A Tour of
Philadelphia's Waterfront
in 1876

An Excerpt from

The Illustrated History of the Centennial Exhibition,
Held In Commemoration of the One Hundredth Anniversary of American Independence.
With a Full Description of the Great Buildings and All the Objects of Interest Exhibited in Them,
Embracing Also a Concise History of the Origin and Success of the Exhibition,
and Biographies of the Leading Members of the Centennial Commission,
To Which is Added A Complete Description of the City of Philadelphia.

By James D. McCabe
Jones Brothers & Co.,
Cincinnati, Philadelphia, Chicago, Memphis, Atlanta.

The History of Philadelphia's Watersheds and Sewers

Compiled by Adam Levine
Historical Consultant
Philadelphia Water Department
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Detail from "Bird's Eye View of Philadelphia," a. 1840 (Courtesy of City Archives of Philadelphia)
Click here for larger image (252 kb)

[PAGE 128]

The Water Front.

The plateau on which Philadelphia stands is washed on three sides by the Delaware and Schuylkill rivers, which give to the city all the advantages of a great commercial seaport. Along the Delaware shore there is always to be seen a forest of masts, representing the shipping of every nation on the globe. The visitor to Philadelphia should by no means omit an opportunity, to view the city from the Delaware river, as from no other point can he as perfectly acquire a correct idea of the vast commerce which yearly enters and leaves this port. An excellent plan would be to engage a boat at Tacony, descend the river to the mouth of the Schuylkill, and ascend that stream to the exhibition grounds.

Starting from Tacony, the suburb of Bridesburg is soon passed, and then, turning a bend of the river, the visitor finds himself opposite Port Richmond, the coal-shipping depot of the Reading Railroad Company. This vast depot is one of the "sights" of Philadelphia, and is the most extensive in the world. It comprises 21 shipping docks, with an aggregate length of 15,000 feet, and accommodations for 250 vessels and boats. The shipping piers are 23 in number, and their aggregate length is 4-1/4 miles. They are provided with 10-1/2 miles of single track, and in addition to this are connected with each [PAGE 129] other and with the main line of the road by 22 miles of track. The cars, loaded with coal at the mines, are brought direct to this depot, and are run out on the shipping piers. By means of trap-doors in the floors of the cars the coal is emptied into schutes [sic] 169 feet in length, which convey it directly into the holds of the vessels to be loaded. About 2000 men are employed here, and the daily shipments of coal amount to 30,000 tons. The piers have a storage capacity of 175,000 tons. The company at present employ six fine iron steamers for the transportation of coal from Port Richmond to other points, and intend to increase this number to fifty. Several hundred other vessels are employed in this trade.

Opposite Port Richmond is Treaty Island, a spot dear to the hearts of Philadelphia sportsmen.

A short distance below Port Richmond are the shipyards of William Cramp & Son, said to be the most extensive establishment of its kind in the United States. A number of vessels were built here for the navy during the civil war, among others the New Ironsides. The four iron steamers of the American Line, plying between Philadelphia and Liverpool, were also built here.

Below these shipyards rises the standpipe of the Delaware Water Works, and beyond this is a region devoted to rolling mills, iron foundries and forges; and beyond these still, occupying the river front from Laurel to Noble street, is a succession of lumber yards, where an immense business in all kinds of lumber is annually transacted. Large quantities are shipped to South America and the West Indies. Immediately below Noble street are the freight depots and piers of the North Pennsylvania and Reading Railroads.

Below Noble street the long line of foreign and coastwise shipping begins, and stretches away for several miles down the river. Immediately opposite this part of Philadelphia, and separated from it by the Delaware, is CAMDEN, the sixth city of New Jersey. It is but a suburb of Philadelphia, with which it is connected by six lines of steam ferries. The time occupied crossing the river is five minutes.

[PAGE 131]
In the middle of the Delaware, opposite Market street, is Smith's Island, a noted pleasure resort. Immediately south of it, and separated from it by a narrow channel, through which the Camden & Amboy Railroad ferry boats pass, is Windmill Island, also a pleasure resort.

At the foot of Christian street and Washington avenue are the docks of the American line of steamers to Liverpool. In the rear of these docks is the enormous Elevator of the Pennsylvania Railroad, with a capacity of half a million bushels of grain, and every facility for prompt and economical shipment.

Immediately adjoining these docks is the Old Navy Yard, covering a tract of eighteen acres. It was purchased by the government in 1801 for $37,500, and was sold about a year ago to the Pennsylvania Railroad Company for about $2,000,000. Some of the finest vessels in the navy were built here. The navy yard has, since the sale, been entirely transferred to League Island. The Pennsylvania company intend to fit up the old navy yard as their principal terminus on the Delaware. This road is a large stockholder in the American line of steamers, which vessels lie at its docks and receive and transfer passengers and freight from and to its cars. By this system all breaking bulk of freight from distant points is avoided, there being but one reshipment, from the cars to the steamer, necessary.

At Greenwich Point, at the foot of Packer street, are the coal wharves of the Pennsylvania Railroad, second only in extent and the amount of business transacted at them to those of the Reading road at Port Richmond.

Just above the mouth of the Schuylkill is

League Island,

Now occupied by the United States as a Navy Yard. The island was presented to the government by the city of Philadelphia. It covers an area of 600 acres, and when the extensions in contemplation are completed, will have a frontage of nearly three miles on the Delaware, with an average depth of water of twenty-five feet. Machine shops, and all the establishments [PAGE 132] necessary to the purposes of a great naval station, have been constructed or are in course of construction. The back channel is for the use of monitors, a large number of which are here laid up in ordinary. The advantages of League Island as a naval station are thus summed up by the Secretary of the Navy, in, his report for 1871: "A navy yard so ample in its proportions, in the midst of our great coal and iron region, easy of access to our own ships, but readily made inaccessible to a hostile fleet, with fresh water for the preservation of the iron vessels so rapidly growing into favor, surrounded by the skilled labor of one of our chief manufacturing centres, will be invaluable to our country."

Just below League Island is Mud Island, on which stands old Fort Mifflin. This work was begun at the outbreak of the Revolution, and consisted then of an embankment of earth. It was known as the "Mud Fort." Upon the occupation of the city by the British in 1777 it became necessary to capture the defences on the Delaware, at Mud Island and at Red Bank, on the New Jersey shore, in order to open communication between the British fleet and the city. Could these works have been held by the Americans the enemy must have evacuated the city. On the 22d of October, 1777, Lord Howe opened a tremendous cannonade upon Fort Mifflin from his fleet, and at the same time a picked force of twelve hundred Hessians was sent to storm the works at Red Bank. The latter attack was repulsed with a loss of four hundred men, and the Hessian commander, Count Donop, was slain. In the attack upon Fort Mifflin the British lost two ships, and the remainder were more or less injured by the fire of the American guns. Soon after this repulse the British erected batteries on a small island in the Delaware, and on the 10th of November opened a heavy fire upon Fort Mifflin from these works and their fleet. The bombardment was continued until the night of the 15th. Fort Mifflin was literally destroyed, and on the night of the 16th was evacuated by its garrison. On the 18th the works at Red Bank, on the Jersey shore, were abandoned. The British removed now the obstructions from the river, and their fleet ascended to Philadelphia. [PAGE 133] The present work was constructed after the close of the Revolution, and is strongly armed.

The Schuylkill river flows into the Delaware immediately below League Island. This river was so named by the early Dutch navigators, and the name is said to mean "a hidden river," from the fact that its mouth cannot be seen by voyagers ascending the Delaware until the junction is reached.

A little above the mouth of the river, on the eastern shore, are the new docks and the grain elevator of the International, or Red Star, Steamship Line, plying between Philadelphia and Antwerp. These docks are a terminus of the Pennsylvania Railroad, and transfers of grain and freight are made directly between the cars and the steamers. This promises to be one of the most prominent shipping points of the city.

"The Schuylkill may be reckoned among Philadelphia's 'reserve forces.' With a depth of water sufficient to float a frigate, and room enough on either bank for long rows of wharves and warehouses, it is comparatively deserted. Some coal and stone yards on its shores employ a few vessels annually. The Schuylkill Canal brings down numbers of boats from the mines in the coal regions; but, apart from these, there is as yet no commerce on the Schuylkill. This grand avenue to the future heart of the city is still waiting for the time when its services shall be required-a time which cannot be far distant."

The principal objects of interest on the Schuylkill are the bridges, which connect the quarters of the city lying on the opposite sides of the river. Some of these are among the finest in the world. The first of these, after passing the mouth of the river, is the Penrose Ferry Bridge; above this is the Gray's Ferry Bridge, a double structure, used for the passage of the trains of the Philadelphia, Wilmington and Baltimore Railroad, and for pedestrians and vehicles. Above this is the handsome iron truss bridge of the south extension of the Pennsylvania Railroad. Higher up is the new South Street Bridge, begun in 1870 and completed in the early part of 1876 at a cost of $865,000. With its approaches, which rest upon massive stone arches, the bridge has a total length of two thousand four hundred [PAGE 135] and nineteen feet, and a width of fifty-five feet, except at the draw span, where the width is but thirty-six feet. This gives a roadway of thirty-five feet, and two footwalks, each ten feet wide. The river span is five hundred and eighty-four feet long, and consists of two permanent spans of one hundred and eighty-five feet each, and a pivot draw with two openings, each of seventy-seven feet, supported by a cylindrical cast-iron pier.

Chestnut Street Bridge lies next above. It was begun in 1861 and completed in 1866, at a cost of $500,000. It is one thousand five hundred and twenty-eight feet in length, and is constructed of iron, with approaches and piers of granite.

At Market street is a temporary wooden bridge, erected in the place of the old wooden bridge that crossed the river at this point, and which was burned about the close of 1875. It is used for the Market Street Railway, by vehicles and pedestrians, and by the freight trains of the Pennsylvania Railroad.

The Fairmount, or Callowhill Street, Bridge stands on the site of the old suspension bridge, so well known to visitors to Fairmount. It is one of the handsomest and most substantial bridges in the Union, and during the progress of the Centennial Exhibition was used by a large part of the visitors. There is a span over Callowhill street of eighty feet; then follow five arch colonnades on the east side, having a total length of one hundred and five feet; then the main span of three hundred and fifty feet over the Schuylkill; then ten arch colonnades on the west side, with a length of two hundred and thirty feet; then the bridge over Thirtieth street, ninety feet long ; then seven spans of plate girders, three hundred feet in length, and finally the span over the Pennsylvania Railroad, one hundred and forty feet long; making a total length of one thousand two hundred and ninety-five feet. The bridge consists of two roadways, the upper one thirty-two feet above the lower. The upper floor is forty-eight feet wide between the balustrades, and the lower fifty feet wide. Each floor has a roadway with sidewalks on each side. The bridge is constructed of iron with stone piers and foundations, and is ornamented with a double row of magnificent gas lamps. Street railway tracks are laid on each floor, [PAGE 136] and are used by a number of street car lines running direct to the exhibition grounds. The cost of this magnificent structure was $1,200,000.

Above the bridge are the dam and water-works at Fairmount, and higher up still are the boat-houses of the Schuylkill navy, to which we shall refer again in another portion of this work.

Higher up still is the finest of all the Philadelphia bridges, the now famous

Girard Avenue Bridge,

Which spans the Schuylkill at the main avenue of approach to Fairmount Park and the Centennial Exhibition. It is the most magnificent bridge in the United States, and will always be one of the principal objects of interest to visitors to the city. It has a length of one thousand feet, and a width of one hundred feet, and was built at a cost of $1,404,445. The height of the roadway above low water is fifty-five feet. The girders rest on three piers and two abutments, and form three centre spans of one hundred and ninety-seven feet each. The following description of the bridge is taken from The Scientific American:

"The masonry of the piers and abutments is rock-faced ashlar [PAGE 137] of Maine granite laid in mortar of one part Coplay cement to two parts of sand. The copings and parapets are of finely-cut granite, but no other cutting has been done, except the necessary drafts, the object being to preserve the massive effect of rock-faced granite work.

"Superstructure.-There are seven lines of trusses or girders placed side by side, sixteen feet apart, and united by horizontal and vertical bracing.

"These trusses are of the well-known Phoenixville pattern of quadrangular girder. The upper compressive members and the vertical posts are Phoenix-flanged columns, united by cast-iron joint boxes. The lower chords and diagonals are Phoenix weldless eye-bars, die-forged by hydraulic pressure. Upon the tops of the posts, twelve feet apart, are laid heavy fifteen-inch Phoenix-rolled beams, and upon these longitudinally nine-inch beams placed two feet eight inches apart. These are covered transversely with rolled corrugated plates one-fourth inch thick, corrugated one and one-fourth inches high by five inches wide. These form an unbroken iron platform upon which the asphalt concrete is placed.

"The dead load of the structure, with a moving load of one hundred pounds per square foot, makes a total load of 30,000 pounds per lineal foot carried by seven trusses. The limit of strain is 10,000 pounds per square inch, reduced to 6000 pounds per square inch as the compressive limit on parts.

"All points of contact are either planed or turned. The pins are of cold rolled iron, and the limit of error between pin and hole is one sixty-fourth of an inch. The iron used in this bridge is double refined, or of 'Phoenix best best' brand, capable of bearing the regular tests of that quality of iron, as follows: Ultimate strength, 55,000 pounds to 60,000 pounds per square inch; no permanent set under 27,000 pounds to 30,000 ; pounds per square inch; average reduction of area at point of fracture, twenty-five per cent. The elongation of a twelve-inch bar is fifteen per cent., and the cold bend of a one and one-half
inch round bar before cracking one hundred and eighty degrees, or hammered flat.

[PAGE 139]

"Roadway.-The corrugated iron plates which cover the bridge are themselves covered by four inches to five inches of asphalt, making a water-tight surface. The one hundred feet of width is divided into sixty-seven and one-half feet of carriageway and two sixteen and one-half feet sidewalks. The roadway is paved with granite blocks in the usual manner, except that it is divided into seven ways by two lines of iron trackways next the sidewalks for horse-cars, and five lines of carriage-tramways, made of cut granite blocks, one foot wide, laid to a five-feet gauge. The gutters and curbstones are of fine cut granite. The sidewalks are covered for ten feet of their width with black Lehigh county slate tiles, two feet square, laid diagonally.

"On each side of the slate tiles are spaces two feet wide, which were originally laid with encaustic tiles. After one winter's frost these tiles became so much shattered that they were removed and white marble tiles substituted in their place. The curbstone, eighteen inches wide, makes up the remainder of the sixteen and one-half feet.

"The sidewalks are separated from the roadway by railings of galvanized iron tubes with bronze ornaments, and are supported by cast-iron standards at every six feet. Every eighth standard is prolonged into a lamp-post. There are eight refuge bays, each of which contains a cluster of six lamps, the supporting shaft rising through an octagonal seat, which forms its base. The outer balustrade and cornice is of cast-iron with bronze open-work panels, and treated in a highly ornamental manner.

"The bronze panels represent various birds and foliage, such as the phoenix, swan, heron, owl, eagle, tobacco, ivy, Virginia creeper, ferns and hops. These panels are of statuary bronze cast under a pressure of sixty pounds per square inch, which forces the metal into all the finest lines and makes an extremely sharp casting; so sharp, indeed, that a casting made by this process from an electrotype has been used to print engravings from. There are between eight and nine hundred of these bronzes set in the balustrade, like pictures in a frame.

" It is intended, at some future day, to place sidewalks inside the bridge, at the level of the lower chord. Access to these will [PAGE 140] be gained through the arched openings in the abutments, and this spot has been selected as a proper place for a drinking fountain. The bridge is painted salmon color, relieved by blue and gold ; the cornice and balustrade are green and gold.

"The construction of the permanent new bridge began May 11th, 1873, and July 4th, 1874, it was formally opened for public travel, and has remained in use ever since.

"This rapidity of construction is due, first, to the mode adopted of laying the foundations under water, instead of pumping out that water; second, to the forethought displayed in making the temporary work strong enough to pass uninjured through a freshet which increased the depth of water from thirty feet to forty-six feet; third, to the peculiar construction of the girders (which contain over three thousand five hundred tons [PAGE 141] of iron), which were made at Phoenixville from the ore, entirely by machinery, and without any hand labor; and, lastly, to the rapidity and facility of erection allowed by the pin-connected mode of construction."

Immediately above this magnificent structure is the Connecting Bridge of the Pennsylvania Railroad, over which the road from West Philadelphia to New York passes. Above this is the Columbia Bridge, a wooden structure, used by the Reading Railroad to connect its branches. Just below the Falls of the Schuylkill is a picturesque stone bridge of six arches, which is also the property of the Philadelphia and Reading Railroad Company, the trains of which pass over it.


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