The houses depicted in the Taylor watercolor of 1861 are located on the west side of Front Street and Catherine Street. They were constructed in 1763 and survived as the same three-story dwellings for around 150 years

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The houses depicted in the Taylor watercolor of 1861 are located on the west side of Front Street and Catherine Street. They were constructed in 1763 and survived as the same three-story dwellings for around 150 years. The 1860 Hexamer Fire Insurance map shows that the area was largely built up at this time. The eastern most areas of Philadelphia were populated first because they were closest to the Delaware River. According to a 1764 survey available at the Philadelphia Historical Commission, the three-story house was located within the Southwark district and belonged to William Fleming. The house was later passed into the hands of Captain George Ord and later his son, the famous ornithologist George Ord. The Ord family was a distinguished family during the colonial area. Philadelphia City Directories available at the Philadelphia City Archives list Captain George Ord as a ship chandler, rope-maker and gentleman throughout the late 1700’s. His address is listed as 354 South Front Street. His primary residence is listed as 784 South Front Street after 1857, but it is likely that both addresses pertain to the house in the Taylor watercolor as the city’s addressing system was overhauled and renumbered in 1857. The younger George Ord lived here his entire life, from 1782-1866. He began his career in the family business of rope-making, but quit to pursue a life of science. He became a renowned ornithologist, member of both the Philadelphia Academy of Natural Sciences and the American Philosophical Society. There is a George Ord collection at the American Philosophical Society located in Philadelphia, but little contains little information of his house.

The younger George Ord was living at the house when at the time of the Taylor watercolor. According the 1860 Hexamer map, the dwelling was constructed of either brick or stone, had a shingled roof and was 3 ½ stories high.

After this time, there is a lapse in the amount of information available for the site and the area in general. In the late 1800s, the waterfront area south of South Street is no longer a fashionable area of town. There is more likely to be more information (e.g. images, newspaper articles, society registers) in more elite and affluent areas of Philadelphia. Most of the information we found was through Insurance maps which can be seen larger and in more detail on our Insurance map page. The 1888 Hexamer map is almost the same as its counterpart from 1860, but then soon thereafter the structure changes. In the 1905 edition of Hexamer maps, 784 South Front has become a Chinese Laundry and has been tagged as being an especially hazardous brick or stone building. It is still 3 ½ stories, but the roofing has changed to slate or metal and the back section of the building now stores “old boxes.” This evidence is supported by a listing in the Philadelphia Business Directory from 1905 that lists 784 as a Chinese laundry—it is provided below and in greater detail on our 784-6 documents page. Interestingly, laundries in Philadelphia were divided by ethnicity with non-Chinese laundries provided with store names and advertising while Chinese laundries are lumped together without any other individual characteristics. Also interesting is the fact that a future Insurance map returns the main portion of the building to a stable condition while the
In the 1915 Hexamer, the building is still described as hazardous. It is uncertain to when the house was demolished, but it can be assumed that it was during either the 1940s or 1950s because it was acquired in 1947 by J. Thomas Scott, who then soon after opened an Industrial Supplies business on that location. Today, according to the 2004 Sanborn map, the site holds a five-story dwelling constructed of hollow concrete.

We were unable to find out exactly when the individual Second Empire house was demolished, but a fourteen story apartment building was built on the lot and the ones up to 2107 Walnut in 1954. From the Philadelphia Historical Society we found that the apartment building is made of semi-fireproof materials and consists of 299 family units.  Below is a copy of the plan for the building.

This apartment building still stands at the site that Taylor’s watercolor depicts and was a selection to the Philadelphia Register of Historic Places in February 1995 and was then designated as part of the Rittenhouse Fitler Residential District on August 4, 1995. The transformation of the building is a testament to the variability of the built environment in Philadelphia over the last 150 years.

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