Memorials Of Brick

 

Human memory is short. Walk through a cemetery and read the markers. How many of the names are familiar to you? Under their massive marble tombs even the once famous tend to fade from public memory over the decades. In death we become memories, and those memories are fleeting, sustained only by our impact on our world, until, in most cases, the only thing left to show we ever existed is a carved piece of stone baring our name.

As with people, so too the firms they create.

Businesses have a finite life span, and as those who worked in them die off and the products they produced wear out and are replaced, they too fade from memory into obscurity. But for some, their memory is also kept alive by a monument, not of marble, but of brick and cement. Across the city skyline they can still be seen, soot stained cylinders of another age.

In Philadelphia, smokestacks were once the most prominent feature of the skyline, competing only with church spires for dominance of the horizon. They towered above every mill, factory, and plant, rising hundreds of feet into a smog choked sky. This made them the ideal place for a business to proclaim themselves, and company names could be read from blocks away.

The industrial age was dependent on steam to power machinery, and steam needed furnaces to boil the water. In most cases these furnaces were fueled with coal, and the smokestack was the chimney from which the coal smoke emerged. Hundreds of furnaces burning tons of coal produced enough noxious smoke to choke a town, so tall stacks were needed to help keep the smoke and the soot high above the population.

However, their original purpose was to help pull more oxygen into the furnace. Having less dense–hot–air in the stack would mean the pressure on the outside was greater. The difference in pressure would cause outside air to be drawn in to the smokestack which meant more air was being pulled into the furnace to which it was attached.

Most of the great factories of Philly’s industrial past are gone now. Of those still standing, almost none are still used for their original purpose. Some have been converted to residential or office space and some are storage and warehouse facilities. Many sit empty and are losing a war with time, the market, and scrappers. The companies who built them moved away or no longer exist. The only reminder of their past, a name emblazoned in soot covered brick.

Photos: Ethan Wallace

About the author

Ethan Wallace attended Temple University, where he received a BA in Communications. He has always been interested in the forgotten, unknown, or unseen parts of the city and has spent the last several years photographing Philly’s hidden and vanishing locations. He is also involved with the National Museum of Industrial History in Bethlehem, Pa. More of Ethan's photography can be seen HERE

Send a message!



2 Comments


  1. great pictures…the Sterling paper co. on Castor ave below Frankford ave has a great chimney and clock tower too

Recent Posts
Bid Process Reveals Uncertain Future For Delaware Power Station

Bid Process Reveals Uncertain Future For Delaware Power Station

October 30, 2014  |  Developing Challenges, News

Bids for purchase and redevelopment of the Delaware Power Station are due Monday at 5PM. What will they tell us about the monumental building's future? Ryan Briggs talks to some experts and considers the future of this part of the Delaware waterfront > more

The Case For Logan Square

The Case For Logan Square

October 30, 2014  |  Morning Blend

Why the current thinking about the Parkway’s transformation needs to be more ambitious, development anxiety in Powelton Village, Brickstone’s latest acquistions in Midtown, and Councilwoman gets her district office > more

Saying Goodbye To Stokes House

Saying Goodbye To Stokes House

October 29, 2014  |  News

The end is near for the Stokes house of Holme Circle. Despite efforts by a local civic association to save the 19th century stone farmhouse at 2976 Welsh Road, it will be razed any day now for new residential development. Hidden City co-editor Michael Bixler took a trip out to Holmesburg to bid the building a fond farewell > more

Getting A Pedestrian-Driven Main Street Right In Center City

Getting A Pedestrian-Driven Main Street Right In Center City

October 29, 2014  |  Morning Blend

Chestnut Walk as a new kind of Center City street, the multiplying effects of pop-up gardens, Penn to break ground on South Bank, and angry parents unleash on Walter Palmer > more

City For Families? Millennial Parents Say So

City For Families? Millennial Parents Say So

October 28, 2014  |  Vantage

If schools are a key to retaining families, what is Philadelphia to do? Quite a lot, says David Feldman, who takes us inside the parent and community-led movement to invest in ten public elementary schools > more

Philadelphia To Have Bus Shelters Replaced, Expanded

Philadelphia To Have Bus Shelters Replaced, Expanded

October 28, 2014  |  Morning Blend

Titan inks $52 million advertising deal with City, officials irked at Council’s unwillingness to sell PGW, a look back at Devil’s Pocket, and the resolve of one North Philly church to resist Temple U's encroachment > more