A Place in Time spotlights a significant cultural resource - a district, site, building, structure or object - entered in the National Register of Historic Places.
The Delaware Station of the Philadelphia Electric Company. State Historic Preservation Office/Photo by Robert Powers

The Delaware Station of the Philadelphia Electric Company. State Historic Preservation Office/Photo by Robert Powers

The monumental Delaware Station of the Philadelphia Electric Company is situated on the edge of the Delaware River in Philadelphia’s Fishtown neighborhood. Completed in 1923, it was for decades a major provider of electricity to the city’s industries and homes, but today plans are underway to rehabilitate it for new uses.

The Philadelphia Electric Company (PECO) was founded in 1899 and consolidated 26 small electric companies across Philadelphia to provide uniform service to the entire city. In 1902 the company constructed one of the largest coal-powered plants in the U.S., the Schuylkill Station. By 1915, despite an expansion, the facility was at maximum capacity. The advent of World War I created tremendous pressure on Philadelphia’s electrical grid as companies ramped up production of ships, steel and munitions to support the Allies. PECO had been experiencing shortages when they began construction on their second large plant in 1916, Chester Waterside Station. Based on the new plant’s immense size and generating capacity, PECO believed it would satisfy demand for several years. After the U.S. entered the war in 1917, however, Philadelphia experienced even greater industrial expansion. The enormous demands for electricity threatened to overwhelm the existing system, so PECO initiated plans to build a third generating station. Although construction began in September 1917, work was halted within two months because of the scarcity of investors during wartime.

With the war’s end in 1918, Philadelphia’s industries returned to manufacturing domestic products. The growing popularity of electrical appliances, such as washing machines, refrigerators and radios, along with dense new residential developments and PECO’s ongoing “Wire Your House” campaign, continued to strain the grid, so PECO revived construction of the Delaware Station. It would become the largest plant in PECO’s system, both in footprint and generating capacity, for many years.

Like the first two facilities, the new Delaware Station was designed by prominent Philadelphia-based architect John T. Windrim (1866–1934) in collaboration with PECO’s vice president and chief engineer, William C. L. Eglin (1870–1928). Windrim’s firm was PECO’s primary designer for three decades, planning more than 30 buildings, including the company’s headquarters and dozens of substations in the region, many of which remain in service today.

In the Delaware Station, visible for miles up and down the riverfront, Windrim created a monument to electricity. The building’s impressive scale and formal treatment celebrated the essential role that electricity had come to play in the lives of Philadelphians. The design was also intended to shape public opinion and convey the impression that PECO’s mission was a noble one.

The Delaware Station was likely the first large-scale power plant constructed of reinforced concrete in the U.S. Although Windrim and Eglin planned for the station to be built of structural steel, wartime shortages demanded an innovative solution, so they completely redrew the plans to use reinforced concrete, which at the time was highly unusual.

Scientific American hailed the Delaware Station as “The Last Word in Power Houses.” As the 20th century progressed, however, newer generating technologies rendered the facility increasingly inefficient. Eventually, it was reduced to a substation only, and even that use ended in 2015.

All four of PECO’s major Philadelphia-area power stations remain standing. Remarkably, the original Schuylkill Station is still in operation as a cogeneration plant, providing steam and electricity to customers in the Center City area. The Chester Waterside Station, listed in the National Register of Historic Places in 2007, was converted into offices using the federal Rehabilitation Investment Tax Credit and serves as a model for adaptive reuse of large power stations. The Richmond Station, built in 1925 and closed in 1984, is largely abandoned. The Delaware Station was listed in the National Register on August 10, 2016, and its current owner is developing plans to repurpose the property.


Recent listings in the National Register of Historic Places include Boyertown Burial Casket Co., East Greenville, Montgomery County; Boys’ Club of Pittsburgh, Allegheny County; Hotel Abraham Lincoln, Reading, Berks County; Howell & Brothers Paper Hangings Manufactory, Philadelphia; Lycoming Rubber Co., Williamsport, Lycoming County; Meyerhoff, Son & Co., Pottstown, Montgomery County; and Palmerton Historic District, Palmerton, Carbon County.


April E. Frantz is a historic preservation specialist who coordinates the National Register Program for the eastern part of the state at PHMC’s State Historic Preservation Office.