Gaskill Street Baths, Public Baths Association
Philadelphia, PA

The Gaskill Street Baths were designed in 1896 by Furness, Evans & Co. with Louis E. Marie, the architect at the firm tasked with the plans. The impetus for the baths originated with suffragette, writer, and preservationist, Sarah Dickson Lowrie. She was influenced by interactions with children she taught in the Southwark neighborhood, where only 1 in 20 families had access to a bath. Lowrie would bring up the idea at a dinner party, hosted by John Wanamaker, where Barclay H. Warburton, the publisher of the Philadelphia Evening Telegraph, would take up the call and become a fundraiser for what became the Public Baths Association. The Association would form in March of 1895, construction on the Gaskill Baths would begin in September of 1897, and the baths would open to the public on April 21, 1898. The baths very considered very successful and would last until the advances of the mid-19th century put plumbing in most homes in the United States.

From Philadelphia Medical Journal, Volume 1, no. 17 (April, 1898), 717-718, by George Milbry Gould, James Hendrie Lloyd:

New Public Bath and Wash House.—The Public Baths Association has just finished the erection of a bath house at Naudain and Leithgow, late Gaskill and Berlin Streets, between Fourth and Fifth and Lombard and South Streets, where, for 5 cents, both men and women can obtain hot or cold baths every day in the year. The building has been erected in order to meet the crying need of bathing facilities in the older and more densely crowded portion of Philadelphia. The 8 free bath houses operated by the city, while doing a most useful work, do not fulfil every requirement. They are closed 8 months of the year; the consist of simple pools, and so are used chiefly for exercise and swimming. Their lack of privacy makes them unpopular with women and older girls, and there are none of them in the district the Public Baths Association wishes to reach.

Early in september last ground for the new bath house was broken and the structure is now completed and was opened to the public on April 21st. The building covers a lot 40 feet by 60 feet, is built of hard red brick laid in Flemish bond with dark mortar, and is two and one-half stories high. The construction is of brick and iron, and the floors of the baths and laundry are of concrete.

Two entrances on Gaskill Street lead into the first floor of the building. The women’s entrance opens into a hall, from which a stairway leads down to the laundry and up to the women’s baths on the second floor. The other entrance leads directly into the men’s waiting room, a large and airy room lighted by ample windows, wainscoted in pine, and provided with wooden benches. An office, so situated as to overlook both this room, and the women’s hallway, is located between the men’s waiting room and women’s entrance, and a single person will be able to take in money and give out towels and soap to both sets of customers, although each department is entirely separate.

From the men’s waiting room one enters the men’s baths. This department is supplied with 26 shower baths (the ringshower being the form adopted), 1 tub, 2 water-closets, 2 urinals, and 1 hand-basin. Allowing 20 minutes to each bather, this provides facilities for more than 900 baths a day. There is no swimming pool in the building, shower baths being used instead. In this respect, the example of the People’s and Baron de Hirsch Fund Baths of New York, and the overwhelming testimony of medical experts as to the comparative merits of the two systems, are being followed. The baths are separated by iron partitions 7 feet high, painted white, and over each compartment is stretched a network of heavy wire. The room is lighted on one side by a row of windows above the tops of the baths, and on the opposite side by a skylight and windows, thus securing ample light and thorough ventilation.

The bather enters an outer dressing room about 4 feet square, and beyond this and separated from it by a swinging iron door, is the inner compartment of the same size, where the shower, supplied with both hot and cold water, is located. The floors of the dressing rooms and baths slope inward and

From the women’s hallway, on the first floor, stairs lead to the women’s waiting room on the second story. This room opens into the women’s baths, which are supplied with 14 showers, 8 tubs, and 2 water-closets. They have a capacity about one-third less than that of the men’s department. The room is lighted by a central skylight as well as by small windows on either side above the tops of the bathing compartments.

Half of the basement is fitted up as a public laundry where women can do their family washing on the payment of a small fee, and where the towels used in the baths will also be washed. The basement floor is 5 feet below the street level, and the laundry, a room 23 by 37 feet, lighted by 3 large windows, is reached by a stairway leading from the women’s hall on the first floor. The room is to be fitted with 6 sets of tubs, 12 drying closets, ironing tables, a laundrystove, soap-boiler, power-washer, and wringer, and a disinfecting tank to contain the towels thrown down through the towel-chutes from the floors above. The room is light and airy, covered with a cement floor and is provided with a lavatory. The remainder of the basement is occupied by the boiler and engine room. It can be reached either from the stairway leading down from the first floor or by a side door on Leithgow Street. It contains an 83 horse-power Harrison safety-boiler, 2 Worthington-pumps, a feed-water heater, hot-water generator, blow-off tank, heater, and fan, and an engine to run the laundry-machinery. The coal-pits and ash-pits are on the Leithgow Street side of the room, while the smokestack rises from an opposite corner. The hotwater generator has a capacity of 2,000 galls, per hour, and the fan provides forced ventilation for every part of the building.

On the Gaskill Street front of the second floor are two rooms fitted up for the use of the janitor, and above these rooms is the tank-loft, where two tanks of 3,000 gallons capacity each furnish the building with its water-supply.

The plans of the building were prepared by Louis E. Marie, architect, of the firm of Furness, Evans & Co., and are the result of a careful study of the plans of foreign bathing establishments, and of the experience of the People’s Baths in New York, the Yonkers Municipal, and other baths.

It is proposed to charge each bather five cents for the use of the bath, towel, and soap, and if the same success attend these baths as with the People’s Baths in New York, they should become nearly self-supporting.

The land was purchased for $5,750, and the erection of the bath house and laundry has cost $22,000 more. Of this sum $5,000 remains to be collected. Donations should be sent to the treasurer of the association at 517 Chestnut Street, Philadelphia.

The officers of the Public Baths Association of Philadelphia are as follows: Board of trustees, Eugene Delano, president; Barclay H. Warburton, chairman of finance-committee; Sarah D. Lowrie, secretary, 1827 Pine Street; Franklin B. Kirkbride, treasurer, 517 Chestnut Street; Charlemagne Tower, Jr., Mrs. Hunt, Alfred G. Clay, Mrs. Perit Dulles, Mrs. John Sparhawk Jones, Rev. Walter Lowrie, Dr. Lawrence S. Smith; Superintendent, W. L. Ross.