“The great coal depot” – Illustrations of Port Richmond in Philadelphia in 1852

The development of the rich veins of coal that run beneath Schuylkill County fueled an industrial revolution in the 1850s. And much of the coal that supplied the iron furnaces, steam ships, and kept millions of Americans warm as a home heating fuel traveled to market through America’s fourth largest city: Philadelphia.

In late 1852, an illustrated magazine set out to document the spot where much of the anthracite coal mined in the vicinity of Pottsville was sold on the booming coal markets. An artist for Gleason’s Pictorial traveled just north of downtown Philadelphia to Port Richmond on the Delaware River to sketch the scene where Schuylkill coal was shipped to locales up and down the Eastern Seaboard. Port Richmond was the location where the Philadelphia and Reading Railroad chose to send the valuable coal mined from the collieries of Schuylkill County. As documented in Gleason’s, more than 1.6 million tons of anthracite passed through Port Richmond’s coal wharves in 1852 alone.

Illustration of Port Richmond’s coal depot and many coal schooners from 1852.

The fine picture which we present above, drawn for us by Devereux, is a correct view of Port Richmond, the great coal depot of the Philadelphia and Reading Railroad Company.

Some years since Port Richmond was considered three and a half miles from the city of Philadelphia, but may now be spoken of as part of the city, for houses are built and streets paved all the way out to it. The number and extent of wharves and docks, erected for the accommodation of the immense business done at this depot, suggests an outlay of moneys that we cannot pretend to compute.

The town presents an animated bustle of business, whilst the docks and wharves show a forest of masts and an activity of labor, which has no parallel that we can call to mind. Trains of cars (sometimes one hundred to an engine) daily descend from the regions of Pottsville, and empty their contents into the vessels (mostly schooners) that await them at the depot. These schooners carry their freight to New York, Boston, and every commercial port of Down East.

From January 1 to December 1 1852, 1,650,912 tons of coal were unloaded at Richmond, sold, and sent off. The affairs of the company have always been judiciously managed, and capitalists consider its stock as a safe investment.

The truthful scene given below, by the same artists, shows the manner in which vessels of freight are expeditiously loaded with coal at Port Richmond. The cars being run to an elevated platform, each one is stopped immediately over an opening contrived for this special purpose. The bottom of the car is there unbolted, and the coal slides out, as here represented, and descends to the hold of the schooner alongside. The two engravings taken together will give our readers a very perfect idea of the business they are designed to represent, and are pictures illustrative of the internal wealth and resources of our country.

The wharves at the Port Richmond coal depot in 1852.

Read this edition of Gleason’s Pictorial courtesy of Hathitrust

Featured Image: Close up of the second sketch from Gleason’s Pictorial from 1852. 

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