Intro by J.M Duffin and Mark Lloyd

The diaries of Philadelphia banker and Germantown resident Cornelius Nolan Weygandt provide an valuable insight into life in Philadelphia at the final decades of the nineteenth century. With details ranging from the food he ate, to the daily cash positions of his bank, to brief and sometimes pointed commentary on art and architecture, to the activities of his children and the occasional gossip about his neighbors, Weygandt’s writings let us come to know Germantown and Philadelphia as it was experienced by upper middle class Victorian-age residents.


photo courtesy of Historic Germantown

Weygandt was born in 1832, the son of a woodwind musical instrument maker, Thomas Jefferson Weygandt, and his wife, Sophie Makins (Helmbold) Weygandt. Thomas Jefferson Weygandt was born in Easton, Pennsylvania and moved to Philadelphia in 1820. Cornelius Weygandt attended Philadelphia public schools. After graduating from Central High School in 1848, he went to work for his first and only employer – the Western National Bank, located on the 400 block of Chestnut Street. Starting out as a clerk, he rose gradually through the bank to become its cashier in 1863, vice president in 1878 and president in 1887. Though his professional career had strong ties to finance, he had broad interests in music, art, architecture and history. He was one of the founding members of the Art Club of Philadelphia and also served on the boards of the Fairmount Park Art Association and the Pennsylvania Museum and School of Industrial Art (the school is known today as the University of the Arts and the museum the Philadelphia Museum of Art).

In 1869, Weygandt and his wife, Lucy Elmaker (Thomas) Weygandt, moved from his family home at 1332 Vine Street to a rented house on West Walnut Lane. Germantown was where the Weygandts and their children lived for the next ninety years. Cornelius and Lucy became the parents of their three children: Lucy, who died as the result of an accident at the age of 7 in 1872; Sophie (1867–1961), who married the architect John McArthur Harris, and Cornelius (1871–1957), known as “Corney” to his family, who was a Professor of English at the University of Pennsylvania and well known author of essays and books.

In 1879, when he wrote the diary entry quoted here, Cornelius Weygandt was in his mid-40s. Sophie was 12 and Corney was 8. They rented the house in which they lived, which was located in the 200 block of West Tulpehocken Street, near Wayne Avenue (the house was demolished in the mid-twentieth century). The Van Shaick family, mentioned in this entry, lived next door to the Weygandts. Many of the sites, such as the Philadelphia Zoo, may be familiar to readers today while others, such as Germantown Depot, which stood on Germantown Avenue and Price Street, may not be. An interesting reference in the diary is the mention of Frances Anne Wister, then a girl. She was later to become very well known as a leader in Philadelphia civic and cultural organizations, such as the Philadelphia Orchestra, and the founder of the Philadelphia Society for the Preservation of Landmarks.

Friday, 30 May 1879 – From Weygandt’s Diary
Decoration Day. A bank holiday. The weather much warmer. Wore my summer coat & vest. (I had my thick coat & vest on, yesterday) – Took Sophie & Corney to the Zoological Garden in the morning. By my permission, Sophie asked the little Van Schaiks, Mollie & Clara, to go with us; but they were unable to accept the invitation on account of their school engagements. Sophie’s school has a holiday today. We went to town by the 8.25 train; and after providing ourselves with bananas, sweet biscuit & Peanuts in a basket, took the 4th & 8th & Girard Av. horse cars for the Garden. The children delighted of course. Found it very warm walking around in the sun. Saw Abbot (of Drexel’s [bank]) & his son there; and also Watt of the N[orth].A[merican]. bank, & his children; old “whistling Billy” Wister & his two grandchildren (the children of W. Rotch Wister). The latter are both girls; and one of them is quite a little thing who goes to Corney’s kindergarten. She knew Corney & made up to him at once. She is a pretty engaging child. – Frances Wister. I met there also Phil Godley & his wife’s sister Anne. Was introduced to the wife. Lucy & I have cards from Phil & wife; and ought to have called on them long ago. They were married in January & “received” after Feb. 10th – We came home, via boat to Fairmount [Waterworks], Green St. cars & to 9th & Green & train to Germantown. Lawrence met us, with the wagon at the Germantn. Depot. Found Mattie Buchanan at our house, when we got home. She designs making a short visit. Very warm on our front porch, where we found Lucy & Mattie sitting. Shad, beefsteak, vegetables & cottage pudding for dinner. (N.B. We came out in the One o’clock train) – I spent the afternoon on the porch; reading Peveril [of the Peak]. Lucy & Mattie & Corney took a walk in Thomas’s Woods; and came back very warm. Sophie out to a tea party of girls, at Van Schaik’s. She did not get home until near 9. P.M.; when [our cook] Bridget [Conlon] was sent over for her. I put up our mosquito nets this evening; as these little pests have been annoying us a little. Over in Church Lane, we did not have occasion for nets until two months later in the season.