Workshop of the World

stories of industry in & around Philadelphia

Crowe Carpet Company, c.1870 (later Brotherhood Mission)
401-403 East Girard Avenue, Philadelphia PA 19125

Stuart Paul Dixon, Workshop of the World (Oliver Evans Press, 1990).

The brown stuccoed facade of the Brotherhood Mission at 401-403 East Girard Avenue hides the building's association with Fishtown's home carpet weaving heritage as completely as it sheaths its exterior fabric. Three stories high when it was built about 1870, the portion of the structure at 401 East Girard has been shortened to two stories. Decorative cornice work hidden by aluminum on the 403 Girard portion of the building probably topped the vanished third story at 401 Girard. Evidence on the building's west elevation facing Columbia Avenue suggests that a two-story rear addition with three upper bays was joined to the 401 East Girard section. This rear addition was probably the site of carpet weaving in the late 1800s.
 
In 1877, William J. Crowe purchased the property at 401 East Girard Avenue from John Volkmar, a local developer and speculator. Crowe installed three hand-powered looms in the building and was producing 1,500 yards of ingrain carpet per month by 1880.
1 Although such output was modest in comparison with the output of the larger carpet mills, this method of small, residential-scale manufacturing was typical of Philadelphia's textile-related industries. This tradition continued well into the early 1900s. When the Fishtown Civic Association produced an oral history of the community in 1982, many of the long-time residents who were interviewed reminisced about playing among the cotton bales behind "Crow's carpet place."
 
By 1883, Crowe was listed in city directories as a carpet dealer, and he soon purchased another retail store in Philadelphia. In 1891, he had 10 men working four carpet hand looms in the rear rooms at 401-403 East Girard, and four other persons working in his front salesrooms. By this time he had also acquired a third shop, this one on North Front Street, six blocks west of East Girard.
2 In 1911 William J. Crowe's son and heir, Benjamin, sold the East Girard Avenue buildings to the Brotherhood Mission.

1  Lorin Blodget, Census of Philadelphia Manufactures (Philadelphia, 1880), p. 46.
2  Kensington; A City Within A City. An Historical and Industrial Overview (Philadelphia, 1891), pp. 139-40.


Update May 2007 (by Torben Jenk with information from "The 'Acres of Diamonds' Man" by Prof. Joseph C. Carter and the Brotherhood Mission website).
Still used by the Brotherhood Mission Ministries and including three buildings, 401-405 East Girard Avenue. From 1908 to the 1940s, the Mission served immigrant men coming to Philadelphia in search of work and ultimately living out “The American Dream." The Mission provided men the basic necessities of life: food, shelter, and, clothing. From 1946 to 1979, the focus of the Mission broadened under the leadership of Ade Yeske, who was the Superintendent of Brotherhood Mission Ministries and was instrumental in starting programs and camps for inner city children. During the 1980s, drug use reached epidemic proportions and Brotherhood Mission Ministries refocused its mission to help homeless men with substance abuse problems and mental illness. Substance abuse and mental illness have long been recognized as major contributing factors in homelessness. Although providing housing support for persons with these problems is often the most difficult task of all shelter services and recovery programs, this is the very population that Brotherhood Mission Ministries has served for decades. Open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, the Brotherhood Mission provides daily services to approximately 75 to 100 homeless men in need of safe shelter for the night, nutritious meals, a hot shower, and clean clothes. They also offer an intense 18-month addiction recovery program.

Founded by Dr. Russell Conwell, the celebrated pastor of Grace Baptist Church, author of forty books, founder of Samaritan Hospital (now Temple University Hospital), Temple University and Temple Brotherhood Psycho Therapeutic Institute… now known as Brotherhood Mission Ministries. His famous lecture, "Acres of Diamonds," made him America's most celebrated orator. By the end of his life in 1925, he had delivered the lecture more than 6,000 times. It was heard by millions from pulpits and public platforms, and by radio. Conwell encouraged everyone to “do what you can with what you have where you are today."