Workshop of the World

stories of industry in & around Philadelphia

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Philadelphia Year Book (1917).

Providence Dye Works, c.1875
Emerald, Boston, and York Streets, Philadelphia PA 19125

Carmen A. Weber, Irving Kosmin, and Muriel Kirkpatrick, Workshop of the World (Oliver Evans Press, 1990).

In 1866, John Firth was listed in the city directory as a dyer on North 25th Street. The firm of Firth & Brother located on Emerald Street sometime between 1875 and 1877 on the site of a former woolen mill. 1 By 1879, the firm started finishing piece goods in addition to dying. 2 Firth and Foster Brothers, or the Providence Dye Works, covered over two blocks and employed 240 hands, composed of men, boys, and girls in 1889. The firm dyed, dried, and finished cotton, woolen and worsted yarns, and warps, as well as piece goods. 3 Its location made the company accessible to the numerous textile firms along Hagert (once Adams) Street. The expansion of this large dye works along Emerald Street continued in the early twentieth century; in 1912, the firm dyed and finished piece goods of worsted, wool, and silk. 4 Firth and Foster Company employed 367 people, mainly men, in 1916. 5 In 1943, Hart and Foster Company still employed 353 workers at the Emerald and York Street factory. 6
Only portions of this large dye works still remain. The oldest structure is 19346 Hagert Street. Constructed between 1881 and 1883, this three story brick building displays brick pilasters, stone sills, and arched window openings, with a corbelled brick cornice above the first floor alterations. In 1889, the first floor of this building contained a pattern dyehouse, with drying, pressing, and tankering on the second floor; whereas the rear portion along Boston Street held the drug room as well as a dyehouse and areas for bleaching, finishing, sizing, and drying. 7 Another three story brick building along Emerald Street, built after 1889, echoes the details of the Hagert Street structure. By 1912, Firth and Foster constructed the more elegant building at the corner of Emerald and York Streets. This three story brick building pairs the elements of the earlier complex with a stone foundation, finished with stone keystones containing the initial ‘F.’

1   Based on a comparison between the 1875 Hopkins Atlas and Hexamer General Survey #1203 (1877) "Providence Dye Works, Firth & Brother."
2   Hexamer General Survey #1363 (1879) "Providence Dyeing and Finishing Works, Firth, Brothers & Co."
3   Hexamer General Survey #2295 (1889) "Providence Dye Works, Firth & Foster Bros."
4   The Philadelphia Commercial Museum, Made in Philadelphia: Textile Industries of Philadelphia, (Philadelphia, 1911), p. 24.
5   Department of Labor and Industry, Pennsylvania, 1916, p. 1233.
6   Chamber of Commerce and Board of Trade, Philadelphia, p. 39.
7   Hexamer General Survey #2295 (1889) "Providence Dye Works, Firth & Foster Bros."

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Philadelphia Year Book (1917).

Update May 2007 (by Torben Jenk):
The building west of Emerald Street apparently burned around 2000. The building to the east was demolished decades earlier and the site is now occupied by Porretta's Frame & Alignment.

See also:
Hexamer General Survey #1594 (1881) "Providence Dyeing and Finishing Works, Firth Brothers & Co."
Hexamer General Survey #1857 (1884) "Providence Dye Works, Firth & Foster Bros."