Workshop of the World

stories of industry in & around Philadelphia

Sugar Refinery, 1792
225 Church Street, Philadelphia PA 19106

Helene Schenck & Michael Parrington, Workshop of the World (Oliver Evans Press, 1990).

The Sugar Refinery was built in 1792 by Joshua Cresson and John Bartholomew on undeveloped land near Christ Church, in a neighborhood that developed in importance as a commercial and residential sector prior to the Revolutionary War. The "Sugar House," as it was known, grew over the years from its original five stories to eight stories, and the sugar storage house was expanded into a steampowered refinery. Famous Philadelphians held an interest in the property over the course of the 19th century; architect John Dorsey owned the building between 1793 and 1803; Clement Biddle, Jr. owned a half interest until 1839. An advertisement during this period describes the Sugar House as a "capacious building...5 stories high...containing all the necessary pans, coolers, cisterns, moulds and implements for carrying on the business on a large scale". 1
Joseph S. Lovering, who had been a grocer at 2nd and Pine Streets, owned and operated the Sugar Refinery from 1836 to 1866. During this time, it was one of the largest in the world. Lovering apparently had his own methods of refining sugar which New York refiners sought to discover.
For the purpose of deceiving and misleading them in their attempts, he had a room in his refinery fitted up with a great number of pipes and valves, also intricate looking machinery, into which at certain times, he would go and turn valves and manipulate levers, simply as a blind, the whole arrangement being a mere fake, that had nothing to do with the real process of refining. 2
Lovering's advertisements made the claim that his Steam Sugar Refinery produced "Steam Sugar, Refined without the use of Blood".
Edwin Freedley described the process of refining sugar at midcentury: sugar was dissolved by steam passing through a perforated pipe in the bottom of the pan. After the removal of color the solution was boiled down in what were known as vacuum pans, heated by steam. Upon cooling the concentrated solution underwent a rapid crystallization within funnel or sugarloaf molds. The syrup which ran from the molds was again boiled and condensed to produce the lower grades of sugar. The syrup remaining after the final condensation was sold for molasses. Freedley indicated that the introduction of "machinery and steam" had transformed the process: "this improvement, with the substitution of aluminous finings in place of bullock's blood, which supplied a fertile source of deterioration, has wonderfully increased the quality of production and raised the standard of quality".
4 Freedley went on to comment that "a few years since but a single Refiner had a name here (Philadelphia), and a well deserved one. The firm alluded to ... is J.S. Lovering & Co.—a name well known in the principal markets of the world, and we may say in the scientific world." 5
Joseph Lovering sold the refinery to McKean, Newhall & Borie in 1866. The building was finally abandoned as a refinery around 1910 and became the property of Joseph Wharton, the son in law of Lovering.  He used it as a warehouse, as did subsequent owners, until it was converted to luxury apartments in 1976.

1  Poulson's American Daily Advertiser, June 30, 1828, p. 4.
2  William H. Jordan, North Third Street, Philadelphia Fortyfive Years Ago, 1905, pp. 24-25.
3  Quoted in R.A. Smith, Philadelphia As It Is in 1852, p. 138.
4  Edwin Freedley, Philadelphia and its Manufacturers, (Philadelphia, 1857), p. 386.
5  Freedley, p. 387.

Update May 2007 (by Harry Kyriakodis):
Still standing as an apartment complex.