Market Dreams

Essouira, Morocco Photo: Nathaniel Popkin

I have spent almost a decade and a half sneaking around and pilfering photographs from food (and dry goods) markets around the world. Belleville (Paris), Fes medina, Estepona, Istanbul, Palermo, Mexico City, Tunis medina, Torino, Münster, Montreal, Saquisili (in Ecuador, perhaps the greatest of all), Athens, Quito, Guanajuato, Masaya, Granada, Barcelona, Rome, Essaouira…the Italian Market, the Reading Terminal. Some indoors in grand Victorian bazaars, some on streets and boulevards, some that take over entire towns and city districts, some that are themselves miniature labyrinthine cities invented centuries ago.

Each one of them a place of wonder, a place of danger, a place of warmth, voices, earth, blood, aggression, melancholy, rot. Philadelphia once had (a terrible phrase we overuse around here) probably dozens of curb and farm and flower markets, not just in Center City, but everywhere. Even as early as 1938, Cornelius Weygandt, who began his writing career with the Philadelphia Record and the Philadelphia Evening Telegraph, wrote, “Of the old market sheds down the middle of broad streets in Philadelphia only that on South Second Street survives…I can remember market sheds on North Second Street, torn down only a few years ago, and market sheds on Spring Garden Street. We often stopped at stalls of this latter market on our way to the Ninth and Green Streets Station of the Reading Railroad to take train for Germantown.”

Tunis Medina Photo: Nathaniel Popkin

Of course in recent years some of this loss has been reversed by farmer’s markets, which seem to grow in number and size each year, the South Second Street (Headhouse) market perhaps the best of all. The night markets are inspired. Yesterday’s announcement of a Chinese New Year-related flower market at 10th and Vine Streets in Chinatown is yet another sign of a city recalling, as if still waking from a long slumber, what it means to be a place of joy, delight, and inspiration.

I wonder, nevertheless, about the locations and buildings of all the old markets, particularly those in neighborhoods. The rather romantic Weygandt finds prosaic pleasure at the Terminal–what he calls the Twelfth Street Market–and at the Nineteenth Street Market (“From the time I was a boy in college I have eaten, off and on, at the Nineteenth Street Market”). I’d never heard of it, though it must have been somehow connected to the Pennsylvania Railroad. Or was it essentially a meat-packing district? I’d like to know.

Ridge Avenue Farmer's Market Photo: Vincent D. Feldman

I remember a wonderfully Gothic market shed on North Nineteenth Street, the remains of the Ridge Avenue Farmer’s Market, but that was torn down a few years ago. There are slight remains of the Fourth Street and the Seventh Street curb markets in South Philly, a few spindly reminders of Marshall Street. The last buildings of the Dock Street Wholesale market were lost in the 1960s (see more on that in Harry K’s book, Philadelphia’s Lost Waterfront). But there must have been many more.

In Song of the City, I wrote about the Germantown Farmer’s Market, “the old wood floors bloodstained and beaten, the air yellow and unfiltered.” It’s been turned into a day care center. But mustn’t there be other market ghosts somehow still present? I seek your help in finding them. Frankford, North Philly, Fishtown? Oak Lane? Come on!

About the author

Nathaniel Popkin is co-editor of the Hidden City Daily and author of three books of non-fiction, including the forthcoming Philadelphia: Finding the Hidden City (Temple Press) and a novel, Lion and Leopard (The Head and the Hand Press). He is the senior writer of the film documentary "Philadelphia: The Great Experiment."



4 Comments


  1. Callowhill Street is (still) unusually wide as it approaches the Delaware River because several market sheds were located in the middle of and alongside the avenue in the mid-1700s. (Apparently, there was no main building). The arrangment was similar to the stalls once along Market Street.

    Similarly, the town called Callowhill grew up around this shopping district, having been platted by Thomas Penn, one of William Penn’s sons. This was back when the east Callowhill area was Philadelphia’s first suburb. I have a pending story about this place: “A Town No More – Draft”. See also 10 Gallon Hat Trick – Draft…

  2. “A Town No More – Draft” has just been publshed as “Obliterated”.

  3. Rachel Hildebrandt

    There were so many! Check out these cool ones:
    http://www.philadelphiabuildings.org/pab/app/pj_display.cfm/882913
    http://www.philadelphiabuildings.org/pab/app/pj_display.cfm/99973

    There was a cool one at 3rd and Norris too. You can find pictures of it at phillyhistory.org

  4. Also the one that once stood in the middle of 2nd st. in Northern Liberties between Fairmount Ave. and Poplar street.[url]http://digital.library.temple.edu/cdm4/item_viewer.php?CISOROOT=/p15037coll3&CISOPTR=7171&CISOBOX=1&REC=2[/url][url]http://digital.library.temple.edu/cdm4/item_viewer.php?CISOROOT=/p15037coll3&CISOPTR=7152&CISOBOX=1&REC=4[/url][url]http://digital.library.temple.edu/cdm4/item_viewer.php?CISOROOT=/p15037coll3&CISOPTR=7154&CISOBOX=1&REC=4[/url]

Leave a Reply

Comment moderation is enabled, no need to resubmit any comments posted.

Recent Posts
Digging Up Vine Street In Search Of Old Skid Row

Digging Up Vine Street In Search Of Old Skid Row

April 26, 2017  |  Vantage

Public health scholar Steve Metraux exhumes the heart of Philadelphia's Skid Row, buried under the Vine Street Expressway by the hands of urban renewal. > more

Khmer Monastery In Kingsessing Enlightens The Schuylkill

Khmer Monastery In Kingsessing Enlightens The Schuylkill

April 24, 2017  |  Vantage

Dan Papa celebrates the Cambodian New Year with a look at the Wat Khmer Palelai Buddhist temple under construction in Southwest Philly > more

How Franklin’s Grave Became A Monument And Philadelphians Were Persuaded To Like It

How Franklin’s Grave Became A Monument And Philadelphians Were Persuaded To Like It

April 19, 2017  |  Vantage

Nearly 70 years after Benjamin Franklin’s death, public outcry demanding honor for the Founding Father transformed a battered, overgrown gravesite into a popular tourist destination. But the real story isn't at all what we've been told. Join Mark Dixon as he uncovers truth and public deception behind the hole in the wall at Benjamin Franklin's grave > more

A Powerhouse Of Footwork And Fitness On Delaware Ave

A Powerhouse Of Footwork And Fitness On Delaware Ave

April 18, 2017  |  The Shadow Knows

On the outskirts of Fishtown, a dance club and rock climbing gym keep spirits high inside an old 19th century trolley car power station > more

Engineering & Architecture Ride The Rails At Athenaeum

Engineering & Architecture Ride The Rails At Athenaeum

April 15, 2017  |  Vantage

An exhibition at the Athenaeum of Philadelphia illuminates the history of railroad architecture through drawings, photographs, and more. Michael Bixler has the review > more

Ghost Station At Art Museum Rises From The Dead

Ghost Station At Art Museum Rises From The Dead

April 13, 2017  |  Harry K's Encyclopedia

Harry K. walks us through the origins of the mothballed "Art Museum Station," now being renovated at the PMA, and one man's visionary plan for mass transit in Philly that never came to be > more