Philadelphia Ferry Building

A look back in time to a different Philadelphia, this is the Pennsylvania Railroad ferry terminal at Market Street, circa 1908 and courtesy of the Library of Congress. The instant I saw this, I thought of the iconic San Francisco Ferry Building.

Now, it doesn’t look like Philadelphia’s ferry building was constructed with anywhere near the degree of beauty or care for permanence that San Francisco’s was. I’m basing this purely from what I know of San Francisco’s compared to this photo. Maybe I’m wrong.

In any event, absorbing this photo is an instance when you’re hit with L.P. Hartley’s insight that “the past is a foreign country.” Philadelphia’s ferry building disappeared, of course, replaced by Penn’s Landing’s sprawling parking lots and highway ramps. Replaced by desolation, in other words. And across the river Camden is an entirely different place—almost everything on that waterfront is gone.

The Market Street (Ben Franklin) Bridge wouldn’t be built for another 20 years. When that was finished, I guess the practical need for ferries diminished. It still would’ve been nice if this thing, or something like it, has stayed where it was and become a landmark in the way that San Francisco’s Ferry Building is. Until Penn’s Landing is redeveloped, we’re stuck with this:


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