Carpenters' Hall

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A Family Affair

Sons by the dozen have followed in their fathers' occupational footsteps. Since the Company's founding in 1724, some 850 men and women have signed the Articles. Forty-seven percent are in 141 groups sharing the same surname. A remarkable statistic indeed. Certainly not all eight Smiths are related, nor those with the last name of Jones (6) or Davis (9). But the family tree is unmistakable for five contemporary clans: Cornell, Clearkin, Radomski, Shoemaker and Steele. Occasionally, perhaps for economy, only the father, son or brother joined even though they were business partners. The membership roll lists only one couple, famed architects Denise Scott Brown and Robert Venturi. Now for the most recent statistic: two of six women of the Company are members' daughters.

Enough figures. Come meet some of the "family."

Two early members — Tobias Griscom and his son, Samuel – would be little remembered except for the seventh of Samuel's 17 children. Elizabeth, an apprentice upholsterer, married John Ross, another apprentice who died in a gunpowder explosion in 1776. That year she is credited with designing the first American flag. Two decades earlier, her grandfather was disowned by the Quaker meeting and moved to Delaware. Samuel, who helped erect the belfry on Independence Hall, died in the yellow fever epidemic of 1793. The Carpenters' Company provided a walnut coffin.

Thomas Savery's signature

Thomas Savery became one of a handful of heroes of that epidemic. Son of famed cabinetmaker William Savery, Sr., Thomas joined the rival Friendship Company until its merger with the Carpenters' Company in 1786. Yellow fever brought the nation's capital to its knees seven years later. Origins of the fever and its treatment were hotly disputed; its effects were not. First victims lived near the docks, but during late summer and fall the miasma spread westward, blanketing the city. Ten percent of Philadelphia's citizens would die.

Thousands fled. Congress and the state Assembly dissolved. Civil servants abandoned their posts. Washington retreated to Mount Vernon. Shops closed; ships went unloaded; newspapers ceased publication. Mayor Clarkson appealed for volunteers to ward off chaos. For nearly two months, 26 citizens — some of whom died — helped establish a hospital for the sick, supervised mass burials, distributed food to the destitute. They gathered up scores of children orphaned by the epidemic and housed them. Thomas Savery erected in record time a 60-foot addition for an overcrowded hospital. He also cracked down on coffin-makers who were price-gouging. Cold weather eased the epidemic. The mayor's committee disbanded. Savery and his colleagues had saved their city.

Courtesy: The Free Library of Philadelphia
For The Contributionship, architect Thomas U. Walter designed a three-story building (now four) combining offices on the first floor with residences for officers. John D. Jones, a Company member and devotee of Walter, included a drawing of the building’s Corinthian-style columns in his sketchbook, now at The Athenaeum of Philadelphia.

Daniel Knight and his two sons — Robert T. and Daniel R. — span four decades of Company history. In 1791 the 20-year-old Hall received finishing touches to make it more attractive for rental by agencies of the new national government. Mr. Knight paid his entrance fee by creating and installing balusters and decorative trim for the second floor windows. His other documented work (1832) is enlarging the organ loft at Christ Church to accommodate a choir and chamber orchestra. Mr. Knight was a Company warden and for 21 years served on the Managing Committee.

Courtesy: The Free Library of Philadelphia
Early 20th-century view of the Philadelphia Club, built for Thomas Butler who left a bequest to Daniel R. Knight. At left is the Witherspoon Building, erected by another family of Company members, the Steeles.

The Knight brothers, who lived near their parents' home at 9th & Cherry Sts., became business partners and erected two buildings still standing. On 4th St. just south of Walnut is the country's oldest property insurance company with a name to match its longevity: The Philadelphia Contributionship for the Insurance of Houses from Loss by Fire. Franklin, ever the innovator, banded together 70 prominent citizens in May, 1752, to found the company. A permanent home came more than a century later. In 1834, architect Thomas U. Walter designed the modest but impressive structure. Contractors were the Knights. The chief carpenter, Michael Errickson, was also a member of the Carpenters' Company. Daniel Knight later became a surveyor for the Contributionship.

At the center city intersection of 13th & Walnut Sts. is the lone survivor of a residential row. Surrounded by newer structures, the 19th century Georgian style mansion was completed in 1837 by the Knights. Thomas Butler, related to wealthy plantation owners in South Carolina, didn't live to enjoy his new home. In 1850, the Philadelphia Club — America's oldest city social club — marked their 16th birthday by purchasing Butler's vacant mansion.

Courtesy: The Free Library of Philadelphia
Academy of Music was intended to be sheathed in marble. A shortage of funds compelled directors to settle for a modest brick exterior.

Jacob Jones and John D. Jones joined the Company the same year, 1853. Were they related? Probably, although the record is not clear. Their accomplishments, John's in particular, are better known. A student of Thomas U. Walter, John aspired to follow in his mentor's architectural footsteps. At The Athenaeum of Philadelphia are two sketchbooks filled with John's drawings and notes. He found success, however, as a builder. The Academy of Music (1857) at Broad & Locust Sts. is his major achievement. John also built most of the houses on the south side of Cherry St. between 20th & 21st Sts. Success failed to bring lasting prosperity. Three years before his death (1884) he applied to the Company for assistance. So did his widow after his burial, paid for by the Company.

City directories list Jacob Jones as a carpenter and later a surveyor in the Kensington neighborhood. A public school and houses attributed to him are gone. His record of service to the Company is certain. Jones served five two-year terms on the Managing Committee before his election as vice president and in 1887, president.

Tenth Presbyterian Church, at 17th & Spruce Sts., is one of dozens of houses of worship which took shape in the hands of Company members. Unfortunately, too many churches are known from liens recorded against them for unpaid contractor's bills. Not true, however, for Tenth Presbyterian, built in 1854 by John McArthur, who emigrated from Scotland at age 30 and lived near 10th & Spruce Sts. Again from liens, we know McArthur constructed houses, two churches, a large market house at 2nd & Callowhill Sts., and a row of buildings where the Hyatt Hotel (formerly the Bellevue-Stratford) stands at Broad & Walnut Sts.


His nephew, John McArthur, Jr., came to America when he was 10, gaining recognition as one of the city's foremost architects. In 1848, the two McArthurs renovated the oldest portion of Pennsylvania Hospital, a structure designed a century earlier by Samuel Rhoads, a prominent Company member. But John McArthur, Jr., is remembered for his crowning achievement as chief architect of City Hall. Occupying five acres at the crossroads of Philadelphia, City Hall was underway in 1871 but required three decades to complete. Unfortunately, John McArthur, Jr., not a Company member, died ten years before the massive building's dedication.

Cynthia A. Hudson and Joyce C. Finley share a unique distinction. Both are members' daughters whose lives, beginning in childhood, have been shaped by construction.

Joyce Mann (left) and her sister, Carol, at a job site in 1960. Their father, James A. Mann, installed replicas of early pebblestone streets in Independence National Historical Park. View shows street under construction behind the American Philosophical Society.

Ms. Finley recalls: "My parents started their building business out of our basement at home when I was two. When my twin sister, Carol, and I arrived home from school, we would go downstairs and greet the estimators and subs who came to our home to take off projects. Carol and I often played in the basement, pretending we were our parents taking off jobs at print tables, answering the phones and typing.

"My mom did a lot of the paperwork, but she too took off jobs and went to inspect projects. Many a night, dad (James A. Mann) missed dinner because of having to solve a construction problem. As a family, we visited every job. Often we would get dressed up, inspect the job, meet the employees and subs, then be taken for lunch."

Ms. Finley married her high school sweetheart, Robert, began a family and their own construction business. J. Mann-R. Finley, Inc., of which Ms. Finley is president, specializes in construction and renovation of municipal buildings, schools, libraries and hospitals.

Ms. Hudson and Robert S. Hudson, her brother, represent the fifth generation involved in maritime construction. "My grandfather (Robert V. Hudson) was himself third generation; my father (Samuel T. Hudson) the fourth.

"I grew up in the construction business. As a child I visited job sites with my father, who was passionate about marine projects. I became interested in scuba diving to learn more about underwater aspects of marine construction. Later I was fortunate to work with my father on several projects. One was installation of the foundation for what is now the U.S. Coast Guard facility on the waterfront at Washington Ave. in South Philadelphia. Another was reconstruction of a pier in Brooklyn, New York."

Ms. Hudson is executive vice president of Hudson Marine Management, a company she founded in 1986. The firm's expertise is in marine and maritime consulting related to port facilities, government agencies, vessel owners and insurance providers. Drawing on Ms. Hudson's construction background, the company is acknowledged as experts in maritime security.

Reflecting on her family's tradition, Ms. Hudson adds: "My brother has children interested in the business, so perhaps there will be a sixth generation."

Perhaps they, too, will carry on another tradition as Company members.


Carpenters' Hall, 320 Chestnut Street, Philadelphia, PA 19106
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