When the City of Philadelphia consolidated the entire crazy-quilt of townships, boroughs and districts within Philadelphia County under its municipal authority in 1854, it increased its area from about 2 square miles to over 140 square miles. By the late 19th century, many parts of this expanded city were still farmland. Even though these areas were providing the city with produce and livestock, in the 1880s, lines were drawn over one issue in particular: pigs.
The belching smokestacks that were sprouting up throughout the “Workshop of the World” didn’t seem to bother anyone, but the stench from piggeries within the city limits did. As early as 1884, city health officials began raiding illegal pig farms both north and south of the built up central city, tearing down pigsties and sending the pigs to feed the Almshouse poor. The Philadelphia Inquirer led the crusade to clean up what they called “a real menace to public health.”
VEALE v. PORK
By 1886, some of South Philadelphia’s pig owners began fighting back, inviting reporters from Philadelphia newspapers to see that their pens had been “newly whitewashed . . . and put in a beautiful state.” Their public relations work was undone, though, when the Inquirer reported that the piggeries west of them were still filled with garbage “left to fester, with a stench that could not but be highly prejudicial to public health.” Conscientious Health Officer Colonel Moses Veale, right, began a crusade to have all the “vile piggeries” removed from the city. Laws and resolutions were passed . . . and ignored. It was the beginning of a long, comic war that would drag on through the 1920s and beyond.
PIGS GRUNT HAPPILY ON
Officials would make surprise raids on illegal piggeries, only to discover that the owners, having been tipped off by police they had bribed, had already moved the pigs. In 1892, the Board of Health passed a resolution that all pigs be removed from city limits by January 1st, 1893. The city also tried an added tactic, specifying that all garbage be either burned or carted out of the county, but NOT fed to hogs. This meant that both the raising and feeding of pigs were illegal. All that made no difference when Republican William H. Ford, President of the Board of Health, immediately began hearing appeals from pig owners and making exceptions, infuriating Democrat City Health Officer Veale.
City garbage contractors added their own alleged grievances, arguing that it was much too expensive for them to have to transport all garbage outside of city limits. (This was despite the fact that they had already raised their contract bids to take the extra cost into account. They were now not only being paid extra to haul the garbage far away, but then being paid again when they sold it to the piggeries; Philadelphia profiteering at its finest.)
A THOUSAND PIGS ON PETTY‘S ISLAND
Things got worse before they got better. Because of the law, over 1,000 head of hogs had been relocated to the upper part of Petty’s Island in the Delaware River, which, being a owned by New Jersey, was accessible but outside the city limits. However, to feed the hogs, scowloads of garbage were hauled to the Island, much of it ending up in the river and polluting the water works that served Camden. The smell still wafted to Philadelphia, but now some of the problem was New Jersey’s as well.
Throughout the offending Northeast and especially around the area in South Philadelphia called “the Neck,” near Stonehouse Lane, much publicized extensions, appeals, raids and evasions continued. In 1913 the slapstick element to the battle became evident when Dumont’s Minstrels at Ninth and Arch presented a comedy called “Moving the Philadelphia Piggeries,” below. In 1917, South Philadelphia pig owners banded together to form an ad hoc “Livestock Association of Philadelphia.” They circulated a petition amd took out newspaper ads claiming that garbage fed pigs were economical during wartime, that grain was needed for human consumptions and bluntly asked, “Don’t we need all the pork we can get?”
Ironically, it would be World War I that really pushed the city to wage its own private war on pigs. Ever since the 1870s, Philadelphia had been lobbying Congress to have the United States Navy acquire League Island and make it the home of a federally funded naval shipyard. Grand plans were drawn up to turn South Broad Street to the Naval Yard into an elegant wide boulevard. City fathers knew that that none of that would ever happen with acres of malodorous piggeries nearby. Throughout the 1910s the fight was on and the number of raids accelerated. In one one day in 1917 alone, over 300 pigs were rounded up, confiscated and sold. Not long after, the Co-operative Committee for Fly Extermination announced that in the last 20 years “thirty thousand pigs have been banished from Philadelphia for good.”
Even so, in the 1920s, there were still estimated to be over 3,400 pigs within city limits, most of them in the Northeast with a few in South Philadelphia. As the new Director of the Department of Public Health resolutely said, “Pigs have no business in the city . . . we have been more than patient”
AND THIS LITTLE PIGGY . . .
It was the relentless advance of rowhome construction through the Northeast and industrial development and the construction of the Walt Whitman Bridge in South Philly that eventually put an end to the “Piggery Evil.” The photo, right, shows the “Neck” in 1953, just as construction was about to begin on the bridge, see plan, above, showing the black tentacles of the planned Walt Whitman enveloping Stonehouse Lane in red.
By 1960, the last pig would be gone and there would be few left alive that would remember the “Swine Wars” that raged in Philadelphia for over 70 years.