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-founder of the Hidden City Daily and author of three books of non-fiction, including Philadelphia: Finding the Hidden City (with Peter Woodall and Joseph E.B. Elliott) and two novels, Everything is Borrowed and Lion and Leopard. He is co-editor of Who Will Speak for America, an anthology forthcoming in June 2018, and 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
Infill Philadelphia Brings Communities Together By Design

Infill Philadelphia Brings Communities Together By Design

August 17, 2018  |  News

Sacred Places/Civic Spaces helps three houses of worship plan for the future by opening their doors to the neighborhood. Starr Herr-Cardillo has the story > more

Our History Compels Us: We Stand United For A Free Press

Our History Compels Us: We Stand United For A Free Press

August 16, 2018  |  Soapbox

We join with hundreds of news organizations in defense of the free press, under dangerous attack by the President of the United States > more

For The Birds: An Ode To Philly's Old Goose Signs

For The Birds: An Ode To Philly’s Old Goose Signs

August 13, 2018  |  Harry K's Encyclopedia

Harry K. reminisces about the Bicentennial-era bridge signs that still point the way to the Delaware River > more

Legal Fund Fights Developers That Game The System

Legal Fund Fights Developers That Game The System

August 9, 2018  |  Vantage

The price of preservation is high when building owners undermine the authority of the Historical Commission through legal loopholes. Dana Rice unpacks the issue with this report > more

North Broad's

North Broad’s “Lion Of Zion” Finds Strength In Design

August 8, 2018  |  News

Zion Baptist Church opens its doors to a sustainable future and a North Philly revival. Rachel Hildebrandt has the story > more

Diorama Restoration At The Academy of Natural Sciences Confronts Loss & Conquest

Diorama Restoration At The Academy of Natural Sciences Confronts Loss & Conquest

August 6, 2018  |  News

Conservators on the Parkway give 80-year-old specimens a good scrubbing, while examining science's shady past with new interpretation. Mabel Rosenheck has the story > more