I have been to the South Street Seaport dozens of times over the years and can’t believe that I never noticed this memorial dedicated to those lost in the Titanic disaster. I was visiting the Seaport recently after finishing another walk down the length of Broadway for my blog, “MywalkinManhattan.com” and was walking past the Seaport on my way to Chinatown. Something about it this time caught my attention and I stopped to look at the dedication of this small lighthouse.
It was really touching to see that the people from the 1912 disaster were not forgotten in New York City, its ultimate destination. This was the work of Molly Brown, the ‘Unsinkable Molly Brown’ from the movie. She wanted to be sure that the people who survived were never forgotten. The small lighthouse structure sits at the entrance to the main part of the seaport on an island just off the cobblestone walkway into the complex.
The Memorial plaque on the lighthouse
The tower that it was originally placed a top of the Seamen’s Church Institute Building and it was put up for sale and demolished in 1965 and the small lighthouse memorial was donated to the South Street Seaport Museum. It was placed in its current location in 1976 (Friends of the Lighthouse).
The little lighthouse is a touching reminder of Manhattan’s connection to the event over 100 years ago. Try not to miss it when you are visiting the Seaport.
The history of the Titanic Memorial Lighthouse:
(This is from the Friends of the Titanic Memorial Lighthouse website)
On April 15th, 1913, one year after the sinking of the Titanic, the Titanic Memorial Lighthouse and Time Ball, mounted atop the Seamen’s Church Institute, were dedicated to honor the passengers, officers and crew who perished in the tragedy. The dedicatory service opened with a hymn and prayer and then Rt. Rev. David h Greer, Bishop of New York, read the following lines of dedication:
“To the glory of Almighty God and in loving memory of those passengers, officers and crew who lost their lives in the foundering of the steamship, Titanic, on April 15, 1912, I, David Hummell Greer, Bishop of New York and president of the Seamen’s Church Institute of New York, do solemnly dedicate the Titanic Memorial Lighthouse Tower. As its light by night shall guide pilgrims and seafaring men from every clime into this port, so may they follow Him who is the Light of Life across the waves of this troublesome world to everlasting life and looking at noon toward this place to note the time of day, may they remember that our days pass as the swift ships and in view of the shortness and uncertainty of human life, strive to fulfill their duty well as the beat preparation for Eternity. Amen.”
The Titanic Memorial Lighthouse exhibited a fixed green light that could be seen throughout New York harbor and down as far as Sandy Hook. Five minutes before noon each day, a time ball would be hoisted to the top of a steel rod mounted atop the lighthouse and dropped at the stroke of twelve as indicated over the wires from Washington DC. According to The Lookout, the magazine of the Seamen’s Church Institute, the Titanic Memorial Lighthouse would be a much needed daily reminder for ‘in a busy, carless city the average person so soon forgets’.
The Seamen’s Church Institute was established in 1834 and had announced plans for its new twelve story headquarters at South Street and Coenties Slip in Lower Manhattan several years before the loss of the Titanic. The Flemish style building was meant to reflect new York’s Dutch origins and was to be crowned by a tower whose beacon would welcome incoming seamen. The cornerstone for the building was laid one day after the sinking of the Titanic and a week later the institute announced the lighthouse atop their building would be a memorial to the victims of the tragedy.
I visited the Betsy Ross House Museum when touring the small museums of Old Town Philadelphia. What an interesting historical site. You felt like you were invited into Betsy Ross’s house by Betsy Ross herself.
The house and museum is broken up into different sections. When you walk into the museum complex, you will get to visit a very patriotic gift shop stocked with Revolutionary War memorabilia. Out side the gift shop is the formal gardens and the courtyard which is a nice place to relax and enjoy the weather.
When you enter the house, you will be able to visit all the rooms of the house and the kitchen area on the lower level. The interesting part of this self guided tour is that you learn that the house was not owned by Betsy Ross or any of her three husbands. They rented the rooms out from a widow who owned the house at the time and that there had been other people living at the home at the time. Each of the rooms were rented and lived in by other family members.
In each of the upstairs rooms, there are recreations of what the family living arrangements were and how they were decorated. The bedrooms were furnished with vintage furniture of the time and items used in every day life.
The kitchen area was for family cooking and was stocked with items that would have been in day to day process of preparing meals.
Betsy Ross was an upholsterer and ran her business dealings from the front of the house where her small showroom and workroom were located to the street level. Many people in Philadelphia had this work arrangement where the business was in the front of the home and then living quarters were in the back or up above.
In the showroom area, an actress playing Betsy Ross, was there answering all our questions and she was very interesting. When she had been approached to design and create the flag, she had never made a flag before. The actress explained that she had to keep making flags ‘under the wraps’ so that Loyalist would not shut the business down during the war. Her business pretty much was shut down during the War years as people did not have the money or time for her work. I really felt like I was talking to the real person in that time.
The tour will only take about an hour but you will learn so much about business and living arrangements in homes at that time and of the family who lived there. I never knew much about Betsy Ross herself and her husbands and children from different marriages. So you will learn a lot about the family themselves and the lives that she lived with each of them.
It is an interesting tour if you have interest in the American Flag origins and the Revolutionary War.
The History of the Betsy Ross House Museum:
The building at 239 Arch Street, now known as the Betsy Ross House, was built over 250 years ago. The front portion of the house was built around 1740 with the stair hall (or piazza) and the rear section added 10 to 20 years later. The structure is a variation of a ‘bandbox’ or ‘trinity’ style home, with one room on each floor and a winding staircase stretching from the cellar to the upper floors.
The building’s front façade, with a large window on the first floor to display merchandise and it proximity to the Delaware River, made it an ideal location for a business. The house served as both a business and a residence for many different shopkeepers and artisans for more than 150 years. The first floor front room was used as the workshop and showroom. The business owner and his or her family lived in the rest of the home.
The sitting room recreation
By the late 19th century, most of the other colonial era buildings that once stood on this block of Arch Street, had been torn down and replaced with large industrial buildings and warehouses. Many people feared that Betsy’s home would meet the same fate.
In 1898, a group of concerned citizens established the American Flag House and Betsy Ross Memorial Association to raise money to purchase the house from the Munds, the people who resided there, to restore it and open it as a public museum in honor of Betsy Ross and the first American Flag.
Charles Weisgerber was one of the founding members of the Memorial Association. In 1892, he painted Birth of Out Nation’s Flag, a 9′ x 12′ painting that depicts Betsy Ross presenting the first American flog to George Washington, Robert Morris and George Ross.
To raise money to purchase the house, members of the American Flag House and Betsy Ross Memorial Association sold lifetime memberships to the organization for 10 cents. Each donor received a membership certification imprinted with an image of Birth of Our Nation’s Flag. Individuals were encouraged to form ‘clubs’ of thirty members. The person who formed the club would receive a ten-color chromolithograph of the Weisgerber painting, suitable for framing, in addition to certificates for each club member.
Weisgerber moved his family into the upstairs floor of the home in 1898 and immediately opened two rooms to the public. The first floor front room was a souvenir shop and the room in the back of the house where the meeting between Betsy Ross and the Flag Committee was said to have occurred, was open for visitors to view.
A period bedroom in the house
The American Flag Hose and the Betsy Ross Memorial Association wanted to protect the house from fire and other dangers. They purchased the two properties on the west side of the house in 1929, in hopes of creating a civil garden. When the Great Depression hit, tourism and donations to the house slowed and much of the work on house and courtyard were delayed.
In 1937, structural changes and general wear and tear on the house led to the dire need for restoration work. A. Atwater Kent, a Philadelphia radio mogul, offered to pay up to $25,000 for the restoration of the house. Historical architect, Richardson Brognard Okie was commissioned to do the work.
Under Okie, the house’s original architectural elements were spared wherever possible. When the original components could not be reused, materials were obtained from demolished homes from the same period. A small structure containing a boiler room and a restroom was constructed in back of the original house with Revolutionary War era bricks.
In the historic house, three hidden fireplaces were uncovered, the front stairway and dormer were replaced and the door leading from the kitchen to the back of the house was restored. The most notable change, however, was to the front of the house. The doorway in the front of the building was moved from the western to the eastern corner and a new window was installed. Construction was completed and all eight rooms of the house were open to the public on Flag Day, June 14th, 1937.
By the 1940’s, the Betsy Ross House began to look like the place we recognize today but the Association’s work was not complete. A. Atwater Kent worked with the Association to pay off its final debts on the property. The entire property, including the historic house and courtyard was given to the City of Philadelphia in 1941.
In 1965, an annex building was added to the property and in 1974, the courtyard was renovated and the fountain was added. Two years later, the remains of Betsy Ross and her third husband, John Claypoole were moved from Mount Moriah Cemetery in Yeadon, PA to the garden on the west side of the Betsy Ross House courtyard.
In 1965, a private non-profit organization, Historic Philadelphia Inc. began leasing the property from the City of Philadelphia and continues to manage the site. The Betsy Ross House remains dedicated to its mission of preserving the historic site and interpreting the life of Betsy Ross, a working class, 18th Century tradeswoman. Visitors can view six period rooms, including the only interpretation of an 18th century upholstery shop in the country. The rooms are furnished with period antiques, 18th century reproductions and objects that belonged to Betsy Ross and her family. Highlights of the collection include Betsy Ross’s walnut chest on chest, her Chippendale chair, her eyeglasses and her bible.
When touring around Old Town Philadelphia, I came across the Fireman’s Hall Museum dedicated to the Philadelphia Fire Department and its history and place in the City of Philadelphia.
What I found interesting about the museum is the detail that the museum has on the history of fire fighting not just in the City of Philadelphia but in the United States. The City of Philadelphia is the birthplace of the volunteer fire company and where Benjamin Franklin started the first fire company.
You can see the development of the fire service from the early bucket brigades where neighbors helped neighbors by keeping buckets of water in front of their houses in case of a fire. You can see the actual buckets that were used as well as the early fire markers that were attached to homes to recognize who was covered by fire insurance and where the fire fighters would go when a fire broke out.
Walking through the fire house downstairs, you can see how the fire equipment developed from the early horse drawn pumpers and ladder carts, to the decorative hose beds, to the early steam engines to the turn of the last century beginnings of the motorized cars.
The advancement of the steam equipment in the fire service
The second floor displays old equipment, the development of bunker gear and the helmets and the advancement of fire fighting equipment from the fire ax to the halogen tool. There are all sorts of fire markers from the history of the old fire insurance companies, a recreation of a fire chief’s office and pictures of old fires and how they were fought around the City of Philadelphia.
The museum is also manned by members of the Philadelphia Fire Department and many members visit the museum when they are off duty to explain things and talk about the fire service in the City.
They also have a great gift shop where all sorts of patches from the different fire companies are sold and other sorts of fire department items.
The museum is free to tour but donations are accepted and needed to maintain this wonderful museum that supports the City of Philadelphia’s fire service.
The Firemen’s Hall Museum at 147 North Second Street
Information on the Firemen’s Hall Museum:
The Firemen’s Hall Museum presents and preserves the history of firefighting in Philadelphia, paying tribute to its firefighters, both paid and volunteer through the museum’s exhibits, public programs and award ceremonies:
*Play our ‘when to call 9-1-1’ game.
*Inspect the first-class collection of hand drawn, horse drawn and motorized apparatus.
*Take the opportunity to ‘steer’ a fireboat.
*View models of early equipment, hand tools, fire markers and other firefighting memorabilia.
*Reflect upon our memorial exhibits.
*Hear discussion on the former segregation of the Philadelphia Fire Department and its history.
*See the 9/11 display
The museum occupies a restored fire house built in 1902 and contains one of the premier collections of fire apparatus, firefighting tools, uniforms, photographs, prints and fire masks. The museum interprets the history of firefighting in Philadelphia through its collections. Explore 18th century hand drawn engines, 19th century horse drawn steamers and motorized apparatus of the 20th century.
The decorative hose beds that were used for parades
Philadelphia is the birthplace of the first volunteer fire companies in the United States and Patriot Benjamin Franklin founded the first volunteer fire company, The Union Fire Company in 1736.
Through interactive and hands on exhibits, the Fireman’s Hall Museum educates and promotes sound fire prevention practices.
I came across this interesting little historical museum when I was touring Elfreth’s Alley in Old Town, Philadelphia. What an interesting look back at the merchant trade class of the 18th century. It really showed how the average worker used both their home as a business and as a home. The home had been former business of a pair of dressmakers who used the front parlor as their store and showroom, the side room used as the kitchen, the upstairs room was the living quarters for a very large family (I believe that the family had eight children according to the tour guide) and a nice sized garden in the back of the home.
The front rooms were used as the workplace showroom where the merchants would greet their customers, decide on the patterns and make and then conduct their business. When they were done for the day, they just closed up shop. What I thought was interesting about the two business owners is that they took most of their meals out at the local pub. Time as dressmakers left them little time to cook so meals had to be eaten out.
The dress makers wares being shown at the museum
When you climb the narrow stairs to the second floor, it leads to the loft living space. When I heard how many people lived at the house, I could not imagine that today. Children today pretty much have their own rooms but these people lived on top of one another. It was such a small space for a family of ten. Then you had to walk down another narrow staircase to come back to the first floor.
The backyard garden was really nice with interesting plantings, a nice sized garden of flowers and benches to cool under on a hot day. I am not sure if the gardens were historically accurate but it was a nice place to relax on a hot day. It is worth it to visit this small home to see how another generation worked and lived under very different conditions (Elfreth’s Alley Museum self-guided tour).
The Elfreth’s Alley Museum at 124-126 Elfreth’s Alley
The History of Elfreth’s Alley Museum:
Elfreth’s Alley Museum is located at 124-126 Elfreth’s Alley, preserves the 18th Century home of a pair of dressmakers. Restored to its appearance in the Colonial era, exhibits the house and tour guides interpret the life of the house and alley’s residents in that era. There are 32 houses on the street that were built between 1703 to 1836 (Wiki/Museum site).
The History of Elfreth’s Alley:
Elfreth’s Alley is named after Jeremiah Elfreth, an 18th century blacksmith and property owner. Among the alley’s residents were tradesmen and their families. Their trades included shipwrights, silver and pewter smiths, glassblowers and furniture builders. In the 1770’s, one third of the households were headed by women (Wiki).
The Georgian and Federal style houses and cobblestone pavement of the alley were common in Philadelphia during this time. The houses are typically small and many are uniquely Philadelphian Trinity houses. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, industry began to change the street with a stove factory being built in 1868. Soon it was followed by more factories that surrounded the area (Wiki).
Elfreth’s Alley Museum site and homes
In 1934, the Elfreth’s Ally Association (EAA) was founded to preserve the alley’s historic structures while interpreting the streets history. The EAA helped save the street from demolition and also lobbied the City to restore the alley’s name to Elfreth’s Alley. The area is an example of urban 18th and 19th century architecture and is part of the “Old Town” neighborhood of Philadelphia (Wiki).
The neighborhood hosts many events so please check their website for the dates and events.