Restauranteur Jose Garces will reopen the long shuttered Old Original Bookbinder’s at Second and Walnut Streets as a special events venue and corporate kitchen, Philly.com reported on October 17. Besides being a tourist trap and supporting its own regular crowd of Philadelphians, Bookbinder’s Restaurant (“Bookie’s”) was a mecca for Hollywood glitterati during its zenith in the 1950s, 60s, and 70s. The place attracted personalities who seemed to always visit Bookie’s whenever they were in town, among them Howard Cosell, Muhammad Ali, Elizabeth Taylor, David Bowie, Gregory Peck, Julius Erving, John Wayne and Frank Sinatra.
As did presidents of the United States. One day in 1972, the presidential helicopter landed in a parking lot across Walnut Street. (The food warehouses that had been there for ages had just been brought down, and the Sheraton Society Hill Hotel was not yet built.) President Richard Nixon and Mayor Frank Rizzo had lunch at Bookie’s that day.
But long before any of these celebrities visited this spot, and, indeed, long before Bookbinder’s even existed, that bit of Philadelphia had gained the distinction of hosting one of two Native American camping grounds apparently set aside within the city (the other is HERE). Philadelphia may have been the only city in the United States where land was set aside for Indians whenever they visited the city. This “reservation”–open to any Native group who happened to find themselves in the city–occupied a spot immediately behind Bookbinder’s, along Hancock Street and adjacent to the southeastern edge of the present Welcome Park.
The campsite was granted to a group of Native Americans in 1755 by John Penn (1729-1795), grandson of William Penn. John’s uncle, Thomas Penn (1702-1775), had sent his nephew to the province of Pennsylvania in 1752 as a political apprentice to Governor James Hamilton. The young Penn served on the Provincial Council, associated with important Penn family appointees, and dealt with local Indian tribes before returning to England late in 1755.
Legend sometimes misidentifies William Penn as the grantor of the property, likely because the founder of Philadelphia resided in an English style mansion known as the Slate Roof House adjacent to the Indian parcel. Penn governed the province from this house. In 1982, the firm Venturi, Rauch & Scott Brown installed a miniature replica of the house inside Welcome Park, which they designed, on the site of the Slate Roof House.
Despite his prominent position, John Penn did not live in the Slate Roof House in 1755, as it was too expensive for him to maintain. He reportedly lived in a small house adjacent to it, near the corner of Second and Walnut Streets, across from the City Tavern. Its address would eventually become 145 South Second Street.
John Penn supposedly deeded a strip of ground in the rear of this modest house to a delegation of the Six Nations of Indians–also called the Iroquois–for their exclusive use and perpetual ownership. He did this in appreciation of their friendliness and support for the British crown during the French and Indian War.
To cement the grant and their mutual friendship, John Penn ceremoniously gave the Native American representatives wampum (made of shell beads woven into a collar). The lead Indian envoy who received the wampum was a Mohawk chief named King Hendrick Theyanoguin (1692-1755). Also called Chief Hendrick and Hendrick Peters, he was an important leader in the Mohawk Valley of colonial New York. It is unknown if Hendrick gave John Penn anything in return as a token exchange.
The event happened sometime between January 7th and January 23rd, 1755, while King Hendrick and a group of twelve Algonquin sachems (chiefs) were visiting Philadelphia. Only a few months after meeting with John Penn, Hendrick was killed while on a mission to stop the southern advance of the French army at the Battle of Lake George. He died on September 8, 1755.
It is unclear who owned the 145 South Second property at the time that John Penn inhabited the house at that address. Did Penn have the legal right to deed part of the backyard to any person or group? Probably not. Perhaps he thought he was establishing an easement on the ground, rather than a land grant to be held in fee simple. Such an easement would surely be unenforceable. Or maybe Penn knew that he would soon be returning to England and simply did not worry about the legality of the wampum transaction.
The plot of land that Penn set aside is variously reported as “twelve by sixteen” or “fifteen by forty-seven” feet. The site never had a formal name, but it was referred to as the “wampum lot” in late-19th century, according to The American Architect and Building News, vol. 36 (May 28, 1892) (reproducing a New York Evening Post story), “The Philadelphia Chamber Of Commerce Overcomes A WamPum-belt Titlepage:”
In Philadelphia under the shadow of the Chamber of Commerce is a lot of land fifteen by forty-seven feet that would seem to belong rightfully to one of the Six Nations. It appears that in the period of the French and Indian War, when John Penn, the grandson of William, was acting as Proprietary Governor, he lived in a little house at the corner of Second and Walnut Streets, leasing the Governor’s slate-roof house, the state of which he was too poor to keep up, to John Claypole, a wealthy merchant. On the occasion of a reception Governor Penn granted to a delegation of the Six Nations, otherwise known as the Iroquois, he made a wampum-belt deed of a small lot of land on the State-house lawn to the Indians, so that they might erect a lodge on the spot in which to make treaties with the whites and smoke the calumet with their great men.
The Slate Roof House was torn down in 1867 and the Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce built the Commercial Exchange Building on the site. It was rebuilt in 1870 after a fire and the Chamber occupied the multi-story French Empire building for some 30 years. Chamber of Commerce officials knew about the Indian reserve adjacent to their property, as they had initially tried to purchase the Wampum Lot so as to expand their building tract south towards Walnut Street. In this, they were unsuccessful. The following continues from The American Architect and Building News:
The late Charles Knecht, who negotiated for the purchase of the land on which the Chamber of Commerce now stands, discovered that the title to a part of the ground which he wanted was vested in the Oneidas, who in evidence of it exhibited the famous wampum-belt deed. Nothing could induce them to surrender it, and the lot on which the Chamber was built did not embrace the little section claimed by the Oneidas. To-day tenements and the rear windows of the Chamber look upon the wampum lot in which a huckster’s cart or a stray cur may often be seen. An alley leads up to the little court, and this alley, owned by the Chamber, has been kept closed to the public for more than twenty years. Having thus asserted a prescriptive right to the land, the Chamber now claims it. Whether the title could be confirmed is a question which only the Indian claim makes at all doubtful.
According to Iroquois tradition, the wampum belt received by King Hendrick was the only record and legal document of John Penn’s land grant. It was said that this belt joined the other venerated wampum belts passed from one generation of the Six Nations to the next. In 1898, the Iroquois placed the collection of about twenty belts in the custody of the State of New York after the last “wampum keeper” chief died, but not likely the John Penn wampum. The belts, wound up at the State Library in Albany. They survived a fire at the Capitol building on March 29, 1911. The exact fate of the Penn-Hendrick belt is unknown.
The Six Nation tribes long remembered what happened on the lot in early 1755. They knew about the property and its provenance, as well as their unfettered right to it. Furthermore, Granville Penn (1761-1844), son of Thomas Penn, apparently visited this plot of ground in the 1830s and was aware of its significance. Yet there is no indication that the Wampum Lot was ever used as a camping place by any Indian group or individual.
In 1901, the Commercial Exchange Building was sold to the Keystone Telephone Company and became the Keystone Telephone Building. The open courtyard encompassing the Wampum Lot was on the south side of the building and was surrounded by a protective railing in the early 20th century. (Bell Telephone Company eventually came to own the Keystone Telephone Building before selling it in 1944. The structure was torn down in 1977-1978 and Welcome Park was laid out on the site a few years later.)
Hancock Street, which still remains (directly behind the east wall of Welcome Park), would have bounded the Wampum Lot on the east. (The alleyway had been previously called Petroleum Street and Zachary’s Court.) A lone building remaining on that street overlooked the Indian tract for decades. This structure, at 149 South Hancock Street, was built between 1824 and 1834 by Michael Bouvier, a cabinetmaker and great-great grandfather of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis. Now surrounded by parking lots the Bouvier building has been renovated into a residence.
Five Indian chiefs from New York visited Philadelphia in November of 1922 for a ceremony presided by William Penn-Gaskell Hall (1873-1927), a direct descendant of William Penn II, the only surviving son of William Penn by his first marriage. Hall “rededicated” the Wampum Lot courtyard as an Indian campsite in the presence of Philadelphia and Pennsylvania officials.
Following this, all walked to Second and Walnut Streets, where the Indians, on the ground granted to their forefathers by John Penn in 1755, went through the ceremony of smoking the pipe of peace, and Reverend Red Fox, of the Blackfoot tribe, petitioned the Great Spirit in earnest words of prayer. Contemporary accounts of the event say that Chief Shenandoah of the Oneidas, Chief Mountpleasant of the Tuscaroras (both of the six nations), Chief Strong Wolf of the Ojibways, and Chief Red Fox of the Blackfeet were in attendance. With them came Gladys Tantaquidgeon of the Mohegans (a student at the University of Pennsylvania) and Mrs. White Cloud of the Mohawks.
“Chief Shenandoah told of the wampum belt for the tract of land on Second Street, alleging that it is still in the possession of the Oneida tribe, and how the proof of the existence of the tract has been handed down from generation to generation. The party then went to the Indian Reservation in Second Street, where a wigwam had been erected. The pipe of peace was smoked under the leadership of Red Fox; and William Penn-Gaskell Hall, seventh in descent from William Penn, responded to the speech of Mountpleasant,” said the contemporary account.
“Chief Red Fox of the tribe of Black Feet recited an original poem, and an address was made by a Boy Scout who was of the seventh generation from William Penn, and who stood upon the self-same spot on which John Penn is believed to have stood when he deeded the land to the Six Nations,” said another account.
The Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce had closed the alley that led from Second Street to the enclosed court in the 1870s. This dead-end alley came to be called Moravian Street and would later provide access to the dumpsters behind Old Original Bookbinder’s Restaurant. It was used this way for decades and the Wampum Lot itself was probably used for dumpster storage. (I recall this narrow alley as being particularly grimy, and still fenced off from Second Street.)
The story of the Wampum Lot disappeared from local consciousness after the 1920s. The last substantial reference that I found about it was an exhaustive report on both of Philadelphia’s purported Indian campsites published in 1940.
Moravian Street itself disappeared around 2005 when Old Original Bookbinder’s Restaurant was renovated as part of a new, seven story condominium development, The Moravian. Bookbinder’s went bankrupt and closed for good in 2009.
The western part of the Moravian building occupies the former location of Moravian Street, and its eastern portion–housing a driveway entrance and access to building systems–sits squarely atop the Wampum Lot site. It is also possible that Welcome Park occupies part of the Wampum Lot tract.
RESOURCES–containing every trace of published writing about the Wampum Lot I have found:
- The American Architect and Building News, vol. 36 (May 28, 1892), page 140.
- L.R. Hamersly, ed., The United Service (October 1895), pages 377-378.
- Amelia Mott Gummere, The Quaker in the Forum (1910), pages 130-13.
- Bulletin of the Friends Historical Association, vol. 12, no. 1 (Spring 1923), pages 24-26.
- Francis Burke Brandt & Henry Volkmar Gummere, Byways and Boulevards In and About Historic Philadelphia (Philadelphia, PA: Corn Exchange National Bank, 1925), pages 38, 74-75.
- Imogen B. Oakley, Six Historic Homesteads (1935), pages 157-158.
- Federal Writers’ Project & Pennsylvania Historical Commission, Philadelphia: A Guide to the Nation’s Birthplace (Philadelphia, PA: William Penn Assn. of Philadelphia, 1937), page 19.
- Henry Paul Busch, comp. & ed., Records and Activities; Charter, By-Laws, Officers, Members, Minutes; Indian Camp Grounds; Hall of Fame; Pennsbury (Philadelphia, PA: The Welcome Society of Pennsylvania, 1940), containing “Tradition and Fact of the Indian Camp Grounds,” by Michael P. McGeehan, pages 165-184.
- Maxwell Struthers Burt, Philadelphia, Holy Experiment (Garden City, NY: Doubleday, Doran & Co., Inc., 1945), page 49.
- USHistory.org, “Welcome Park”
About the author
Harry Kyriakodis, author of Philadelphia's Lost Waterfront (2011), Northern Liberties: The Story of a Philadelphia River Ward (2012), and The Benjamin Franklin Parkway (2014), regularly gives walking tours and presentations on unique yet unappreciated parts of the city. A founding/certified member of the Association of Philadelphia Tour Guides, he is a graduate of La Salle University and Temple University School of Law, and was once an officer in the U.S. Army Field Artillery. He has collected what is likely the largest private collection of books about the City of Brotherly Love: over 2700 titles new and old.
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