John Richards. [Germantown Academy.]
Lithograph from the early 20th century. 4 ¾ x 6 ½. Excellent condition.
A view of old Germantown drawn by John Richards between 1868 and 1888. Richards immigrated to the United States from Switzerland in 1854, became a naturalized citizen and in 1861 joined the Union Army. Wounded at the Battle of Bull Run, Richards was sent to recuperate at Mower Hospital in Chestnut Hill, and thus began his long association with the northwestern section of Philadelphia. While recovering from his wounds, Richards, who had no formal artistic training, started making sketches of the landmarks and buildings of old Germantown, an activity he continued when he settled in the area after the war. These sketches, while not of the polished finish of a trained artist, do reflect Richards’ native eye and talent, and his obvious fascination with old Germantown. But even more than their artistic merit, the true value of these pictures, as Julius Sachse said, “consists in the fact that they have preserved to us and generations to come the values and landmarks of historic and quaint Germantown of days gone by.”
John Hart, a local publisher who was working with the new process of zinc lithography, knowing of Richard’s substantial collection of sketches, urged Richards to work with him in producing lithographs of the best of the pictures. First published in the years prior to Richards’ death in 1889, a number of the zinc plates were used in 1913 in the publishing of Julius Sachse’s Quaint Old Germantown in Pennsylvania, a work that included restrikes from those plates, as well reproductions of some of Richards’ sketches. These same plates were restruck again in 1915 by the Pennsylvania German Society.
This image of Germantown Academy is somewhat reduced in size from those published in Sachse (where it appears as Plate LII), but is from the same time period. Founded in 1760, the Germantown Academy’s Main Building, shown here, has an interesting history. After the Battle of Germantown it served as a hospital, and during the yellow fever epidemic of 1793 both the Banks of Pennsylvania and of North America were set up in this building. Besides its use as an educational institution, the building has also served as a town meeting center. After the Academy relocated to Montgomery County, the campus became the home of Germantown Lutheran Academy and then of the Pennsylvania School for the Deaf.