History of Philadelphia

by J. Thomas Scharf and Thompson Westcott

A proposal for a digital version. REALIZED!!!
Update August 7, 2010

Internet Archives has now posted all three volumes of Scharf and Westcott in PDF text-searchable format, which was my dream as expressed below. I can't believe now how much time I spent doing the OCR on these two chapters, and now...!!!. Unlike Google books, these PDFs also capture the many illustrations and plates in these volumes (see my illustration list below).

The links below will take you to the Internet Archives page for each volume. Besides PDFs, available formats include ePub, Kindle, and others. I have downloaded the PDFs, so if you ever find that they are no longer available please contact me and I can post the full PDFs on PhillyH2O.

Volume 1
Volume 2
Volume 3

The History of Philadelphia's Watersheds and Sewers

Compiled by Adam Levine
Historical Consultant
Philadelphia Water Department
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My favorite comprehensive history of early Philadelphia is this one, published in 1884 by L.H. Everts & Co., Philadelphia. The three volumes cover 2,399 pages in 59 chapters, encompassing a vast scope of information (some might think "too much information") and illustrated with hundreds of engravings.

Unfortunately, the inadequacy of the book's index (typical of reference works of the period) makes finding specific information in it sometimes a hit-or-miss proposition. My dream is that someone will digitize the entire three volumes using an OCR (Optical Character Recognition) program, which converts printed pages into digitized text readable and editable by computers. This text (along with links to scans of the llustrations) could be put on a Web site, which would make the information vastly more accessible than the printed volumes. This Web-based text could be searched directly, using a Web broswer's "FIND" feature, and the entire contents of the book would also be absorbed into search engines such as GOOGLE, and its contents searchable through their portals.

Another 19th century volume of Philadelphia history--Annals of Philadelphia and Pennsylvania in the Olden Time, by John Fanning Watson--has been digitized and put on the Web in this way. While this book is useful and interesting, it is more often anecdotal than historical, and in no way does its Web presence obviate the necessity of having a solid history such as Scharf's and Westcott's also made available.

As a start, I have digitized the following sections:

Chapter 1: Topography of Philadelphia

Chapter 11: Manners and Customs of the Primitive Settlers
List of Illustrations in all three volumes

I am hoping that this preliminary work inspires some organization with greater resources than my one-man operation to undertake this task, or perhaps provide funding to help someone (me and a small group of student summer interns?) complete it. Though it might seem on the surface a daunting undertaking, it could actually be finished with a modest amount of support, quickly and accurately. The result, I think, would be of great benefit to the both the local community of historians and history-lovers around the world.

The following excerpt, from the end of the first volume, mirrors my feeling of the importance of local history, and of Philadelphia's history in particular:

"There is no city, however insignificant, whose history is not instructive; there is no history, however feebly written, if it be a faithful record of facts, but is fraught with profitable lessons. And whatever may be the defects of the present work--and there must be some--the mere events that it recites will serve to show what Philadelphia once was, who originally occupied it, and by what means and by whom it has become the second metropolis upon the American continent. The struggles of empires and the convulsions of nations, while they have much of sublimity, have also much of uncertainty and indistinctness. They are too large for the grasp of ordinary minds or too, indefinite to act on common sensibilities, while the interests awakened by the details of local history are such as, from the facility of comprehension and the identity of the objects presented, must necessarily come home at once to the feelings of every reader. They place us by the firesides or walk with us among the graves of our fathers, attaching a living story to the thousand inanimate objects with which they were surrounded. Change of location does not always wean the affection away from the old fireside. By the aid of memory we are privileged to call back the early by-gone scenes and appreciate the lessons we received that had so important a bearing on our subsequent life.

"The great object of local history is to furnish the first elements of general history,-to record facts rather than deductions from facts. Many facts, minute in themselves, and regarded by many as trivial and unimportant, are really of great service. The details, which it is the appropriate province of the local historian to spread before the public, are not so much history itself as materials for history. It is the work of the general historian, who has before him all the particulars of the great natural and political landscape, to exhibit the connection of the several parts, and to show how they depend one upon another in bringing about the great changes which have been taking place and affecting the condition of society. To trace the history of our ancestors and transmit a record of their deeds to posterity is a duty we owe to the past and to the future. The work, however, must be done from unselfish motives. It is useless to disguise the fact that the labor of collecting the materials and preparing the same for publication, brief and imperfect as they may be, is one of magnitude. No one, until he has tried the experiment, can fully appreciate the labor and patience which are requisite in connecting isolated facts, and the perplexity which is caused in reconciling apparent contradictions and removing doubts. Such labor is never remunerative; but the consciousness of having redeemed from undeserved neglect the history of our homes and of our forefathers, and rescuing from oblivion many facts which would otherwise have been lost, will be a source of gratification, if no other reward is received.

"No people in the world can have so great an interest in the history of their city as those of Philadelphia, for there are none who enjoy an equally great share in their country's historical acts and who have been blessed with more prosperity. The original town-plat was a parallelogram two miles long, from the Delaware to the Schuylkill, and one mile wide, containing nine streets east and west and twenty-one north and south. Philadelphia outgrew all the original boundaries many years ago, and now covers a greater area than any other city in America. It has a full million of population, over 170,000 buildings, and 156,000 dwellings, of which 110,000 are owned by occupants, and it is properly denominated "the city of homes." It has 1607 miles of streets, roads, and alleys, 507 miles of which are paved, and these avenues are drained by 214 miles of sewers; over 772 miles of water mains and 742 miles of gas mains furnish water and light. The city has an area of 129 square miles, guarded by a police force of 1427 men, and is protected from fire by 29 steam fire-engines. The street railways cover about 352 miles, and carry about 104,648,000 passengers annually. The city is educated by over 450 public schools, which are attended by 90,000 pupils. Such a record surely constitutes a truly "great city" in size and in population, while the manufacturing and commercial wealth of the city has reached gigantic proportions." [Page 852-D]


[Page iii]
In presenting this History of Philadelphia to the public no apology is necessary. As a record of events, as an exhibition of men, as a chronicle and exposition of institutions and resources, the work in this particular field, it is believed, will be found a complete and satisfactory record, in its every department, of the growth, development, and expansion of a municipality. This is asserted with a thorough knowledge of what has been done elsewhere since the revival of public interest in and enthusiasm for local details, and with a consciousness also of the suspicion of arrogance and self-assumption naturally incidental to such pretensions. To accomplish so much, and with such a degree of self-satisfaction, has been no holiday task. Of the labor, expense, and responsibility involved, very little need be said. The proof is presented in these volumes. In their preparation more than twenty times the compass of material, expressly procured and arranged, in addition to the great collection of books read and examined for collateral information, was digested, condensed, and, in the pertinent newspaper phrase, “boiled down" to the present limits. In no sense of the word is this work founded upon, built up out of, or repeated from, any previous one on the same subject, or any of its branches. It is a new book, treating its theme in a new, comprehensive, and original manner, after exhaustive research, thorough examination, and critical comparison of the best authorities, and the most authentic documents and authoritative records. This digesting and assimilating process has not, perhaps, been carried as far as exigent critics might demand, but in this busy and bustling world there is not time enough to polish the front of a city hall as nicely as one would a mantel ornament of Parian marble. The proprieties of style have, however, not been neglected, for carelessness in that respect would have been equally unworthy of a theme so dignified, and of the liberality and beauty of form of the publishers' work.

A history so comprehensive in its objects and scope, and embracing such an infinitude of details, must necessarily have its limitations and defects, because of the impossibility of discussing fully a great variety of subjects without occasional errors. It would have been easy to escape from them by making the work less copious, by avoiding dangerous or controverted themes, and so gliding swiftly over the surface, generalizing and summing up instead of displaying all the facts.

The desire to leave nothing untold which could in any way throw light upon the history of men, events, and institutions in Philadelphia has made it impossible at times to escape repetition. Facts, which fall within the proper cognizance of the narrative of general events, will sometimes reappear in another shape in the records of institutions or in special chapters. But the fault will claim the reader's indulgence, because intelligent persons prefer a twice-told tale to one neglected or half told.

[PAGE iv] Several of the themes or chapters of the homogeneous whole have been treated by those who have some particular association or long acquaintance with the subject. In the diversity of writers there will of course be variety of opinions, but they make good the poet's description, "Distinct as the billows, yet one as the sea," and may not be the worse for each offering a reflection, according to its turn to the light, without marring the unity of the general expanse.

Without Mr. Westcott's indispensable aid and invaluable stores of material on the History of Philadelphia, which he has been diligently collecting for the past thirty years, and which have been used in every department of this work, it would have been impossible to present the history of this great city in the satisfactory shape it now assumes. Indeed, as has been frequently stated in the following pages, Mr. Westcott has devoted a lifetime to the faithful, industrious, and intelligent pursuit of this history; few records have escaped him, and he has supplemented their evidence with recollections of a trustworthy character, and with testimony from a thousand sources, such as none but the most indefatigable antiquarian would seek or could procure. Mr. Westcott has also contributed to the work many valuable and unique drawings, portraits, maps, plans, etc., which are now printed for the first time; and during its progress he has also been constantly consulted by all engaged in the preparation of the special chapters, and besides furnishing important suggestions, facts, and items, he has read and corrected all the proofs, from the first page to the last. Besides the very efficient aid thus rendered during the various stages of the work, he has specially prepared for it the chapters on " Progress from 1825 to the Consolidation of the City, in 1854;" "Music, Musicians, and Musical Societies;" " Charitable, Benevolent, and Religious Institutions and Associations;" " Military Organizations, Armories, Arsenals, Barracks, Magazines, Powder-Houses, and Forts;" " Municipal, State, and Government Buildings;" " Court-Houses, Prisons, Reformatory and Correctional Institutions, and Almshouses;" "Public Squares, Parks and Monuments;" "Roads, Ferries, Bridges, Public Landings and Wharves;" " Telegraph," and many other minor subjects.

The authors would be unjust to themselves, and to the city whose history they have written, if they did not acknowledge, in this place, with feelings of profound gratitude, the cordial aid extended to them and to their undertaking by the press and people of Philadelphia. They have given the fullest encouragement throughout, and have helped materially in elaborating and perfecting the work. Important and valuable assistance and information have been received from the following persons, to whom also particular recognition is due:

To Frederick D. Stone, librarian of the Pennsylvania Historical Society, for valuable memoranda and suggestions made to the authors during the progress of their work; to Frank Willing Leach, for biographical sketches and details in regard to the press and libraries of Philadelphia; to Rev. W. B. Erben, for the preparation of the history of the Episcopal Church in Philadelphia and its institutions and church work; to Martin I. J. Griffin, for the history of the Catholic Church, and its institutions, societies, schools, and church work; to Bishop Matthew Simpson, of the Methodist Episcopal Church, Rev. William Cathcart, D.D., of the Baptist Church, Rev. Charles G. Ames, of the Unitarian Church, Rev. W. J. Mann, D.D., of the Lutheran Church, Rev. W. M. Rice, of the Presbyterian Church, John Edmunds, of the Congregational [PAGE v] Church, and Rev. Chauncey Giles and T. S. Arthur, of the Swedenborgian Church, for essential assistance in the preparation of the history of their respective denominations; to Albert H. Hoeckley, for his chapter on " Clubs and Club Life;" to Charles R. Hildeburn, the librarian of the Athenaeum, for many kindnesses of various sorts; to Isaac H. Shields, attorney-at-law, for his complete chapter on the intricate and important subject of " The Municipal Government of Philadelphia;" to Lloyd P. Smith, librarian of the Philadelphia and Ridgway Library, for many kindnesses and courtesies in smoothing the way, and contributing to the work the details for the history of the libraries under his charge, including free access to and use of valuable documents; to William Perrine, who contributed to the work the chapters on " Progress from the Consolidation Act, in 1854, to the Civil War," "After the Civil War," and "Education ;" to Rev. Jesse Y. Burke for sketch of the Pennsylvania University; to Hon. James T. Mitchell, who kindly revised the chapter on the "Bench and Bar;" to John Hill Martin, author of " The Bench and Bar of Philadelphia," who furnished valuable Civil Lists, and, with a kindness and courtesy not to be forgotten, allowed the authors to extract all that they wanted from his able work; to Wm. B. Atkinson, M.D., who revised the chapter on the " Medical Profession," and S. D. Gross, M.D., LL.D., who read the proofs of the same; to Charles A. Kingsbury, M.D., D.D.S., for materials on Dental Surgery and Institutions; to Lewis D. Harlow, M.D., for sketches of Pennsylvania and Philadelphia Medical Colleges; to Miss May Forney, for the chapter furnished by her upon " The Distinguished Women of Philadelphia;" to Professor R. M. Johnston, who prepared the chapter on " Literature and Literary Men ;" to Robert R. Dearden, A. J. Bowen, J. H. C. Whiting, and John A. Fowler, for much valuable material on the history of insurance in Philadelphia; to Clifford P. MacCalla, Charles E. Mayer, Edward S. Roman, John W. Stokes, George Hawkes, Walter Graham, William Hollis, John M. Vanderslice, and John Magargee, for valuable assistance in the preparation of the chapter on " Secret Societies and Orders."

Among others to whom acknowledgments are especially due may be mentioned the late Edward Spencer, Charles H. Shinn, Nathaniel Tyler, Professor P. F. de Gournay, John Sartain, Samuel W. Pennypacker, Dr. W. H. Burke, Professor Oswald Seidensticker, James J. Levick, M.D., Rev. W. M. Baum, D.D., Frederick Emory, and Professor W. H. B. Thomas, who have furnished much valuable information and assistance.

The publishers have most liberally met every desire, in respect of letter-press and engravings of portraits, maps, and other illustrations; they have spared no expense or effort to make the mechanical execution of the volumes equal to its subject, and they have helped in every difficulty while the work was in progress.

PHILADELPHIA, March 1, 1884.

[The following note, at the bottom of Page 1, is, perhaps, Mr. Scharf's most important acknowledgement.]

"The author wishes to state in advance that not only the present chapter, but much of all that succeeds it, has been prepared in association with Thompson Westcott, and with the indispensable aid of his manuscripts, his collections of material, his researches, and his extensive publications on the subject of the history of Philadelphia. He has devoted a lifetime to the faithful, industrious, and intelligent pursuit of this history; few records have escaped him, and he has supplemented their evidence with recollections of a trustworthy character and testimony from a thousand sources, such as none but the most indefatigable antiquarian would seek or could procure access to. Such aid, such cheerful co-operation, such fruitful products of untiring industry in special investigation cannot fail to make the present work luminous in respect of that intimate local information and those obscure but essential particulars into which so few histories descend."


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