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
Reviving The Potential Of Broad & Washington

Reviving The Potential Of Broad & Washington

August 28, 2015  |  Morning Blend

Another development set for Broad & Washington, Old Navy flagship coming to Chestnut, Wawa to open early for Pope, Philly traffic numbers looking good, and some help on deciding which Fringe Fest events to attend > more

Courtyard Compass Reveals A City Off Axis

Courtyard Compass Reveals A City Off Axis

August 28, 2015  |  Walk the Walk

If you've ever feel like the city is just a tad off we have validating news for you. Philadelphia was built a few degrees left from its true north axis point. Contributor Joe Brin talks cartography and William Penn's city plan with Frank Morelli, Survey Bureau manager of the Streets Department > more

Fall Lighting Expected For North Broad Light Masts

Fall Lighting Expected For North Broad Light Masts

August 27, 2015  |  Morning Blend

Nutter and Clarke discuss the $8.7 million lighting of North Broad Street, committee okays further discussion on 2nd & Arch proposal, Francis Festival Grounds a more welcoming phrasing than Green Zone, and The Fillmore gets ready for October unveil > more

Global Media’s Tour Of Philly To Draw Connections With Pope, Church

Global Media’s Tour Of Philly To Draw Connections With Pope, Church

August 26, 2015  |  Morning Blend

Preeminent tour guide preparing for global media, the Commerce Department coming through with kiosks on 52nd Street, lackluster infill by Clark Park, and life after the Fringe Fest > more

Before The Pope, The Days Of The Revivalists

Before The Pope, The Days Of The Revivalists

August 26, 2015  |  Harry K's Encyclopedia

Imagine if the papal visit and World Meeting of Families lasted four whole months. Harry K takes us inside the Union Tabernacle revival tent, where Protestant ministers and true believers spiritualized the city from several neighborhood locations in the mid-1800s > more

First Annual Belmont Plateau Hall of Fame Classic To Be Run This Sunday

First Annual Belmont Plateau Hall of Fame Classic To Be Run This Sunday

August 25, 2015  |  Morning Blend

5K will support maintenance of recently restored Belmont Plateau trails, 90% of Indego stations "healthy," Ralph Brooks Park officially open on Monday, and a neighborhood plan for Walnut Hill > more