Historic Resource Study
NPS Logo

Early Speculators and Settlers, 1757-1775

At mid-eighteenth century Fifth Street still roughly marked the western edge of the settled part of Philadelphia. The construction of the Pennsylvania State House on Chestnut Street west of Fifth in the 1730s and 1740s sparked development on the block north of it. State and local politicians and wealthy merchants began to build and reside on Market Street, while inns, stables, boarding houses and other commercial enterprises opened to serve those doing business in the State House. On Arch Street, however, real estate development showed a noticeable drop off, reflecting the distance from the center of commercial and political life and the inconvenience of travel over unpaved streets. After the French and Indian War, the blocks west of Fifth Street began a brisk market in lot sales to fill a need for housing to accommodate the large number of artisan families who were pouring into the city from overseas. William Hudson's heirs began selling lots on Hudson's Square in 1760 (after the death of Hudson's widow), and a few years later speculators began developing the adjoining block to the north. Rapidly the neighborhood transitioned to a community of residents from largely German and English backgrounds. [1]

The rapid development of Hudson's Square to the south, between Market and Arch Streets, likely helped to trigger the sale of real estate on Block Three, especially in the section north of Cherry Street controlled by relatives of the Hudson heirs. Similar to the pattern on Block Two, the first sales began along Fifth Street, closest to the center of town. While the earliest located deeds for the block were dated in the 1760s, a directory of Friends or Quakers in Philadelphia 1757-1760 indicates that at least two Quakers, Benjamin Morgan and Isaac Phipps, already lived "in Cherry Street between Fifth and Sixth Streets". [2] The 1762 Clarkson-Biddle map, commonly considered one of the more accurate maps of the 18th century, shows two houses on Cherry Street, one on the south side near Sixth and one mid-block on the north side. [3] Joshua Cresson insured the latter house in 1767. The surveyor estimated that the two-story house and kitchen on the north side of Cherry Street was from eight to ten years old, which would date it to 1757 to 1759. [4]

Cherry Street evidently was part of an early plan for the square. The proper opening of the street, including its paving, was obstructed, however, throughout the late 18th century by the Second Presbyterian Church's burial ground located fifty feet west of Fifth Street. The church was using the full 306 feet of the Arch Street lot, which included part of the Cherry Street right-of-way. On June 3, 1790 Edward Lynch informed Dr. John Redman, President of the church trustees, that the burial ground projected about eighteen feet into Cherry Street, creating a bar to getting the street paved between Fifth and Sixth Streets. Lynch represented a number of respectable inhabitants and freeholders "in that Square" to ask whether the church was "disposed to sell that part of sd. Ground and on what terms." He hoped they'd ask "as moderate as possible," a price for the sale, as it had "little value in itself," and it would serve a "public utility." [5] The Church did not rush to satisfy their civic duty. The Corporation Minutes recorded that in April 1799 they rejected the asking price for the part of their ground that extended into Cherry Street, claiming it unacceptable for the most "valuable part of the lot." Fortunately, an agreement was reached within a few weeks. The church accepted the offer of L950, or $2533 for the ground. Likely the burials in that part of the yard, however, did not all get relocated before Cherry Street was improved, as some bodies were discovered within the street right-of-way in the recent archeological investigations on Block Three. [6]

The church's sale of 18 feet from the original Arch street lot likely widened Cherry Street to its 40-foot width recorded on the 1875 Philadelphia Atlas. It appears that half of the street was taken from the Arch Street lots and the other from the Cresson ground to the north. The Cresson deeds regularly specified the free use and privilege of Cherry Street, as well as the three alleys they created for the lots sold. Evidently until the Second Presbyterian Church released their section of the right of way, however, Cherry Alley remained a narrow and unpaved cross street within the block. [7]

The real estate north of Cherry Street showed an early settlement pattern. Many of the first land deeds for the northern lots went to Quakers who in some cases retained their lot titles for generations. Stephen Phipps, likely Isaac Phipps' relative, purchased a lot on Sixth Street from the Cresson brothers in 1772. In his will Stephen Phipps instructed the family to sell another lot in the city to pay off the mortgage on the house in Sixth Street, an investment he left to his eldest daughter, Mary Phipps. [8]

Caleb and Joshua Cresson owned a large block of property that measured over 396 feet between Fifth and Sixth Streets, and 280 feet from Cherry to Sassafras Street. They took pains to see that it developed in an orderly and, for them, lucrative fashion. They set aside in their initial deeds of the 1760s a 20-foot right-of-way called Cressons Alley that ran between Fifth and Sixth Streets mid-way in their lot, creating two equal 130-foot deep pieces of ground. They also created two ten-foot alleys running north-south (in the 1795 directory called Star and Hoffmans Alleys), which divided the property further into convenient 80-foot-deep lots on Fifth and Sixth Streets, and opened up desirable deep lots along Cherry Alley and Sassafras Street. This symmetrical grid of public alleyways facilitated the rapid development of the northern end of the block. With this plan, lot purchasers could subdivide their properties so that all new owners faced out onto an interior public cartway that made their homes and businesses accessible. [9]

Clarkson and Biddle's map of 1762 shows only Cherry Street, indicating that the Cresson brothers' plan to lay out alleys had not yet actually taken form. The map shows one house on the north side of Cherry, logically the 2-story house Joshua Cresson insured, alluded to above, and another on the south side of Cherry, closer to Sixth Street, which no other record turned up during research to explain. The only other construction on the block stood on the Fifth and Arch Street lot east of the Presbyterian burial ground. Insurance policies cover several of these Fifth and Arch Street houses, but none were dated before 1761, when Scull was surveying the block. [10]

Arch Street Lots

By mid-century a certain pattern of construction had been established in the city. Attached brick row houses of two or three stories lined the streets east of Third Street near the heart of the city's lucrative maritime commerce. West of Third Street development was more scattered. An advertisement to sell property at Fifth and Arch Streets in 1756 appears to pre-date any sales on Block Three, but described what was to be built thereafter on the intersection's northwest corner. Thomas Lacey's estate consisted of a two-story house with a good kitchen and cellar under it, on a 15 by 50-foot lot on Arch Street. On its west side an alley running into Fifth Street bordered land of Thomas Bartholomew. Five years later Thomas Bartholomew invested in several lots on the west side of Fifth Street and developed the corner lots with a three-foot alley running into Fifth Street. The close similarity between construction patterns at the two corners illustrates the repetitive architecture style in the city that at times foreign visitors found tedious. [11]

Thomas Bartholomew invested in real estate on Block Three with family connections. He bought property from his brother Austin's partner, Richard Hall, who was also Austin's brother-in-law. [12] In March 1760, Richard Hall and Austin Bartholomew, a Philadelphia merchant, advertised two houses for sale in the neighborhood, one next to the Sign of the King Hendrick in Arch, and the other in Block Three, on the west side of Fifth Street, opposite the Dutch Church. [13] In September 1760 Thomas Bartholomew advertised for sale three new two-story brick houses on the west side of Fifth Street opposite the Dutch Church and a three-story brick house on Arch between Fifth and the Second Presbyterian Burial Ground. These houses likely were constructed by Richard Hall, house carpenter, on speculation. Hall purchased the entire corner lot --50 feet on Arch and 293 feet on Fifth Street-- in two parcels on December 4, 1761. [14] Hall sold four lots within this parcel to Thomas Bartholomew the day after his purchase. These two men, clearly familiar with one another and with the property, continued to promote the real estate development for this easternmost Arch Street lot. [15]

Richard Hall purchased the corner lot from the heirs of Richard Hill, a prominent Quaker gentleman. Hill had left his estate in 1729 to his wife, Mary, and to his three brothers, four sisters, and several nephews and nieces. In 1751 Hill's estate finally was partitioned. Samuel Preston Moore and his wife Hannah inherited the northern end of the lot with 156 _ feet on Fifth Street The other heirs -- several merchant families in Philadelphia, two others couples in London and two on the island of Madeira-- received the Arch Street end with 136 _ feet on Fifth Street. All parties agreed to sell to Richard Hall in March 1759, when the overseas owners gave legal responsibility to Dr. Samuel Preston Moore and wife, Hannah, to carry out the transaction in their behalf. In the time between the agreement of sale and the actual deed transfer, Hall evidently proceeded to develop some of the real estate. [16]

Thomas Bartholomew purchased this Block Three real estate from profits made from his diverse background. In 1753 he ran a tavern, the sign of the White Horse in Elbow Lane east of Third Street. There he helped secure runaway servants and slaves and also sold slaves. In 1758, during the French and Indian War, he announced that Brigadier General Forbes had appointed him Superintendent of the Horses under his command and Bartholomew advertised for drivers. By February 1760 he had moved west to the upper end of Arch Street, near the sign of King Hendrick, where he sold imported Madeira, teneriffe, wine, all sorts of shops goods, and young Negro boys and girls as house servants. In March 1761 he offered for sale "A Parcel of likely young Negroes and a large quantity of Carolina Soal Leather, in Hides or Half Hides; also some Rice and Indigo" imported from Charleston, South Carolina. He continued to submit similar advertisements through the year. [17]

By August 1762 Bartholomew had moved to a residence on Arch Street in Block Three. There he advertised that his "Mulattoe Man Slave named Joe, alias Joseph Boudron" had run away. Boudron, Bartholomew noted, was born in Guadeloupe and had lived in New York and South Carolina before coming to Philadelphia. He was a good cook and could speak English, French, Spanish and Portuguese. Bartholomew concluded that Boudron was "much used to the seas where he is thought to have gone." [18]

All Bartholomew's efforts to capitalize from the slave and import trade and his investment in real estate appear to have fallen short of his mark. In 1764 he once again became a tavern keeper when he took over the old establishment of Musgrove Evans, the Sign of King Hendrick, on the southwest corner of Fifth and Arch Streets. He encouraged back his old customers with assurances that the inn had "plenty of good stables." He intended as well to keep horses for gentlemen "at the lowest rates and best manner." The following year he tried to rent or sell the 20 acres and saw mill in Chester County, which he co-owned with his son, Benjamin Bartholomew, and John Cloyd. The boards from the mill he had been marketing in the city. All the while he continued to offer new houses on Fifth, Arch and Cherry Streets for sale, but evidently none of these efforts kept Bartholomew solvent. After his death in 1766, all his lots and properties on Block Three were purchased at a sheriff's sale by Robert Morris, later to be famous as a principal financier of the Revolution. [19]

Thomas Bartholomew's property can be further described from lot sales in 1766, by his insurance on certain houses, and by a recital of his lot ownership before and after his death. Bartholomew owned lots on both sides of Fifth Street, typical of other new owners on the block between Fifth and Sixth Streets. A survey of tax records during the late 18th century shows that several persons migrated west to be first settlers on Block Three. Bartholomew, however, invested as a real estate speculator. He owned a lot on Arch near the corner that measured 16'8 by 65 feet. Adjoining on the north he acquired a large lot that extended 112 feet north along Fifth Street and in depth the full 50 feet to the Presbyterian burial ground. Further north he purchased a 28 by 50-foot lot on Fifth and a 33-foot lot on Cherry with a depth of 60 feet along Fifth Street. Less than a year later, in October 1762, he purchased from Richard Hall another lot on Cherry, 16'8 by 60 feet deep that ran along the burial ground's east property line, thus consolidating under his ownership the Cherry Street end of the original Arch Street lot. Richard Hall provided that a 3 _-foot alley running 30 feet into Fifth Street behind the Arch Street lot remain open for "the common use and benefit" of the two owners. [20]

In April 1762, Bartholomew insured a 3-story house at the northwest corner of Arch and Fifth. David Kinsey, Bartholomew's in-law and estate executor, occupied the house. In October 1763 Bartholomew insured his own dwelling "on the north side of Mulberry Street, it being the third above fifth street." The surveyor described the 3-story house as "quite new," 17 by 30 feet, with a kitchen and piazza 23 by 13 feet, two stories high. That survey also insured a 6-year old tavern on the east side of Fifth Street. Two months later he took out another policy on a two-story house about two years old, on the west side of Fifth Street opposite the Lutheran Church. Perhaps when Bartholomew took over as tavern keeper at the Sign of the King Hendrick in 1764, he chose to move across the street as resident and lease his dwelling to a tenant. The record is vague about such specifics, but quite clear as to the amount of real estate he owned on Block Three at his death. [21]

In October 1766 Bartholomew's widow Catherine and the other executors put his properties up for sale. The estate sale advertised a total of eight lots, each with structures. Two lots stood on the west side of Sixth Street, two on Arch, two on Fifth and two on Cherry. Oddly, the sale listed a 3-story brick kitchen and piazza on a lot measuring 16 feet 8 by 65 feet on Arch Street near Fifth Street, and on the adjoining lot, another 3-story brick kitchen with a wash house and the privilege of a 3-foot alley into Fifth Street. These two kitchens as described had no house, but must have been the same properties Bartholemew insured in 1762-63. The advertisement also listed:

No. 5: A two-story house and kitchen, on Fifth Street, near Cherry Street, the lot 14 feet by 50-feet

No. 6, A lot, 14 feet on Fifth street, by 50 feet back, on which are erected two tenements, 14 by 16 feet, with the privilege of an 8 feet alley into Fifth Street.

No. 7 A lot, 14 feet on Cherry street. by 39 feet back to the 8 feet alley, on which are erected two tenements, 14 feet by 11 and a half feet each, with the privilege of the 8 feet alley, and an alley of 4 and an half feet wide into Cherry Street.

No. 8 A lot 15 feet on Cherry street by 89 feet back, on which is erected a ramed building, divided into three tenements, two stories high, also the privilege of said alleys. The houses are well finished, and cellars under the whole. [22]

Bartholomew's heirs apparently faced debt, for the Pennsylvania Gazette in February announced a sheriff's sale. This advertisement described the two adjoining properties on Arch Street as three-story brick houses. The February sale also made better sense of the Cherry Street property. It specified that five small frame tenements stood on two lots along the 50 feet of Cherry Street east of the burial ground. This clarified the fact that all the construction in this section of Cherry Street was wooden. For the two tenements on Fifth Street, the sale offered the added information that each stood 14 feet wide on 50-foot-deep lots, with an 8-foot alley along the northern property line. [23]

As earlier noted, Robert Morris bought up these five lots on Arch, Fifth and Cherry Streets in March 1767. He held them for nearly ten years, while tenants came and went, most of them unknown. During that decade David Kinsey died. In 1770 his three-story brick house, kitchen and its 16'8 by 60 foot lot on the corner of Fifth and Arch Streets, next door to the "house and lot late of Thomas Bartholomew, deceased" went up for sheriff's sale. Evidently his family suffered financial hardships, too. [24]

Other land developers began to advertise property along Fifth Street early in the decade. Andrew Edge by 1767 owned four houses on Fifth Street near the corner of Arch. In 1763 he offered for sale a good two-story brick house, 17 by 18 feet, and a kitchen, 12 by 15 feet, "pleasantly situated on Fifth Street, near the Lutheran Church." The house came with "a handsome chamber" and a good cellar. It currently was under lease to Daniel Evans for 24 pounds per year. [25] In 1765 Edge offered for sale "a compleat small House, two stories high, genteely finished, with a two Story Kitchen and Cellar under all, a Pump of extraordinary Water by the Door, pleasantly situate on the West side of Fifth street, near Arch street, now in the tenure of Mr. Jonathan Phillips, at Twenty four Pounds per year." In 1766 he again advertised this property, adding that it was located two doors from Arch and had the use of a 3-foot alley. Times appear to have been hard, for he dropped the rent down to 20 pounds annually. [26]

By the spring of 1767 Edge, living "three doors from Arch Street" on Fifth Street, clearly wanted to rid himself of his city property and he put it up for public sale. He offered to exchange his four houses for a good farm within 15 or 20 miles of the city. In August the property was advertised as a public sale. The property descriptions made clear that the houses were built in pairs, one set two-story and the other 3-story, all of them located near the corner of Arch Street. Edge informed the public that the houses were "all new, well built, and neatly finished inside and out." [27]

Further research on Andrew Edge not surprisingly uncovered his familial connections in these real estate transactions. His father's will indicates that Richard Hall (see above) was his uncle, and it is likely that Edge purchased his lots along Fifth Street from him. In 1765 Edge advertised one of the houses on Fifth Street for sale and referred questions to Thomas Bartholomew. In that same advertisement and another that year, he referred to Richard Hall as innkeeper at "a Commodious public house" that Edge owned near Newtown. These developers advanced their interests through ongoing ties with family, friends and associates. In the case of Bartholomew and Edge, however, the financial risks appear to have outweighed the profit margin. [28]

At least two other houses were erected on Fifth Street south of Cherry during the decade. In June 1763, Plananigh (Hananiah) Pugh advertised the sale of "a GOOD two Story Brick House" on Fifth opposite the Dutch Lutheran Church. The house spanned 14 feet front on a 14 by 50-foot lot. Pugh lived next door, in the 3-story house bordered by a 2'9" alley that he insured that year. Pugh's dwelling also was where he apparently ran a paint business, for the surveyor noted "a painthouse in front." [29]

Lazarus Pine likely responded to Hananiah Pugh's advertisement in June 1763, for he insured a two-story house with a paint house in front situated on the west side of Fifth Street "opposite the Dutch Lutheren Church" in October. The surveyor estimated the house to be about five years old, or built quite early for this block, around 1758. Lazarus had a son, Lazarus Pine, Jr., who opened a school in January 1767 in the house. Pine and several other teachers in the city opened night schools at pre-set rates per pupil the following fall. Merchants and tradesmen may have sponsored this citywide endeavor to educate their young apprentices or servants in math and writing after normal work hours so as to render them of better service in their business. Late the next year Pine moved his school one block south, to Fifth Street a few doors above Market Street (on Block Two), perhaps suggesting his need to be closer to the population center. After the Revolution he briefly reopened the school, this time on Fourth Street two doors above Market Street, once again closer to the middle of town. [30]

While the Fifth Street lots filled up rapidly during the 1760's, the rest of the Arch street lots on this block had scarce development, although an effort was made. In August 1769 John Knowles and Bryan (Brian) Wilkinson announced a public sale of nine lots on the east side of Sixth Street between Arch and Cherry Streets, seven of which measured 17 feet on Sixth by 74 feet in depth and two lots at 19 by 79 feet. The advertisers were brothers-in-law. John Knowles married Mary Wilkinson, sister of Brian Wilkinson, eldest son and heir of Anthony Wilkinson. [31] Wilkinson and Knowles acquired this 157-foot expanse of Sixth Street real estate through inheritance, as Brian's grandfather, Gabriel Wilkinson, received a patent for the Great Lot, measuring 99 by 306 feet at Arch and Sixth Streets, from William Penn in 1715/l16. Later city surveys listed Bryan Wilkinson as the owner of the entire Sixth and Arch Street lot. [32]

These nine lots created along Sixth Street represent over half the full distance from Arch to Cherry, but there is only one known reference to their exact location. City surveys tell us that Bryan Wilkinson and John Knowles did sell a piece of real estate on Sixth Street to Ludwick Karacher in March 1771. Karacher purchased a lot 80 feet on Sixth by 74 feet along the south side of Cherry. Late in 1775 he insured two new two-story houses with kitchens on Sixth Street near Cherry. Each house stood 16 by 30 feet, and the kitchens 12'5 by 13 feet. [33]

Cresson Family Lots

S. Emlen owned all the land on this block north of the Arch Street lots according to the Parsons survey of c.1745. [34] When the real estate began to sell in the 1760s, Caleb and his brother Joshua Cresson owned this section. Presumably Caleb and Joshua, sons of James Cresson, chairmaker, and his wife, Sarah Emlen, received title to the real estate by inheritance. Both the Emlen and Cresson families shared a strong religious affiliation with the Friends Society and their good works, which evidently continued through to the children of Caleb and Joshua Cresson. [35]

Caleb Cresson began advertising to develop this large piece of real estate as early as 1764, and in not much more than a decade most of the property had been deeded to new owners. Initially Caleb advertised the land for rent, rather than sale. He offered lots on that "Half Square of Ground, nearly opposite the Dutch Lutheran Church," bounded by Sixth, Sassafras, Fifth and Cherry streets. He announced that a 20-foot alley would be opened through the ground east to west and assured prospective tenants that he would offer lots "of such Width as may best suit those that take it up." At that time he lived on Front Street, near Chestnut, a very prestigious neighborhood, and well positioned to carry out his business as a merchant. The rent, it appears, was intended as ground rent, for advertisements in 1766 and 1773 specified land to let, on ground rent forever. [36]

By 1766 Joshua Cresson, a carpenter, began to be included in the land sales. Likely due to the income from the real estate, Joshua soon after began advertising himself as a merchant on Front Street. [37] In 1770 he and Benedict Dorsey joined forces as partners in a store on Third Street where they sold imports from the French West Indies. By 1772 he was married (Mary), and had opened a new store selling imported sugars, tea, coffee, spices, etc., at the upper end of Second Street. He also had purchased the brigantine Charleston Packet that tied his trade with Charleston, South Carolina, and had moved his family to a fashionable address on Market Street between Front and Second Streets. Certainly his rapid rise in social status was tied to his co-ownership in the real estate on Block Three, and in the ground rents arising from lots sold. [38]

Only a sampling of the many deeds listed in the grantor index under Caleb Cresson were consulted in this research. [39] The earliest deed noted, dated February 19, 1766, went from Caleb and Joshua Cresson to Ebenezer Robinson, a brush maker. He purchased a large corner lot on Fifth Street, 20 feet by 80 feet on the north side of Cherry Street. Robinson must have bought it as a prospective resident, for in May 1768 he insured his dwelling, a one-story structure with a broken pitch roof that stood 18'6 by 44 feet at the corner of Fifth and Cherry Alley. Robinson may have found financial success, for he (or perhaps another of the same name?) while living on Second Street near Race Street in 1774 advertised "a new pump" suitable for "middling sized vessels." This address closer to town and the seaport broadened his chances of selling within the brisk maritime market. By 1790, however, Robinson again lived on Fifth Street running a business as a brush maker. [40]

Up Cherry Street, due west of Robinson, Joshua Cresson insured a two-story house in 1767, where he already had a tenant, John Lawrence. At some point thereafter John Lawrence, porter, purchased this house and lot which extended from Cherry to Cressons Alley and measured 16'6 on those alleys. [41]

Robert Evans, a carpenter, also bought a large 32-foot lot on Fifth Street, at the south corner of Cresson's Alley early in 1767. The lot depth ran the full 80 feet west to the 10-foot alley. Caleb and Sarah Cresson of Haddonfield in Gloucester County, Province of West New Jersey, and Joshua Cresson of Philadelphia granted the sale. [42] Evans in 1760 owned real estate across the street on Fifth Street, a stable in Apple Tree Alley near the church. He likely retained this investment after his purchase on Block Three to assure an additional source of income in case his trade as a carpenter met hard times. Robert Evans remained at Fifth and Cressons Alley for decades to come and densely developed his piece of property. [43]

Another large corner property at Fifth and Race Streets was sold early to Jacob Williams, whose estate was advertised at sheriff's sale in May 1766. The property contained 36 feet on Fifth and the customary 80 feet depth back to the 10-foot alley. Evidently Jacob Kaisor, a taylor, purchased the lot to settle there or to develop, for he purchased an adjoining lot from the Cressons and built a house. In March 1769 Willing and Tod [sic], the assignees of his estate, advertised the property for sale, this time having 56 feet on Fifth Street with a 2-story brick house. [44]

In 1770 Henry Nail (Neal), a shoemaker, purchased a 20 by 80-foot Fifth Street lot near Kaisor's, where he resided for many years. The lot adjoining to the south already had been sold to Adam Eckhart, and to the north had been promised to Frederick Grasler. Together these lots nearly ran the full 130 feet on Fifth between Race and Cresson's Alley, as laid out originally by Caleb and Joshua Cresson. [45]

In the summer and fall of 1772 the Cresson brothers enjoyed a real estate boom, selling numerous lots along Sixth Street and at least one on Sassafras. Five or more Sixth Street lots were sold between Cherry and Cresson's Alley that year. On September 1, Stephen Hossmer, a house carpenter, bought the corner lot at Sixth and Cherry Streets measuring 22 by 61 feet. [46] A month earlier Christlieb Bartling, another house carpenter, had arranged to buy the adjoining 22-foot lot on Sixth Street and a smaller one, 14 by 41 feet east of Hossmer's, at the corner of Cherry and the 10 foot alley (later Starr). [47] To Bartling's north, Martin Waltz owned a lot referenced in the deed for the adjoining property to the north, an 18 by 80-foot lot issued to Nicholas Rash, a Philadelphia brewer, on August 1, 1772. Stephen Phipps, a local taylor, purchased the same day a Sixth Street lot of the same size next to the north, at the corner of Cresson's Alley. [48]

Bartling, like the several house carpenters listed in the first sales, no doubt bought to develop his Sixth Street property. He lived there for a few years, but then leased out the houses that he probably had built. Nicholas Rash, on the other hand, never lived on his property, according to tax records. He built a house on the lot, which he insured in 1774. The surveyor described the two-story dwelling as a new tenement. By 1779 Robert Venable, identified as an African American, had taken up residence in the house. Possibly Rash gave Venable his freedom during the Revolution and provided him with a home. Venable remained through the century and by 1813 owned the property. He later listed himself as a white washer in city directories and won local recognition as a founding member of St. Thomas African Episcopal Church. [49]

Frederick Walter, a bricklayer, purchased a 20 by 80-foot lot at the north corner of Sixth and Cressons Alley on June 1, 1772, and the same day John Gartley, a schoolmaster, took up a similarly-sized lot closer to the Sassafras corner. Gartley's deed indicated that Leonard Kessler had already purchased the 20 by 80-foot lot on the corner of Sassafras. On Sassafras Street, Zachariah Lesh, a house carpenter, bought a 20 by 130-foot lot from Race to Cresson's Alley, on June 1, 1772, the same day as Frederick Walter's purchase. The lot to Lesh's east had already been purchased by Jacob Groce (Gross). Lesh and Gross still lived on their property in 1780, when the former continued to work as a carpenter and the latter identified himself as a laborer. Considering their long residence in one location, it is a surprise to find no early insurance policy for either property. [50]

The Cressons also sold lots on Fifth Street in the early 1770s. Two carpenters, Jesse Rowe (Roe) and John Harrison, each purchased a lot side by side between Ebenezer Robinson's property at Cherry and Robert Evans' at Cresson Alley. On March 1, 1774 they both insured their own new two-story house that measured 15 by 19'6. The provincial tax that year indicated that the two men lived on the block, near each other on Fifth Street, but Harrison for some unexplained reason was not assessed for property. Harrison may have taken his profit and moved on to new, lucrative investments, for he advertises as board merchant at Vine and Water Streets after the Revolution. Jesse Rowe evidently did not live to enjoy any profit on his investment. After his death the property went up for sheriff's sale in May 1775. The estate included the two-story brick messuage or tenement on Fifth bounded by John Harrison's property. Perhaps the family failed to sell, however, as Thomas Roe lived there in 1790-91. [51]

Other long-term residents on the block appear in a deed of January 1, 1774 for a lot on Sassafras. Caleb and Annabella Cresson sold John Hinchman, carter, a 20-foot lot about 40 feet west of the 10-foot alley. Tobias King's lot bordered it to the east and Jacob Sulgar's to the west. [52] These three owners retained a presence on their lots for a decade or more. The 1779 tax identifies Hinchman again as a carter. Tobias King is also named a carter, while Sulgar (spelled Sulcher) is listed as a baker. These men evidently did not have the means or inclination to insure their properties. Sulgar, however, is taxed for a dwelling of considerable more value than his neighbors', suggesting that food was a more reliable source of income than services tied to economic trends. His financial stability eventually led him to insure the property twenty years after he purchased the lot. Sulgar actually took out two insurance policies in 1793 to cover two plainly-finished two-story houses with back buildings. One policy included a bake house "built agreeable to law," in other words designed to prevent fires. Like many other property holders on the block, Sulgar built a rental property for additional income. The presence of the other house adjoining his own may explain Sulgar's high tax assessment in 1779. [53]

Caleb and his wife sold another Sassafras lot on the same day as Hinchman's to a joiner, Isaac Barnet. Barnet's 18-foot lot bordered the western 10-foot alley and on its east had a lot still in Joshua Cresson's possession. Barnet appears on the 1779 tax record with a very modest dwelling valued at 900 (compared to Sulgar's 2400). Evidently Barnet built a simple house, what he could afford, but did not remain on the block past 1779. Considering his trade as a joiner, Barnet may have gained sufficient trade to move east, closer to the center of commerce. The will of merchant Isaac Cox names Isaac Barnet (spelled Barnett) as a nephew, which suggests that he may have come from a moneyed background. He apparently left no will. [54]

While transacting all these land sales, Caleb Cresson decided to develop his own real estate. He built five adjoining tenements along the south side of Cresson Alley, at the corner of the eastern 10-foot alley, and took out insurance on them in September 1774. The row of rentals presented very modest, plain housing. Together they ran 58 feet along the alley, providing only 11 feet 6 inches in width for each two-story house and 14'4 in depth. These tenements remained in Caleb's ownership throughout the century and helped this researcher to find the south side of Cresson's alley in the tax records. Caleb Cresson a decade later chose to build four three-story houses on Cherry Street, one for himself, and three adjoining to the west. Cresson may have set the pattern that developed among lot owners in this section between Cherry and Cresson Alleys: the more prominent homes stood on Cherry, while low-income rentals or tenements lined the south side of Cresson Alley. [55]

Insurance policies indicate that other buyers in the Cresson section built new housing. Arnold Mitchenor and William Hancock purchased adjoining lots on the east side of Sixth Street north of Cresson's Alley in January 1774. Mitchenor at the close of the same year insured a new, plain two-story house on his lot and the following March John Bell took out a policy for a two-story back building on his lot on Sassafras Street. Neither of these men appeared in the tax records, suggesting they were both investing in city real estate for rental income or a favorable resale. [56] On at least one occasion a new owner, Uriah Former (?) insured a modest two-story house on the west side of the 10-foot alley leading into Sassafras or Race Street. If this reference applies to the eastern 10-foot alley, Former's subdividing of the Sassafras Street lot proved to be an early example of the multiple housing uses within the original lots that typified the real estate transactions during the closing decades of the century. [57]


The pre-Revolutionary sales on Block Three helped to change the dynamic of the city. A writer for the Pennsylvania Gazette [58] noted in 1775 that Race Street "is now become almost as much frequented as any in town," and some of that traffic must have been bringing supplies to the new residents on Block Three. The sales also reveal a general pattern at the inception of the real estate development. The earliest houses lined Fifth Street, the closest vantage point to downtown. Many of the original lot purchasers were in the building trades, carpenters, bricklayers, joiners. These men purchased lots to build plain, two-story brick row houses. Three-story houses were scarce. Only three stood at the corner of Arch Street and Fifth Streets. The vast majority of new construction reflected speculative and modest investments. Immigrants were pouring into the city at mid-century and looking for affordable housing on the outskirts of town. Reflecting the trend north of Arch Street, many of the purchasers, especially in the Cresson section, were German by descent. Developers like Richard Hall, Thomas Bartholomew and Andrew Edge, and large-scale real estate speculators such as Robert Morris, Bryan Wilkinson on the Arch Street lots, and the Cresson brothers in "Cresson's Square," found the market a fast-moving and potentially promising place to be. [59] Insurance surveys document that the individuals who chose to build and also live on the block often put a few more embellishments into their new dwellings. Fortunately, the large landowners/builders also created alleys and rights of way for their investments to accommodate the tenants or themselves. These alleys remained intact until the demolition of the block for Independence Mall in the 1960s.

<<< Previous <<< Contents >>> Next >>>

Last Updated: 05-May-2004