Carpenters' Hall

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Lumber for the Builders

Construction, as builders know only too well, is at best cyclical. Profits from boom years can quickly evaporate when business turns down, leaving a contractor with stacks of unpaid bills, usually to suppliers. Judging from old city records, lumber merchants filed the greatest number of liens against buildings and the men who erected them. Nevertheless, owners of lumber yards seemed better able to survive lean years.

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Courtesy: The Free Library of Philadelphia
Largest lien filed in 1826 by the Linnards was against the Pennsylvania Institution for the Deaf and Dumb, at Broad & Pine Sts. Building is now part of University of the Arts.

Perhaps that was one reason at least twenty-three Company members, although elected as master builders, decided to abandon their craft and become lumber merchants. Several in the 18th century deserve mention for other reasons.

  • Abraham Carlile supplied scantling for erecting the Hall. In 1778 he was accused, convicted — and hanged — for what were considered treasonous actions during the British occupation of the city.
  • From the yard of Joseph Wetherill came the lumber, in 1787, for the new court house on Independence Square, converted a few years later to house Congress during the national government's stay in Philadelphia.
  • David Evans, in addition to his lumber business, took time to superintend construction of the new city hall, which would be converted to serve the Supreme Court.
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Stately homes lining Clinton St. no doubt contain lumber from the Linnards' yard, less than a block away.

The 19th-century lumber merchant about whom we know the most is James M. Linnard. His yard was less than a mile west and south of Carpenters' Hall. At the time of his election in 1817, James was a house carpenter living near Front & Christian Sts. Three years later he and his brother Thomas, who was not a member, decided on what they hoped would become a more profitable future — selling lumber and supplies to other builders. They guessed right. Starting with a yard at 11th and Spruce Sts., their business thrived for a half-century and expanded to occupy much of the block between Spruce and Pine Sts. Liens the Linnards filed to collect outstanding bills (including at least one owed by a Company member) reveal that lumber from their yard framed many houses not only in the immediate neighborhood but the area west of Broad St. One of their largest liens ($2,229) was against The Pennsylvania Institution for the Deaf and Dumb, at Broad and Pine Sts., now known as Dorrance-Hamilton Hall of the University of the Arts. James Linnard also profited by purchasing and selling real estate, including one transaction with Richard Bache, Franklin's son-in-law.

James served two three-year terms on the Managing Committee. By 1850, according to Company Minutes, he had moved from the city. His brother and other family members continued the lumber yard, as well as a hardware store on Market St., and a shop manufacturing pianos.

In 1890, the portion of the Linnard yard at 11th and Pine became the site of the Greystone apartment building, the city's first such high-rise structure. In the 1960's the Greystone was replaced by Louis I. Kahn Memorial Park, as a tribute to one of the city's leading 20th century architects, who unfortunately was not a Company member.

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Elaborate fanlight surmounts the Hall's rear frontispiece; both were installed by William Linnard.

William Linnard, father of James and Thomas, was a master builder whose record in the military and as a civic leader is much better known than his construction activities. Deed books reveal many transactions. Were they for structures he completed or real estate transactions? Often the latter were more profitable in the burgeoning city. In 1792 the Company asked Mr. Linnard to complete the decorative frontispiece and fanlight enclosing the Hall's south entrance; a year later he received 12 pounds, two shillings, six pence for the job. Mr. Linnard served as a warden, vice president for seven years and for 14 years as a member of the influential committee of the Book of Prices, which established how Company members should charge their clients for construction.

Mr. Linnard's military record and civic contributions are better known. During the Revolution he was a captain of the Pennsylvania artillery. City directories list him as a "military agent" (1805), U.S. deputy quartermaster (1814-24), and "colonel, quartermaster general U.S. Army" (1830-34). In 1819, as commandant of Fort Mifflin, located at the confluence of the Schuylkill and Delaware rivers, he was asked to submit plans for a new military hospital.

He was elected as a representative from Philadelphia to two terms in the State Assembly (1797 and 1800).

C.G.K.

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