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



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
In Parkside, Habitat For Humanity Takes On New Challenge: Preservation

In Parkside, Habitat For Humanity Takes On New Challenge: Preservation

July 30, 2014  |  News

Neighbors and volunteers confront challenges as they attempt to restore their Philadelphia historic register houses. Some preservationists argue that this kind of project, in a low income neighborhood, requires a new approach. Michael Buozis files this report from West Philadelphia > more

Over $200 Million In Improvements Coming To The Gallery

Over $200 Million In Improvements Coming To The Gallery

July 30, 2014  |  Morning Blend

Two companies announce their joint venture to revitalize the Market Street mall, two youth-athletic leagues also set to collaborate on new space, preventing inappropriate mixed-use in Bustleton, and crime down in UCity > more

Fairmount Park Guard Houses: A Survivor's Guide

Fairmount Park Guard Houses: A Survivor’s Guide

July 29, 2014  |  Harry K's Encyclopedia

The Fairmount Park Historic Preservation Trust is busy restoring the few of these uniquely Philadelphia buildings that remain. Harry K tells us why they're important and where to find them > more

Design Advocate Says New Zoning Classification Needs Revision

Design Advocate Says New Zoning Classification Needs Revision

July 29, 2014  |  Morning Blend

Ruben on the dangers of IRMX, US House votes to rename 30th Street Station, a look at the Linc’s $125 makeover, and the street melodies of yore > more

Lost & Found (And Lost Again)

Lost & Found (And Lost Again)

July 28, 2014  |  Vantage

Keep a close eye on construction sites and you sometimes see a hidden layer of history come to light. Peter Woodall has been saving up good examples for a while now and brings us this collection > more

NoLibs Zoning Chair Discusses How Best To Ensure Density

NoLibs Zoning Chair Discusses How Best To Ensure Density

July 28, 2014  |  Morning Blend

Larry Freedman on the necessity of “sincere and informed” discussions with developers, Ken Weinstein offers to facilitate inclusion of Germantown Ave trestle in regional trail network, St. Joseph’s to get state historical marker, and readying for the Civic Design Review of the Morman Church’s apartment complex proposal > more