with book, detail from N.W. Ayer building. A smaller version
of this owl marks tour sites with exhibitions or other reasons
to enter the building and spend additional time.
A Book-Lover's Guide to Philadelphia's Historic District
A Walking Tour of Literary, Printing, and Publishing Sites
Best time to tour: weekdays
Length of time: from 1.5 hours to all day, depending on how much
time you spend looking at exhibits at libraries and museums (or
shopping for books!).
All sites are free of charge unless otherwise noted
Download a printable tour map
in Adobe Acrobat format
"At least one historian of printing believes that the first
century of printing in Philadelphia was more brilliant in its
accomplishments than any of the other colonies during the same
period....Pennsylvania led the way in papermaking and the manufacturing
of ink. The first American Bible in English was published in Philadelphia
as were the first classic, first Shakespeare, first novel, first
magazine, and first foreign-language newspaper, besides the first
color printing and the largest single book printed in colonial
--John Tebbel, A History of Book Publishing
in the United States
Philadelphia was the publishing and bookselling center
of the new nation, and the neighborhood around Independence Hall
and Washington Square has been the center of these activities for
almost three centuries. This compact walking tour (less than 1 mile
without the southern loop; 1.5 miles with loop) includes optional
stops at at five special collections libraries, two museums, a bookshop
in the Philadelphia tradition, and a look at a number of buildings
connected with Philadelphia printing, publishing, and bookselling.
of Lazzarini statue of Benjamin Franklin on Library Hall, American
Philosophical Society, directly to the south of the Jefferson
Our tour begins
at Jefferson Garden, American Philosophical Society (southeast corner,
Fifth and Chestnut)
Thomas Jefferson, who wrote the Declaration of Independence just
two blocks away at Graff House, was also a book collector whose
library formed the nucleus of the Library of Congress.
From the garden, walk south on Chestnut Street, noting the statue
of Benjamin Franklin in a niche on the building. Turn left at the
cobblestone walkway to reach the main entrance of the American Philosophical
Philosophical Society (A PACSCL member library)
Library Hall, 105 South Fifth Street, Mon-Fri, 9-5
Philosophical Hall, 104 S. Fifthth Street, by appointment
The American Philosophical Society, the nation's oldest and most
prestigious learned society, has an international membership that
includes about 100 Nobel Laureates. Founded by Benjamin Franklin
in 1743 to promote knowledge in the sciences and humanities, it
concentrates on the history of science and American History up to
the Civil War -- through research, symposia, library resources,
and community service. It is the oldest continuously-operating publisher
of scientific works in the country. Changing exhibits.
Leave the American Philosophical Society, return to Fifth Street.
Cross Fifth Street and walk south and west through State House Yard
to Sixth and Walnut Streets to enter the Curtis Center, on the northwest
The Curtis Center, Sixth and Walnut
Streets, northwest corner
on Sixth Street and Seventh Street
Dream Garden Mural is located on Sixth Street side
This Georgian Revival office building and factory, erected in 1910,
was home to Ladies' Home Journal, Saturday Evening Post,
Jack and Jill, and Holiday until the Curtis Publishing
Company's demise in 1970. Norman Rockwell fans can see his famous
Post covers at the nearby Atwater Kent Museum on 15 S. Seventh
on Curtis Building
Garden Mural, Curtis Building
Walk into the Center's lobby and admire the 15' by 40' "Dream Garden"
mural. This mosaic, said to be the last and favorite work of Louis
Comfort Tiffany, produced from a Maxfield Parrish oil painting,
consists of 100,000 glass pieces in 260 color tones. Millionaire
Cyrus Curtis believed art should be available to all, so when, in
the late 1990's, the mural's owners tried to sell and remove it
from public view, Philadelphians raised an outcry.
Walk through the Center's 6-story atrium
(and former printing well)
to Seventh and Walnut.
The Pennsylvania Bible Society
701 Walnut Street
The first English language Bible in America was printed a few blocks
north on Market Street in 1782, but the plaque is on The Bible House
at this address. The Bible Society, in 1812, published the first
Bible printed from Stereotype plates, a less expensive printing
process, and produced over 17,000 Bibles from these plates. The
Society has been at the Walnut Street address since 1853, and sells
Bibles in 67 languages.
continue around Washington Square, viewing buildings on the west
and south sides
About Washington Square and Publisher's Row:
Washington Square, originally called "Southeast Square", was one
of five squares laid out by William Penn. The site served as a potter's
field for yellow fever victims, a prison, and a Quaker Meeting house.
Around the 1820's, it was planted as an arboretum of 400 trees of
50 varieties and renamed to celebrate the upcoming centenary of
Publisher's Row began in 1785 with Matthew Carey's Lea & Febiger
firm. Until 1840, Philadelphia rivaled New York as a publishing
center, and controlled the inland Southern and Western fiction markets.
Both cities relied on coastal and river navigation to reach readers,
which is why we have Spring and Fall lists but no Winter lists since
icy rivers blocked transport.
N. W. Ayer & Son Building. 210 W. Washington Square.
splendid Art Deco building, erected 1927-29, was designed by Philadelphia
architect Ralph Bowden Bencker and was home to the famous N. W.
Ayer & Son advertising agency, creators of such famous advertising
slogans as Morton Salt's "When it rains, it pours," DeBeers'
"A diamond is forever" and the Army's "Be all you
can be." Look for a printing press and other accouterments
of the advertising art on the doors. The Egyptian motifs in the
building were inspired by a 1920's Egyptian revival after the discovery
of King Tut's tomb.
If the building is open, enter the lobby to see additional decorative
elements, including the avian sculpture pictured below.
W. B. Saunders Publishing (220 W. Washington Square)
In 1888, Walter Burns Saunders founded a small publishing company
with the goal of producing the finest quality medical books in the
world. He sought out leading authorities as authors and worked to
streamline the book production process without sacrificing quality
in order to bring the latest in medical information to practitioners
as quickly as possible.
Today, W.B. Saunders is part of Harcourt Health Sciences and is
headquartered around the corner, in the Curtis Building.
Journal Building (230 W. Washington Square)
Quaker farmer Wilmer Atkinson founded The Farm Journal in
1877. By 1997, when it was sold to the Tribune Company, it was one
of the oldest and most respected agricultural trade journals, with
a circulation of over 600,000. This handsome brick building in the
Colonial style was built on the site of the Orange Street Friends'
Square South. Christopher Morley is reported to have lived in
the third house from the left, called "Morley's Inn"
by his friends.
"Morley's Inn," S. Washington Square
Christopher Darlington Morley (1890-1957) reached the pinnacle
of his popularity as a writer in the 1930's and '40's. Best known
for his novel Kitty Foyle (the film version of which earned
Ginger Rogers an Oscar for Best Actress), he was, in fact, quintessentially
versatile. Erudite and witty, he probed every literary genre and
exhibited a style of substance and facility. Though he is perhaps
best remembered as a novelist and literary columnist, he is also
remembered as a dramatist, essayist, editor, especially in connection
with the Book-of-the-Month Club and anthologist of two editions
of Bartlett's Quotations, and one of the founders of the
Saturday Review of Literature. A great fan of Arthur Conan-Doyle's
Sherlock Holmes, he was the founder of the well-known Baker Street
Irregulars. Morley's poetry which he wrote in free verse and rhymed
had a 17th century lilt to it. His Translations from the Chinese
(1932) is considered some of his best poetry. Then again, his poetry
was transduced into lyrics in collaboration with such song writers
as Jerome Kern. His collection of essays on walks in Philadelphia
is still in print at Christopher Morley's Philadelphia.
Christopher Morley was a graduate of nearby Haverford College (another
PACSCL member library), and the Haverford College Library holds
a comprehensive collection of Morley's works.
Lea & Febiger, 600 S. Washington Square
This attractive building was the last Philadelphia home of a firm
that was a force in the U.S. publishing world for more than 200
years. It was founded in 1785 by Matthew Carey, who as a youth served
his first printing apprenticeship with Benjamin Franklin in France.
He opened his first Philadelphia venture with funding from the Marquis
de Lafayette. His innovations included the first use of Greek type
in the US,the first use of outside proofreaders, the first book
fair, the first U.S. booksellers' association, the establishment
of the U.S. reputation of such authors as Sir Walter Scott, as well
as a number of advances in book distribution and promotion. In this
latter he was abetted by the efforts of his colorful agent, Mason
Locke "Parson" Weems, whose influence on the reputation
of George Washington will never be fully eradicated.
Carey carried on an extensive correspondence with political and
intellectual figures of the day, was active in the establishment
the Hibernian Society and other efforts for the relief of poor Irishmen,
and made a director of the Bank of Pennsylvania. When he died in
1839, his funeral was the largest seen in Philadelphia to that time.
The firm has undergone many changes of names over two centuries:
Carey, Stewart & Co.; M. Carey & Son; M. Carey & Sons;
Carey & Lea; Carey, Lea & Carey; Carey, Lea &Blanchard;
Lea & Blanchard; Blanchard & Lea; Henry C. Lea; Henry C.
Lea's Sons & Co., Lea Bros & Co. and finally Lea & Febiger.
Optional southern loop: Mother Bethel Church,
Brinbridge Street Bookstores, Presbyterian Historical Society
Turn right on Sixth Street, walk south two blocks to Mother Bethel
Mother Bethel Church
419 Richard Allen Avenue at the corner of Sixth and Lombard 215-925-0616
Call in advance for a tour of the church and the Richard Allen
Museum. The museum is open after Sunday services for one hour, and
Tue-Sat 10-3 by appointment only.
Mother Bethel A.M.E. church was founded by free black Richard Allen
in 1794. Allen, with Absalom Jones and others, had founded of America's
first African American social organization, the Free African Society,
in 1787. Jones and Allen each founded an African American church
after St. George's Methodist Church, where Allen had been a preacher,
instituted segregated seating.
When the yellow fever struck Philadelphia in 1793, African Americans
were thought to be immune, and the Free African Society worked tirelessly
for the relief of Philadelphia's stricken white residents. When
Mathew Carey repeated rumors that African Americans were exploiting
the white victims in his A short account of the malignant fever,
lately prevalent in Philadelphia: with a statement of the proceedings
that took place on the subject in different parts of the United
States , Jones and Allen responded with A narrative of the
proceedings of the black People, during the late awful calamity
in Philadelphia, in 1793; and a refutation of some censures, thrown
upon them in some late publications.
Today Mother Bethel has a flourishing congregation. A museum in
the church's lower level celebrates the life and work of its founders.
The present Romanesque Revival building was constructed 1889-1890.
From Mother Bethel Church, continue
south to South Street (1 block), then turn left and walk 1 block
[no longer at] 501 South Street 215-925-0219
10 a.m. - midnight every day
Billed as Philadelphia's largest used book store, the Book Trader
offers an eclectic combination of fiction and nonfiction titles,
as well as records. Although this Philadelphia institution
moved to Old City (7 north 2nd Street) in early 2004, additional bookstores can be
found one block to the south, in the 500 to 700 blocks of Bainbridge
From the Book Trader, turn north on
Fifth Street and walk one block north to Lombard Street, then turn
right and enter the Presbyterian Historical Society.
Presbyterian Historical Society (a PACSCL member library)
425 Lombard Street 215-627-1852
National Archives and Historical Research Center of the Presbyterian
Founded in 1852, the Society's library contains over 200,000 volumes
and 20,000,000 manuscripts. These represent official records, personal
papers, books and images documenting the history of the church and
the Reformed tradition in America. There is an exhibition hall where
the visitor finds ephemera, books, letters, and other items relating
to the church's history.
Return to the southeast corner of Washington Square (south Sixth
227-231 South Sixth Street
Lippincott has had many homes since its beginning in 1792 as a bookstall
on Market Street -- not surprising, since at one point it was the
largest distributor of books in the world, shipping a mind-boggling
ten tons of books a day.
One of its many headquarters buildings can be seen on the east
side of Washington Square -- and today, as Lippincott, Williams
and Williams, it remains a leading publisher of professional health
information for physicians, nurses, specialized clinicians and students.
Its world headquarters are right around the corner from its Washington
Square home, in the 500 block of Walnut Street.
of Philadelphia (a PACSCL member library)
219 S. Sixth Street - 215-925-2688
Private subscription libraries predated our public libraries. Founded
in 1814, this member-supported library -- a National Historic Landmark
building in the Italian Revival style -- is furnished with early
19th-century American fine and decorative arts, and its library
collections concentrate on architectural and design history prior
to 1940. Visitors are welcome to the first-floor gallery. Make an
appointment to tour the second floor and see the building's stunning
reading rooms with 24-foot ceilings.
From the Athenaeum, cross Sixth Street and continue north past the
Curtis Building to its twin, the Public Ledger Building.
600-606 Chestnut Street
an 1867 Second Empire building designed by John McArthur, Jr., the
Public Ledger Building housed what was arguably Philadelphia's premier
newspaper at the turn of the century. Prior to its demise in 1942,
the Public Ledger was considered by the ladies and gentlemen
of the Main Line, of Chestnut Hill, and Rittenhouse Square to be
"the only newspaper any lady or gentleman should read."
Enter the lobby to see its handsome barrel vaulting and its eight-foot
statue of Benjamin Franklin, then proceed to the right to see the
Lights of Liberty headquarters on the Chestnut Street side. You
may want to stop and make a reservation for this popular tour while
The Public Ledger was an early pioneer in the use of Richard
Hoe's rotary press (1846) and the Bullock-Hoe web press (1868).
Walk west on Chestnut Street one block to Seventh and then turn
right (north). The next two sites are across the street from one
another in the middle of the block.
Independence Branch of the Free Library of Philadelphia (a PACSCL
18 South Seventh Street 215-685-1633
Mon, Wed 12-8; Thu, 1-5; Tue, Fri, Sat 10-5
This branch opened in February 2001 to serve five neighborhoods
including Chinatown. It has two special collections. Chinese Interest
includes over 3000 Chinese language items including books, videos,
newspapers, Shakespeare, a large martial arts fiction collection,
and children's classics such as Madeline. The Gay, Lesbian,
Bi-Sexual and Transgender collection has over 2000 items. Programs
offered at the Library include Chinese Web class, Calligraphy class,
Chess Club, and several book clubs. It is a dynamic multi-cultural
and multi-generational community center.
15 South Seventh Street 215-922-3031
Daily, 10-5, closed Tuesdays and major holidays -- Admission Charge
Across the street from the library is the Atwater Kent Museum of
the History of Philadelphia. Housed in the original home of the
Franklin Institute, the museum has a small but fascinating collection
of historic artifacts and a permanent exhibit of Norman Rockwell's
art. The museum would be of interest to children over seven years
old. Open daily, 10am - 5 pm, except Tuesday
(Side Trip: Down the street from the library, on Sansom Street,
is Jeweler's Row, with more diamonds per square foot than a post-Oscar
After leaving the Library or the Atwater Kent Museum, walk North
on Seventh Street to Market Street.
On the southwest corner is a recreation of the Graff House, in
which Thomas Jefferson wrote the Declaration of Independence.
Turn right on Market Street, and continue
east three blocks to Franklin Court
Court (part of Independence National Park)
318 Market Street
Even over 200 years after his death, Benjamin Franklin (1706-1790)
is probably America's most famous printer, though he was as adept
as a writer as he was successful as a printer. His best-known productions
are the newspaper the Pennsylvania Gazette and Poor Richard's
Almanac, noted for its aphorisms penned by Franklin but in its
time a useful, practical almanac. Franklin was also printer to the
government of Pennsylvania and set up partnerships in other cities,
all of which brought him considerable wealth and freed him to engage
in public service. On Market Street are restorations of five buildings,
one containing a working reproduction of a printing press and bindery,
where you can see 18th century printing and bookmaking in action.
There is also the restored office of The Aurora and General Advertiser,
the newspaper published by Benjamin Franklin Bache, Franklin's grandson.
In the Court itself are steel-frame silhouettes of Franklin's house
(demolished in 1812) and his print shop. Through portals one can
view archeological remains that include the privy, and underground
is a museum devoted to Franklin. The Court was designed by architect
Exit Franklin Court on the Chestnut Street side. Turn left; the
Chemical Heritage Foundation is the first building.
Chemical Heritage Foundation (a PACSCL member library)
315 Chestnut Street 215-925-2222
Mon-Fri 9-5, by appointment
Chemical Heritage Foundation seeks to strengthen understanding of
the chemical sciences and technologies. It encourages able students
to concentrate their studies in these sciences and industries, and
instills in chemical scientists and engineeers a greater pride in
their heritage and their contributions to society. Housed in the
First National Bank Building, original structure built in 1865.
This concludes PACSCL's book-lover's tour of the historic district.
Developed by the PACSCL Walking Tour Group: Janet Evans (Pennsylvania
Horticultural Society), Roy Goodman (American Philosophical Society),
Charles Greifenstein (College of Physicians of Philadelphia), Judith
Robison (Rosenbach Museum & Library). Web page creation and
additional photography by Laura Blanchard.