The Jewish Quarter
of Philadelphia

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  Iron shipbuilding was developing by colossal propor­tions upon the Delaware River in the early 1870's. At the same time immigrants were needed by the factories and coal mines of the new, post-Civil War United States. Tying these two elements together was the Pennsylvania Railroad, which saw opportunities to attract transatlantic emigrant trade and once in Philadelphia to transfer great numbers of immigrants by rail to the Midwest. To move ahead with its plans, the Pennsylvania Railroad created the American Steamship Company. William Cramp & Sons Ship and Engine Building Company of Philadelphia was com­missioned to build four ocean steamers for the newly formed steamship line: the Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois - named for the states through which the Pennsylvania Railroad ran to Chicago.

In 1873, the American Line, as the American Steamship Company was called, began service between Liverpool and Philadelphia, employing both steam and sail.s Almost immediately the advantages of the port of Philadelphia and the American Line were praised in the Hebrew press of Eastern Europe. The Pennsylvania Railroad was touted - in Hamagid (The Preacher), a learned Hebrew journal printed in Lyck, Eastern Prussia, but distributed throughout the Pale of Settlement (the area in western Russian where Jews lived) - as "the best and most reliable for emigrants who are going to the American West."6


  Poster, American Line in Liverpool, circa 1875.
Courtesy of the National Museums
& Galleries on Merseyside, Liverpool, England

     On any given day the port of Philadelphia hummed with trade, and the spars and rigging of moored sailing vessels could be seen up and down the Delaware River. For example, on Saturday, December 9, 1876, a total of 149 vessels were loading, unloading or in ballast. In port that day were fourteen steamships, forty-four barks, ten brigs, seventy-six schooners, and five other ships. The Christian Street pier, where the ocean-going steamers of the American Steamship Company were docked, and the emigrant wharf of the Pennsylvania Railroad were contiguous, and cars of the railroad could be backed down onto the wharf itself.

     When the Russian pogroms erupted, the steamship service of the American Line was well established with sailings twice a week between Liverpool and Philadelphia. The first ship to arrive at the port of Philadelphia carrying refugees from the pogroms was the Illinois. Approximately two weeks before its arrival, an Associated Press report was received, stating that the steamer Illinois, with three hundred Russian refugees, had left Liverpool bound for Philadelphia. German Jewry in Philadelphia secured an old depot of the Pennsylvania Railroad at 32nd & Market Streets to temporarily house the arriving strangers. It made arrangements to clothe the immigrants, find them employment, and care for the sick. The mayor of Philadelphia, Samuel G. King, was engaged in the effort and he sought to tap the philanthropic and benevolent nature of the citizenry. The Pennsylvania Railroad promised to have a number of cars and a locomotive standing at the wharf prepared to transport the immigrants to the depot. All was ready.

     On Thursday afternoon, February 23, 1882, the steamer Illinois came to her moorings at the Christian Street pier, bringing 329 Jewish refugees from Odessa, Kiev, and Warsaw, the first refugees to arrive at the port of Philadelphia after the pogroms. Making their way from the steamer to the wharf, the immigrants were met by Dr. 1. J. Ellinger of the Committee of Physicians. "During the examination of their few effects the Jews formed in an irregular line several ranks deep along the pier, and waited with exemplary patience, though they felt the cold severely, throughout an interval, the tediousness of which, especially the weary women, many of them with babes in their arms, and the little children, was greatly increased by an unexpected delay in the arrival of the train that was to transport the party to West Philadelphia.'" Eventually the immi­grants were landed and cared for by the Alliance.s

 Text  from "The Jewish Quarter of Philadelphia" by  Harry D.  Boonin, 1999.





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