Saturday, February 28, 2015

An Overview of the History of 103 Callowhill Street

As I mentioned in my previous blog post about The Hannah, one of the things I did back in July after we first looked at the theater was delve into the history of 103 Callowhill Street. I had never before faced the prospect of living on a property that even comes close to having a well-documented written history going back hundreds of years. I think at least part of my initial excitement was due to how much detailed historical information I could find, thanks to Philadelphia's excellent online property records and searchable databases of old newspapers. There is definitely something to be said for living in a city which, following European colonization*, has had a history of being populated by swarms of lawyers and journalists (a tradition which arguably continues to this day).

The Penn Charter

First, a touch of background from Wiki, for those of you unfamiliar with the basics of Pennsylvanian history:

The Province of Pennsylvania, also known as the Pennsylvania Colony, was founded in English North America by William Penn on March 4, 1681, as dictated in a royal charter granted by King Charles II ... The Province of Pennsylvania was one of the two major restoration colonies, the other being the Province of Carolina. The proprietary colony's charter remained in the hands of the Penn family until the American Revolution, when the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania was created and became one of the original thirteen colonies.
William Penn suffered a series of strokes in 1712 and his wife Hannah Callowhill Penn became acting proprietor of the colony until her death in 1726 (a fact the wiki on Pennsylvania's colonial governors doesn't acknowledge, although Hannah's wiki page does). The colony's proprietorship then passed into the hands of Penn's sons, John, Thomas, and Richard (and also his son Dennis, although he died when he was still a teenager) collectively known as "the Proprietaries."

1687 map of Philadelphia, showing the Manuor of Springetsberry (named for Penn's first wife Gulielma Springett) where 103 Callowhill Street would later be situated.

The Eighteenth Century

By painstakingly looking through the scanned handwritten register books of Philadelphia property deeds (instructions here—that's right, the *instructions* on how to look up historical deeds is a 27-page pdf), I found the first deed associated with 103 Callowhill Street, dated the 1st of November, 1745. Callowhill Street, named of course for William Penn's wife Hannah Callowhill, was in the process of being created by leasing lots along its intended path to developers.

By squinting and concentrating very hard, I was able to decipher the calligraphy (I think):
By the Proprietaries

Whereas by our consent and direction there were surveyed and laid out unto Benjamin Mifflin of the City of Philadelphia Four certain Lots of ground situate within our Manor of Springetsbury in the County of Philadelphia on the Northside of a new intended Street to be called Callowhill Street between Front Street continued Northward and another new intended street to be called New Market Street at the North End of the said City each Lot containing in breadth East and West twenty feet and in length one hundred feet. For all which the said Benjamin Mifflin agrees to pay to our use the Annual Rent of Eight Pounds Sterling or value thereof as the Exchange shall for the time being between our City of Philadelphia and the City of London to commence the First day of March next And to cause to be built thereon within the space of five years from the date hereof four good brick or stone messuages each of three stories high to the front of the said Callowhill Street, and for the insurance of such agreement to give and enter into a proper and sufficient bond to us of the penalty of Four Hundred Pounds within the space of twelve months now next insuing;

These are therefore to authorize and require you to accept and receive into your office the surveys of the said four lots of ground and make returns thereof into our Secretary's Office for the use and behoof of the said Benjamin Mifflin, and in so doing this shall be your sufficient warrant, upon this proviso and condition nevertheless that if the said Benjamin Mifflin shall duly enter into such bond in time and manner aforesaid for performance of the abovementioned agreement that then the said surveys shall be valid otherwise the same is to be void and the said Benjamin Mifflin is not to have or claim any benefit thereby on any wise. Given under my hand and the seal of the Land Office by virtue of certain powers from the said Proprietaries, At Philadelphia, this First day of November Anno Domini 1745,

To William Parsons, Surveyor General
I just want to point out that when this document was created in 1745, George Washington was a 13-year-old boy kicking around listlessly after the death of his father. 16-year-old James Cook had just moved out of home for the first time to become an apprentice to a grocer in a coastal English village. Abigail Adams was a bouncing baby girl three weeks shy of her first birthday. Leopold Mozart hadn't even married Anna Maria Pertl yet, and Papa Haydn was still singing soprano parts in a cathedral choir.

(With all that in mind, perhaps we can forgive the fact that the initial measurements of these lots at 20 feet wide apparently turned out to be incorrect or were quickly adjusted, as they were listed as 16 feet wide in all future deeds.) [Edit: This mystery has been solved! See: Benjamin Mifflin, shady-ass property developer.]

So Benjamin Mifflin, who is almost certainly the same Philadelphia merchant named Benjamin Mifflin (1718-1787) who wrote a journal about his travels in the area (I'm not sure whether Benjamin was somehow related to the Mifflin family that produced Thomas Mifflin, but I think the chances are fairly high), erected some "good brick or stone" buildings at what would later become 103, 105, 107, and 109 Callowhill Street between 1745 and 1750. The buildings were likely primarily used as warehouses and tradesmen tenements, since their location puts them right next to the Delaware River, which was perfect for the renter's needs; Mifflin went into business with Samuel Massey in 1751, forming the creatively named merchant firm Mifflin & Massey, which dealt primarily in teas, coffee, sugar, and flour. [Shipping and Trade from Philadelphia to the World.]

One of my favorite Benjamin Mifflin tidbits is this piece, published in the Pennsylvania Journal, December 6, 1770. Here we discover that the general tone and timbre of political arguments found on the closest thing to social media in the 18th Century does not differ overly from what we experience today:

"...lick up the excrements of Jeffries..." Pure gold.

Of course, you probably also noticed all the glaring racism in the above screed; Benjamin Mifflin was also very much a wealthy white man of his time. Over the span of several years, there are numerous advertisements from Mifflin in the Pennsylvania Gazette (a Ben Franklin paper) in which he sells "sundry sorts of wine, rum, load and muscovado sugar, melasses, in hogsheads, tierces and barrels, rice, Carolina soal leather, pitch, tar, and turpentine, allom, brimstone, copperas, rosin, 3, 4, 6, 8, 10, 12, 20, and 20d. nails, corks, tea, coffee, chocolate, pepper, alspice, corn, salt, whalebone, flour, feathers, chalk, in hogsheads, or by the hundred, and sundry other goods." Oh, and slaves. Plenty of ads in which he sells slaves. One example among many:
A Likely Negro woman and child, she is about 22 years old, country born, has had the small pox and measles, is sober, honest, a very good house Negro, and sold for no other reason than her fast breeding, having had four children in less and five years. Also two years and a half of a white servant maidtime; a low priced horse, and a two mast boat, 31 feet keel, almost new.
It's not as though this is particularly surprising, it just feels to me like this kind of ugliness ought to be acknowledged. Especially since it's the last day of Black History Month, and although the history of this property is full of interesting tales of immigration, they are all very White European tales of immigration, which of course isn't the whole story.

Things get a little hazy regarding who or what occupied the lot and the building at 103 Callowhill Street for the next 100 years or so. Technically, during all this time, the lot still belonged to the Proprietaries or the Penn Family, and the only deed recorded is the one in which it was leased to Mifflin in 1745. Mifflin probably sublet it to other merchants and tradesmen, but there aren't any definitive records of those transactions, and there's not much indication of what it was used for after Mifflin died in 1787. His 1784 will is in the Delaware archives, and I would love to see it sometime, but apparently you have to pay to acquire an electronic copy, phooey.

A few advertisements give some hints. This is from the Pennsylvania Gazette, November 1, 1770:

BY virtue of a write to me directed, will be exposed to public sale, on Saturday, the 27th of January, at five o'clock in the evening, at the London Coffee-house, a certain tenement, and piece of ground, situate on the north side of Callowhill street, near Front street, in the Northern Liberties of the city of Philadelphia, containing in breadth 16 feet, and in length or depth 100 feet, bounded eastward by the back ends of Front street lots, southward by Callowhill street aforesaid, westward by a house and a lot late of Aaron Hassert, deceased, and northward by the Proprietaries ground, subject to a groundrent of Two Shilling sterling per foot per annum; late the estate of Abraham Carpenter, deceased; seized and taken in execution by JOSEPH REDMAN, Sherriff.
From the description, this is almost certainly 103 Callowhill Street, since the lot matches those dimensions, and it's bounded eastward by the back ends of Front Street lots. In the Hexamer Locher 1858-1862 Philadelphia Atlas, you can see that 103 Callowhill would be the only lot that fits:

Let me digress for a moment here to talk about about this rather excellent map. As you can see, there are at this point two structures on the lot at 103 Callowhill Street. The dotted line to the right of the building that faces the street is a lane on the ground floor that gives access to the yard and second building from the street. This lane is still described in the property deed, but at some point between the 1800's and the mid 1900's, it was absorbed into the ground floor. According to the map legend, the dots on the buildings indicate type of construction; 4 dots means it was was a fourth-class (i.e. the lowest class) brick or stone building with a shingle roof and without a basement. The numbers written on the structures indicate the number of floors, so the building in the yard, which was probably some kind of storage, was two stories tall, and the street-facing building was three and a half stories tall; we believe the "half" was a roof attic with a dormer, as you can just make out in this 1924 aerial shot of the Benjamin Franklin Bridge construction that Matt found and enhanced:

Now take a look at the current western wall of the property, as seen from the now-empty lot at 105 Callowhill Street:

It's possible that this wall is such a distinctive shape because it links and extends the side walls from the two buildings that existed in 1859**. The dimensions are about right. And it seems possible to me that the bones of the front building were originally laid by Benjamin Mifflin way back in 1745. While this is just speculation, and confirmation would probably involve some kind of archeological dig and testing that I am not equipped to do, it's possible that there are bricks in the foundation of the theater lobby that were laid in 1745. Bricks that are older than America. Basically, I have doubts that the build date of 1912 on the original Zillow listing is accurate.

But back to the documented history. Abraham Carpenter, mentioned in the sheriff's notice as having recently died in 1770, leaving the 103 Callowhill lease in his estate, was an interesting character who occupied several of the buildings in this area with his cooperage and other businesses. Three years earlier, on June 29, 1767, he ran this advertisement in the Pennsylvania Gazette to sell the building on the corner (400 Front Street), which was an inn—and also to dispose of an indentured servant. As you do.

A Large brick house, on Pool's Hill; the house is 20 feet front on Front street, and 42 feet front on Callowhill street; the house is three story hugh; the lot is 68 feet 10 inches deep; it stands in a pleasant place, where you have a find prospect of the Jerseys and the river Delaware; the kitchen is the whole width of the house; a little house in the yard, where two tenements may be built; all the chimnies carry smoke exceeding well; the house is cool in summer, and warm in winter; it has been a public house ever since it was built; it has the sign of the ship aground; it is well finished.For terms of sale apply to the Subscriber.
A servant lad's time also to be disposed of; he is eighteen years old, a hearty fellow, fit for business; has served one year with a gardener, and has three years to serve.
This advertisement also serves to demonstrate that the area at the time was known as Pool's Hill, sometimes spelled Poole's Hill. The name is all but unknown today, although it's true that our block still sits on a little hill that lifts it out of the 100-year flood plain next to the Delaware River. For a while, before I hit on naming the space after Hannah Callowhill, I considered calling it the Poole's Hill Theater.

Abraham Carpenter also may well have been one of the first people in America to create an advertisement jingle:

Philadelphia, October 22, 1747.
TWO handsome chairs,
with very good geers,
With horses, or without,
To carry his friends about,
Is to be hired by Abraham Carpenter the Cooper,
And known to be a very good hoop-maker
For masts of vessels, and cringles so good,
As can be made out of good hickery wood;
And truss-hoops, of any size,
For gentlemen, coopers, or merchandize;
Likewise saddle horses, if gentlemen please,
To carry them handsomely, with a great deal of ease.
   N.B. The said Abraham Carpenter lives in Dock street, Philadelphia, near the Golden Fleece.
Stay tuned, I'll probably set that to music one of these days.

Of course, in 1776, some pretty important political things happened in Philadelphia, including, you know, a bit of a war. The records go dark for a long while. The first half of the 19th century seems to be a complete blank as far as records regarding this lot are concerned; one day when I have more time to dig, maybe I'll unearth something.

I guess this happened about 35 miles upstream of 103 Callowhill Street.
 What we do know is that, although they had supported the cause of independence, the Penn family was stripped of the Proprietorship of Pennsylvania via the Divestment Act of 1779, except for their privately held lands, which included 103 Callowhill Street. Eventually, the lot came into the possession of Thomas Penn's grandson William Stuart (1798-1874). [Penn Family Papers.]

The Nineteenth Century

Which brings us to my next primary source, a deed from 1872, which cost me quite a few ibuprofen to read.

That is some headache-inducing handwriting, Philip A Oregar, Notary Public, assuming you are the scribe. And once the reader figures out what the words say, the legalese is no less impenetrable:
Know all then by these Presents that William Stuart of Hill Street Berkley Square in the county of Middlesex in England Esquire and Georganna Adelaide his wife by George Cadwalader of the City of Philadelphia in the State of Pennsylvania Esquire their attorney duly constituted by Letter of Attorney under their hands and seals hearing date the Eleventh day of November AD 1870 Recorded at Philadelphia Letter of Attorney Book J A No. 1 page 531 &c for [illegible] consideration of the sum of one hundred and Sixty Dollars lawful money of the United States of America unto there at and before the Sealing and delivery hereof by Patrick Murray of the City of Philadelphia late Liquor Merchant well and truly paid the Receipt whereof is hereby acknowledged have extinguished revised released and forever quit claimed and by these presents do Extinguish Revise Release and forever quit claim  unto the said Patrick Murray and to his heirs and assigns all that certain apportioned yearly ground Rent or sum of one pound twelve shillings sterling money of Great Britain or value thereof in coin current issuing and payable on the first day of march in Every year forever out of all that certain lot or piece of ground situate on the North side of Callowhill Street between Front Street and New Market Street in the Eleventh ward of the city of Philadelphia formerly in the Proprietaries Manuor of Springetsbury in the County of Philadelphia containing in front or breadth all Said Callowhill Street sixteen feet and extending that breadth in length or depth Northward one hundred feet, Bounded Eastward by the Back Ends of Front Street Lots, Northward by a lot paid out to George Pajsagice(?), Westward by Remaining part of the Lot of which this was part and Southward by Callowhill Street aforesaid.

Which said lot of ground is the easternmost part of the easternmost of four contiguous lots or pieces of ground east containing in front all said Callowhill street twenty feet and extending in depth one hundred feet which the honorable John Penn, Thomas Penn and Richard Penn Esquires thus Proprietaries and Governors in Chief of the Province of Pennsylvania by Letters Patent under the hand of George Thomas Esquire Lieutenant Governor of the said Province and the great seal of the Said Province bearing date the Second day of March AD 1745 and Recorded in Patent Book A Vol 13 page 240 &c granted and confirmed unto Benjamin Mifflin his heirs and assigns Reserving out of the said Lots a yearly rent or sum of Eight Pounds Sterling money aforesaid or value thereof in coin current payable unto the said Proprietaries his heirs and successors at or upon the first day of March in every year forever and which said ground rent or aportioned rent by
[illegible] deeds wills and assents has be came vested in the said William Stuart in fee Simple, together with the Reversions and Remainders thereof and all the Estate Right titled interest property claim and demand whatsoever of this the said William Stuart and and Georganna Adelaide his wife in law Equity or other use howsoever of in deed to the said apportioned yearly ground rent and the lot of ground out of which the same is (???)ling and payable. So that the said William Stuart and his heirs or any person or persons whomsoever lawfully claiming or to claim by [illegible] there or any of these [illegible] at any time hereafter have Claim Challenge or Demand any right of entry or other Right Rent or Rent Charge of into or out of the Said first above described Lot or piece of ground or any part thereof but of and from all Such Claims and demands shall be utterly [illegible] and forever excluded by virtue of these presents the witness whereof the Said William Stuart and Georganna Adelaide his wife [illegible] [...] dated the thirty first day of October in the year of Our Lord One Thousand Eight Hundred and Seventy Two. [...]
You see what I mean. I typed that. I swear my head still hurts.

Long story short: William Stuart divested the lot for $160 to Patrick Murray, Irish liquor merchant, who likely used it to store liquor and do typical Irish liquor merchant business. This arrangement lasted until Murray's death in 1900, and oh, what a mess there was then.

The First Half of the Twentieth Century

Legal language, like the cost of living, seems to undergo a near-constant process of inflation; the next deed, from 1905, is nine pages long. Some of this length, however, can be explained by the sheer number of parties named in the deed. Patrick Murray, who had no children of his own, was evidently the large Irish Murray family's official Rich Uncle. Above are the pages listing all the beneficiaries who inherited 103 Callowhill Street, along with their spouses, and as you can see, there were a *lot* of them.

According to the deed, after he died, Patrick Murray, who resided just down the road at 11 Callowhill Street, left everything to his wife, Bridget Murray, five nephews (Michael A. Regan, Timothy J. Regan, George H. Regan, Patrick D. Murray, John Murray), three nieces (Ellen A. Hopkins, wife of Benjamin, Catharine J. Regan, Margaret Donovan, wife of Dennis), and the children of a deceased nephew (Robert Joyce Murray, John Murray). Bridget died in 1903, and in 1904, the Orphan's Court appointed an equitable trust guardian for the children. By this time, a man named Frederick Nothaft was leasing the property, so when it was decided that the property should be auctioned off and the proceeds split between the heirs, he put in a bid for the actually rather princely sum of $7,100 (a 4,500% increase from what Murray paid for it 30 years earlier!). Because most of the Murray heirs lived in New York City by this time (aside from John and Mary Murray, and Dennis and Margaret Donovan, who lived in Ireland), the deed appears to have been executed there.

I found records for Frederick Nothaft on through the Penn library. He was born in Bavaria in 1831 and German was of course his first language. By the time he bought 103 Callowhill Street 74 years later, he was a widower with a son, Frederick Jr., and two unmarried daughters, Anna and Mary (a third, Lena, was married to a man named Bower and did not inherit the property from her father). After owning the property for just two years, he died on the 12th of June, 1907, and was buried in Laurel Hill Cemetery. Frederick Jr. seemed to have the most use for 103 Callowhill Street, and over the next 20 years or so, he bought out or inherited his sisters' shares until he and his wife Matilda (also spelled Mathilde) were the sole owners.

The corner of Front and Callowhill Streets in 1915. 103 Callowhill is just out of the frame on the far left. The mansard roof belongs to 400 Front Street. As you can see from the sign at 402, the sale of produce was not unusual in this area.
Below is a page from the 1920 Federal Census where Frederick Nothaft Jr. and Matilda (nee Trompter - they were married in 1912) are listed, second from the top. It's actually quite lovely, I think.

Summary: Frederick was 55 at the time of the census, born in 1865; Matilda was ten years younger. They owned their home free and clear, and were both able to read and write. While Frederick's parents were German and spoke German as their mother tongue, Matilda's mother was born in Pennsylvania, and her father was from Alsace-Lorraine (annexed by Germany in the Franco-Prussian war in 1870) and spoke French (I wonder what he thought of her marrying a German boy?). Frederick is listed as a produce merchant; I assume that Frederick Sr. was too, and that the business also passed to his son.

Thank the good lord, by the 1920s, typed property deeds had become a thing.
In 1942, Frederick Jr. and Matilda were 77 and 67 respectively, and perhaps they were retired, or looking to retire. They sold 103 Callowhill Street to a couple in their thirties, Franklin (Frank) and Mildred Yeagle, for only $1,500, less than a quarter of what Frederick Sr. had paid for the property in 1905. Two years earlier, Frank Yeagle was entered in the 1940 Federal Census as a wholesale worker, but according to this Philadelphia Licenses and Inspections permit he obtained shortly after the sale, he intended to remove the probably crumbling third floor and attic of the building, and turn the second floor into an office, probably to service the commission house (for storing or selling goods, probably foodstuffs) downstairs:

Perhaps Frank's business didn't work out, or perhaps he was happy to make a nice profit, because only three years later, as World War II was just about to end, he flipped it for $3,000 to one Solomon Warshaw, a 61-year-old Russian Jew.

According to the 1930 Federal Census, Solomon Warshaw spoke Yiddish, immigrated in 1906, and was a fruit store owner. He was married to a Jewish woman seven years younger, Jennie, who was originally from Austria and had come to America when she was twelve. Although he had a produce merchant background, Solomon seemed more interested in renting 103 Callowhill out to other business owners. Another L&I permit in 1945 shows Quaker City Cold Storage contracting J.S. Steele Company to repair plaster ceilings and cork insulation in the building. Cold storage was still a major industry at this point in history, before mass production of consumer refrigerators began in earnest after the war, and Quaker City seems to have been a fairly large company, in existence since at least the late 1800s, with other cold storage warehouses scattered around the city.

Warshaw's 1942 Draft Registration Card. Because why not.

The Second Half of the Twentieth Century to Today

1963 is the date of the earliest photograph I could find that clearly shows the building that will soon become the Hannah Callowhill Stage.

You can just make out that the sign says "Victor Morris" under the awning. The year after this photo was taken, on April 1st, Solomon Warshaw passed away, and the same Victor Morris and his wife Gladys bought 103 Callowhill Street from his estate. Unfortunately I haven't been able to find out very much about Victor or Gladys or the nature of Victor Morris Inc. I do know from the next (very biographical) deed, from 1973, that Victor died at some point, Gladys remarried a man named Leroy Dibeler, and that the two of them sold the property to another couple, Howard and Ruth (I'm withholding their last name because I think Ruth is still alive! She's 78 years old and lives in New Jersey. Perhaps I should write to her...) Howard and Ruth sold the property to an Italian-American couple in 1993, who sold to another Italian-American in 2001, who sold it to the Grassos in 2004.

And that brings us back to the present moment, and the longest and most extensively researched blog entry I think I've ever written.

Since there's so much information to digest here, I also arranged it into a pretty timeline that you can scroll through (click):

In the coming weeks, months, and (hopefully not, but I'm ready for anything) years, we'll be transforming the space yet again, and there will be so much more to add to this history. I'm so excited to give this property what it deserves in terms of love and attention, not to mention blood and sweat.

* Of course, there's a whole lot of pre-European history too, but most of that isn't well recorded. And then there's the whole deal with the Walking Purchase, where Penn's reprobate son, the Proprietor Thomas, scammed the Lenape out of a whole lot of land with a forged document. But that is a topic for another blog post, and possibly another composition which I've been planning for a while. Look for that one of these Columbus Days.

** My friend Kendall Whitehouse has a copy of the G. W. Bromley Philadelphia Atlas published in 1910, which you can also view at Philadelphia GeoHistory, and which shows the same two-building configuration. He was also kind enough to scan the page showing 103 Callowhill -- see his reply to my post on facebook.


  1. Great post! I am related to the Massey of Mifflin & Massey.

  2. I see that my comment above came in as "Unknown", so I've logged into my main account - sorry about that. Also, my ancestor Thomas Massey resided at 114 Callowhill in 1810.

    1. Hi Tim! Wow, that's really awesome! Thanks so much for getting in touch. If you have any information about the firm of Mifflin & Massey or your ancestor in general, I'd love to hear it! Feel free to get in touch at

  3. hi great read i have an interesting story about a certain warehouse and cold storage building that remains today but maybe not for long,,,,,