The Pennsy Train Shed and Filbert Street Viaduct, c. 1917
Oil on canvas, 28 x 32 inches
Signed at lower right: “MORRIS HALL PANCOAST”
This work depicts the Broad Street Station train shed and viaduct enveloped in smoke and steam from the many locomotives arriving and departing. The Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts has a similar scene by Pancoast which it acquired in 1918.
In 1879, the Pennsylvania Railroad began work on a large passenger station at Broad and Market Streets, directly opposite City Hall. To avoid road crossings for safety and scheduling efficiency, the tracks were elevated above Filbert Street. Opened in 1881 with 160 trains a day, within five years the number of passengers passing through the station grew to a million per month. The land between the station and the Schuylkill River was eventually acquired and by 1885 a viaduct for the elevated rails was built: large embankments encased in granite with spans over the north/south streets. The viaduct was quickly dubbed the “Chinese Wall” due to to a passing resemblance to the Great Wall, but also because it served to wall off the northwest portion of Center City.
In the early 1890s, the architect Frank Furness designed an addition comprising a ten-story office building and station expansion. The four original train sheds which protected passengers from the elements were replaced by a single shed structure 306 feet wide and 591 feet long. Its massive curved roof of wood and glass peaked at 100 feet above the tracks.
The train shed was destoyed in a fire in 1923, and the station itself was demolished in 1953 to make way for Penn Plaza.
About the Artist
The painter and illustrator Morris Hall Pancoast was born in Salem, New Jersey, in 1877. He studied at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts in Philadelphia under Thomas Pollock Anshutz and at the Académie Julian in Paris. He was a member of the Fellowship of the Pennsylvania Academy and the Philadelphia Art Alliance, the Salmagundi Club in New York, the North Shore Art Alliance in Massachusetts, and the Connecticut Academy of Fine Arts. Pancoast exhibited frequently at the Pennsylvania Academy, where he won a gold medal in 1924. Pancoast worked mainly in New York City but also maintained a summer studio in Rockport, Massachusetts.