Excerpted from a report submitted to the Historic American Building Survey (HABS) by Rebecca H. Sell and "The Lazaretto: The Cultural Significance and Preservation Plan in the Spirit of the Burra Charter" by Rebecca H. Sell, A Thesis in Historic Preservation, Master of Science in Historic Preservation, University of Pennsylvania, 2005.
Before the arrival of the first colonists in the seventeenth century, the area known as Tinicum Township was inhabited by the Okehocking tribe of the Lenni-Lenape Indians, called the Delawares by English settlers. The Lenni-Lenape belonged to the Algonquin tribe, which occupied a large amount of territory in the United States. During the Late Woodland Period (1000 AD to 1600 AD) the first Algonquin sedentary villages in southeastern Pennsylvania appeared.
There is much evidence of Lenni-Lanape presence throughout the Lower Delaware Valley area. A new subsistence pattern of cultivating crops like corn, beans, and squash resulted in permanent and semi-permanent farmstead-like communities. Camps were set up during the fall along the waterfront and marshes to hunt waterfowl and during the spring for shad and other fish. The name Tinicum comes from the Indian word "tinnachkonck" meaning "next to water." The John Heinz National Wildlife Refuge at Tinicum preserves the only remnant of original natural terrain and is the last remaining freshwater tidal wetland in Pennsylvania. Early archaeological excavations at Governor Printz State Park, just west of the Government Property, conducted by Donald Cadzow in 1937, revealed a variety of Indian artifacts including "broken bits of pottery." In 1976, Becker reported excavations at the State Park that showed evidence of an Indian site and recovered a small number of prehistoric artifacts. A total of 569 prehistoric and 29 protohistoric artifacts were recovered during 1990 excavations of the State Park by MAAR Associates, Inc.
As new political systems and development took place in early seventeenth-century Europe, prospects in the New World made North America a hub of active colonization. During the early 1630s, the Dutch West India Company secured a tract of land along the east coast of the Delaware River and subsequently erected forts for trade. In similar efforts to expand colonial trade in the West Indies, Swedish, Dutch, and German stockholders organized the Swedish West India Company to trade furs and tobacco in North America. Organized by Samuel Blommaert and Peter Minuit, the Swedish West India Company sent an expedition in 1637 to sail to the territory surrounding the Delaware River and form a colony to be known as "New Sweden." In March of 1638, after a four-month voyage, Fort Christina was built where Wilmington, Delaware is today (see figure 12).
With increasing tensions with the Dutch for domain along the Delaware, the government of Sweden formed another expedition in the spring of 1643 to obtain a foothold further up the Delaware. Johan Printz, first royal governor of New Sweden, along with fifty new settlers, including several criminals accused of poaching and deserting the army, were sent to expand northward from Fort Christina on both sides of the Delaware River (see figure 92). Printz strategically chose Tinicum Island on which he erected a fort named Nya Gotheborg, or New Gothenburg, thereby relocating the capital of New Sweden (see figure 11). Across the river, Fort Elfsborg, near present-day Salem on the New Jersey side of the river, was also built to monitor Dutch activity along the Delaware and control fur trade with Indians.
The arrival of the Swedes to Tinicum Island sparked change in not only the social environment, but also the natural environment, as the colonists built dikes to control flooding and drained marshes for agricultural purposes. The first permanent European settlement in Pennsylvania was established with the construction of the Printzhof, the governor's home and headquarters, surrounded by colonists' dwellings and their plantations. Also in the 1640s, the first Swedish Lutheran church in America was built in Swedish fashion with an adjoining cemetery (see figure 11). There are no detailed descriptions of the site as no data fully documents the settlement or development.
As the Swedes expanded their domain during the 1640s, the Dutch viewed them as a threat to their colonial interests. Assuming Fort Nassau near Gloucester, New Jersey and erecting Fort Bevereede at the mouth of the Schuylkill River, the Dutch made attempts to gain control over the Swedes. When Peter Stuyvesant became governor of New Amsterdam in 1647 he built Fort Casimir below Fort Christina, today New Castle, Delaware, to put a check on Swedish activities. Frustrated with Dutch relations and dissatisfied settlers, Printz withdrew from command in October of 1653 and returned to Sweden. John Rysinge, Printz's successor, arrived in New Sweden in May 1654 and soon after ordered the capture of Fort Casimir, at a moment when its occupants were without powder and had no way to defend themselves. A year later, in retaliation, Stuyvesant conquered Rysinge, gained control of the Swedish colony, and changed the name of Fort Casimir to Nieuer Amstel, or New Amstel. Although the Dutch ruled for over a decade, the Swedes were permitted to retain their language and allowed to continue their accustomed way of life as a "Swedish Nation." Governor Stuyvesant made only a few visits to the Tinicum colony.
Shortly after the Dutch assumed power over Swedish territory in 1655, the English became interested in the area. But, due to changes in government, several years passed before they made attempts to control it. In 1664, English warships finally seized control of the New Amstel colony and, without resistance, the Dutch ceded to the English. On March 22, 1664, King Charles II of England made a gift to his brother James, the Duke of York, of territory in North America including the states of New York, New Jersey, part of Pennsylvania, and Delaware. This marked the end of Dutch control and the beginning of English rule that would last over a century.
Like the Dutch, the English allowed the Swedes and Dutch to maintain their native languages and customs. However, the English did make two major changes. First, they organized a formal system of courts in Chester, Pennsylvania and New Castle, Delaware. Second, the English created an order regarding landholding in the Delaware Valley by issuing patents requiring the certification of all land transactions by the courts.
On March 4, 1681, the Duke of York gave William Penn a patent to land located on the west side of the Delaware River, including what is now Delaware County, in gratitude for assistance given to the crown by the Penn family. The following year, the first English settlers arrived and quickly outnumbered the old population. In October in 1682, Penn came to the site to establish the city of Philadelphia. He planned and laid out the rectangular grid pattern on 1,200 acres of land between the Delaware River and Schuylkill Rivers, which would later influence the urban planning of other cities in the United States. Like the first colonists, the English went along the rivers and waterways setting up other plantations and settlements. Within five years all of the land within twenty-five miles of Philadelphia had been laid out. Although, Penn recognized existing Swedish, Dutch, and English titles, dispute over land ownership and title validity continued into the early eighteenth century.
Although Philadelphia was the second largest city in the British Empire by 1750, the surrounding areas were still rural and agrarian. Isolated by the marshes and wetlands, Tinicum was sealed off from development that was taking place in nearby communities. The area remained sparsely settled throughout the eighteenth century and had no town center, school, church or, meetinghouse. Only a tavern in the 1760s and 70s functioned as a hub of community activity, operating in conjunction with the Darby Creek Ferry. In 1780, the twenty-three inhabitants and owners of Tinicum Island signed a petition to secede from Ridley Township. The state of Pennsylvania recognized Tinicum Township as a separate district on August 31, 1780. The 1798 Direct Tax assessment only lists 16 dwellings, most of stone or frame, clustered along Darby Creek near the Ferry and along the Delaware River in the southwestern part of Tinicum Island.
Today, the only visible remnant of colonial settlement is a springhouse on the Corinthian Yacht Club Property located south of Governor Printz State Park (see figure 10). The Printzhof stood until 1822 when it was destroyed by fire and, by 1889, the Swedish church burial ground had been washed away by the tide. In 1927, the Swedish Colonial Society obtained a seven-acre portion of property, on which part of the Printzhof settlement once stood, to create a public park in commemoration of Johan Printz. Archaeological investigations subsequently took place. Although the actual location of the Printzhof is still undetermined, some have speculated that part or all of the Printzhof and Fort Gothenburg may actually have been located on the Lazaretto Property (see figure 93).
Although the story of the Lazaretto in Tinicum Township began at the dawn of the nineteenth century when the complex was constructed, its concept, design, and operation dates to well before the American Revolution. The concept of quarantine, the separation of the diseased from the healthy, has its roots in fourteenth-century Venice during the Black Death. There, the first formal system of quarantine, requiring ships to anchor for forty days before going ashore, was instituted. The eighteenth century in America was a period of development for medicine. In these times before antibiotics, diagnostic machines, operative wonders, or rehabilitation, the main outcome of disease was death. Treatment was limited to the isolation of victims until they recovered or died. Quarantine was the only known effective method for controlling epidemics. Quarantine stations or "lazarettos" were necessary near seaports to examine all arriving ships and their cargo.
The term "lazaretto" is an Italian word from the mid-sixteenth century meaning "place set aside for performance of quarantine." "Lazaretto" was derived from the biblical story of Saint Lazarus, a leper resurrected by God from the dead (see figure 94). Lazarettos were also known as "pest houses." A map of Philadelphia by N. Scull and G. Heap from 1753 shows the first lazaretto to protect the port of Philadelphia located on Province Island, south of the city near Fort Mifflin. According to the map it was referred to as a "pest house" (see figure 14).
Quarantine history in Pennsylvania began when the first lazaretto was established in 1742 at the mouth of the Schuylkill River, near Fort Mifflin, on Province Island, or Fisher's Island (see figures 14 and 17). Early 1742 German inhabitants presented a petition to Governor George Thomas complaining that "for want of a convenient house for the reception of such of their countrymen as on their arrival here labored under diseases contracted in a long voyage, they were obliged to continue on board the ships which brought them, where they could get neither attendance or conveniences suitable to their condition, from whence many have lost their lives." The governor immediately moved on their request and announced the construction of a building "not only to accommodate such as shall arrive hereafter under the same circumstances, but to prevent the future importation of diseases into this city, which has more than once felt the bad effects of them."
The state purchased 342 acres of land and some buildings on Fisher's Island, or Province Island, and Negro slaves for $1,700. Six acres nearest the river was used for the quarantine station. Throughout the mid-eighteenth century the complex expanded and improved. In 1750, new buildings were added (see figure 17). The station remained there through the Revolutionary War. Mounting interests in public health and outbreaks of smallpox, cholera, yellow fever, and other epidemics caused the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania to rethink its health policies and the quarantine's location.
In the summer of 1793, a yellow fever epidemic in the City of Philadelphia killed one tenth of the city's population, about 5000 people, in less than five months. A devastating shock to the community, the outbreak forced relocation of the lazaretto further from the city. The City of Philadelphia formed a Board of Health in 1794 and assembled a committee called "Managers of Marine City Hospital" charged with selecting a new site and establishing a quarantine station. In May of 1799, Board of Health Minutes report that the committee determined the best location to be "near the mouth of the Darby Creek on Tinicum," in the village of Essington. Natural isolation, sparse population, and a location further south of the city of Philadelphia made Essington an ideal locale. On August 7, 1799, the Board of Health "purchased ten acres of the Thomas Smith [and sister Rebecca Smith] farm on Tinicum Island at 200 dollars an acre... adjoining which there is good anchorage and depth of water in the river Delaware. On November 21, 1799, the United States government bought a six-acre property, adjoining the ten-acre lot on the west, from John and Mary Taylor for use as a Customs House and Wharf.
Construction of buildings began immediately and were completed around 1800. According to nineteenth-century historian Henry G. Ashmead, the Lazaretto Quarantine Station was opened in 1801. However, Board of Health Minutes and other documentation suggest that it was functioning during its construction. The basic function of the Lazaretto was to stop vessels on their way up the Delaware River during "quarantine season," which typically began on June 1st of every year and closed October 1st– a total of four months. A lookout sighted inbound vessels and rang a bell hanging in the Watch House. This signaled the Lazaretto Physician to pull off in a steam launch and attend to the craft as she moved up the Delaware River. The Physician, and often Quarantine Master as well, boarded the craft, and examined the passengers and cargo. If everyone and everything was healthy, the quarantine process took about a day, the captain would receive a certificate of health, and the ship could proceed up the river to Philadelphia seaports. If there was sickness or death found on board or if the vessel had been to any other port where a contagious disease was known to have existed she was detained for further investigation, quarantine, and fumigation. Those afflicted would be removed to the Hospital to await recovery or death, and the dead would be buried on site. All cargo and possessions would be fumigated or "purified," and the ship scoured and whitewashed clean. The fumigation process would often entail a large kettle of burning sulfur and alcohol to be lowered into her hold after all hatches are closed to contain and kill any disease. At the conclusion of each day, the doctor wrote a letter to the Board of Health detailing the day's events and the sworn list of answers he received from the captains of incoming ships. The quarantine process at this stage could take a week to longer than a month.
On May 17, 1799, the Board of Health began to delineate the roles and functions of the Lazaretto staff including the Resident Physician, Quarantine Master, Steward, and Matron.
"Rules and Regulations for the Government of the Lazaretto:
Shortly after the Lazaretto Quarantine Station was established and fully active, in the early nineteenth century, there were a total of ten official employees on the premises. In addition to the aforementioned Lazaretto Physician, Quarantine Master, Steward, and Matron there was also a Captain, Engineer, Fireman, two hands for the quarantine steam launch, Nurse, and Gardener. Reviewing Board Minutes, it is apparent that the organization and regulations of the new Lazaretto operations were constantly changing and expanding. There was often the hiring of bargemen, washwomen, laborers, servants, carpenters, more nurses, and other positions required to operate and maintain a medical facility. On the adjoining Government Property, a Custom's officer, his family, and employees resided in the Custom House on those premises. The Custom officer was employed "to protect the revenue and prevent smuggling."
Early on, the quarantine system in Pennsylvania was not always taken seriously. For example, in 1804, the Board of Health moved to indict John Ferguson, master of the schooner "Monongahela Farmer" from New Orleans bound for Philadelphia, because he had committed a breach of quarantine. While anchored in quarantine he permitted thirty-two passengers to go ashore before they had submitted to the required examination. Although the incident was reported, the complaint was ultimately ignored. Similar incidents are recorded in the Board of Health Minutes. Two years later, a public notice was distributed with,
"RESOLVED that all ships or other vessels arriving in the River Delaware, and bound to the Port of Philadelphia prior to the commencement of the quarantine season, and having sick on board of any disease, be directed to come at the Lazaretto, in order to be visited by the Lazaretto Physician, and land such sick persons before they proceed to the city."
In 1807 a formal notice was published and publicly posted;
"And be it further enacted by the authority aforesaid, That all Ships or Vessels, as well as vessels of War as Merchant Vessels, coming from any port of place within the United States, and bound to the port of Philadelphia, between the first day of June and the first day of October in every year, and having on board any goods or merchandise, the growth or produce of any foreign place or country, or any person or persons, bedding or clothing from any foreign port or place shall come to anchor opposite the said Lazaretto, and shall be examined by the Lazaretto Physician and Quarantine master, and if the captain or master of any such ship of vessel shall produce satisfactory proof, as the Board of Health shall in that case direct to be required, that the said goods or merchandise shall have been landed in the United States more than thirty days and are free from damage, and that the said vessel, bedding, clothing and persons are free from infection of any dangerous contagious disease, the small-pox and measles excepted, then and in that case the said Physician and Quarantine master shall give to the captain or master of such ship or vessel a certificate of the facts, permitting such ship or vessel to proceed to the city, which certificate the said captain or master shall present at the Health Office in Philadelphia within twenty-four hours after his arrival and safely mooring there; and if he should neglect so to do, being thereof legally convicted under this act, he shall be sentenced to pay a fine of Two Hundred Dollars, to be recovered and appropriated as in hereinafter directed and provided; and if the said captain or master shall fail to produce such satisfactory proof as aforesaid, of the wholesome state of the said vessel, goods, merchandise, bedding, cloathing, and persons, the said vessels, goods, merchandise, bedding, cloathing, and persons shall be detained at the Lazaretto, and shall be proceeded with in the same manner, and subject to the same orders and regulations, as are herein before provided and directed in the case of vessels coming directly from a foreign port or place; and if the captain or master of any ship or vessel, coming form any port or place within the United States, and bound to the port of Philadelphia, having on board any goods or merchandise, bedding, cloathing, or persons as aforesaid, shall refuse or neglect to come to anchor opposite the Lazaretto, and shall pass the same with intent to proceed to the City without examination, by, and certificate obtained from, the said Physician and quarantine master as aforesaid, he shall on conviction, forfeit and pay the sum of Five Hundred Dollars, to be recovered and appropriated as is hereinafter provided and directed, and the said vessel, goods, merchandise, bedding, cloathing, and persons shall be send back to the Lazaretto, there to be proceeded with in such manner as the Board of Health, agreeably to this act, shall in that case devise and direct."
While the Lazaretto was concerned with the sick arriving on ships, the hospital also served and buried people from Philadelphia with infectious diseases. On November 5, 1800, John Bather paid $6.00 to the Board of Health for a "coffin interment of a poor woman from Gaskill Street said to have died of a contagious fever." The Board of Health mandated that all persons who died from a contagious disease while in quarantine be buried on the grounds.
Although the Lazaretto was established in a new location and strict regulation was in place, the fear of epidemic did not cease. In 1824, a man from an oyster boat, dangerously ill with smallpox, landed in Chester, Pennsylvania. Citizens sent him in a market wagon to the Lazaretto for treatment. His last words requested a glass of water and shortly thereafter he died while waiting to be admitted. The borough authorities were later criticized for this act.
However, the activities and daily operations of the Lazaretto were not always filled with controversy and dramatic stories. In fact, the station had a very organized, regimented, and well-documented quarantine operation. Accounts documented in the Day Books illustrate a vibrant and busy community. Scenes of ships and schooners anchored in the river, bargemen boarding their tugs to go and meet the newcomers, the physician and quarantine master examining passengers, hired hands moving wagons of dirty bedding and cargo, the steward, gardeners, and servants maintaining the grounds and buildings, the matron and nurses tending to the sick in the wings of the Main Building, regular purchasing of food, supplies, and coffins, and hiring of washwomen, temporary men, and nurses are all vividly described in the entries. In addition, inventories from 1803 through 1854, 1856, and 1893 list in great detail the contents of each room of the Main Building and outbuildings, and paint a picture of a well-stocked, decorated, and aptly furnished medical facility. Each inventory describes the Committee Room, Hall, Front Room Lower, Story, Back Room Lower Story, Store Room, Hospital, Ironing Room, Bargemen Room, Kitchen, Bake House, Passengers House, and Barn. Some inventories go into greater detail listing uses for particular rooms such as the Gardener's Room and Dining Room.
Today, yellow fever is now understood to be transmitted only by mosquitoes of the genus Ades. Therefore, despite nineteenth-century quarantine efforts, another major yellow fever epidemic, in June of 1870, resulted in a controversial campaign for the removal of the Lazaretto in Tinicum, triggered by the arrival of the brig "Home" at the Lazaretto loaded with logwood from the Black River in Jamaica. Upon inspection there appeared to be no sickness, but the condition of the vessel was filthy. Health officers learned that the captain had died and was buried at sea four days after the brig left the Jamaican port. The contents and cargo of the ship were taken to the adjoining United States government wharf and the brig was fumigated for twenty days. Pronounced clean, the vessel was given permission to go on to its destination.
However, during fumigation, barges were sent from Philadelphia to remove the logwood. Mrs. Jane Dagitt and her son, Thomas Dagitt Jr., on one of the barges were admitted to the Lazaretto, sick with yellow fever, on July 19th and died within the week. Filthy rags were taken ashore and burned with a strong wind blowing from the south. Soon thereafter, Mrs. Ann Enos and Anne Sharp were stricken at the adjacent Tinicum Hotel kept by Jacob Pepper and were dead within a week. Then, from August 6th to September 8th, yellow fever claimed the lives of six additional people including Mrs. Eva Kugler, wife of the Steward, Lazaretto Physician Dr. William Thompson, Mrs. Fannie Gartsell, a nurse at the Lazaretto for fifteen years, Lazaretto gardener William Dillmoso, Quarantine Master Robert Gartside, and Beth C. McGuinnes, a nurse. Doctors from Chester, Pennsylvania were called in and appointed temporary physicians. According to the Lazaretto Hospital Register, at the close of the quarantine season in 1870, eight people died of yellow fever in the Lazaretto Hospital and nine were cured. All cases were related to the brig "Home" incident.
The tragedy was subsequently pronounced as yellow fever to the public in the neighborhood, Chester, and even Philadelphia causing the fear of epidemic to spread. Belief was that yellow fever could be airborne and carried on winds. A caption to an illustration from Harper's Weekly in 1858 quotes a doctor as saying, "While the Angel of Death rides on the fumes of the iron scow, and infected airs are wafted to our shores from the anchorage, we shall have no security against these annual visitations of pestilence" (see figure 95). Soon thereafter, a bill, signed by 1000 residents, was introduced to sell the Lazaretto on Tinicum Island and build a new quarantine on Little Tinicum Island. The bill soon died, but factions were formed between supporters of the Lazaretto in Essington and those who sought for its removal, called "Removalists." These "Removalist" groups formed in other major seaports as well. At times their efforts became violent. An article about a Staten Island incident from Harper's Weekly in 1858 reads,
"For years the existence of a quarantine hospital on Staten Island has been a grave injury to the city and to the island, breeding pestilence on the latter...and occasioning every year yellow fever panics which inflicted severe injury on the trade of the port. A commission, appointed by the governor, had done nothing about removing the source of trouble, and the Staten Islanders took matters into their own hands. On Sept. 1, at nine o'clock in the evening, a large party, 'disguised and armed,' attacked the hospital from two sides, removed the patients, and set the buildings on fire" (see figure 96).
This contentious issue in Pennsylvania invoked legislative interest in July of 1872 when Governor Geary made a visit to the Lazaretto — the only time it was ever visited by an executive officer of the state. In that same year, Removalist efforts were again presented in the legislature with a bill requesting the removal of the Lazaretto to another site, this time not specified. However, they were again defeated due to recent and costly improvements made on the property and the interests of long-term residents of the Lazaretto.
At the same time, in the 1870s, European immigration began to increase dramatically. This increase was due in part to a change in transportation from sailing vessels to steamships. Shorter periods of sailing meant improved health conditions on board. In 1873, the American Steamship line transformed the population of Philadelphia. Over 4000 passengers were inspected at the Lazaretto that year. One year prior, in 1872, fewer than 500 passed quarantine. By 1879, these numbers soared when nearly 30,000 people immigrated to Philadelphia.
However, the Removalist movement did not subside. By 1891, a formal anti-Lazaretto campaign began and another bill was introduced by State Representative Ward Bliss to end municipal control of and relocate the station. Fear of cholera in 1893 helped the Bliss bill to pass. On June 5, 1893, by an Act of Assembly, " The Old Lazaretto shall thereafter by abandoned and turned over to The City of Philadelphia." A new quarantine station was scheduled to be constructed further down the Delaware River, at Marcus Hook. The Lazaretto Property was officially vacated in 1895 and the Marcus Hook Station was up and running. The Marcus Hook quarantine station closed in 1919.
The Lazaretto Property did not stay vacant for long. Its prime waterfront location, proximity to Philadelphia, and natural areas for hunting, fishing, and boating provided a haven for the wealthy and summer residents. In 1895, Tinicum's first trolley lines were laid and recreational areas, picnic groves, hotels, hunting and fishing lodges, hotels, and boating clubs were soon developed. Places like the Riverside Hotel, greatly altered and today the Lagoon, the Rosedale Inn, now demolished, and a hotel, now the core of the Corinthian Yacht Club, were established. By 1900, the population had increased to nearly 500, double what it was in the nineteenth century, and Tinicum harbor had become a teeming pleasure resort (see figure 29).
Located away from the city and on an ideal riverfront setting, the Athletic Club of Philadelphia leased the Lazaretto Property from the City of Philadelphia in the mid-1890s. According to a 1902 map, the Club apparently also leased the adjoining six-acre Government Property until sometime before 1909 when it was leased by John Sheppard (see figures 22 and 23). The Athletic Club maintained its headquarters in the City of Philadelphia at 1626-1628 Arch Street, but used the Lazaretto as a summer home.
By the turn of the century, the Lazaretto had been transformed into a resort of leisure and recreation for society's affluent like Louis A. Biddle of Chestnut Hill, an active member from 1902-1903. The landscape suited its function as a resort. "Long grape arbors reach from the river to the main clubhouse, while thrifty vines, flowers, shrubbery, and fine old trees surround the building" (see figures 33 and 34). The site became known as "The Orchard Club." A postcard from 1908 shows a baseball diamond situated on the north lawn of the Lazaretto Property (see figures 31 and 32). At every opening of the "outdoor season" a massive celebration would take place on the property. One festival put on by the "Orchard Committee" included "an open-air concert by the Municipal Band, a baseball game between the married and the single members of the club, a trap shooting match between the shot-gun experts of the organization and the Florists' Gun Club for a special trophy and individual prizes, contests at the lawn tennis, shuffleboards, quotts, reserving for the evening, indoors, billiards, pool, and ping-pong."
In October of 1906, fifty members and guests of the City History Society took an outing to Tinicum to learn about its history. A newspaper article about their trip described the state of the Lazaretto in use by the Athletic Club:
"Essington, the summer home of the Athletic Club, of Philadelphia, was visited, and proved a landmark of great interest, for here the party was told the history and legends of the old Lazaretto and first quarantine station. None of the many buildings included within the extensive grounds have been torn down by the Orchard Club, as the Athletic Club call their summer quarters, but have been kept in a good state of repair, and now these houses that once witnessed scenes of suffering and dread, when they served as hospitals over a hundred years ago, are the scene of festivities."
Members and visitors of the Orchard Club took great pride in the Lazaretto, its remaining architectural fabric, and history. The use of the site became a point of pride and interest for students in the 1910s interested in preservation of old buildings and ancient landmarks. "There is no further danger of tearing down old landmarks for modern building operations," one newspaper article, circa 1912, stated regarding the Orchard Club. While the structures remained well-kept, the interiors of some buildings on the property were remodeled and club conveniences introduced. The exteriors, however, were unchanged from the time the quarantine station was removed in 1893.
Another shift not only in the Lazaretto's use, but also the nation's history occurred in the years before the First World War when aviation was in its infancy. The site of the Lazaretto became the setting for many historic milestones in seaplane aviation development and innovation. Some of America's historic aviator leaders and heroes are also part of the Lazaretto's history and add to its national significance as a place for innovation and pioneering.
Shortly after the Wright brothers made advances in airplane invention and development in the early 1900s, aviation was becoming popular in Pennsylvania and throughout the United States. By 1908 there were three aeronautics clubs in operation in Philadelphia involved with developments in ballooning. Aeronautics or "balloonatics" hit almost every edition of Philadelphia newspapers and launches became great public spectacles. Organized by ten people in 1909, the Aero Club of Pennsylvania gathered so many members that it was incorporated on May 10, 1910. Today it is the oldest active incorporated organization of its kind in the United States.
Throughout the early 1900s and 1910s there were no permanent facilities for aviation activities in the United States, except for busy flying schools. Therefore, aviator and inventor Glenn Hammond Curtiss began to look at the use of lakes, rivers, bays, and estuaries for landing areas. The concept of a machine that could descend and propel itself on water inspired him to affix pontoons to the undercarriage of "land-planes" to transform them into "hydro-planes". Curtiss made the first successful seaplane flight in America on January 26, 1911, at San Diego, California on a Curtiss D pusher mounted on a single central float. His contributions to aviation also included flying boats and airplanes, which could take-off and land on a carrier ship. He is considered the father of seaplane innovation and naval aviation.
With war imminent, American flying schools began cropping up quickly. The Navy's first flying school opened at the site of the Naval Air Station in Pensacola, Florida, in 1913, only two years after the Navy purchased its first aircraft, the A1 Triad, from Glenn Curtiss. In 1915, members of the Aero Club of Pennsylvania, Colonel Robert Edward Glendinning, George C. Thomas, Judge J. Willis Martin, A.J. Drexel Biddle, and F.H. Maguire, organized the first private flying club in America called the Philadelphia School of Aviation at the Lazaretto site in Essington, leased from the City of Philadelphia (see figure 24). (Later, the school became known as the Essington School of Aviation and the Philadelphia Seaplane Base, Pennsylvania's first water-flying school and the oldest continuously operating seaplane base in the United States). The school catered to the wealthy like Joseph N. Pew Jr., son of the founder of Sun Oil Co., John B. Stetson Jr., a minister to Poland, Caleb Fox, Franklin Pepper, Samuel Eckert, Howard Pew, Stephen Noyes, Alexander Brown, Clark Thompson, and Mrs. Paul Denkla Mills. The formal opening of the seaplane base was in May of 1916 (see figures 109 and 110).
Glendinning, a University of Pennsylvania alumnus (1888), stockbroker, and aviation enthusiast, studied his theory that aeronautics could be undertaken without a great deal of risk by routinely ballooning over Philadelphia and in France (see figure 97). He soon felt confident in his abilities and traveled to Hammondsport, New York to take a full six-week course at the Curtiss school. He earned his diploma and later an international pilot's license and French aviation license, which certified him qualified to all civil and military authorities. When Curtiss offered a prize, in the summer of 1916, for the longest non-stop flight made in an F-boat, Glendinning was slated to win with 160 miles logged, but was outdone at the last minute by a pilot in San Diego with 250 miles. He contributed substantially to American wartime aviation during the First World War, ending his military career as colonel after being awarded the Distinguished Service Medal by the United States government. Glendinning's other achievements included being one of the founders of Chestnut Hill Hospital and Philadelphia School for the Deaf. He died in 1936 of pneumonia.
Just before the official opening of the seaplane base in Essington in 1916, Glendinning purchased a Curtiss flying boat, or hydro-plane, for the facility (see figure 98). It was built in Hammondsport, New York and shipped by rail to Essington the same year. He also erected a floating hangar docked off of the Corinthian Yacht Club and six steel hangars on the property. With the Curtiss aircraft came a man by the name of Frank Mills to help assemble it and teach Glendinning how to fly. Except for serving in World War I, Mills would remain at the Lazaretto for the remainder of his life.
Born on January 12, 1889 in Chicago, Illinois, Frank Mills grew up with a keen interest in mechanical devices. At age thirteen he was sent out on a schooner as an auxiliary engineer. Working on the Panama Canal, Mills saw an aircraft fly overhead which sparked his interest in aviation. In December of 1913, Mills began flying lessons at the Glenn Curtiss Flying School in San Diego, California for $1.00 per minute and $1500.00 for insurance. After receiving his diploma, Mills went to Buffalo, New York to work for Curtiss as a pilot, flight instructor, and mechanic. In 1915, Mills and associate Beryl H. Kendick entered the Curtiss Marine Trophy Race, which awarded the person who flew the greater number of miles in one day in a seaplane. After several mishaps and terrible weather they abandoned their mission for the Trophy, but continued flying sightseers at Atlantic City, New Jersey. Mills was sent by Curtiss to Essington in 1916 to put together the Curtiss Hydro-plane. After Mills assembled the aircraft, Glendinning offered him a position as a mechanic and Assistant Instructor. With Walter Johnson, school coordinator, he helped set up the school facilities and operations. With World War I on the horizon, the school offered free flying lessons to any college student who promised to enlist into an air service if the United States were to go to war. At the time the Philadelphia School of Aviation in Essington had five machines, which included Curtiss flying boats, Curtiss pusher and pontoons, and a Thomas flying boat used as a school ship.
On July 18, 1914, the Aviation Section of the Signal Corps, part of the United States Army, was established. As war drew near, in early 1917, the Army Signal Corps commandeered the base at Essington to train military squadron flyers — one of four training sites when the United States entered the war. The Lazaretto Property and adjoining Government Property were subsequently renamed to Chandler Field — in honor of Second Lieutenant Rex Chandler, a pioneer military aviator who was killed in a hydroplane accident near San Diego on April 8, 1913. Under the command of Captain L. E. Goodier, Jr., a retired pioneer army pilot, the 45th and 143rd Aero Squadrons were stationed there and known as the Essington Service Group. Captain W.C. Ocker, a major proponent in instrumental flying and called the "father of blind flying," was Officer in charge of flying. Not only did the Army seize the base, but also all of the equipment and personnel that came with the facility. Therefore, Glendinning was commissioned as Colonel, George C. Thomas and Samuel Eckert as Majors, John B. Stetson Jr. as Captain, and Mills was designated Senior Civilian Instructor.
In the early days as a military training base there were only ten to twelve enlisted men that made up the 45th and 143rd Aero Squadrons. By Armistice there were over 500 stationed at Essington's Chandler Field. During this time, more planes and equipment were used including two Curtiss F flying boats, one early converted "Curtiss Grasscutter with coffin shaped pontoon having bamboo poles, taped and wrapped with bail wire, extending to the rear elevators and rudder", four Sturtevant metal fuselage planes, one Curtiss R-6, and four Curtiss N-9 seaplanes. Many distinguished pilots received their training at Essington including Major Charles Biddle who would later become one of America's Aces — pilots who shot down five or more enemy aircraft in combat. It is interesting to note that there were never any fatal accidents at the base, a remarkable record for that time. In November 1917, the Aero Squadrons and equipment were transferred to newly constructed Gerstner Field near Lake Charles, Louisiana for winter operations.
In the spring of 1918, Mills was transferred to Minneola, Long Island as a civilian flight instructor. At the end of the war, he was offered a position as an airmail pilot, but turned it down to return to the Essington facility. He purchased all of the Army runways and material for hangars, once used at the Essington site, at auction. He and his wife moved back to Essington, leased the Lazaretto Property and reopened the flight school. In the winter they hauled their aircraft to West Palm Beach.. Gradually, Mills improved the Essington seaplane base and created a profitable and successful business that he continued to run at the Lazaretto Property for the remainder of his career. Mr. A. Atwater Kent was among his notable students.
Frank Mills and his wife, Anna Armstrong Mills, had three sons, Frank Jr. (1917), Robert (1920), and William (1924). Throughout their youth, the three brothers worked with their father at the base after school and on weekends. Sometimes he would take them along on business. Eventually all three got their pilot and mechanic licenses.
The city of Philadelphia declared "by an Ordinance to authorize the sale of the unused and unproductive salable real estate owned by the City" on September 1, 1936. Frank A. Mills and his wife Anna quickly purchased the property on January 6, 1937 for $10,500 and continued its use as a seaplane base. After the acquisition, Mills began to lease the southwestern 1.32 acres containing the Physician's House and Barn to the Riverside Yacht Club on April 1, 1937. The Club took over the Physician's House and Barn for their use. On November 15, 1939, the Riverside Yacht Club eventually purchased the property and continues to own it to the day of this writing.
The adjacent United States Government Property was simultaneously declared a surplus in 1936 by the United States Treasury Department. The Advisory Board on National Parks, Historic Sites, Buildings, and Monuments declared the area of national historic significance in March of 1938. (It should be noted that the Government Property was regarded as nationally significant in the 1930s for its Swedish Settlement history and not for its use as a quarantine station. Also, the property was never declared a National Historic Landmark nor has it been listed on the National Register of Historic Places.) Aware of its historical importance, the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission and Museum Commission (PHMC) focused their attention on the property. They desired that it be turned over to the National Park Service so that it could eventually be incorporated with Governor Printz State Park and used for the upcoming Printzhof's 300th Celebration. The National Park Service and PHMC petitioned the Procurement Division in Washington D.C. to withhold the property from sale until they could figure out a solution for the site. In March of 1938, Bill S. 3594 was introduced by Senator Guffey to transfer the property to the State of Pennsylvania. However, the Bureau of the Budget made a provision that the State pay 50% of the purchase price (unknown). The State was unwilling to do so and the property was instead leased to Essington Yacht and Repair Company, formerly Yacht Repair and Storage Company, in August of 1938. In August of 1940, the six-acre property was transferred to the Navy Department in preparation for the War.
Frank Mills Sr. died in December 1940 of pancreatic cancer. His son, Robert, or Bob as he was commonly called, Mills came back from a job he had working for Pan American Airways to operate the Philadelphia School of Aviation. However, the day after the bombing of Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, Bob Mills received a telegram from the United States government ordering the removal of all propellers from the aircraft at the school to prevent from sabotage because the oil refineries were near to the base. Therefore, Mills would be out of business for quite some time. He left Essington to work at the Naval Aircraft factory and later joined the Navy as Seaman 2nd Class in the Aviation Cadet Program. He got his "Wings" in 1943 when he graduated at Pensacola, Florida as an Ensign and Naval Aviator. During the war he flew TBM Avengers and served in the Pacific with a torpedo squadron based on the carrier USS Santee (see figure 108). In 1944, Mills was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross for his participation in the Leyte Gulf during the war.
When World War II ended in 1945, Mills was released from active duty with the United States Navy, but remained in the Reserve. He returned to the Philadelphia School of Aviation in Essington, which his brother Frank had been operating. William, or Bill, Mills got out of the Navy in 1946, at which time, all three brothers carried on their father's legacy and operated the seaplane base. They also continued using the corrugated iron hangars, original railway for launching, and first winch. The remainder of the property not used for seaplane operations was a dry dock and marina called Governor Printz Marina. Bob taught fledglings and managed the seaplane operations, William handled boat yard services, and Frank worked as sales engineer for an aircraft radio firm based in Newark.
After the War ended, the Government Property resumed being rented by the Essington Yacht and Repair Company and again, the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission set their sites on acquisition. Another Bill was introduced in 1947 to transfer the Government Property to the State, but was denied because the Commonwealth had no interest in it "whatsoever." The issue was then seemingly dropped as correspondence letters in National Park Service files cease in regards to the property.
Recognized for its historical significance, the Lazaretto Property was put on the National Register of Historic Places on March 16, 1972. It should be noted that only six acres of the ten-acre property were nominated. The boundaries of these six acres were not specified. When the nomination form was prepared in 1970, the Main building wings had been converted into apartments used as private residences for the Mills brothers (see figures 57-59). The rooms of the central pavilion were filled with old aircraft parts, but were "in good original condition and could easily be restored."
From 1972 to 1975, Bob Mills worked as operations manager and chief pilot for Downtown Airways, a commuter service between Philadelphia and New York that used float-equipped Piper Aztec and Dehaviland Twin Otter aircraft. He was still working part-time at the Philadelphia School of Aviation. When Downtown Airways ceased to exist, Mills went back to operating the base alone (see figures 99-102). He retired from the Reserve in 1980 with the rank of Commander.
Over the years, Mills has received a great deal of recognition for his achievements in aviation. In 1990, he was awarded the Certificate of Appreciation from the Federal Aviation Main (FAA). The FAA also awarded him the Charles Taylor Award, in 1994, for aircraft maintenance for fifty years. Mills received the Pilot of the Year Award from the Seaplane Pilots Association (SPA) in 1996. In 1997, he was honored with the Annual Wright Brothers Award from the Aero Club of Pennsylvania. Mills' wife also maintained an extensive aviation history museum out of the central pavilion of the Main Building.
Bob Mills worked and lived continuously at the Lazaretto and Philadelphia Seaplane Base. However, in the late-1980s and early 1990s, real estate taxes tripled, commercial hull insurance increased, a fast-encroaching Philadelphia International Airport put restraints on conditions of seaplane flying out of the base, and Mills was getting ready to retire. He put the Lazaretto Property up for sale and it remained on the market for nearly a decade. In June of 2000, Island Marine Partners L.L.C., a developer, purchased the property from Mills for $2.15 million. By December of 2000, Mills moved to Eagles Nest, Florida, an aviation community, with five of his planes. He lives there to the time of this writing. Mills subsequently donated most of the aviation museum's collections to the Millville Army Air Field Museum (MAAFM) in Millville, New Jersey. The Smithsonian was interested in some pieces, but Mills wanted to donate the collection in its entirety. The MAAFM is open to the public and has a permanent display room of over 1000 items of photographs, memorabilia, and artifacts, most dating to World War I and World War II (see figure 104).
There are two other architectural structures on the Lazaretto Property that represent the Lazaretto's use as a seaplane base. One of these is Corrugated Shed 1, located just southwest of the Main Building (see figures 68 and 69). It is constructed of large, corrugated metal sheets and metal girders and measures roughly forty-one feet by forty feet. There are two double-hung windows, a smaller window towards the roofline, and a door on the west façade. The east wall slides open for access. Large sheets of wood enclose the southern end because the structure once extended further south adjoining Corrugated Shed 2, however a large section was removed (see figure 10). Inside, gravel covers the ground and from the rafters hang old seaplane parts such as propellers and wings. Oral histories say that this hangar was originally used as a repair shed by the Philadelphia International Airport when it opened in 1925. The sheets of metal came from crates that shipped World War II planes. Sheds like this one were erected all over the front lawn of the Lazaretto when the site was used as one of America's first seaplane bases in 1914. However, most have been dismantled or demolished. In 1986 there were two additional large metal sheds erected in the center of the south lawn occupying a majority of the open space (see figure 10). These sheds stored seaplanes and seaplane parts throughout the early twentieth century and continue to be used for the same purpose today (see figure 103).
Corrugated Shed 2 is the only other example of these metal hangars on the Lazaretto Property (see figures 70 and 71). Located just south of Corrugated Shed 1, this shed is nearly twice the size and currently contains a modern seaplane. Corrugated Shed 2 is constructed in the same manner and of the same materials as Corrugated Shed 1 and measures about ninety-four feet by forty feet. Their interiors are also alike as they were once adjoined. Oral histories of this shed describe its use in the 1926 Sesqui-Centennial as part of an exposition of buildings near the Sports Complex in Philadelphia.
When Bob Mills sold the ten-acre Lazaretto Property to Island Marine Partners L.L.C. in June of 2000, the site faced the threat of demolition. Although still in use as an active marina and dry dock, the new owners had new plans for the land. Three plans were proposed to Tinicum Township; a satellite, 889-space, airport parking lot with an attendant booth, a two-story restaurant, or a ten-story restaurant, lounge, and marina. All three plans called for demolition of the extant historic structures and a permit was subsequently requested. There are no local preservation ordinances protecting the site and its historic structures. Its National Register designation does not inhibit privately funded projects or demolition.
However, local and national preservation advocacy and interest groups, Township and State officials, and concerned members of the community immediately responded in 2000 and began scrambling to save the Lazaretto. A thirty-member committee, Friends of the Lazaretto, was formed to help pull together financing. Members of the Friends of the Lazaretto came from a wide array of organizations including the Preservation Alliance for Greater Philadelphia, Delaware County Historical Society, and National Park Service.
Local residents also responded to the Island Marine Partners L.L.C. proposals. They were distressed by the possible loss of one of Delaware County's, and perhaps one of the nation's, most historic structures. But concern due to the impact on their community of the proposal put the developers proposed the airport parking lot at the height of their agenda. Unbearable traffic, decrease in safety, and increase in noise would result from the hundreds of cars coming and going daily. Other issues raised by concerned residents were potential declines in their property values, oil and pollutant run off into the Delaware River, and an addition to the overcrowding by the six airport parking lots already existing in the township. Resident John Hines, who lives one block from the Lazaretto, was quoted in a local newspaper, "It's going to be a damn eyesore... They're talking about putting it plum-smack in the middle of a residential area."
By 2001, Tinicum officials and the Friends of the Lazaretto had launched a full-scale campaign to preserve the Lazaretto Property. The owners asked for $3.1 million and agreed to put the demolition on hold while the Township raised the money for acquisition through state grants. Also in 2001, the zoning board denied all three plans submitted by Island Marine Partners L.L.C. as well as an additional plan for a riverboat gambling casino.
To spread public awareness, members of the Friends of the Lazaretto reached out to preservation newspapers, journals, and promotional organizations. In 2001, Randy Cotton, of the Preservation Alliance for the Greater Philadelphia, nominated the site for the National Trust's "America's 11 Most Endangered Historic Places," but the Lazaretto did not make the list. It did, however, make Preserving Pennsylvania's "Pennsylvania At Risk 2001" and the Preservation Alliance for Greater Philadelphia's "Philadelphia's Most Endangered Historic Properties" in 2003.
Their efforts were rewarded when the Pennsylvania legislature authorized $400,000 in the 2001 budget to contribute to the down payment. Then, in 2002, a $200,000 Community Revitalization Program grant was announced by the state Department Community and Economic Development by lobbying leaders of the General Assembly. Although the money was meant to go toward a feasibility study, access to the site was denied by the owners.
Another issue faced by Tinicum Township was a need for land on which to build a new firehouse. According to Bill Moller, president of the Tinicum Township Historical Society, the Township is in need of a new firehouse. In previous years, there were two firehouses, both in poor condition and under-funded. Westinghouse, an electric company that purchased a great deal of land in Tinicum Township, donated a lot to the Township on which to build a new firehouse. However, the lowest bid to build was $7 million.
Township and state officials set their sites set on the now vacant land that is situated on the Lazaretto Property, north of the Main Building and outbuildings. This land once contained the Small Pox Hospital and morgue, Burial Grounds, Ice House, Gardens, the Orchard Club's Baseball field, and other pertinent resources. State representative Ron Raymond applied for a Redevelopment Assistance Capital Program (RACP) grant to acquire the Lazaretto Property and build a new firehouse on the property.
In April 2005 the state approved two RACP grants; $3.5 million for the "construction of a fire station and emergency evacuation center" and $2 million for the "acquisition and restoration of the Lazaretto." On July 28, 2005, Tinicum Township acquired the Lazaretto Property for $3.1 million and plans for the new construction are underway. While some residents and a commissioner have criticized the Township for entering into the grant, other officials are elated.
Norbert Poloncarz, Tinicum Township Manager, mentioned that additional monies will be required for any restoration, preservation, conservation, or rehabilitation. The Township has since entered into a $450,000 contract with MacCombie Engineering & Surveyors to stabilize or "mothball" the Main Building of the Lazaretto Property to await a feasibility study and more funding. The Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission (PHMC) approved a $50,000 archaeological survey of the site where the firehouse is to be built. The site may have archaeological potential regarding significant historic resources located there such as the old Burial Ground, Smallpox Hospital, and Ice House.