Mapping Philadelphia’s Civil War Coal Dealers

mcelroys-philadelphia.jpg

Dennis Clark’s research into the districts once known as Ramcat and Schuylkill piqued my interest in trying to reconstruct the environment of mid-19th c. Philly.  In attempting to figure out if the areas on the east bank of the Schuylkill River between Vine and South were populated by wharfs and coalyards — as he described — I tried to plot all the “coal dealers” I could that were listed in the business section of McElroy’s Philadelphia City Directory of 1861.  At first I equated “coal dealer” with “yard” but I don’t know enough about this industry to suggest that every “dealer” kept a stockpile of coal on his property.  If anyone knows I’d appreciate confirmation.  Here’s a link from www.philageohistory.org to the page of McElroy’s I used. 

Here is the plotting of the coal dealers using Windows Local Live. 

In plotting 70 coal dealers (just through H) several interesting features of this industry and an industrializing Philadelphia emerge.  I anticipated that dealers would be located on the eastern bank of the Schuylkill River, and along the Delaware.  I also figured that as a major commercial thoroughfare, Broad Street between Vine and South would have its share of coal dealers.  I did not expect such a high concentration along Walnut St. between 4th and Front Sts.  As the below may shows, one of the city’s major “public landings”, (which probably looked like the Race St. wharf), was located there.  These coal dealers probably profited from being in close proximity to other dealers for information-sharing purposes.  News about shipments, new markets, and fluctuating prices would easily pass through these coal dealer communities. 

Walnut St. Public Landing, 1840

The distribution of these dealers also shows the limits of 1861 Philadelphia.  As this 1840 map shows, mid-century Philadelphia was organized in a crescent around the Delaware, with development extending north into Northern Liberties and south into Southwark and Moyamensing districts.  Roughly this crescent is replicated on my coal dealer map.  Washington Ave., with its proximity to the Southwark RR, is fast becoming an industrial corridor.      

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4 thoughts on “Mapping Philadelphia’s Civil War Coal Dealers

  1. Your link to the main site of philageohistory.org does not work (.com instead of .org). I enjoyed looking up what my (male) descendants were doing with themselves back in 1861.

    Your blog is very interesting, btw.

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