This entry provides an interesting glimpse into various aspects of life on Tulephocken Street in the 1870s. The Weygandt family at this time was renting a house (later demolished) a short distance west of the Maxwell Mansion. Based on the description in the diary it would appear that their house was very similar to many of the others on the street built in the late 1850s. Weygandt has several references to going up to the cupola or “observatory” of the house. In 1879 he would have had a fairly extensive view of the surrounding landscape with its young trees and still open fields. The fire Weygand describes was at the home of Joseph W. Bradley 239 W. Walnut Lane. Bradley’s house was later demolished and a new one built on the site by Calvin Pardee in 1886.
As you will see from the entry, Weygandt underlines the word hot several times. In the era before air conditioning and the tee-shirts and short pants, warm weather was not an easy thing to bear. The Philadelphia Inquirer reported that the “day turned out to be a ‘scorcher’ so far as the temperature was concerned; but, happily, what would otherwise have been intolerably hot weather was relieved all day by brisk breezes, which made it feel much cooler than the previous day.” The temperature was 89 at 10 AM and 97 at 3 PM.
The Houston children Weyandt describes were the children of their neighbor Henry Howard Houston. Gertrude (who later married George Woodward) became a close friend of Sophie Weygandt. At the time this entry was written Sophie was 12 and Corney 8.
Friday, July 4th 1879
I was awakened while in bed last night by the noise of a steam fire engine; hearing at first nothing but the pulsations, or throbs of the engine. It sounded very near, but I could see no light in the sky on going to our chamber window. I then went up to our observatory, and at once saw light and flames; but they looked much father off than the sounds indicated. Lucy soon joined me, and we watched the fire until it subsided. We thought it to be the Unitarian Church [at Green St. and Chelton Ave.] and the adjoining board yard; or possibly the new English cottages, on Green St. near Chelton. But still the sounds of the voices, and the noise of the falling walls, or timbers appeared to place the fire over at Mr. Bradley’s, only a square from us, on Walnut Lane. And there we found it to be, this morning. I went around to the place, after breakfast with Sophie & Corney. Saw the furniture, carpets etc. out on the lawn, and many inquisitive sympathizers(?) talking to Bradley. I did not attempt to see him. The furniture was being moved into the adjoining house (Champion’s); which fortunately for Bradley is empty.
The weather very warm indeed. I spent the morning out of doors, under the trees, reading the paper and talking to Lucy, who as shelling peas, etc. Had very good vegetables for dinner, out of our own garden (peas and beans etc.) Some Claret wine (a present from Patterson) tasted the better for the hot weather. Our cow is now giving much better milk, as John Patterson claimed it would; and we have beautiful golden cream from it. I ought to have written up my diary today, and intended doing so, but the heat of the day overthrew my virtuous resolves. Spent the afternoon in the dining room, reading bound volumes of Littell, and occasionally taking a short nap. It was very warm. I gave Lawrence a holiday his morning; and Lucy gave the afternoon tothe girls; who went to a Roman Catholic picnic; I think at Fisher’s Lane [present-day East Logan St]. Sophie & Corney amused themselves during the day with exploding “caps” in a “bomb shell” and “pistol” (so called), and throwing torpedoes. I would not allow them to have fire crackers; nor to go to Van Schaick’s where they had them. I am afraid of Sophie’s getting her dress on fire, from the explosion of the power, or the burning remains of the crackers. We had some fine rasperberries [sic] and cream for tea. The berries from our own garden and the cream from our own cow.
After tea, when it became dark, I surprised the children (Corney & Sophie) by producing the bengola lights and tableau fire, and setting them off. They were very much pleased. Sophie went toHouston’s, to invite Gertrude to look on; and came back with both Gertrude & Sam Houston, who were added to the spectators. I allowed each one of the children to assist, and to set off some of the fireworks. After this, the youngsters went up into our observatory, to look out for the rockets, etc.; and then came down to the dining room to have some ice cream and mixed cakes. I then had my musical box out, playing for their benefit. Gertrude is a very nice little girl, about eleven years; and Sam a polite boy of fourteen. Gertrude and Sam went home shortly before ten o’clock; their father meeting them at our gate as they were leaving. Our children to bed soon afterwards. We had a heavy rain storm, with thunder and lightning, shortly after the Houstons left. The house very warm, from being shut up on account of the storm. It was still uncomfortably warm when we went to bed, about eleven o’clock.