In Philadelphia’s 331 years, countless historic structures have been senselessly demolished; William Penn’s Slate Roof House and Frank Furness’ Provident Life building come to mind. So many of Furness’ structures, for that matter. However, in lieu of the wrecking ball, a strange many have just been moved—brick by brick, or the whole thing put onto a flatbed and dragged somewhere else.
For the most part, that these structures still stand is a testament to the determination of the people who sought to preserve them. Perhaps there are more that could be added to this list; please comment below. These stories are often inspirational, especially in light of all the endangered buildings in Philadelphia today. Such structures could also be saved by dismantling and relocating them—but only where there is a will.
What follows is a chronological rundown of Philadelphia’s whole buildings which have been relocated, both within and outside of the city.
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Letitia Street House: Located on West Girard Avenue just west of 34th Street, the Letitia Street House is perhaps the oldest rowhouse (though no longer in a row) in Philadelphia. It was originally sited along Letitia Street, a small north-south street in Old City (within the 100 block of Market Street) that still endures.
For the longest time, historians and city officials believed that this little house had been bought by or was built at the request of William Penn for his use when he arrived in Philadelphia. Penn supposedly gave it to his daughter, Letitia, at her marriage. Given this alleged history, early preservationists in 1883 succeeded in getting the cottage—which was used as a part of a hotel for some eighty years—purchased by the city when the owner sought to demolish it. Using funds raised by private subscription in one of the first major attempts at historic preservation in Philadelphia, the house was dismantled and rebuilt on the west bank of the Schuylkill River in West Fairmount Park, just north of the Philadelphia Zoo. There, the building operated as a museum until it was revealed that the place had little to do with the Penn family.
It is true that William Penn had reserved all of the first city block of Market Street for his personal use and then gave the land to his daughter, who later sold it off piecemeal. But the house was actually constructed about 1715 by a carpenter named John Smart for a Quaker tradesman named Thomas Chalkley. In 1965, after the city recognized this historical error, the Letitia Street House quietly ceased admitting tourists at the Fairmount Park setting.
The cottage has been practically forgotten in recent years, hidden by trees on a hill near the busy ramps to and from the Schuylkill Expressway off Girard Avenue. But as Nathaniel Popkin reported for Hidden City earlier this year, the Letitia Street House is being restored by the city’s department of Parks and Recreation. The project includes the installation of a geothermal heating and cooling system and clearing of the surrounding landscape to create a clearer viewshed to Girard Avenue and the Philadelphia Zoo.
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Cannon Ball House: This structure survived bombardment during the Revolutionary War, but was demolished in 1996 after the city allowed it to deteriorate. The humble farmhouse was used as a staging area by British forces when they laid siege to Fort Mifflin (then known as Fort Mud) in November 1777. During the siege, two American cannonballs whizzed through the front of the house and exited the opposite side, wounding three British soldiers inside. Marks where the balls hit the walls were still visible over 200 years later.
One of the oldest houses in Philadelphia, it survived so long because it was out of the way in the southernmost part of the city, where it ended up surrounded by the Southwest Sewage Treatment plant. When the plant needed space to expand in 1975, the house was relocated a mile closer to Fort Mifflin. The Cannon Ball House was moved with great ceremony at a cost of $168,000 paid for by the EPA. But it was then left to rot.
The 1996 wrecking was done without the formal approval of the city and state agencies responsible for historic buildings. (Due to its fairly recent ignominious ending, the house is included in this list. Other structures that have been moved but which no longer exist are not.)
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Cedar Grove: Originally located in the Frankford section of Philadelphia, this native gray stone house was moved and reassembled stone-by-stone at its present location on Lansdowne Avenue in Fairmount Park in 1926-28. Built by wealthy widow Elizabeth Coates Paschall in 1748-50, Cedar Grove became the summer residence for five generations of her family, and her descendants made several additions, extensions, and innovations.
The house features an unusual two-sided wall of closets and many of the original family furnishings. Lydia Thompson Morris donated Cedar Grove and the family furnishings to the City of Philadelphia in 1926. Administered by the Philadelphia Museum of Art, it depicts life as it might have been in the early 1800s. Cedar Grove is currently closed for restoration of its exterior façade.The place will re-opened to the public for December holiday tours and then will close for the winter and reopen in April.
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Whitby Hall: James Coultas, a merchant, ferry operator, farmer, mill owner, vestryman, soldier, philanthropist, judge, and High Sheriff of Philadelphia (from 1755 to 1758), built this house in 1754 or perhaps earlier. Taking its name from the village in which Coultas was born in Yorkshire, England, the mansion was located in West Philadelphia, on the banks of the Ameasaka (a.k.a. Thomas’ Run, a stream that joined Cobb’s Creek) at what is now 1601 South 58th Street. An addition to it was made around 1811. Nearby Whitby Avenue is a reminder that the house was an early local landmark. For one hundred years, this was noted as one of the finest examples of colonial architecture in America, and it was one of several colonial buildings still standing in West Philadelphia at the turn of the 20th century. To preserve it from the advancing city, the structure was taken apart stone-by-stone around 1923 and re-erected as a private residence in the Merion Golf neighborhood, at Haverford, Pennsylvania.
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Log cabin at Stenton: This large log cabin, now used as a residence, is on the grounds of Stenton, the house museum at 4610 North 18th Street administered by The National Society of the Colonial Dames of America in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. (Stenton was the colonial mansion of James Logan, William Penn’s secretary and agent.) The log cabin was originally built as a dwelling for a Quaker family perhaps as early as 1755-56 in what was to eventually become the southwest corner of 16th and Race Streets in downtown Philadelphia. In 1817, the Society of Friends purchased the city block from 16th to 17th Streets and Race to Cherry Streets for use as a Quaker burial ground. The 2-story cabin was part of the transaction. Friends Select School was later founded (1886) on the site of the cemetery—the graves having been removed—and the log cabin remained. It lasted as part of the campus for over eighty years, but when Friends Select undertook an expansion in the late-1960s, the cabin was moved to the Stenton Park on January 26, 1969. See also “Grant’s Cabin” below and here for my story about Philadelphia’s other log cabins.
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Hatfield House: Now located at 33rd Street and Girard Avenue, this house started out between 1750 and 1770 in Nicetown for the Naglee family. It was remodeled around 1800 and again in the 1830s, when a Greek revival style portico with five Ionic columns was added to enhance the façade. The house was purchased by its namesake, Dr. Nathan L. Hatfield, in 1854 and served as a residence and a boarding school for girls, still owned by the Hatfield family. In 1930, the structure was moved from Hunting Park and Pulaski Avenue, near Wayne Junction, to its present location in East Fairmount Park. Dr. Hatfield’s son, Major Henry Reed Hatfield, presented it as a gift to the city. Hatfield House combines two architectural rarities in Philadelphia: frame (rather than brick or stone) construction and use of the Greek Revival style.
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Free Quaker Meeting House: Constructed in 1783 at the southwest corner of Fifth and Arch Streets, this was the first Free Quaker Meeting House in the world. Just before the building was restored in the mid-1960s, it was moved about twenty feet west to its present location so as to enable the widening of Fifth Street for the creation of Independence Mall.
The Free Quakers—sometimes called the Fighting Quakers—split from the pacifist main body to support the American Revolution. They were inspired to assist in the conflict, even though they knew they would be “read out” (expelled) from the main community of Quakers. The group of approximately 200 worshipped separately for only a few years until participation waned. Betsy Ross was one of the two last congregants here. At the time when she and John Price Wetherill locked the meeting house’s doors in 1834, Ross was 82 years old.
The building was successively used as a school, an apprentice library, and then a plumbing warehouse. After its move and renovation, it was used as headquarters for the Junior League of Philadelphia. The structure is now a historical interpretive center. Its original basement vaults may still be under the intersection at 5th and Arch Streets.
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Joseph Sims House: Now located at 234-36 South Eighth Street, this fine 3-story structure is the last survivor of Franklin Row, a group of ten row houses built in 1809-1810 on the west side of South 9th Street between Locust and Walnut Streets.
Franklin Row was designed by architect Robert Mills as a speculative venture of Captain John Meany and John Savage. This particular house was originally 228 Franklin Row (228 S. 9th Street). It was purchased by merchant Joseph Sims, a member of Philadelphia’s early-19th century elite society, who appears to have rented out the place for many years.
After use as a residence, a bookshop, and a commercial laboratory (Booth, Garrett & Blair from 1935 to 1966), the Sims house was abandoned and became endangered; all other Franklin Row houses had been demolished by then. To save it, the house was moved to the southwest corner of 8th and Locust Streets in 1978. (I remember seeing it myself being moved to its current location; the building was resting on a trailer with many many wheels, very close to its new 8th Street location.) A parking garage for Jefferson University stands on the house’s original site.
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George School Meetinghouse (Twelfth Street Meetinghouse): The George School is a private Quaker boarding and day high school near Newtown, Pennsylvania.
Built in 1812 and incorporating materials dating back as early as 1755, the campus meetinghouse was originally the Twelfth Street Meetinghouse in Philadelphia, once located at 20 South 12th Street, by Market Street. Students and faculty of the adjacent William Penn Charter School had used the Twelfth Street Meetinghouse from 1875 to 1925. When the Twelfth Street Meeting combined with the Race Street Meeting in 1956 to form Central Philadelphia Monthly Meeting, the building became redundant.
The land was sold in 1969 and the building was saved by it being dismantled and rebuilt in its present location in 1972-1974. The structure’s pieces traveled down I-95 on a trailer with a police escort. The Loews Hotel’s parking garage occupies the site now.
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Saint Clement’s Church: This historic Anglo-Catholic parish is located at 20th and Cherry Streets. Designed by architect John Notman, construction began in 1856 and was completed three years later.
The city in 1929 undertook a project to widen North 20th Street by some forty feet as part of the Benjamin Franklin Parkway project. Facing the prospect of having to demolish the church, the vestry decided to move it forty feet to the west. They first purchased two additional properties to the rear of the church. Then the 5,500 ton structure was raised onto steel beams, shifted forty feet to the west, and placed on a new foundation. The church thrives today.
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Grant’s Cabin: A log cabin served as General Ulysses S. Grant’s wartime headquarters while he was at City Point, Virginia, during the closing days of the Civil War. It was from this site that Grant planned and organized the Siege of Petersburg, which ultimately helped bring about the end of the Civil War in Virginia. And it was here also that President Lincoln, Grant, and key military leaders met to discuss how to reunify the country once the war was over.
In 1865, Grant agreed to present his cabin as a gift to the citizens of Philadelphia in recognition of their loyal support during the war. The log structure stood as a major tourist attraction in the Lemon Hill section of Fairmount Park for many years. But through the decades, interest in the Civil War waned and the cabin faced neglect. (If it remained in Philadelphia, what an attraction it would be today!) In 1983, the Fairmount Park Commission gave the cabin to the National Park Service, which reconstructed it on its original site at Appomattox Manor (the site of the cabin). It is now an integral part of the historical attractions at City Point.
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U.S. Centennial Exposition buildings: Several non-permanent buildings used during the 1876 Centennial Exposition were dismantled and then reassembled elsewhere, often outside Philadelphia.
- The most significant structure from the Centennial still standing (in its original place) in Philadelphia is Memorial Hall. Completely renovated in recent years, it now serves as the home of the Please Touch Museum.
- The Ohio House, at the intersection of Belmont Avenue and Montgomery Drive, is another Centennial Exposition building still standing. It now serves as a café (Centennial Cafe).
- The Catalog Building, at which visitors picked up official Exposition catalogues, was dismantled after the fair ended. In 1885, it was reassembled in Wayne, Pennsylvania, and then moved to Strafford, Pennsylvania, two years later to serve as a railroad station for the Pennsylvania Railroad. Still standing, an electrical fire severely damaged the building’s interior and west side in 1998. SEPTA rolled the station from its platform to the adjacent parking lot, where renovations took place.
- On December 1, 1876, most of the Exhibition buildings were auctioned. Some buildings made their way to New Jersey towns along the Atlantic Ocean.
- The fair’s largest observation tower, located in East Fairmount Park, found a home in Coney Island, New York, as did several other structures.
- Horticultural Hall survived as a conservatory until Hurricane Hazel hit in 1954. It was demolished in 1955. A new Horticultural Center was built in 1973. Two small adjoining brick public toilet facilities are the only reminders of the ornate Horticultural Hall. These now have an adaptive reuse as the “Shofuso Sakura Pavilion.”
- The Main Exhibition Building was sold for $250,000. It reopened in May 1877 and continued as an attraction for two years. The operation encountered financial troubles and closed in 1879. The building was demolished in 1881.
- Machinery Hall was used to store some of the smaller buildings dismantled after the Exhibition. It remained to at least 1879. Today a small lake occupies the area.
- Agricultural Hall was salvaged for its lumber, some of which was used to build homes, a railroad station, and a 900-foot-long bridge over Wreck Pond Inlet in Spring Lake, New Jersey.
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U.S. Sesqui-Centennial Exposition buildings: At least one building used during the 1926 Sesqui-Centennial was dismantled and then reassembled elsewhere.
- Sulgrave Manor Replica: The home at 20 West Willow Grove Avenue in Philadelphia’s Chestnut Hill is a faithful replica of Sulgrave Manor, George Washington’s ancestral home in England. It was built by Louis Duhring as an exhibit for the Sesqui-Centennial Exposition in 1926, following which the house was moved to Chestnut Hill. Apparently, Washington never heard of or knew about the real Sulgrave Manor during his lifetime.
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The Japanese House (Shofuso): Located in West Fairmount Park is the only authentic 17th-century house designed in the shoin style standing in the United States. The shoin-zukuri (desk-centered) house was designed by distinguished architect Junzo Yoshimura and was originally constructed in 1953 in Nagoya. After being exhibited at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City in the mid-1950s, the Shofuso (pine breeze villa) was presented to the United States as a gift from the people of Japan. It was reassembled on the same spot as the Japanese pavilion of the 1876 Centennial Exhibition and opened to the public in 1958. The building sits amid a formal two-acre garden designed by landscaper Tansai Sano.
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Liberty Bell Pavilion: Just after midnight on January 1, 1976, to mark the opening of the U.S. Bicentennial Year, the Liberty Bell was moved to a small glass and steel pavilion in front of Independence Hall for easier viewing by the larger number of visitors expected during the year. On October 9, 2003, the park service moved the bell to the new Liberty Bell Center along 6th Street between Market and Chestnut Streets.
Efforts to find a local taker for the Bicentennial-era pavilion failed, and the Liberty Bell Pavilion was disassembled in 2006. Parts of it—pine flooring, 40 tons of granite, and thousands of bricks—were shipped to Alaska, where they wait in storage to become part of the long-planned Remembrance Park in downtown Anchorage.