• Learn about the conditions that led to Frank Furness' most incredible masterworks, including the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts seen here, on Wednesday.
      Learn about the conditions that led to Frank Furness' most incredible masterworks, including the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts seen here, on Wednesday.

November 11: Public history in 21st century Philly

Devoted readers of this space know how much we love sharing images of the city’s past – from early 20th century aerials to streetviews of the mid-century city. These photographs help illustrate just how much Philadelphia has changed over time - and just how much remains the same. Lucky for us the sources for these views of urban history are many.

One of the deepest wells is the Historical Society of Pennsylvania (HSP). HSP has a stunning 21 million documents, including an exceptional wealth of historic Philadelphiana.

But what can an early 19th century institution like HSP teach us about being a 21st century city?  How can archives illuminate current concerns, like urban bicycling, flood risk, park life, demolition and vacancy, vibrant commercial corridors, legacy transit system, the skyline, and our sports?

Take a look at this selection of images from HSP’s collection - mostly drawn from the photo morgue of the Philadelphia Record, which was published from the 1870s until 1947 - and each tells a story:

    • A car making its way down a flooded Delaware Avenue in the 1930s. | Historical Society of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia Record Photograph Morgue
      A car making its way down a flooded Delaware Avenue in the 1930s. | Historical Society of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia Record Photograph Morgue
    • In Rittenhouse Square | Historical Society of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia Record Photograph Morgue
      In Rittenhouse Square | Historical Society of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia Record Photograph Morgue
    • Aerial photograph from William Penn statue atop City Hall | Historical Society of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia Record Photograph Morgue
      Aerial photograph from William Penn statue atop City Hall | Historical Society of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia Record Photograph Morgue
    • Liberty Bell's 1915 trip from Philadelphia to San Francisco | Historical Society of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia Record Photograph Morgue
      Liberty Bell's 1915 trip from Philadelphia to San Francisco | Historical Society of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia Record Photograph Morgue
    • Aerial view of Curtis SB2C Helldivers flying over Philadelphia in front of City Hall, 1945. | Historical Society of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia Record Photograph Morgue
      Aerial view of Curtis SB2C Helldivers flying over Philadelphia in front of City Hall, 1945. | Historical Society of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia Record Photograph Morgue
    • Shibe Park, 1941 (later Connie Mack stadium) | Historical Society of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia Record Photograph Morgue
      Shibe Park, 1941 (later Connie Mack stadium) | Historical Society of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia Record Photograph Morgue
    • First bicyclist meet in front of Memorial Hall, Fairmount Park | Historical Society of Pennsylvania, Penrose Pictoral Philadelphia collection
      First bicyclist meet in front of Memorial Hall, Fairmount Park | Historical Society of Pennsylvania, Penrose Pictoral Philadelphia collection
    • 1500 N. Alder Street, 1945. (Now demolished.) | Historical Society of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia Record Photograph Morgue
      1500 N. Alder Street, 1945. (Now demolished.) | Historical Society of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia Record Photograph Morgue
    • A Philadelphia Traction Company electric trolley, no. 871 (Catherine and Bainbridge Streets) - one of the first electric trolleys in the city.
      A Philadelphia Traction Company electric trolley, no. 871 (Catherine and Bainbridge Streets) - one of the first electric trolleys in the city.
    • Market Street at night, looking east from 13th St, February 1938 |  Historical Society of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia Record Photograph Morgue
      Market Street at night, looking east from 13th St, February 1938 | Historical Society of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia Record Photograph Morgue
    • Aerial view of Independence Hall and environs July 1, 1940. | Historical Society of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia Record Photograph Morgue
      Aerial view of Independence Hall and environs July 1, 1940. | Historical Society of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia Record Photograph Morgue
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Resources like these help HSP connect researchers, armchair historians, students and educators, and heritage institutions with pieces of our collective past, enabling us all to tell richer stories about our city, and help shape our sense of place.

For that work HSP is featured in a episode of the PBS documentary series Visionaries, which we’ll be screening at WHYY on November 11 at 7pm. After the brief screening I’ll be moderating a discussion about HSP’s ongoing efforts to provide new ways to access its rich collection, and how repositories like HSP help provide context for our understanding of 21st century Philadelphia. Joining me will be Page Talbott (President and CEO of HSP), Patrick Grossi (Director of Advocacy, Preservation Alliance for Greater Philadelphia), George Boudreau (Assistant Professor of History, La Salle University), and Bill Mosher, (Director and Producer of Visionaries).

About the author

Ashley Hahn, Contributor

Ashley Hahn is an independent writer with a background in historic preservation and city planning. She started Eyes on the Street for PlanPhilly in 2011 and was PlanPhilly's managing editor from 2015-2017. Ashley has lived in 12 zip codes that she can think of, including neighborhoods in Los Angeles, Chicago, Boston, and New York. She is a Philadelphian by choice.

Contact Ashley via email or find her on twitter: @ashleyjhahn.


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