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John Crump, Builder Extraordinaire

By Carl G. Karsch

John Crump

By any measure, John Crump was a talented over-achiever. In his 65-year lifespan, Crump mastered accounting, construction, architecture, hotel management and experimented in viniculture. He designed or erected numerous landmarks. Two still stand. He built four hotels and managed two of them. Two quarries he operated provided stone for his buildings and those of other contractors. In retirement — a word not in Crump's vocabulary — he planted an extensive vineyard on his farm, now the site of Granite Run mall, west of Media, PA.

In 1839, Crump, then 12 years old, arrived in Philadelphia with his father, William H., from their home in Cheltenham, England. The elder Crump joined the editorial staff of "The Philadelphia Inquirer." John eventually got a job with one of the city's leading brokers, who fortuitously was related by marriage to the newspaper's editor. A business directory lists him as an accountant living on North Schuylkill Fourth St. (now 19th St. north of Market.)

For reasons unknown, John moved to Ohio for eight years where, according to an obituary, he learned "carpentering and architecture." In Zanesville, he also married Jane Huntley Ross, a minister's daughter.

Back in Philadelphia with his bride, Crump is soon well on his way to a successful career in construction. In 1859, at age 32, his listing in the directory is "carpenter," a modest understatement.

His first notable achievement is in 1863 with erection of the third Chestnut St. Theatre, at 1211 Chestnut St.

Courtesy: The Free Library of Philadelphia
Chestnut Street Theatre was on the north side of Chestnut St., west of 12th St. Opening night featured a performance by famed actor Edwin Forrest. Today, a theatre on Walnut St. bears his name; Forrest's mansion is on Broad St., in north Philadelphia.

That same year he was at work on a new home for the Union League Club, comprised of wealthy industrialists who recruited and equipped nine infantry regiments and formed five cavalry companies for the Union army. No doubt some were called upon in July, 1863, to help defeat Lee's Confederate army at Gettysburg, a small town some 100-odd miles west of the city. By the time of the building's dedication on May 11, 1865, Crump's costs were greatly over budget. But he could hardly have foreseen how inflationary increases in labor and materials would affect his original bid for the building, located at Broad & Sansom Sts. The League generously offered to help compensate his loss but Crump magnanimously declined. He did accept, however, a commemorative silver service presented by the members. The building's dedication was without fanfare, owing to Lincoln's assassination one month earlier. In September Crump was elected into membership.

The next year he became a member of the Carpenters' Company. In 1867 he joined the Society of Freemasons, rising two years later to Master Mason.

Also in 1867 an association called the Chamber of Commerce chose Crump as architect and builder for a structure at the southeast corner of 2nd and Sansom Sts. Unfortunately, the site was partially occupied by the "slate roof house" erected in 1690 by James Porteus, an early member of the Carpenters' Company and — more importantly — a residence of William Penn during his second visit to the colony. History lost out. Penn's dwelling was replaced by Crump's building, which eventually became home to the Keystone Telephone Company.

About this time, Congress created a commission to plan a new building for the War and Navy Departments. From a field of 86 submissions, Crump won first prize and a $3,000 award. But the project was shelved for a decade when a much larger structure, bearing some resemblance to Crump's design, was built.

Courtesy: The Free Library of Philadelphia
Colonnade Hotel, on the southwest corner of 15th & Chestnut Sts., enlarged and managed by Crump, could house 400 guests and was known for its cuisine.

His first venture into the hotel business was the Colonnade, on the southwest corner of 15th & Chestnut Sts., which eventually became a family affair. Several dwellings on what had been known as Colonnade Row were combined and floors added. An 1875 guidebook promotes the Colonnade as large, well kept, able to accommodate 400 guests and, best of all, possessing an especially complete kitchen. Even after his sons — Henry J. and George R. — became the Colonnade's managers, Mr. and Mrs. Crump maintained an apartment. She died there in 1882.

Courtesy: The Free Library of Philadelphia
Grand Atlas Hotel, built and managed by Crump for the Centennial Exposition, was a sprawling affair near the site of the Mann Music Center. Lodging was $1 per day; meals "25 cents and up."

In 1873, as the nation prepared to celebrate the first century of independence, Crump was one of 40 who submitted designs for the principal building of what would be an International Exhibition on a grand scale. He didn't survive the first cut. Undeterred, Crump designed and built two hotels — the Grand Atlas and the Globe — across from the exhibition entrance in Fairmount Park. The Globe had 1,100 rooms; 30,000 fair-goers could be served daily in the dining room. Crump managed the somewhat smaller Grand Atlas, which had the distinction of being erected in just a few weeks. Both were financial successes.

A decade later (1886) the year he "retired" to his farm, Crump completed his fourth hotel, the Bingham House, at 11th & Market Sts.

Several years earlier he designed and built a second structure still extant: the Old Main and Chemistry Building of today's Widener University, in Chester, PA.

Courtesy: Widener University, Chester, PA
"Old Main," the 1882 centerpiece of the Widener University campus, was designed and completed by Crump in a record-breaking seven months. Fire destroyed the first structure he designed 15 years earlier.

All but a few months of what proved to be Crump's five final years were spent on his farm where he planted and tended 3,000 grape vines. Then he suffered a tragic accident: when in December, 1891, a runaway mule kicked him in the forehead. Returning to his apartment at the Colonnade, Crump appeared to be nearly recovered when he died on Saturday, March 19, 1892.

"The Philadelphia Record" of March 23 gives the following account: "A large number of friends were present yesterday at the Church of the Epiphany. 15th & Chestnut Sts., to attend the funeral. [The church was directly across from the Colonnade. Later the congregation merged with St. Luke's Church on 13th St. north of Pine.] The service was simple but impressive. Floral offerings were handsome and included a pillow of blue violets with the word 'Father' from Mr. Crump's children. Pall bearers were selected from the Carpenters' Company, of which organization the deceased was a member..."

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