I admit that I have not been paying that much attention to Washington Avenue lately, though I have been following new projects close by. Several months ago I drove past the by now , substantially completed Lincoln Square project. This is a retail / residential project going up at Broad and Washington and it looks like it will be a great addition to a booming neighborhood. What caught my interest is the long ignored train shed that is a part of this project. For years this building sat among some parking lots and small industrial buildings. For years it was used as a warehouse and it was only on taking a closer look you would realize that this building may have had a somewhat different past when you saw the great arched doors and deep overhanging roof supported by ornate brackets. The fact that the structure sat back from South Broad Street caused me to thing that the front part was missing. Like many buildings in Philadelphia there is a hidden story here and it goes back to the early days of railroads, gets involved with the Civil War and President Lincoln
To put all this together, lets go back to the Philadelphia of the 1850's. Washington Avenue was then known as Prime Street. Being on the southern end of the city it was far enough from fashionable residential areas not to be a problem, but still close to the center of things. In the early days of railroads it was not unusual for companies to run tracks down the middle of city streets and Prime Street ( Washington Ave) was no exception. Philadelphia became home to a number of railway companies and we can still see remnants of them. We still have Reading Terminal and it's great shed, the magnificent 30th St Station and the many suburban stations still in use today.
The story of our little building starts when the Philadelphia, Wilmington and Baltimore railway company made Broad and Prime the end of the line from Baltimore. Passengers could then transfer to the nearby station of the Philadelphia and Camden railway for service to New Jersey or go uptown to connect to to what would become the Pennsylvania Railroad, or the Reading line. Because of the rail lines, industries moved in, attracted by the easy rail access. This is why Washington avenue has such an industrial feel still. Even today, when road work is done or part of the street is worn away, you can still find traces of the railroad tracks buried under the pavement.
By the time of the Civil War there was a great need to get military troops and supplies to the south and the Philadelphia , Wilmington and Baltimore Railroad was one of the key routes to Baltimore , Washington DC and points south. The station became a hive of activity as regiments were marched down Broad Street to board trains south, there were anguished farewells as families bade farewell to husbands, sons and sweethearts. The known and unknown flowed through this spot. Fredrick Douglass used this station when he left Baltimore and it may be that this was the station that Lincoln used on his final leg of his inauguration trip in February of 1861.
Abraham Lincoln did return to this site, his funereal train stopped here and the station was used as a site for public mourning. in 1876 the Philadelphia, Wilmington and Baltimore Railway substantially re-built the old freight depot and built a brand new passenger terminal next to to freight terminal to handle the crowds coming to view the great Centennial Exhibition. Eventually the railroad was bought out by the great Pennsylvania Railroad and passenger terminal and freight depot were torn down. The existing trainshed that we see today was used as a warehouse and it's past forgotten about.
Alterra Property Group has recognized that history and named their project Lincoln Square and the forgotten trainshed will now become home to an organic grocery store making use of soaring ceiling and great windows. While boxcars will no longer move in and out, a lost corner of the city will be brought back to life.
Author:Steve Drabkowski Phone: 215-760-5825 Dated: February 16th 2018 Views: 273 About Steve: Steve has been a long term resident of Philadelphia, coming here in 1983 and being stationed at the ...
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