Workshop of the World

stories of industry in & around Philadelphia

Washington Avenue Industrial District, c.1890-1920
Washington Avenue from 7th Street - 25th Street, Philadelphia PA

John Mayer, Workshop of the World (Oliver Evans Press, 1990).

The most important east-west throughway in South Philadelphia is Washington Avenue. With the arrival of the Philadelphia, Wilmington, and Baltimore Railroad in 1838, scores of industrial concerns clustered their factories along the rail lines.

Virtually all first generation industries along Washington Avenue have disappeared, and the late nineteenth-century large-scale firms that followed are disappearing quickly as well. The density and variety of the industries within this neighborhood suggest the inter-relationships that existed in the nineteenth century. Coal yards along the south side of the avenue supplied fuel for the boilers of the steam engines that powered the mills. Iron goods were made by the Southwark Foundry or I. P. Morris. Cotton goods woven by C.J. Milne supplied John Wanamaker and other clothing factories in the region. The residential communities surrounding the district were home to the workers who labored in the mills.

The scale and variety of manufacturers made Washington Avenue a thriving and important industrial district into the twentieth century, including:

National Licorice Company, 1301 Washington Avenue, c.1927, now dormant;

John Wyeth Chemical Works, 1201 Washington Avenue, c.1909, now used as a U-Haul facility.

American Cigar Company, 1135 Washington Avenue, c.1906, now used as a furniture warehouse.

Main Belting Company, 1217-37 Carpenter Street, c.1890.

Frankford Chocolate Company, 2101 Washington Avenue, c.1880.

Philadelphia, Wilmington, and Baltimore Railroad Freight Station Train Shed, Catherine & 15th Streets, c.1876.

John Wanamaker Clothing Factory, 1001 South Broad Street, c.1901.

The Caleb J. Milne Factory, from c.1895 and 1904, on the north side of Washington Avenue between 10th and 11th Streets, is one of the few nineteenth century industrial buildings remaining in South Philadelphia. Designed by the local firm of Hales and Ballinger, this five story mill housed the spinning, weaving, and finishing operations for the cotton goods produced by the Milne Company. In the courtyard or breezeway to the north of the main mill building are the boiler house and engine house. A 1904 addition to the factory was designed by William Steele. The complex is currently abandoned.

The Curtis Publishing Company's warehouse, at 1101 Washington Avenue, is a six story brick warehouse designed by Edgar V. Seeler in 1909. Curtis used it in conjunction with its printing business, one of the Philadelphia's most significant twentieth century industrial trades.

Update May 2007 (by Joel Spivak):
Many of the buildings surveyed in 1990 are now gone. The National Licorice Company building at 1301 Washington Avenue, the John Wanamaker Clothing Factory at 1001 South Broad Street, and the Caleb J. Milne Factory on Washington Avenue have been demolished. A strip mall now occupies the site of the Milne Factory. The Curtis Publishing Company building has been heightened, and converted to condos. The Philadelphia, Wilmington, Baltimore Railroad Freight Train Shed still stands at Catherine and 15th streets and the Frankford Chocolate Company brick buildings survive at 2101 Washington Avenue.