Monday, February 18, 2013

SW Corner of 13th and Arch

     This is a little history about the SW corner of 13th and Arch. It was a large empty lot when it was purchased by Matthew Newkirk in 1836. Newkirk was a veteran of the War of 1812, a Director of the Second United States Bank and President of the Philadelphia Wilmington and Baltimore Railroad. He was close friends with Henry Clay and Nicholas Biddle. Newkirk built a mansion at the SW corner of 13th and Arch. The fronts along 13th and Arch Streets were made entirely of white marble. It was the first private residence in the city to have gas lines throughout the building. As the mansion neared completion in December of 1836, a carpenter died when he fell from scaffolding. Newkirk died there in 1868.

      The Newkirk family sold the mansion to The Society of the Sons of St George in 1875. The Society, founded in 1772, gave advice and assistance to Englishmen in distress. They extended the building and added a third floor. They named the building St George's Hall (left photo). The Hall was available to rent and these are some of the events that were held there:

April 27, 1876....Dr Richard A Proctor, famed English Astronomer who produced one of the earliest maps of Mars, gave a lecture called "The Birth and Death of Worlds".

October 28, 1876....Blind Tom Wiggens. Blind Tom was born a slave. Because he was blind, when the other slaves were out working, Tom was left behind in his owner's parlor where he learned how to play the piano. He was so good that he was taken out on concert tours. He played for President Buchanan at the White House in 1860. When he first came to Philadelphia in September of 1865, his 3 day engagement was extended 4 weeks. He wowed the audiences by simultaneously playing the melodies of "Fishers Hornpipe" with his left hand, "Yankee Doodle" with his right hand while singing "Dixie." Mark Twain was a huge fan of Blind Tom.

December 21, 1879....banquet for ex President Grant

June 18, 1882....Memorial Service for General Giuseppe Garibaldi, the "Italian George Washington".

June 4, 1895....banquet for Archbishop Patrick Ryan

September 14, 1899....President William McKinley and the United States Marine Band opened The National Export Exposition.

      The Society of the Sons of St George moved to 19th and Arch in 1902. St George's Hall was demolished in April of 1902. The marble front of the building was salvaged and was incorporated into the country home of Harry Bryan Owsley jr near Princeton NJ. Today, the marble front can be found at Princeton Battlefield State Park.

      Replacing St George's Hall was a 9 story structure containing stores and offices. At first it was The Liverwright and Greenwald Building then later it was called the Frankel Building (middle photo). This building stood for 85 years until 1987 when it was razed to make room for the Criminal Justice Center. Today it is a parking lot behind the Center (right photo).

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