opening new areas to automobile-based development. Remarkably, citizens of the Philadelphia region, spurred by railroad interests, fought the interstates—missing vital connections to the principal transportation system of contemporary life and with negative consequences for the future of the city.

Pennsylvania's Cultural Geography

Cultural geographers have long remarked on Pennsylvania's importance in shaping the nation's material culture. Indeed, historian Henry Glassie gives to the Mid-Atlantic region the central role in shaping the nation's “material folk culture regions, for both the North and the South were influenced by practices which had their New World source in southeastern Pennsylvania.”13 Geographer Peirce F. Lewis cites several factors that led to the region's prominence: first, eastern Pennsylvania was exceptionally favored in fertility of land, which encouraged hard work and rewarded frugality and contrasted with the barren land and harsh climate of New England as well as the plantation culture of the South; second, its geographic variety, particularly its streams and rivers, supported an array of economic pursuits that formed the foundation for a diverse economy; third, its central location on the edge of the western mountains provided easy access to the near west via the valleys into Maryland and Virginia; all of these factors contributed to the fourth element, Penn's open community led to the rapid growth of population that in turn gave Pennsylvania the capacity to export people.14 Last, and perhaps most important, one might add the diverse peoples of Penn's open community, who created an early hybrid vigor that juxtaposed contrasting ideas and values.

Pennsylvania's emigrants in turn carried into the American heartland its gridded towns and its pattern of secondary alleys subdividing blocks, its northern European bank barns with their distinctive overhanging forebay that became known as the Pennsylvania barn, its long rifles (misnamed for Kentucky where they were taken from their place of manufacture in Lancaster), its German pretzels and beers, and ultimately its brick architecture and heavy industry.15 Today, the astute observer sees other patterns that denote regional culture as well. Grocery chains are representative of economic battles as Wegmans Markets invades from the north into the home territory of Acme Markets (founded in Philadelphia as American Stores in the late nineteenth century). Baseball fandom provides another index of affiliation with Mets and Yankees fans in the state's northeast, mirroring the routes of New York–centered railroads and not coincidently the locations of commissions by New York architects; while Orioles fans spread up from Baltimore—again in areas where Baltimore architects often worked for local colleges as at Franklin and Marshall (LA24) and Dickinson (CU10) near the Susquehanna River.

Despite the arbitrary nature of its boundaries and the admixture of styles and sources, the regional character of the architecture of eastern Pennsylvania has a remarkably clear identity, albeit one evidenced as much by its seemingly infinite variety as by specific designs. Fusion of forms and details that represented different peoples and the intermixing of building types and materials are the hallmark of William Penn's commonwealth, differing in their variety from the unified styles that represent the monocultures of New England and the plantations of Virginia and the South.16 Nonetheless, the specific forms that denote the architecture of Pennsylvania are strongly identifiable, whether in the familiar massive fieldstone houses and bank barns of the countryside or the streetscapes of Pennsylvania's rural towns and villages, which share the feature of narrow brick houses hard pressed against the street with a hierarchy of streets and alleys.17 Historically Pennsylvanians have preferred masonry buildings that reflect the ideal of stability and permanence. The use of thin slabs of edge-mounted fieldstone and stucco over the flakeboard construction of the contemporary McMansions that now dot the countryside marks the convergence of the national throw-away culture with the building traditions of the region.

The Cultural Basis Of Regional Architecture

As David Hackett Fischer has shown in his magisterial Albion's Seed, the British colonists of North America adapted the conventional techniques and forms of their British homelands to the new places where they settled.18 The early Quaker settlers of Pennsylvania came in large numbers from England's Home Counties and the Welsh border regions, bringing with them the place names of their homelands. They also brought their characteristic folkways in building types and lifestyle. Their brick architecture reflected that of the region around Jordans (Buckinghamshire), Penn's homeland, while the rubble stone construction common to the west of Oxford became the norm of Bucks County and other regions where the specialized skill of brick making was unavailable. The architecture of the English counties north of London served as the basis for the early architecture of Penn's commonwealth. The consequence, as Anthony N. B. Garvan has pointed out, is the remarkable similarity between the early buildings of Philadelphia and such English villages as Amersham with their markets in the widened center of their High Street and with rows of gable-roofed brick houses densely built along the street.19

Cultural differences also produced a number of governmental systems that differentiate Pennsylvania both from New England and Virginia. In New England, the township was the principal unit of government and the town meeting as an assembly of freemen, meeting in person and not through representatives, was the chief instrument of government. A second level of government at the regional or county level consisted of an aggregation of townships that constituted a judicial district midway between the township and the superior courts of the state. To the south, in Virginia, the more remote county was the unit of local government. Pennsylvania constituted a third way. At first, the county was the principal center of authority, but subsequently, with the growth of population, local powers were given to townships and boroughs. County taxes supported the poor, built courthouses and prisons and other public works, paid the salaries of members of the assembly and the judges, and in general supported the more ambitious examples of public architecture. Initially, too, the county managed payment for the creation and repair of roads and bridges, but as townships grew, they were granted greater powers and assumed responsibility for local roads. The governor and his council were responsible for core infrastructure that would benefit the entire community, the principal public highways as well as the costs of education. Penn organized his commonwealth on a system that combined elements of English regional governance with the multiple centers of power of the Society of Friends, creating a system of government that had both local and centralizing components. In a remarkable anticipation of the later American Constitution, Penn's constitution established the rule of law, required that all legal pleadings be undertaken in the common language of English rather than the elite language of Latin, separated schooling from churches, and provided for freedom of religious conscience.

Penn's Frame of Government guided the physical layout of his commonwealth as well. Because the government was vested in the county, the county seat almost always became the chief town of the region. They are differentiated by the permanent structures of the county courthouse, jail, county offices, as well as buildings that housed the offices of newspapers, lawyers, and others who deal with the courts. The daytime population in turn brought banks, offices, hotels, and restaurants that formed a shopping district. The county seat is thus where significant examples of civic and commercial architecture are most likely to be found. But county seats were not necessarily fixed. As Bucks County demonstrates, county seats often moved with the center of the population (BU9, BU23, and BU30) and several large counties were subdivided, creating the need for new seats.

Quaker Roots

Quakers (properly, the Religious Society of Friends) have attained a deserved reputation for pacifism, their plain architecture and at times their behavior attested to their purposeful conflict with established religions. In England, Quakers had a practice of “running naked into the world,” running unclothed through Anglican churches to express their disdain for social hierarchy and elite distinction as expressed by clothing. The plainness and antichurch design of their meetinghouses were intended to contrast with and contest the medieval spires, hierarchical spatial form, and gilded pomp of Anglican churches, and made a strong statement indeed in the more democratic American colonies. Un-oriented—in spatial terms—and contrary to the norms of church architecture, Quaker meetings expressed the core value of their religious community, namely that there was “that of God in all people” and that the physical setting where worship occurred was of minor consequence compared to the personal religious experience. Their meetings are expressions of their willingness to oppose convention and became the model for other dissenting groups.

Through the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, observers made the mistake of believing that Philadelphia's distinctive architectural character descends from the original plain style of the Quakers. A recent study with the oxymoronic title Quaker Aestheticseven runs the risk of turning Quakers into Shakers, while ignoring the reality that by the middle of the eighteenth century, the Friends had largely retired from community leadership.20 If Quaker values had a share in producing such characteristic Philadelphia architects as Frank Furness, William L. Price, George Howe, Louis Kahn, and Robert Venturi, it was only indirectly, as the culture responded in its own peculiar way to the challenges and opportunities of the industrial age.21 Most notable perhaps was the Quaker value that encouraged their children into useful professions, meaning that the Pennsylvania region had the advantage of an educated and activist elite who brought their knowledge to the world of work.

Quakers explored various meetinghouse plan types, such as this early-eigtheenth-century square two-story example on Bank Street in Philadelphia, before settling on the standard double meetinghouse form.

Still, with the meetinghouses of the Friends setting the example, Pennsylvania became a center for disseminating the architectural forms of religious dissent. In addition to the influence of the Quaker meetinghouse on other denominations, Penn's policy of religious toleration helped shape Pennsylvania's larger towns and cities. Instead of the monoculture that was the norm in the colonies of New England (save for Rhode Island), Pennsylvania presented a rich mixture of religious communities and their churches. German traveler Herr von Beck noted in his Reise Diariumon June 6, 1734, the various denominations worshipping in Philadelphia, including Lutherans, Reformers, Anglicans, Presbyterians, Quakers, Catholics, Dunkers, Mennonites, Sabbatarians, Seventh-Dayers, Separatists, and Schwenkfelders.22 Immense tides of Germans flowed into Pennsylvania before the Revolution, comprising nearly half the population. The spires and varied shapes of their buildings differentiated Pennsylvania towns from those in other American colonies that were dominated by a single church. More than any other feature they form the visible legacy of Penn's liberal policy on religious freedom.23 The resulting octagonal, hexagonal, and square plans interested Swedish naturalist Pehr Kalm, who reported on both the numbers of churches and their variety in his mid-eighteenth-century account of Philadelphia. Attuned to the consistent orientation of the buildings of the single denomination of his native Sweden, Kalm noted that some Philadelphia religious groups “were not so particular as other people whether their churches face a certain point in the heavens or not.”24 In fact, these other groups made a point of differentiating their houses of worship by explicitly not orienting their building. This became a characteristic feature of other dissenting denominations, for example, the south-facing Norriton Presbyterian Church of c. 1698 (MO26); Bucks County's Newtown Presbyterian Church of 1769, with its entrance to the east (BU23); and the nearby Southampton Baptist Church, a contemporary building that also faces south. This rich mixture of churches is most pervasive in the southeast quarter of the commonwealth. Beyond the second of the great ridges that form the central zone, is a region dominated by the more monocultural settlements of Scots-Irish, evidenced by the Presbyterian and Methodist churches and the corresponding lack of Lutheran, United Church of Christ, and others of the German background.

Pennsylvania's religious freedom had its disadvantages. With multiple religions splitting community resources, Pennsylvanians rarely assembled the funds to build huge or especially elaborate churches. Philadelphia's eighteenth-century masterpiece, the Anglican Christ Church (PH4), pales in comparison to the slightly later St. Michael's Anglican Church in Charleston, South Carolina. However, in their variety the churches of Pennsylvania are markers of the peoples who lived within the sound of their bells and provide strong evidence of the diverse communities that settled the state and were the nucleus for much of the subsequent settlement of the American interior. By the 1750s, the participation in government by other groups, as well as the Quakers’ decision to abandon participation in public life, makes it difficult to equate Quaker values as the root of the perceived differences between Philadelphia and Pennsylvania culture and the rest of the nation. However, their intellectual contrarianism set the tone for Philadelphia designers, continuing to the present in the work of Robert Venturi and Denise Scott Brown.

As Various As Their Lands: The Hybrid Architecture Of Many Peoples

The architectural history of the commonwealth has its beginning less than four centuries ago, with the first tentative European occupations of sites along the Delaware River in the early seventeenth century.25 From the beginning, the architecture of the first great tide of Quaker immigration was diverse, reflecting the modest scale and simplicity that characterized the villages to the northwest of London whose people came to Penn's grant in the years after 1681. The Quaker settlers were almost immediately joined by immigrants from German-speaking countries as well as Scots and Welsh settlers who also brought their customs to Penn's commonwealth. Over the ensuing decades, the community plans and building styles of the commonwealth became more diverse because of the nearly continuous tide of national and regional groups who took advantage of Penn's policy of religious tolerance.

Even before Penn's arrival, the region that is now Pennsylvania had already been settled by Swedes and Dutch immigrants. Few buildings remain from the Dutch interlude, but for a century and more, Pennsylvanians continued to build hewn-log houses chinked with mud and lime plaster in the manner of the initial Swedish settlers.26 Indeed, the northern European log house with squared logs and a V-chink at the corner became a standard building of the first settlers; trees had to be felled to clear the land and hewn logs had the advantage of being good insulators and did not require sawmills. Later disguised under stucco and clapboards, log houses remain common across the eastern third of Pennsylvania and can often be spotted by their tiny windows and central chimneys. Their presence into Virginia and Kentucky marks the western flow of Pennsylvanians toward the frontier that James Fenimore Cooper described as the national narrative in his Leatherstockingsaga that began in 1826, a half century into the new nation's history.27

In the region of Penn's grant, log buildings were quickly supplanted by permanent brick buildings, often with decorative brickwork, in a zone that spans from the river towns of west Jersey to the south as far as New Castle, Delaware. Settlers from other nations and regions brought their own distinctive buildings and place names. For example, the first generation of buildings in the Welsh Tract west of Philadelphia includes low-browed rubble stone buildings that betray their Welsh origins, as do their township names, Merion, Radnor, and Haverford.28 Interspersed with English and Welsh building types across the state are the gambrel-roofed houses and churches, three- and four-room-plan houses with central chimneys, and immense masonry bank barns, whose construction reveals the work of German immigrants. These are most typically found in and near towns whose names recall the German migrations, Cresheim and Crefeld above Germantown in Philadelphia, or Shaefferstown, Millbach, Fritztown, and Strasburg that mark the westward flow of Germans.29 In the outlying districts, many villages recalled European sources. The Rittenhouse village near their paper mills on Monoshony Creek in the Wissahickon Valley in Philadelphia, for example, could have been a suburb of William Rittenhouse's native Krefeld, with its steep-roofed houses and small mills. Similarly, ordered German plans can be seen to the west in Lititz, Schaefferstown, and other towns.

Though German village plans can be found in areas of their settlement, most of the plans of Pennsylvania towns were rooted in the conventions of English villages, but with modifications that reflected the impact of the plan of Penn's principal city.30 In addition to those planned at the outset, usually on some sort of a grid that reflected the most obvious feature of the plan of Philadelphia, other villages and towns grew up from the happenstance and resources of their setting. The largest county towns such as Lancaster, Reading, and Allentown closely follow the Philadelphia model of a grid of streets with a central square for public buildings. Among the most common alternatives is the crossroads village where routes to other towns or to river fords and bridges provided enough traffic to generate some commercial activity, as, for example, Doylestown in Bucks County and New Bloomfield in Perry County (PE7). These communities are usually marked by a central intersection often with the principal institutions, banks, newspapers, and other facilities in close proximity. A third type of village is organized around a single principal street, with a widening in the street for a market square such as Germantown in Philadelphia or Strasburg (LA2) in Lancaster County. While most are little more than agglomerations of houses along a heavily traveled route, in German settlements such as Philadelphia's Germantown and Lititz (LA32), it can also be the result of conscious formal planning.31

By the mid-eighteenth century, Philadelphia's St. Michael's Lutheran Church, with its English Georgian detail overlaying a continental church form, marked the assimilation of Germans into the regional culture.

In Pennsylvania, despite differences of scale, these villages share certain specific features: the linear grid of the street that is given form by dense rows of buildings and the open public square that marks the social (and often physical) center of a community and was often the site of the market and civic buildings. The streets themselves share common naming systems that juxtapose numbered streets with those named for trees. And finally, a less obvious feature is the presence of rear alleys that sometimes provide service access to the rear of houses but as often form a secondary scale of smaller buildings that relate to the role of the buildings on the adjacent major streets. The result is a remarkably flexible system, focused toward the center, that both provides for a rich array of building scales and types in close proximity to the core and also marks the democratization of planning that is integral to the regional character.

Where outlying village cultures remained monocultures, in the booming city of Philadelphia, neighborhoods soon expressed the varied peoples who found themselves in close proximity. As evidenced by the mixture of churches, chapels, meetinghouses, and synagogues, the American melting pot began in the region north of Market Street where German Lutheran, Reformed, and Mennonite churches mixed with those of English Quakers, Methodists, Scots Presbyterians, and Irish Catholics, as well as the synagogue of the Spanish Jews.32 In Philadelphia, architectural types were quickly blended, as for example, the overlay of English Georgian detail on the gambrel-roofed two-story church of the mid-eighteenth-century St. Michael's German Lutheran Church long since demolished that stood on 5th Street. Similar stylistic hybrids came to characterize Pennsylvania's industrial communities, including Bethlehem, Allentown, and Reading, but also the state capitol in Harrisburg. Depending on the circumstances of the moment, their buildings either fit in with the regional style or, as in late-eighteenth-century Bethlehem and the industrial cities to the north, used architectural styles derived from different European homelands to indicate national and religious allegiance.33

By the middle of the eighteenth century, most of the newcomers had adapted to the ruling English taste, and embraced the region's allegiance to brick even while adapting culturally based house plans and living patterns within to English exterior conventions. In the early nineteenth century, Pennsylvania architects gave the United States its national identity when they shifted the imagery of the new republic away from the English-derived Georgian styles toward an array of classical and Grecian-inspired designs, many of which were built of the local blue-gray marble in imitation of classical materials.

English-born and -trained Benjamin Henry Latrobe established a local architectural dynasty through the work of his pupils Robert Mills and William Strickland. This continued into a third generation including Thomas Sommerville Stewart, Thomas Ustick Walter, and Napoleon LeBrun, and nearly reached the end of the century with John McArthur Jr., who was advised by Walter on Philadelphia's City Hall (PH49). Together they and such other Philadelphia classicists as John Haviland made Philadelphia the first center of American architecture, building monuments as far afield as Indianapolis, Charleston, and Nashville.

Pennsylvania: From Hybrid Vigor To Industrial Modern

Southeastern Pennsylvania has national import as the seat of multiple revolutions that shaped the future nation. First and foremost, it was the center of William Penn's Holy Experiment that encouraged the emigration to it of diverse peoples, forming a community that was unique in the American colonies and which became the model for the open states that made up our nation. By bringing multiple design traditions to his commonwealth, Penn produced a result akin to the hybrid vigor found when plants are cross-pollinated, making early Pennsylvania architecture unusually diverse and vital in comparison to that of other American colonies. In this separation from tradition are the seeds of what we now recognize as modern.34 Anthony Giddens's definition is applicable to Pennsylvania: “Modernity is a post-traditional order. The transformation of time and space, coupled with the disembedding mechanisms, propel social life away from the hold of pre-established precepts or practices.”35 In Pennsylvania, the chief disembedding mechanisms were the proximity of multiple cultures that had never before been in close contact, coupled with a vast and seemingly limitless terrain that was as large as all of Great Britain and a new form of government that provided greater access to power and social mobility.

The freedoms of Penn's community attracted a host of immigrants, among them Benjamin Franklin from Boston, who established the principle that education was not to be restricted to the elite but would be shared by all and could be achieved through groups and associations, many formed by Franklin himself, such as the Library Company and the College of Philadelphia, later the University of Pennsylvania. Because of its religious freedoms and general openness, eastern Pennsylvania was the site of the seminal events that led to the declaration of American Independence, just as Pennsylvanian principles of the freedom of the press and of religion were incorporated into the American Constitution—likewise written in Philadelphia.

At the end of the eighteenth century, Philadelphians established the nation's first stock exchange, using it to fund internal improvements from highways and canals to railroads that funneled pioneers west and the products of the heartland back to the east. In the nineteenth century, eastern Pennsylvania was the site of innovations that transformed American industry, resulting in higher wages that in turn extended the benefits of the wealthy to laborers, making them into consumers. The row houses that fill Pennsylvania's towns and were individually owned by the Pennsylvania worker attest to this critical revolution.

Because their clients came from the ranks of progressive industrialists, such regional architects as Frank Furness, Wilson Brothers, William L. Price, and George Howe were free to transform architecture through the use of modern materials and the expression of function that served the contemporary life being created in the region. In the late nineteenth century, this had a dramatic impact on local design, pushing it away from the multiple regional vernaculars to mirror the regional culture of experiment and innovation of industry. The foundations of industrial modernism continued after World War II in the highly individual architecture of the Philadelphia School, led by Louis Kahn and a close group of colleagues at the University of Pennsylvania, who can best be understood as the culmination of the machine logic of the nineteenth century. Finally, in the twentieth century, a new type of miniaturized architecture produced ENIAC, the first computer, at the Moore School of the University of Pennsylvania, and with it, untold impacts on contemporary design.

Southeastern Pennsylvania Culture And Design

The first of the Philadelphia-led revolutions that had the greatest impact on the architecture of the commonwealth was the result of religious freedom. Because of Penn's policy of religious tolerance, Pennsylvania attracted three immigrant groups, the initial Quaker settlers, the Scots-Irish, and the Dutch and Germans from the continent. These groups overlap in eastern Pennsylvania, but to the west beyond the first counties the groups established clearly identifiable communities that are still distinct three centuries later.

Philadelphia is the center of the English settlement zone and still exhibits houses and churches similar to those in England. This pattern extended along the main transit routes, was typical in most of the county seats east of the Susquehanna River, and still can be easily recognized by the early Episcopal and Methodist congregations, frame English barns, and the general spread of narrow English tenant farmhouse types.

The strong craft tradition and religion-centered life of German immigrants is apparent to the west on the Piedmont. Originating largely from the Palatinate, the Germans rivaled the English and Scots-Irish in numbers by the time of the Revolution. Three German centers developed: the first in Germantown near Philadelphia; the second around Lancaster but reaching up to Lebanon and Berks counties and west toward York; and the third around Bethlehem, north of Philadelphia. The German influence continues to the present and each of these regions is identifiable by communities named after German towns of origin, or in Moravian-founded settlements, after places in the Holy Land such as Ephrata, Nazareth, and Emmaus. Germans denote their presence by the so-called Pennsylvania barn, contour farming, and a tendency to leave historical marks—datestones—on houses, barns, and churches, as well as by certain distinctive house types, most notably the facade with two front doors—one into the kitchen, the other into the parlor, a type that can be seen west as far as Gettysburg. Lutheran, Reformed, Mennonite, and United Brethren congregations are clear evidence of their presence.

A third group of settlers, the Scots-Irish, added a different dynamic: the tendency to move away from established settlements toward the frontier. The same westward migration that sent Daniel Boone from the Reading vicinity to Kentucky passed through the counties beyond the Susquehanna River. That river was the first of the great barriers to the westward course of the nation, and beyond it the course of the Potomac through the Cumberland Gap in Maryland provided access to the west. These communities are marked by Presbyterian congregations.

One other group, the invading New Englanders of the Northern Tier, deserves mention because they also left a large cultural shadow. Until the end of the eighteenth century, the northern third of the commonwealth was claimed by Connecticut. These migrants brought the wood architecture, town plans, and red barns to the Northern Tier, making it seem closer to the Connecticut River Valley and Vermont than to Penn's region. Here Congregational churches and delicate clapboarded facades with shallow fanlights over doors denote the New England presence. As the nineteenth century advanced, the Northern Tier counties were developed to take advantage of their raw materials, first lumber, then coal, which fueled the industrial revolutions of the southeast corner of the commonwealth. More recently, the Northern Tier has become an important regional vacationland, with an overlay of leisure architecture that makes northeast Pennsylvania a suburb of New York City.

The idealism that motivated the early settlers in Bethlehem, Ephrata, and Lititz has continued in intentional communities that have spanned the commonwealth and reached into the twentieth century. These include the utopian Arts and Crafts community of Rose Valley (DE26) founded in 1901 by William L. Price in Delaware County, and in mid-century, Bryn Gweled (BU48) in Bucks County. A little later in the twentieth century, the idealism of Arts and Crafts continued to attract adherents, including Wharton Esherick (CH38) in Chester County and George Nakashima (BU21) in Bucks County. Buildings in this volume mark each of these Pennsylvania-based revolutions.

Pennsylvania's Industrial Culture And Innovation

The eighteenth century was a period of continuous innovation, but it was the nineteenth century in Philadelphia that affected every aspect of the region's architecture and spread across the nation to other industrial cities. The end of the eighteenth century was marked by the rise of iron as the core industry. Eastern Pennsylvania is dotted with the homes of ironmasters and the separate villages they constructed for their workers. Social hierarchy and differentiation by function and location are evidenced in important surviving clusters of buildings whose shared characteristics provide clear evidence of interconnection and communication. The Lukens complex in Coatesville (CH24, CH25, CH26, CH27, CH28) and the Burd and Grubb complexes that dominated the intersection of Lebanon (LE2, LE3, LE4, LE5, LE6), Lancaster (LA30), and Berks (BE2, BE3, BE4) counties are important architectural centers that extend for a full century from their beginnings to the early twentieth century.

In the early nineteenth century, Pennsylvania architects learned from their European counterparts and incorporated the new materials of the industrial age into architecture. In the 1820s, William Strickland, after visiting England to study canals and contemporary engineering, incorporated cast-iron columns and wrought-iron railings on the United States Naval Asylum that fronts on Grays Ferry Avenue below South Street. Simultaneously, John Haviland, who had trained in Britain, used plates of cast iron for the facade of a bank in Pottsville (demolished). By mid-century, Pennsylvanians were innovating as when in the 1850s, John Gries used cast-iron beams held in compression by steel cables to span great banking halls (PH14.1) in Philadelphia.

Also by mid-century, with the relocation of the national government to Washington, D.C., and the loss of the nation's financial center to New York City, Philadelphian's focus shifted from generating the culture of the young nation to a new role as an industrial power. Instead of the Athenaeums of New England, its intellectual community was centered in the Franklin Institute, a major center for the transmission of innovative technology. An emblem of the close link between industry and architecture was Philadelphia's Fairmount Water Works (PH130) on the Schuylkill River that became the premier tourist attraction of the city and for a time was the nation's most visited landmark after Niagara Falls.

William Sellers's ideas about machine design, represented by this planing machine exhibited at the centennial, underlay the industrial aesthetic that freed Frank Furness from historical forms.

Philadelphia reentered the national consciousness as a center of innovation when it hosted the Centennial Exhibition in 1876 (PH138). The greatest popular event of the century, it spotlighted the region's industry and the rising flood of consumer products that would create the modern consumptionbased culture. Visitors were particularly struck by the quality of Philadelphia machinery, especially that of William Sellers, a champion of industrial standardization and the premier machine tool maker of his day. Sellers made a point of painting his machines gray instead of red or green with gold trim, and he removed the gratuitous ornamental columns and furniture-based detail from their frame. He summarized his views on design succinctly: “If a machine is right, it looks right.”36

Such frank industrial realism also characterized the work of Philadelphia's leading architects. Even before the nation's centennial, Frank Furness had incorporated steel trusses into his design for the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts (PH52); over the next generation, he explored an iconography based on the pistons, universal joints, power shafts, and riveted beams of the industrial age, grounding his architecture in the energy and imagery of the present. Louis Sullivan, that future apostle of form following function, was working in Furness's office as the Pennsylvania Academy was built. Almost simultaneously, Wilson Brothers—the architecture, engineering, planning, and consulting firm established in 1876 by Joseph M. Wilson—explored all of the elements of high-rise construction, including wind-braced, steel-framed, and fire-proof structures a decade before they were essayed in Chicago.37 This vigorous industrial architecture spread along the lines of the Pennsylvania Railroad, reflecting the dominance of the progressive values of the commonwealth's industrialists.

Philadelphia's leadership in the industrial culture had two significant consequences in the way that the region was presented to the nation. Having lost control of the national architectural press to New York City and Boston, Philadelphia's progressive engineering-based architecture was correctly viewed as being radically unlike the trans-Atlantic classical and Gothic revivals that predominated in those two cities. The reasons for this change from contemporary taste were not immediately obvious to most critics. Even though Philadelphia Quakers had long since opted out of the region's cultural leadership, withdrawing from government over the issue of raising arms for protection in the 1750s, critics tended to use the Quaker past as the most convenient explanation for Philadelphia's peculiar identity. This of course missed the central role of the progressive engineers who shaped Philadelphia's institutions, hired its architects, and encouraged their response to the world that engaged them. In this, Philadelphia was one of many industrial centers where progressive architecture was invented, such as Glasgow, Berlin, Prague, and Barcelona (and Chicago and Indianapolis in this country).

As the twentieth century began, another aspect of regional modernism developed as an offshoot of the industrial standardization movement that had begun at Philadelphia's Franklin Institute. Its mission was expanded to set general consumer standards by the American Society for Testing Materials, which was formed in Philadelphia in 1895. By 1901, industrial standards had been determined for structural steel and for reinforced concrete at the Lesley Testing Laboratory of the University of Pennsylvania's Towne School of Engineering. In 1903, William L. Price used reinforced concrete as the structural frame of the Jacob Reed's Sons Store (PH69) in Philadelphia, and over the next dozen years his office explored the potential of reinforced concrete in designs for great seashore hotels in Atlantic City, railroad stations along the western routes of the Pennsylvania Railroad, factories, bridges, and other structures that served the automobile from Philadelphia to Chicago, and eventually the new resort architecture of south Florida. The plasticity of the new material lent itself to new aesthetic forms that in turn freed architecture from its roots in history. Price's hotels created a new style that his office called “the vertical style,” but is now more generally called Art Deco, with the inaccurate implication that it came from the French exhibit of 1925. Reinforced concrete remained a special province of Philadelphia architects into the Philadelphia School masterpieces of Louis Kahn and Mitchell/Giurgola Architects in the 1960s and 1970s.

Consumer Culture

Another consequence of Philadelphia's industrial culture was the spread of economic opportunity across the region, with significant consequences for architecture. Industrial standardization was followed by the transformation of the regional work culture through the efforts of William Sellers's protégé Frederick Winslow Taylor, whose experiments at devising and introducing the principles of scientific management into contemporary industrial practice resulted in immense increases in productivity that in turn resulted in higher wages. 38By 1890, the typical Philadelphia industrial worker had enough income to purchase a home, typically a two-story brick row house with living and dining rooms and a kitchen on the first floor, and three bedrooms and a bathroom on the second story. The benefits of future productivity took the form of additional free time as workweeks were shortened. Within a few years workers and their families could vacation at the New Jersey shore or other local resorts. For better or for worse, the Philadelphia worker initiated mass consumer culture half a century before it reached the rest of the country.

The greatest proof of this shift is the vast number of row houses that are found in every quarter of Philadelphia and most of the industrial towns of the Philadelphia sphere of influence. They became common in all of the secondary industrial centers that followed the Philadelphia system. Built of mass-produced elements, from the bricks of the walls to prefabricated window and door units, according to the Philadelphia Real Estate Record and Builders’ Guide, a new row house cost less than $1,000—the equivalent in 2000 of less than $50,000. This price was low enough that most Philadelphia workers could afford their own home, especially after Taylor's advances had raised local wages.

But cost alone was not the sole innovation of the Philadelphia row house. Access to capital was rare at the end of the nineteenth century, so houses across the nation were purchased for cash with little or no financing. As a result, despite the low prices, few workers would have had the means to purchase their own home. In Philadelphia and its economic hinterlands, access to capital was resolved by the creation of a special financial institution, the savings and loan society, which encouraged workers to save to generate a reserve of capital that could be lent to fellow workers and that shortly enabled the investor to buy a house.39 By 1890, Philadelphians were building thousands of units of housing that were sold to workers, giving the city its proud title of a “City of Homes.” By the sleight of hand that Philadelphians are so good at, Philadelphians counted each row house as a separate unit of building and proved that they were outbuilding Brooklyn, New York City, and Chicago—simultaneously. In 1893, Philadelphia businessmen seeking to attract workers to their booming factories built a typical Philadelphia row house in the exhibit of house types at the World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago, which became one of the most popular exhibits at the fair.40

The new wealth created by industrial standardization and scientific management enabled typical Philadelphia workers to own their own houses, as suggested by this 1880s Harper's Weeklyillustration entitled “City of Homes.”

Just as New York's tenements and Boston's triple-deckers spread into the towns and villages within their sphere of influence, the row house appears in Lancaster, York, Harrisburg, Allentown, Bethlehem, and the other cities where industry paid adequate wages for workers to own their own house. The low-cost worker's row house and the worker-oriented thrift organizations became hallmarks of the Philadelphia system that are another of the unifying characteristics of eastern Pennsylvania that form the late-nineteenth-century analog to the farmhouses and great barns of the agricultural age.

The Philadelphia rowhouse at the 1893 World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago (elevation at right and plan below) was such a popular exhibit that its floor boards were worn through by the crowds and had to be replaced.

Twentieth-Century Nostalgia and Innovation

After the Civil War, fashionable architecture became the purview of the media centers of New York City and Boston, where the principal architectural journals were published. Their critics had little use for the vigorous architectural realism of Philadelphia, and generally derided it or ignored it altogether. Ralph Adams Cram's pithy summary of Philadelphia architectural history captured the national view of the regional scene. “Blessed with an early architecture of the very best type produced on this continent, it [Philadelphia architecture] sank first to a condition of stolid stupidity almost unparalleled, then produced at a bound a group of abundant vitality, but the very worst taste ever recorded in art.” By this he meant the Frank Furness generation, but, he continued, Philadelphia “then amazed everyone by flashing on the world a small circle of architects whose dominant quality was exquisite and almost impeccable taste.”41

Freed from history, Furness turned the facades of his banks, exemplified by drawings by William Masters Camac and photographs of the Provident Trust Company in Philadelphia, into weapons in the Darwinian competition for financial supremacy that characterized the Victorian business district.

Cram was referring to Wilson Eyre Jr., Walter Cope, John Stewardson, and Frank Miles Day, whose work he contrasted with “the Furnessic reign of architectural terror.” Here he welcomed Philadelphia architects back to the fold of conventional, historically based design of the sort that had prevailed for a generation in New York and New England. In place of the hardy realism of the local engineering culture, and the stubborn local vernacular, came a fashionable historicism. In this, nostalgia was the keynote—and usually nostalgia in a colonial vein—just as it was with the contemporary New York “Dutch Colonial” or the “Virginia Plantation.” The Philadelphia suburbs were soon filled with examples of the tasteful “Pennsylvania Farmhouse,” as architects such as Herman L. Duhring and R. Brognard Okie became adept at judiciously mixing fieldstone and wood to give the effect of a building that had grown over time with the rising prosperity of the family. Local stone was successfully adapted to French pastoral design in fashionable suburbs of Pennsylvania's cities. With a few notable exceptions, the Philadelphia progressive design approach was swept aside by sentimentality and nostalgia.


The nostalgia was hardly restricted to Philadelphia. A lively attachment to its past is shown in the countless pastiches of Independence Hall across the commonwealth. Some were Victorian paraphrases, such as the original building of Bloomsburg University (CO15), a stocky Italianate variation with a Palladian window above the door and the wood steeple with its clock tower, or the main building at Shippensburg University (CU14.1), an amusing hybrid in which Colonial Revival detail was retroactively applied to Samuel Sloan's Victorian rendition of the State House. Others are more strictly colonial, such as the central building of Bucknell University (UN19.1) in Lewisburg or Towanda's Borough Hall (BR8). It is exquisite irony that a city distinguished by its progressive architectural realism that unleashed the tides of modern design should be remembered primarily through these faux colonial exports.

Post–World War II

Not all Philadelphians approved the turn from industrial modernism to fashionable historicism. When the University of Pennsylvania decided in 1895 to model its new dormitories on the buildings of medieval Cambridge (PH147.12), architect (and former Furness apprentice) Albert Kelsey bitterly condemned the decision. Rather than cultivating “the romance of an alien past,” Kelsey demanded that the university whose first graduates led the American Revolution should aspire to the “poetry of the present.”42

This submerged tradition survived in the architecture of William L. Price's office and later in the work of George Howe. It was revived after World War II when a group of Philadelphia architects at the University of Pennsylvania's school of architecture—led by Louis Kahn, Romaldo Giurgola, and Robert Venturi—once again linked form, function, and expression of construction in a way that might have been called neo-Victorian had the modernists not misconstrued the meaning of such originals as Frank Furness and Wilson Brothers. Their Philadelphia School mode of design stood out from the rest of the nation and continued Pennsylvania's strong regional character.

It is obvious from this narrative that the flood tide of innovation begun by the great disembedding force of William Penn's vision of an open community has continued to the present, but it has certainly slowed. The nineteenth-century hub of innovation has been undone by Pennsylvania's twentieth-century focus on its eighteenth-century heritage and inherited status, a focus evident in the region's continuing preservation of the sites of the Revolution as seen in a chain of open spaces that marks battlefields, military encampments, and houses of the Revolutionaries that have become the green spaces of the region. This focus has resulted in a general lack of appreciation for the region's other strengths, resulting in the willingness to demolish vast portions of its obsolete industrial heritage. New innovation sites now are as likely as not beyond city limits. Philadelphia has lost much of its economic supremacy to the zone around the highway networks of King of Prussia and Valley Forge that is fast becoming the actual regional center. Lancaster, Reading, Allentown, Wilkes-Barre, and other regional centers have seen life move to the cheap lands and open spaces connected to highways on their edges.

As the twenty-first century begins, Pennsylvania has even lost its position as a principal center of innovative architecture. Heretofore, Pennsylvania architects built from their regional culture of innovation, beginning with the hybridization of housing and farm building types, then reflecting the consequences of the new industrial order that Philadelphians understood gave the lead to engineering in shaping a new architectural expression. Furness and Wilson Brothers represent the new age of steel; William L. Price found the expression for reinforced concrete. George Howe, Louis Kahn, and Robert Venturi continued to express the framing strategy that architectural forms are not arbitrary but, rather, reflect program, structure, and expression—ideas born a century before in the machine designs of William Sellers. Just as in the eighteenth century, when architecture took its value from the representation of the underlying ethnic background, nineteenth- and twentieth-century architects of consequence reflected the goals of the industrial culture.

Now that the media age has supplanted the industrial age, Pennsylvania architecture has lost its connection to the forces shaping the contemporary world. Significance is now connected to a celebrity culture that finds expression in flamboyance and identity, and signature architecture rules in buildings whose orders are established by global forces. Lacking a connection to the forces of our time, most regional architectural practices are revealed as little more than small businesses, working hand to mouth with little ability to shape the international dialogue.

Telling Losses

It is telling that southeastern Pennsylvania built few of the spectacular mansions that characterized the worst excesses of the Gilded Age. For a wealthy industrialist such as Clement Griscom, head of the international Red Star steamship line, Frank Furness cobbled together a house from relatively modest elements and local materials (MO7). Though larger than most houses of the region, it was not like the spectacular mansions that New York City plutocrats built in Newport and Long Island. It took the hubris and ostentation of the nouveau riche to expose their vast wealth to the public eye—as was the case at Girard Avenue where the Wideners competed with the Elkins family on opposite sides of N. Broad Street in Philadelphia. In 1887, Civil War meat profiteer and utility magnate Peter A. B. Widener built a spectacularly garish mansion in the German Renaissance style, designed by Willis G. Hale, Philadelphia's most wayward imitator of Furness; two years later, oil millionaire and fellow utility magnate William Elkins hired W. Bleddyn Powell to design a limestone French palace directly across the street. Both were distant versions of the fashionable architecture of New York City's 5th Avenue, a sign that Philadelphia's architectural decisions were increasingly shaped by its neighbor to the north. The florid houses dated rapidly and a decade later both Widener and Elkins abandoned them for Horace Trumbauer–designed mansions in the suburbs. The Widener mansion was adapted as a city library before becoming private offices and then being demolished for a fried-chicken stand. The Elkins house fared no better; it was converted into a hotel then demolished shortly after World War II.

The ostentatious display of nouveau riche Victorian Philadelphia, apparent in the Widener mansion exterior and interior, survived into the twentieth century but could not outlast the economic collapse of large areas of the city in the 1970s.

The demolition of seven of Furness's declarations of independence in the Independence Mall area, including the Provident Trust Company building, has significantly diminished the richness of the city's architectural heritage.

Eventually even the new suburban houses of the great magnates were abandoned. Edward Stotesbury's immense Trumbauer-designed limestone chateau in Montgomery County's Springfield Township was demolished after World War II and was replaced by dozens of tiny International Style houses behind its surviving gates. Widener's vast mansion  MO37), also in Montgomery County, was turned into a seminary and is now vacant, a corpse awaiting disposal. Simultaneously as the car became the vehicle of choice that connected to ever more open highway systems, housing in the industrialized portions of the city lost favor, followed by the first suburbs. In the early twenty-first century, economics and lifestyle are in flux in a Pennsylvania whose aging population is increasingly at odds with the rest of the nation. Its brick row houses and gray stone country houses and small town culture no longer are attractive to America's youth. Pennsylvanians are now at a crossroads where they must choose between holding on to their aging heritage or adapting to the contemporary lifestyle-centered patterns that are shaping the Sun Belt.


Jean R. Soderlund, ed., William Penn and the Founding of Pennsylvania, 1680–1684: A Documentary History (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1983), 71–74.

Thomas Holme, “A Short Advertisement upon the Situation and Extent of the City of Philadelphia and the Ensuing Plat-form Thereof, by the Surveyor General,” in Narrative of Early Pennsylvania, West New Jersey and Delaware: 1630–1707, ed. Albert Cook Myers (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1912), 243.

Soderlund, “Charter for the Free Society of Traders,” 147–52.

E. Willard Miller, ed., A Geography of Pennsylvania (University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 1995). For an older geological description, see Thomas Baldwin and J. Thomas, M.D., A New and Complete Gazetteer of the United States (Philadelphia: Lippincott, Grambo & Co., 1854), 893.

For an overview of the archaeology of southeastern Pennsylvania, see John L. Cotter, Daniel G. Roberts, and Michael Parrington, The Buried Past: An Archaeological History of Philadelphia (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1992). Despite its title, it extends into the surrounding counties. The section “Prehistoric Inhabitants” provides an overview of Native Americans and their settlement patterns as well as an extensive list of Lenape place names and settlements, 9–29.

Ibid., 420.

Ibid., “The Caleb Pusey House: A Durable Quaker Rustic,” 419–22. The story of their mill underscores the risks of such projects; the first two buildings were destroyed by flood and the third was an economic failure. The famous weathervane from the mill is in the collection of the Historical Society of Pennsylvania with the initials of William Penn, Samuel Carpenter, and Caleb Pusey and dates from the brief period of success between 1692 and 1705.

For earlier accounts of the roads of the region before they were remade for automobile highways, see John T. Faris, Old Roads out of Philadelphia (Philadelphia: J. B. Lippincott, Company, 1917); and Francis Burke Brandt and Henry Volkmar Gummere, Byways and Boulevards in and about Historic Philadelphia (Philadelphia: Corn Exchange National Bank, 1925).

Penn also controlled the three counties of non-Quaker Delaware: New Castle, Kent, and Sussex that petitioned for union with the three Quaker counties in 1682. See Soderlund, William Penn and the Founding of Pennsylvania, 192–93. By the Charter of 1701, that initial union was undone and Delaware became a separate province under the nominal control of the Penn family.

Donna Bingham Munger, Pennsylvania Land Records: A History and Guide for Research (Wilmington, Del.: Scholarly Resources, 1991). The U.S. Census Quick Facts confirms Sullivan's continuing status as the smallest in population in eastern Pennsylvania. See http://quickfacts.census.gov/qfd/states/.

The Pennsylvania Railroad has been the subject of numerous corporate histories, including H. W. Schotter, The Growth and Development of the Pennsylvania Railroad Company, a Review of the Charters and Annual Reports of the Pennsylvania Railroad Company 1846 to 1926 Inclusive (Philadelphia: Press of Allen, Lane & Scott, 1927); George H. Burgess and Miles C. Kennedy, Centennial History of the Pennsylvania Railroad Company (Philadelphia: Pennsylvania Railroad Company, 1949); and Edwin P. Alexander, The Pennsylvania Railroad: A Pictorial History (New York: W. W. Norton, 1947).

For example, see Martha Lamb, The Homes of America (New York: D. Appleton and Company, 1879); and Harry W. Desmond and Herbert Croly, Stately Homes in America (New York: D. Appleton and Company, 1903). Philadelphians Wells and Hope published a series of loose plates grouped as Philadelphia Suburban Housesin the 1880s.

Henry Glassie, Pattern in the Material Folk Culture of the Eastern United States (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1968), 36.

Peirce F. Lewis, “American Roots in Pennsylvania Soil,” in Miller, Geography of Pennsylvania, 1–13.

Ibid., 1–4.

For evidence of the peculiar circumstances of Pennsylvania, see Wilbur Zelensky, “Ethnic Geography,” in Miller, Geography of Pennsylvania. See especially the table titled “Distribution of Identifiable White U.S. Population by Ethnic Group, 1790.” Pennsylvania had far higher numbers of Scots, Welsh, Irish (43 percent), and Germans (33 percent) and correspondingly lower numbers of English stock (19.5 percent) than Massachusetts (19 percent, 0.3 percent, and 79.7 percent, respectively). However, Pennsylvania resembled Virginia in its numbers of Scots, Welsh, and Irish (41.7 percent). Virginia's English-stock populace was 49.6 percent with but 6.3 percent from Germany. Other New England and southern states are similarly Anglo-Celtic in origin. Only New York (with 17.5 percent Dutch stock) and Maryland (with 11.7 percent German stock) have anything like Pennsylvania's numbers of non-British populations.

Ibid., especially Wilbur Zelensky, “Cultural Geography,” 132–53, which points out the linear and rectilinear town plan as well as barn and house types that characterize the southern portion of our study area.

David Hackett Fischer, Albion's Seed: Four British Folkways in America (New York: Oxford University Press, 1989).

Anthony N. B. Garvan, “Proprietary Philadelphia as Artifact,” in Oscar Handlin and John Burchard, eds., The Historian and the City (Cambridge: MIT Press, 1963), 177–201.

Emma Jones Lapsansky and Anne A. Verplanck, eds., Quaker Aesthetics: Reflections on a Quaker Ethic in American Design and Consumption, 1720–1920 (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2003).

See George E. Thomas, “Industrial Philadelphia,” in Building America's First University: An Historical and Architectural Guide to the University of Pennsylvania, by George E. Thomas and David B. Brownlee (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2000).

John Thomas Scharf and Thompson Westcott, History of Philadelphia: 1609–1884 (Philadelphia: L. H. Everts & Co., 1884), 1408.

The variety of churches continued to be notable into the nineteenth century. In 1853, for example, the New and Complete Gazetteer of the United States, 581, reported that in Lancaster, the county seat of Lancaster County, there were “2 Lutheran, 2 or 3 German Reformed, 2 Methodist, 1 or 2 Presbyterian, 1 Episcopal, 1 Moravian, 2 Roman Catholic and 1 Winebrennerian.” Comparable descriptions of New England villages rarely bother to cite the number of churches, which were usually only Congregational.

Pehr Kalm, Peter Kalm's Travels in North America, ed. Adolph B. Benson ( Travels into North America, trans. John Reinhold Forster, Warrington, UK, 1770; New York: Dover Publications, Inc., 1987), 22.

See Miller, Geography of Pennsylvania, especially Zelensky, “Ethnic Geography” and “Cultural Geography.”

Glassie, Pattern in Material Folk Culture, 48–50 and 90–93, provides an overview of the literature on the origins of the log house, generally deferring to the idea that it developed in the woodland cultures of Scandinavia and northern Germany.


By “Philadelphia” is meant Penn's original city between the Delaware and Schuylkill rivers and the present Vine and South streets. Philadelphia County originally included what is now Montgomery County, so the original forty-thousand-acre purchase that became the three townships (Merion, Haverford, and Radnor) of the Welsh settlement would have been within Philadelphia County. See Thomas Allen Glenn, Merion in the Welsh Tract with Sketches of the Townships of Haverford and Radnor (Norristown, Pa.: Herald Press, 1896), 1.

The remnants of the German migration are clearly evident. See Miller, Geography of Pennsylvania, especially Zelensky, “Ethnic Geography” and “Cultural Geography.” The overlap between the areas where Lutherans are important, the location of the so-called Pennsylvania barn, and the German migrations confirm their location.

William J. Murtagh, Moravian Architecture and Town Planning: Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, and Other Eighteenth Century American Settlements (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1967).

Miller, Geography of Pennsylvania, 143–44.

For an overview of the use of churches as an index of national origins for communities, see George E. Thomas, “Architectural Patronage and Social Stratification in Philadelphia,” in The Divided Metropolis: Social and Spatial Dimensions of Philadelphia, 1800–1895, ed. William Cutler and Howard Gillette (Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1980), 85–124.

Woodward Christian Carson, “South Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, 1880–1920: Industrialization, Immigration and the Development of the Religious Landscape” (master's thesis, University of Pennsylvania, 2000).

Anthony Giddens, Modernity and Self-Identity: Self and Society in the Late Modern Age (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1991), especially “Modernity: Some General Considerations,” 14–23.

Ibid., 20.

George E. Thomas, “The Poetry of the Present,” University of Pennsylvania Library, by Edward R. Bosley (London: Phaidon, 1996), 4–5.

For Wilson's contribution to steel frame construction, see John Wolfe Barry, Minutes of Proceedings of the Institution of Civil Engineers128 (1897): 54–55. Wilson commented on Edward Shankland, Steel Construction in Chicago (1896), and concluded that he had anticipated most of the ideas in the course of his work and had done it earlier and often better.

Robert Kanigel, The One Best Way: Frederick Winslow Taylor and the Enigma of Efficiency (New York: Viking, 1997), provides an overview of Taylor's career but does not get into the impact that Taylorism had on the lives of his employees. Something of this can be gauged from Frank Taylor (no relation), The City of Philadelphia as it Appears in 1893 (Philadelphia: George S. Harris, 1893), which depicts the rising consumer culture of the city.

Addison Burk, “Building Societies,” in Taylor, City of Philadelphia, 85–87.

The house is illustrated in John N. Gallagher, “Real Estate Holdings and Valuations,” ibid., 82.

Ralph Adams Cram, “The Work of Messrs. Frank Miles Day & Brother,” Architectural Record15, no. 5 (May 1904): 397.

Albert Kelsey, The Architectural Annual: published under the auspices of the Architectural League of America (Philadelphia: Press of E. Stern & Co., Inc., 1900), 179.

Writing Credits

George E. Thomas