Images of “by-gone days:” Visualizing the Manayunk of yesteryear

Oftentimes, history can seem like an accumulation of paper trails, a collection of stories told through the letters, diaries, and other written records that our ancestors leave behind.  However, graphic materials are also compelling historical artifacts, as I’m continually reminded while working on rights and reproductions orders at HSP.  Within our rich and diverse collections, HSP houses over 300,000 graphic items and these materials, whether they be photographs, watercolors, lithographs, maps, or other media, are a valued part of the historical record and often integral to the stories that our patrons aspire to tell.

Manayunk circa 1840 (Bb 862 M312)

A few months ago, I received a request for historic images of Manayunk for a documentary about Samuel Hughes, a Welshman who immigrated to Philadelphia in 1837 and settled on a dairy farm in Manayunk.  While searching our collections, I found this oil and watercolor in one of our graphics collections and was immediately captivated.  Painted by an unknown artist sometime around 1840, this image, with its lush, green landscape and open farmland, was so far removed from my own vision of present-day Manayunk that it prompted me to search for more information about Manayunk’s progression from rural farmland to metropolitan hub.


Title page of "Early History of Roxborough and Manayunk" (Am .3724)

Among the varied resources concerning Manayunk in our collections, my favorite is a hand-written volume by Horatio Gates Jones, Jr. entitled “Early History of Roxborough and Manayunk, 1855.”  A former corresponding secretary for HSP, Mr. Jones wrote the volume for the entertainment of his family and friends and aimed to take readers back to “by-gone days-when this whole country was a wilderness” (Jones p. 3).  With charm and wit (not to mention impeccable handwriting!), Mr. Jones gives a lively account of the settlement of a small tract of land bordered by the Schuylkill River to the west  and Germantown, or “the German Township” as it was then known, to the northeast (p. 4).  Initially part of Roxborough, the area that became Manayunk was settled, beginning in the 1680s, by such families as the Leverings, Rittenhouses, and Gorgas, whose legacies persist in Manayunk’s street names.  Interestingly, the expansion of these families and the area itself went hand-in-hand in these early years.  Indeed, according to Jones’ account, the central thoroughfare into Manayunk, Green Lane, owes its existence to the efforts of the Levering family to seek “a free egress and regress” between the tracts of land that Wigard Levering and his sons Jacob and William claimed along the Schuylkill River (p. 20).

Railroad Bridge over the Wissahickon, Near Manayunk, circa 1834 (Bb 7 R131)

As late as 1817, the population of present-day Manayunk hovered around 60 inhabitants, but the construction of a canal and dam to regulate the Schuylkill, along with the establishment of Manayunk’s first mill in the 1820s, helped the area blossom into a manufacturing hub that drew comparisons to Manchester, England.  Still considered part of Roxborough, the expanding mill town was known by the name of its dam, “Flat Rock,” but rapid population growth brought a push for a proper name.  In 1824, the names “Udoravia,” “Hydoravia,” and “Bridgewater” all came under consideration, but it was “Manaiung,” the Native American word for river, that ultimately provided inspiration for the name “Manayunk” (p. 24).    On June 11, 1840, Manayunk officially incorporated as a borough, completing its transformation from, in Jones’ words, a “once quiet and retired valley” to a miniature town that finally became part of the extended city of Philadelphia in 1854.  

Jones' account of the naming of "Manayunk" (Am .3724)

The more I read about the early history of Manayunk, the more I came to appreciate this painting and the other images in our collections as snapshots of a moment time that perfectly capture Manayunk’s development from a stretch of open farmland along the Schuylkill River to a budding industrial center.  Explore HSP’s Digital Library ( for more great graphic materials that complement and enhance our understanding of the past – you never know what visual history you’ll uncover.

These American Lives

With part two of the Digital Center for Americana project underway, collections coming up the digital library pipeline include family album watercolors and oral history sound recordings that provide unique glimpses into Philadelphia family life, as well as how family life changes when individuals leave their country of origin for Philadelphia.

Najma Davis shares her first impressions of America.

Given the role that genealogy plays here at HSP, family history and ethnic heritage are especially fitting highlights, as they also tap into the question of how genealogy exists for recent immigrants and those that have been displaced against their will. Indeed, not all materials are delightful or even pleasant.

Among the massive linear span of the Chew family papers, three boxes in the collection document plantation activities and slavery in the North. Folders filled with bills, lists, and receipts seem dull and repetitive until they build context for human holdings. In the document below, the sale of “a Negro girl named Sarah” is chillingly ordinary.

The going rate in 1754? Thirty-two pounds and ten shillings. And the cost for impertinence? 15, 25 strokes, likely depending on the whims of your overseer.

Not all of the settlers or immigrants who arrived in America came for or received a better life. The stories in these collections include those openly shared as well as those, if we’re lucky, will be extracted by dedicated researchers. Some of them may evoke familiar themes, but history is always best when tangible. This project reminds us that each story comes with a name attached.

Mary Elizabeth Hallock Greenewalt and the Magical, Mystical, Musical Finding Aids

Yesterday, April 5th, 2011, we at HSP hosted an event for the new, Musical Finding Aid. What does this mean, you ask? Do not fret, if all your questions aren’t answered in the next paragraphs please leave a comment!

Last year Matt Shoemaker, director of digital collections and systems, was awarded a grant from the Heritage Philadelphia Program (HPP). This grant helps institutions like HSP do small, creative, out of the box projects. This year’s project, envisioned by Matt, was to select a small group musicians to compose a score no shorter than 1 minute. This score would reflect the feel and subtleties of the Mary Elizabeth Hallock Greenewalt Collection. This would, of course, express aspects of the collection which aren’t available in the neutral voice of the written finding aid. Matt did an excellent job explaining this:

“Now a finding aid, in case you do not know, is a standard research tool at archives. It is a non-interpretive tool for patrons of archives so they can more easily find the materials they would like to use. It provides some background information on the collection and what it deals with, information on how it is organized and has different levels of description to assist people about what they should look at, for their personal purposes…Finding aids are very structured, matter-of-fact, and are very careful to not impart any of the archivist’s preconceptions…When my team first thought of this project we wanted to explore the other methods for people to utilize information for fulfilling their research needs as well as try to give a taste of this feeling to researchers considering the collection.”

His words aptly sum up the trajectory of this project called the Musical Finding Aid. It was brought into fruition by 5 musicians: Willhem Echivarria, Maurice Wright, Ted Houghtaling, Max Lawrence and Andrea Clearfield.  To hear their musical creations click on the links below.

This link refers back to an earlier blog and gives great background information about the musicians:

This link is where the musical finding aid is permanently hosted on HSP’s website:

The event last night was graciously made possible by Pennsylvania Humanities Council, HSP staff volunteers, the finding aid musicians, HPP and of course Matt Shoemaker. For those that did make the event and for those that could not be there please feel free to browse the photos below.

Art by Max Lawrence

Exhibition created by Max Lawrence.

Display of Art by Max Lawrence

Mary Elizabeth Hallock Greenewalt

Materials from the Greenewalt and Adopt-a-Collection on View

Greenewalt Collection Material

Participants and Attendees


It’s here!

The wait is finally over! HSP is happy to announce its first publication in many years; a facsimile of Ellen Emlen’s Cookbook dated to 1865. The manuscript contains over 200 recipes which are clearly organized with a table of contents. Written by Mrs. Emlen’s own hand the recipes are legible and give a sense of her character that would be lost in printed text.

The book includes many tips and tricks passed down through the family, as well as additional recipes collected from friends.Experienced cooks and those with a sense of adventure will enjoy cooking from this book.

Our purpose in reproducing this primary source is to inspire individuals and organizations to create a better future through historical understanding.

Copies are available for purchase at HSP’s front desk or at our Online Shop.

Ellen Emlen’s Cookbook – Pre-order your copy today!

Now available for pre-order in the HSP Online Store, is Ellen Emlen’s Cookbook!

The Historical Society is pleased to present the facsimile of Ellen Emlen’s cookbook. Mrs. Emlen, a nineteenth-century Philadelphia housewife, organized her cookbook into thirteen categories of recipes including meats, vegetables, sauces, food for the sick, and desserts. Written circa 1865 and containing well over 200 recipes, this book is a must for any culinary historian, Civil War buff, or American patriot. Rediscover wonderful tips and tricks for the kitchen and enjoy Emlen’s comments on the recipes. This is not simply a how-to book: it is a peek into the American past, into a documentation of years of trial and error, and the desire to remember and preserve that knowledge. This publication is a limited edition of 500 copies.

Below is Mrs. Emlen’s recipe for Cherry Bread. Go ahead – try it out. We have! It’s delicious…

Cherry Bread recipe (click to enlarge)

Government waste, circa 1863

I recently finished processing the Citizens’ Bounty Fund Committee records, another Civil War-era collection that we are working on as part of the Digital Center for Americana project.

The Citizens’ Bounty Fund Committee formed in Philadelphia during the summer of 1862, in response to President Abraham Lincoln’s call for another 300,000 Union troops. Concerned about a possible draft, Philadelphia Mayor Alexander Henry led a public meeting in July 1862 to discuss how best to increase enlistment. The meeting attendees decided to create a bounty fund to pay volunteers for enlisting, a tactic that other cities were using.

Mayor Henry himself chaired the new Citizens’ Bounty Fund Committee. Philadelphia City Council voted to allocate $500,000 to the fund, and private donors added approximately $200,000 more.

A description of the committee's various bounty and premium payments.

Philadelphia did indeed fill its enlistment quota without needing to turn to a draft, but by other measures, the bounty system failed.

The Citizens’ Bounty Fund Committee concluded in early 1863 that “the payment of bounties has not worked as well as was expected, and that the continuance thereof is a waste of money in many instances being an incentive to desertions.”

This draft resolution notes that the committee decided the bounty system wasn't worth the money.

HSP’s collection includes the administrative records of the committee, as well as a variety of enlistment, muster, and bounty records of the men who qualified for bounties under the system. The collection is open to all researchers and its finding aid is now available online.

You can learn more about Mayor Henry, who served as Philadelphia mayor from 1858-1865, in another HSP collection: the Alexander Henry papers (collection 278). Its finding aid is also now available online.

Collections of interest to Hispanics

When you visit the Historical Society of Pennsylvania’s webpage and read the description of what we do, you’ll find a reference to additions to our collection of documents acquired in 2002 from The Balch Institute for Ethnic Studies. Although HSP has excelled in keeping and providing access to valuable documents about American colonial history, we do hold collections pertaining to Latino (or Hispanics) groups that have settled in Pennsylvania. The additions from The Balch Institute for Ethnic Studies add even more records to HSP’s holdings related to the Latino experience in Pennsylvania, particularly that of organizations and individuals established in the Philadelphia area.

As a guide to researchers interested in subjects connected to Latinos in United States, or collections with papers produced by persons associated with major events in Latin America, we offer an inventory (by no means exhaustive) of what we at HSP have.

The John Rutter Brooke papers (Collection 0078) contain, among other things, documents about his roles as an important military commander during the Hispanic-American War, and as military governor of Puerto Rico and Cuba. The Joseph Sill Clark papers (Collection 1958) feature documents related to the 1965 US invasion and occupation of the Dominican Republic, and memorandums pertaining to Argentina’s 1960’s political situation. Sill Clark was mayor of Philadelphia and served as United States senator from Pennsylvania. The Adolfo Fernández Cavada diary (Collection Am .6956) was written while serving as Captain with the Pennsylvania Volunteers, 23rd Regiment; and includes a detailed personal account of the Battle of Gettysburg. Fernandez Cavada was one of three brothers born in Cienfuegos, Cuba who later joined the Union Army. Puerto Rico legal and government papers (Collection 0518) is an assortment of licenses to masters of vessels, passports, copies of government rules, regulations regarding ports, and similar legal documents issued by the Puerto Rican government.

Among the collections describing the Latino experience in Philadelphia we can mention the Nelson A. Diaz papers (Collection 3079), featuring documents produced while working as a Philadelphia attorney who served on the Philadelphia County Court of Common Pleas and as general counsel for the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development. We also have the records for the Spanish Merchants Association of Philadelphia (MSS114), founded in 1970 by Puerto Rican businessmen in Philadelphia to distribute Minority Business Development Agency funds in the Latino community; the Puerto Rican Week Festival records (MSS119), produced by the Council of Spanish Speaking Organizations of Philadelphia; records for the Pennsylvania branch of Aspira, Inc. (MSS148); records for the Philadelphia Center of The League of United Latin American Citizens (Collection MSS149), founded in Texas as an advocacy group to increase educational opportunities for Hispanic Americans; papers for the Post #840 of the American Legion in Philadelphia (MSS165), whose membership was primarily Puerto Rican; The Latino Project records (MSS117), headed by attorney Luis P. Diaz, provided legal assistance and representation to Spanish-speaking groups and interests in Greater Philadelphia area; the Hispanic Federation for Social and Economic Development records (MSS116), non-profit organization serving Puerto Ricans and Latinos in Philadelphia; records for Fifth Street Merchants Association (MSS118), formed in 1975 to represent the interests of merchants within the so-called “Golden Block,” the Fifth Street corridor bordered by Lehigh Avenue and Allegheny Avenue in North Philadelphia; and the Council of Spanish Speaking Organizations of Philadelphia records (MSS120), organized in 1962 as a liaison between the Spanish-speaking and non-Latino communities, and intended to coordinate existing Spanish organizations and to create new programs and activities for their constituents.

It’s worth pointing out that the Historical Society of Pennsylvania holds thousands of documents on the history of United Sates in general, and on Pennsylvania in particular. Hence, this is only a small sample of collections that may contain materials about Latinos in United States.

Hot soup on a cold day: the records of the The Kensington Soup Society

The company's letterhead (circa 1940)

I recently finished processing a  set of records from the Kensington Soup Society (KSS).  KSS, which closed in 2007, was Philadelphia’s last neighborhood soup kitchen.  It was founded in 1844, at a time when there were other soup kitchens in the city, each one serving a particular neighborhood.  In KSS’s case, its serving boundaries extended from (using current street names) East Norris Street to North Front Street to East Laurel Street to the Delaware River.  Early on in its history, KSS offered food, rooms, and even work to its patrons.  From the early 1900s to the 1960s, it also offered free coal to the most destitute.  But KSS was first and foremost an establishment that served soup and bread to its neighborhood residents between the months of November and March.

Appeals card (1918)

KSS’s records  came to us in good shape, with most of the material being labeled or in labeled folders (yay!), and the processing work fell mostly on the minimal side, though I did spend more time arranging several large loose groups of papers into the overall scheme of the collection (administrative papers, financial papers, and miscellaneous papers).  The collection was also adopted by the organization—this helped pay for processing and conservation work.

Report of the Board of Managers (1874)

Now, one might expect that the records from a 163-year-old organization would span 163 years, but that’s not the case with this collection, which comes in at a modest 4.8 linear feet (8 document boxes and 13 volumes).  The earliest records date from the 1860s and the latest date from 2009; but the bulk of the records cover the years 1870 to 1962 with, unfortunately, significant gaps. There are very few records from 1900 to 1930 and from the mid 1960s to the early 1990s; and those that do exist from those years are primarily bills and receipts.   (Are the missing records truly missing? Or are they perhaps sitting in a former employee’s closet or basement?  The world may never know.)  There’s very little out in the published world (web or paper) specifically on the society, save for a wonderful book by Kenneth W. Milano entitled The History of the Kensington Soup Kitchen (and even he, in consulting KSS’s papers, acknowledged the lack of records from certain years).

Contributor's request (circa 1870)

Still, the collection provides a nice assortment of records that add to the study of the history of social service in Philadelphia, and also indirectly document the history of social conditions in Philadelphia’s Kensington neighborhood.  The finding aid for this collection is now on our website.

On a related note, HSP also has a collection of records from Philadelphia’s first soup society, the Southwark Soup Society (Collection 3024), which was founded in 1805.