Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Windmill Island

So, looking through some old maps of Philadelphia (nerd subhobby 2,126), I noticed that the city used to have 2 islands in the middle of the Delaware between Spruce and Christian Streets.
From Planphilly (a/k/a the site I will spend the next few days devouring):
There was once an island right off Center City where Philadelphians went to bathe and frolic.
Rising in the middle of the river, Smith’s Island was about a block wide and extended a half-mile from Arch Street to a point below South Street. It was originally known as Windmill Island for an octagonal 1746 windmill at its northern end. In May 1800, three men were hanged on the island for piracy aboard the schooner Eliza, leading to fanciful stories that it was a haven for pirates.
By the late 19th century, the island was a summer resort. Steam ferries left the Walnut Street wharf every ten minutes, carrying day-trippers to visit baths on the island. “The island has long been used as a bathing-ground and pleasure-garden,” one author wrote in 1887, “mostly for the lower classes.” According to Jackson, Smith’s Island featured a bathhouse, restaurant, beer garden, live music and occasionally a hot air balloon ascension or tight-rope walker to entertain the crowds. Great old willow trees made it an inviting retreat from the summer heat. In 1838, a canal was cut through the island at Walnut Street to facilitate ferry traffic to Camden. In 1878, shipping interests began a campaign to remove the island altogether, calling it an impediment to larger vessels. The campaign succeeded in 1891, when the Federal government began a six-year project to remove the islands. No trace of them exists today.
huh. I wish they were still there. Obviously, the old shipping route was instrumental in keeping Philadelphia prosperous for another couple of decades. But still, it sounds like it was a blast. Except for those pirates I guess. Still, I bet everyone else at those hangings was enjoying themselves.

I wonder what a scuba hunt of the area would yield. Other than getting chopped up by a propeller.
*I should know this, but is it S.C.U.B.A? SCUBA? I feel like it's a pretty established word, right? I mean, nobody spells it U.N.I.C.E.F., right?

EDIT: I just found some old newspaper articles about the island, including one bemoaning the fact that Smith Island would soon be but a "vague memory". Also, this compelling passage:
In the meantime the police force of the island, consisting of six men, aided by some of the city police, was sent to the wharf to clear the crowd off, which they signally failed to accomplish. They had hardly arrived on this side before a fight sprang up on the island and black-jacks were freely flourished in the air. The fight soon spread and the police at once returned to the park to quell the disturbance, and the harbor police tug “Stokley” was sent to their assistance. A charge was made upon the fighters and about a dozen of the ringleaders were arrested and placed in the cells upon the tug. After being allowed to perspire for a while in the cells, they were brought to this side and allowed to go free. Most of them left quietly, but one of them became very abusive and threatened to beat the officers. He was taken to the Central Station, where he gave the name of Michael O'Mealey, and his residence at 1227 Fitzgerald street. He was held for a hearing on the charge of being drunk and disorderly.
okay, 10 posts in 2 days. I'm off to have a beer and watch the game. Go Phils.

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