Historical Society of Pennsylvania Marks the 100th Anniversary of Its Landmark Building

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

HSP will celebrate with an exhibit, behind-the-scenes tours, and festive party

This April, the Historical Society of Pennsylvania will celebrate the 100th anniversary of its stately red brick building at the corner of 13th and Locust Streets. Thousands of people pass by this building every day, but few know the fascinating story behind this historic structure—one of the first fireproof libraries in the United States.

The building is 100 years old, but the Historical Society of Pennsylvania is much older. The Society was founded in 1824, and it moved several times in its early years. In 1883, the Historical Society finally purchased property at the corner of 13th and Locust, a mansion that had been constructed by John Hare Powel. The mansion was the former home of General Robert Patterson, who had served in the War of 1812, the Mexican War, and the Civil War. The house, with its gardens and greenhouses, was well known in Philadelphia, as Patterson had frequently entertained notable guests including author Charles Dickens and actress Fanny Kemble.

The Society members worried about the potential of fire to destroy or damage the Society’s historic collection, so they embarked on an ambitious building project on the site. Architect Addison Hutton drew up the plans for the renovations, and the building was ingeniously designed to be as fireproof as possible. Its thick walls are made of brick. No wood was used in the construction, not even for the bookcases or furniture. Each room was divided by a fireproof door hung on an inclined railway track, counter-weighted so that when the temperature rises a fusible plug melts and the door automatically closes.

In April 1910, construction was complete and the building opened to the public with much fanfare and two days of celebration. On April 7, a distinguished group of historians, scholars, Society members, and esteemed guests gathered in the Society’s Assembly Hall for a formal banquet. To celebrate the building’s 100th anniversary, the Historical Society invites the public to attend several special events in April, including behind-the-scenes tours. HSP will also display old photographs, documents, and architectural drawings on site.

Today the Historical Society of Pennsylvania is home to more than 21 million historic documents, graphics, and manuscripts. It is one of the oldest historical societies and one of the largest family history libraries in the nation. Following a merger with the Balch Institute for Ethnic Studies, HSP is also a leading repository of immigrant and ethnic history. We are second only to the Library of Congress for material on the nation’s founding and have one of the country’s most comprehensive collections for genealogical study.

“One hundred years have passed since that grand opening in 1910, and the Historical Society of Pennsylvania is still proud to call 1300 Locust Street home,” said HSP President Kim Sajet. “In the following years, we will continue to improve our building to better protect and share our nationally-significant collections and serve new and expanding audiences through the Internet, digital history projects, and e-publications. We look forward to another 100 years of inspiring people to create a better future through historical understanding.

Anniversary events include Beyond the Bricks on Monday April 26, behind-the-scenes tour of HSP focused on the building’s architectural history. The tours will be offered at noon, 2 p.m., 4 p.m., and 6 p.m. The tours cost $10 for HSP members and $20 for nonmembers. To register, visit www.hsp.org or call 215-732-6200 ext. 214.

HSP’s annual fundraiser A 1910 Celebration, will be held on Thursday April 29. Guests may have their picture taken beside a red Stutz Bearcat sports car from the early 1900s and will enjoy jazz and ragtime music by Kenny Gates. Dancers from Mixed Pickles will perform dances that were popular in the early 1900s, including the Bunny Hug, the Turkey Trot, and Grizzly Bear. Even the food and flowers will be inspired by the original 1910 event. The evening will conclude with a cake in the shape of the Historical Society’s brick building and a toast of Roman punch, which was served at the original 1910 dinner. This year’s honorees will include Cokie Roberts, acclaimed author, broadcaster, and member of the Broadcasting and Cable Hall of Fame. The Founder’s Award will also be presented to Jerome J. Shestack, a prominent lawyer and advocate for human rights;and Marciarose Shestak, the first woman in the country to anchor the prime-time daily news in a major market while at KYW-TV. Henry Lafayette Collins III, a former member of HSP’s Board of Councilors, will receive the Heritage Award. The event will begin with cocktails at 6 p.m., followed by dinner at 7:30 p.m. and a Young Friends party at 9 p.m. For tickets and more information, contact Emilie Kretschmar at 215-732-6200 ext. 300 or visit www.hsp.org.  

Patterson mansion LOGO         1905 photo of HSP LOGO        HSP today LOGO

Images from left to right: Patterson mansion; HSP circa 1905 after first phase of construction; HSP today

MEDIA: Additional high-quality images are available upon request. If you are interested in touring the building or arranging an interview, please contact Lauri Cielo, Director of Programs and Communications, at 215-732-6200 ext. 233 or lcielo@hsp.org.