History

Ghost Signs of Philadelphia: Steinmetz Marble Works in Callowhill

July 12, 2022 | by Jordan Keiffer

An old advertisement for A. Steinmetz Marble Works can be seen on Ridge Avenue. | Photo: Jordan Keiffer

In the mid-to-late 19th century there were several businesses in Northern Liberties and Callowhill that imported, cut, and sold stone for monuments, gravestones, mantles, and furniture. Large marble yards and manufacturers occupied land near Ridge Avenue. Remnants of these businesses can still be found today. A ghost sign for one of the yards, the A. Steinmetz & Co. Marble Works at 1029 Ridge Avenue, can be partially seen from the street below. A modern brick facade and two windows hide most of the building’s history, but a ghost sign on the north-facing wall reveal some clues about the former occupant. The words “STONES, MONUMENTS AND HEADSTONES” are visible when standing on Ridge Avenue.

Adam Steinmetz was born in Philadelphia in 1813. He married Margaret Welbank Steinmetz and the couple had eight children. Their home was at 642 N. 15th Street. The German surname Steinmetz translates in English to “stone mason” or “stone maker,” suggesting a family lineage of stonework. Steinmetz preferred the title “marble mason.” According to a business receipt, Steinmetz may have originally been a doctor, although his educational background is unknown. A city directory from 1839 lists Adam Steinmetz as a marble mason in the Callowhill neighborhood. A notice published in the Public Ledger dated December 27, 1839 announces that a co-partnership between Steinmetz and Rudolph H. Bartle, operating under the firm Bartle and Steinmetz Marble Masons, was dissolved by mutual consent. Steinmetz appears to have taken the business in his own direction after this split.

Left: a Philadelphia atlas from 1858-1860 showing a marble yard at 1029 Ridge Avenue. Right: a Philadelphia atlas from 1875 Philadelphia showing the A. Steinmetz Marble Works at the same location. | Images courtesy of Greater Philadelphia GeoHistory Network

The Smithsonian Institution has a marble gravestone marker in its collection that was made by Steinmetz circa 1864. The back cover of a business directory from 1869 shows a Steinmetz advertisement with 1029 Ridge Avenue as its business location. A marble yard at 1029 Ridge Avenue appears in the Hexamer & Locher atlas, Maps of the City of Philadelphia, 1858-1860, and the A. Steinmetz Marble Works appears in Atlas of Philadelphia, 1875 published by G. M. Hopkins.

The company made various stone monuments, gravestones, marble mantles, tiling for floors and vestibules, cabinets, and plumbing slabs. It offered Italian and colored marble and different types of granite. The Pennsylvania Land and Marble Company sold five different types of marble in the mid-19th century and often listed Steinmetz as a marble mason that could attest to the fine quality of the stone from the company’s quarries. Steinmetz also served on a committee of builders under the subcommittee Ornamental Marble Work and Monuments for the Great Central Fair of 1864, a sanitary fair that took place in Logan Circle.

Steinmetz Marble Works advertisements from The Wilmington Daily Commercial dated July 1, 1875 and The Times (Philadelphia) dated May 18, 1877. | Images: Newspapers.com

The A. Steinmetz Marble Works’ three-story, L-shaped factory on Ridge Avenue between Noble and Hamilton Streets surrounded a large outdoor marble yard where the company’s offerings were on display to the general public. An advertisement from 1884 shows a drawing of the factory and yard as well as all of the advertising signs that were painted on the exterior walls of the structure. Today, three buildings occupy the former marble yard. The building at what is now 1016-18 Hamilton Street is seen on the left of the advertisements and would have been the northern portion of the factory. Some of the signs on the west facing wall of this building might still be visible, but not from street level and are likely covered by adjacent structures. The signs that once spanned the length of the top of the building no longer exist. 

One sign states that Steinmetz was a steam marble works, indicating that steam-powered saws were used to cut stone inside the factory. This was a difficult, time consuming, and costly process in the late 19th century. In fact, a letter from Steinmetz regarding a recent purchase by Henry Douglas of Hagerstown, Maryland encouraged him to abandon the idea of ordering a granite monument that needed to be cut on three sides. As Steinmetz wrote, “To get them cut in this country or even in Scotland, the expense would be enormous, much more than their value would show in appearance.”

Steinmetz advertisement showing the factory, marble yard, and now ghost signs at 1029 Ridge Avenue. | From American Architect and Architecture, Volume 15, 1884

An advertisement shows pedestrians and horse-drawn carriages on Ridge Avenue, painting the picture of a busy business corridor. Rows of gravestones are seen in the yard, occupying much of the space closest to the sidewalk, and suggests that these were the business’ bestsellers. The assortment of monuments offered, from simple headstones to large crosses and obelisks, show that Steinmetz catered to many income levels. Some of Philadelphia’s most well-known cemeteries, such as Laurel Hill, the Woodlands, and Mount Vernon, were at the height of their popularity during Steinmetz’s years in business. These cemeteries were founded on large former estates that were well outside of the growing city. They were established to combat issues of overcrowding and sanitation in small churchyards and neighborhood burial grounds. The cemeteries were designed around picturesque locations along the Schuylkill River as both sanctuaries for the living and peaceful places to bury the dead. Philadelphians would, and still do, take leisurely trips to view the elaborate gravestones, statues, and mausoleums, many of which were created at marble works like Steinmetz’s.

Another sign features large stones that would have been used for monuments and furniture. Monument pedestals were a top seller for Steinmetz, as well as slabs of marble for tabletops. As one of the company’s advertisements states, “Constantly on Hand, A Large Assortment of Marble Mantles, Monuments and Gravestones.” It also claimed to do “house work of all descriptions furnished at the shortest notice and at prices lower than any other establishment in the city.”

Remnants of a horizontal ghost sign on the northwest corner of 1029 Ridge Avenue. | Photo: Jordan Keiffer

A notable order for the company was the original granite pedestal for artist Edward Stauch’s bronze sculpture, Night. The statue depicts descending nightfall as a shrouded woman. A receipt for the purchase of the pedestal from Steinmetz dated October 5, 1872 was in the amount of $254.20. The statue was gifted that same year to the Fairmount Park Art Association and was originally placed on the 5-foot-tall Steinmetz granite base at George’s Hill in Fairmount Park. In 1980, the statue was relocated to the grounds of the Fairmount Park Horticulture Center, albeit without the granite pedestal, where it can still be viewed today.

Another notable purchase was around 1877 for a granite monument base for the Statue of Hope, located at the Washington Confederate Cemetery in Hagerstown, Maryland. The statue was commissioned approximately 12 years after the Civil War for Confederate soldiers that died at the battles of Antietam and South Mountain. The states of Maryland, West Virginia, and Virginia provided funds for the monument and the burial of the Confederate dead in the cemetery. Undoubtedly, Steinmetz provided many gravestones and monument bases for casualties of both sides of the Civil War.

A receipt dated October 5, 1872 issued by A. Steinmetz Steam Marble Works for a granite pedestal for Edward Stauch’s sculpture Night. | Image courtesy of the Historical Society of Pennsylvania

Steinmetz died in August 1878. He and many of his family members are buried in Laurel Hill Cemetery. His wife Margaret, who died in 1891, and their children Howard, Emma, and Charles, kept the business going with help from A.J. Merceron, a bookkeeper, and Daniel Kornbaugh, a foreman. Margaret appears to have been involved in a few legal battles over deeds for her late husband’s many properties, including the factory at 1029 Ridge Avenue. It is unclear when the company went out of business, although it does not seem to have survived past the turn of the 20th century. An advertisement from 1903 shows the Merritt & Co. occupying the factory at 1029 Ridge Avenue and selling metal lockers. From at least 1914 to 1920 the L.A. Prouty Company, Inc., manufacturers of soda fountains, had their main office and factory here. More recently, the building appears to be used as private residences.

Advertisements for the Merritt & Co. and the L.A. Prouty Company, Inc., which were later occupants of the Steinmetz factory at 1029 Ridge Avenue. | From Social Service, Volumes 7-10, 1903 and National Association of Retail Druggists Note, Volume 18 Issue 18, 1914

The ghost signs of the A. Steinmetz & Co. Marble Works help to remind Philadelphians of what life was like in the mid-to-late 1800s. The city pivoted its burial practices to larger, scenic cemeteries filled with elaborate, artful grave markers. Large monuments and statues were the most popular public art forms at the time. Outdoor unveilings, especially during the early years of the founding of Fairmount Park and after the Civil War, were some of the most well-attended events in the city. Steinmetz and other marble masons thrived in this environment.



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About the Author

Jordan Keiffer has been documenting Philadelphia’s ghost signs on the Instagram page Philly Ghost Signs since 2019. His goal is to connect people to the forgotten stories of these faded signs through historic narratives and supplemental images. His work was featured in a special exhibition on ghost signs at the Neon Museum of Philadelphia. A native of Montgomery County, Pennsylvania, Keiffer is a proud Temple University alum and enjoys long runs through the city.

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