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Horace William Castor family papers


Held at: Historical Society of Frankford [Contact Us]1507 Orthodox St., Philadelphia, PA, 19124

This is a finding aid. It is a description of archival material held at the Historical Society of Frankford. Unless otherwise noted, the materials described below are physically available in their reading room, and not digitally available through the web.

Overview and metadata sections

The Castor family traces its roots in America to 1736 when Hans Gerster (changed to Castor) arrived in Philadelphia from Switzerland. The family has remained in the Philadelphia area through multiple generations and is still active in the area as of the 2010s.

Horace William Castor, 1870–1966

Born in the Frankford section of Philadelphia on August 17, 1870, Horace William Castor, son of Thomas Ellwood Castor, was educated in the public schools. He was among the first students to attend the Central Manual Training School established in 1885 at Seventeenth and Wood Streets, Philadelphia, from which he graduated in 1888. After graduation he pursued the profession of architecture and in 1895 entered into a partnership with George R. Stearns to found the architectural firm of Stearns & Castor. This firm successfully completed a number of buildings for commercial, industrial and hospital uses. It was dissolved in 1917 after Castor had, during the previous year, become involved in a controversy with the American Institute of Architects (AIA) over competition for an architectural project and resigned from the Institute. In 1919 he was reinstated in the AIA and enjoyed a long and productive career as an independent Philadelphia architect.

Horace William Castor was married first to Elizabeth Frances Hormann on August 16, 1893, in Frankford. They had three children: Edwin Hormann Castor, born on April 30, 1895; Mary Elisabeth Castor, born on July 18, 1898; and Horace William Castor, Jr., born on October 3, 1900. Elizabeth (Hormann) Castor died on June 23, 1905, and Horace entered into a second marriage with Mary Edna McDermott in Philadelphia on June 13, 1916. No children were born of this marriage. Horace William Castor, Sr., died at his home, 7347 Oxford Avenue in Philadelphia, on October 9, 1966.

For most of his life, Castor had an intense interest in local history and the history of his own family. The papers and artifacts he accumulated document relationships among family members, provide a record of their business and communal activities, and offer insights into the histories of Frankford and Philadelphia. His grandfather, Thomas Castor (1810–1884), established a carriage and wagon works in Frankford in 1833. After Thomas' death, Horace's father and two of his uncles continued this family enterprise. Both Horace's father Thomas Ellwood and his grandfather Thomas became leaders in a volunteer fire company and respected members of the Frankford community.

Horace Castor himself was active in a large number of professional, cultural, and beneficial societies, among which the following are worth citing for their relevance to the Horace William Castor Family papers. He was elected to membership on March 21, 1916, in The Historical Society of Frankford and by October 14, 1932, was on the Society's Board of Directors. He was elected to membership on October 13, 1927, in The Pennsylvania Society Sons of the Revolution and served on the committee on membership of that society. He was chairman of the publications committee of the Numismatic and Antiquarian Society and held memberships in the American Institute of Architects, The Union League, and The Historical Society of Pennsylvania.

Thomas Ellwood Castor, 1840–1928

Thomas Ellwood Castor, son of Thomas Castor (1810–1884), was born in Frankford on June 18, 1840. He worked as a carriage painter in the wagon and carriage works of his father in Frankford. In 1874–1875 he had a house built for himself and his family on Penn Street in Frankford and lived in this house for the rest of his life.

Thomas Ellwood Castor married Mary Jane Rymond (1838–1927), daughter of William and Helena Rymond, on November 2, 1858. The marriage was performed by Rev. William Gray of Rehoboth Methodist Episcopal Church in Frankford. The couple had six children: John Kester Castor, born July 27, 1859; Thomas Allen Castor, born December 10, 1860; Sallie Helena Castor and her twin sister Anna Castor, born December 16, 1863; Horace William Castor, born August 17, 1870; and Mary Ellen Castor, born May 10, 1873.

On July 5, 1864, Thomas Ellwood was elected a member of the volunteer Washington Fire Company of Frankford. About six months later, on January 9, 1865, he was unanimously elected president of the board of directors of that company. He continued to serve as a member of the board until 1871, when this company became part of the fire department of Philadelphia. Annual salaries for firemen were eventually established for employees of the Philadelphia Fire Department, and in the 1880 U.S. Census for Philadelphia, the listing for "Castor, Thomas E." shows his occupation as fireman, suggesting that he may have considered this his primary profession by that time, even though he still worked in his father's wagon and carriage shop.

After his father's death in 1884, however, he and two of his brothers, Charles Mendenhall Castor and William Overington Castor, formed a partnership to carry on the wagon and carriage business under the name Thomas Castor's Sons. A fourth brother, Lewis Franklin Castor, was invited to join the partnership, but he declined, and offered to sell his interest in the real estate, which had been bequeathed equally to the four brothers, share and share alike, by their father. Lewis wanted a mortgage on a portion of the property in payment for his share of the real estate, but Thomas Ellwood declined. When Charles M. Castor died on March 30, 1888, the business continued with just Thomas Ellwood and William O. Castor as proprietors, but these two brothers, although paying interest on the agreed value of the real estate, never made payment either to Lewis Castor on the principal of his share, nor on the principal of the share of the real estate owned by the executors of Charles Castor's estate. Finally the matter was argued before the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania, and on April 17, 1911, a decree for partition of the property was affirmed in favor of Lewis Castor. In spite of this difficulty, Thomas Castor's Sons appears to have remained in business until 1913, the last year it is listed in Boyd's Philadelphia City Directory.

When he died on December 31, 1928, Thomas Ellwood Castor was one of the oldest residents of Frankford. An obituary published on January 4, 1929, in an unidentified Frankford newspaper mentions how he loved to relate tales of his adventures with the fire company and his work in the wagon and carriage shops. Doubtless these tales had much to do with laying the groundwork for his son Horace's interest in the history of his family and community.

Thomas Castor, 1810–1884

Thomas Castor, son of John Castor (1773–1813), was born on October 14, 1810, at the farm of his father, near what is now the intersection of Castor, Cheltenham, and Oxford Avenues and Roosevelt Boulevard. He was orphaned when his mother Catherine (Knorr) Castor died on September 8, 1824. After his mother's death, his older sister, Hannah Castor, took over management of his upbringing and education. He attended school in the academy building in Frankford originally located on the lot later occupied by Rehoboth Methodist Church. From 1829 to 1831, he was apprenticed to Benjamin Shallcross of Oxford Township to learn the wheelwright profession. After completing this apprenticeship he worked for Shallcross for a time before starting, in 1833, a wagon- and carriage-making shop in partnership with his older brother Peter Castor, a blacksmith.

This enterprise prospered. In 1856 he built a new shop on the northwest corner of what is now Frankford Avenue and Overington Street. In 1857 he oversaw the building of a part of the first horse car railroad to run in the city of Philadelphia. Originally chartered as the Philadelphia and Delaware River Railway, this road was later renamed the Frankford and Southwark Philadelphia City Passenger Railroad. Besides helping to build the line, Thomas Castor subsequently obtained contracts to build rail cars for this railroad, as well as another horse car line known as the Race and Vine Street Passenger Railway. In 1861 a dispute arose between Peter and Thomas Castor and their partnership was dissolved. Nevertheless, Thomas continued to produce rail cars as well as wagons and carriages. After about 1879, he even included the building of circus and show wagons among the items produced in his shop.

Constantly experimenting with improvements for his products, he obtained a number of patents for his inventions from the U.S. Patent Office. On August 3, 1852, he was issued Patent No. 9164 for a dumping wagon, the body of which was arranged to pivot on a roller near its center and tilt toward the rear to unload its cargo. On February 21, 1860, he was issued Patent No. 27203 for a passenger railway car with: 1. roof-mounted seats, 2. a spiral ladder that could be detached and moved from one end of the car to the other, to access the seats on the roof, and 3. protective wire mesh safety guards mounted over the wheels in such a way that the guards could be raised or lowered by a foot pedal operated by the driver. On July 2, 1861, he was issued Patent No. 32681 for an apparatus to open and close the rear doors on railroad cars with a lever located at the front of the cars, next to the driver, dispensing with the need for a conductor. On December 6, 1864, he was issued Patent No. 45316 for a device mounted in front of the wheels of railroad cars to remove objects from the track. In the 1870s Castor sold the patents for the railroad car inventions to the New York omnibus and street railroad car builder John Stephenson.

Castor's diligence and integrity earned him the respect of the community and he became actively engaged in civic affairs. On April 1, 1834, he was elected a member of the volunteer Washington Fire Company of Frankford and subsequently became captain of engineers. He was also a charter member and for many years one of the directors of the Frankford Mutual Fire Insurance Company, organized April 5, 1843.

On May 14, 1844, the former Board of Burgesses of the Borough of Frankford was reorganized as the Board of Council of the Borough of Frankford, and Thomas Castor was elected one of the councilmen for a term of two years, serving his entire term as a member of the Committee on Nuisances to which he was appointed on May 21, 1844. He also became a member of the Cedar Hill Cemetery Company when it was founded September 13, 1849, and served as chairman of the Building and Improvement Committee and the Grounds Committee.

On May 1, 1834, Thomas Castor married Sarah Wood Kester (1807–1879), daughter of William and Ann (Wood) Kester. Children of this marriage were: John William Castor, born March 10, 1835; Charles Mendenhall Castor, born April 6, 1837; Thomas Ellwood Castor, born June 18, 1840; Franklin M. Castor, born August 5, 1843; Lewis Franklin Castor, born December 3, 1844; and William Overington Castor, born March 18, 1850. Thomas and Sarah Castor also adopted a daughter, Mary Ellen Castor, who was born in 1847. Thomas Castor died in Frankford on August 9, 1884.

Sarah Wood (Kester) Castor, 1807–1879

Sarah Wood Kester, daughter of William and Ann (Wood) Kester, was born February 14, 1807, in the Northern Liberties District, Philadelphia County, Pennsylvania. She attended Westtown School from May 17, 1823, to May 17, 1824, and the record of this attendance shows Frankford as her place of residence by 1823. Westtown is a boarding school about twenty-five miles west of Philadelphia that was founded by Quakers in 1799. Sarah's father had died in 1812 when she was just five and a half years old. Her mother Ann entered into a second marriage with Thomas Shallcross of Oxford Township, Philadelphia County, Pennsylvania, in 1823. Thomas Shallcross was a brother of the wheelwright Benjamin Shallcross to whom Thomas Castor, the wagon and carriage maker, had been apprenticed in 1829. Thomas Castor first met Sarah Kester when she visited him while he was at Thomas Shallcross' house, recovering from an injury. As noted above in the biographical sketch of Thomas Castor, on May 1, 1834, Sarah Kester and Thomas were married in Frankford. As a result of this marriage she was disowned by the Quakers on August 21, 1834, for marrying against church regulations and to a non-Quaker. (Thomas Castor was a Baptist.) Consult the section on Thomas Castor for the list of their children. Although Sarah was disciplined by her church in 1834, an 1875 issue of a Quaker newspaper, inscribed with her name and address, and now in the Horace William Castor Family papers, suggests that she may have maintained a lifelong interest in Quaker affairs. Sarah Wood (Kester) Castor died in Frankford on November 8, 1879.

Bibliography: Cartledge, S. Fayette. Guarding a Century: The Story of Fire and the 100 Years of Service of the Frankford Mutual Fire Insurance Company of Philadelphia. Philadelphia, PA: The Company, 1943.

Castor, Charles G. A Castor Family in America, or, The Descendants of Hans Georg Gerster/John George Castor. [Palm Bay, Fla:] C.G. Castor, c1986–1991. 2 vols.

Castorrb postings on, www site, related to the Horace W. Castor family papers (All last viewed 12/14/09):

Castor, Horace W. and Elizabeth F. Hormann. Marriage announcement and photos of the house where they were married and in which they lived from 1893 to 1897 at:

"Death of Thomas Castor," Frankford Dispatch obituary, Aug. 9, 1884 at:

Kester-Wood Bible Pages. Photos from pages of Sarah W. Castor's family bible at:

Rymond, Mary Jane. Photo with inscription giving dates and places of birth and marriage to Thomas Ellwood Castor at:

"Castor vs. Castor et al. (Supreme Court of Pennsylvania, April 17, 1911.)," The Atlantic Reporter, v. 80 (Jul. 13–Oct. 12, 1911). St. Paul, MN: West Publishing Co., 1911, p. 868–870.

Custis, John Trevor. The Public Schools of Philadelphia: Historical, Biographical, Statistical. Philadelphia: Burk & McFetridge Co., 1897.

Edwards, Richard. Industries of Pennsylvania, City of Philadelphia: Historical and Descriptive Review: Industries, Institutions, Commercial and Manufacturing Advantages, &c. [Philadelphia, PA?: n.p.], c1879.

"Horace W. Castor," in Philadelphia, a Story of Progress, v. 4. New York: Lewis Historical Publishing Co., c1941.

Martin, George Castor. The Castor Family of Pennsylvania. Philadelphia, PA: Martin & Allardyce, 1910. Updated, expanded and corrected by Charles G. Castor, A Castor Family in America. See above.

Tatman, Sandra L. "Castor, Horace William (1870–1966)," biography from American Architects and Buildings data base on Philadelphia Architects and Buildings www site at: (Last viewed 12/14/09.) Includes a file of Castor's architectural projects.

Tatman, Sandra L., and Roger W. Moss. "Castor, Horace W." in Biographical Dictionary of Philadelphia Architects: 1700–1930. Boston: G.K. Hall, c1985. Includes list of architectural projects.

"Thomas Castor Carriage Works," Mid-Continent Railway Museum www site at: (Last viewed 12/14/09.)

United States Patent and Trademark Office, www site at: (Last viewed 12/14/09.)

This collection consists of several generations of Castor family papers and provides insight into the wide interest in family history and the history of Frankford and Philadelphia cultivated by noted architect Horace W. Castor. It also documents financial, real estate, and legal transactions conducted not only by Mr. Castor but by his father and grandfather as well. Historical research notes and genealogical notes, personal correspondence and wills document family relationships among the three generations of Castors represented in the collection. Besides collecting and preserving these documents, Horace W. Castor wrote several papers on subjects of local history. A copy of one of these: "A Story of Pine Street Church and Frankford Gun Powder Mill," written for The Historical Society of Frankford, March 11, 1948, is in the collection.

The collection was processed in 2009 and is now organized in four subgroups named for the persons who originally owned, generated, or collected the documents in the subgroups. The first three subgroups, which contain the largest number of items, are chronologically arranged in descending order from the most recent owner to the earliest. Folders within the subgroups are arranged alphabetically by subject.

"Subgroup 1: Castor, Horace William 1870–1966" is the largest subgroup of the collection. This subgroup consists of correspondence, historical and genealogical notes, a large number of newspaper clippings principally of local history articles about Frankford and Philadelphia, miscellaneous pamphlets and booklets, programs, photos, and membership documents from The Union League and The Historical Society of Pennsylvania. Horace Castor's architectural work is represented by a 1914 photo of a banquet at Scottish Rite Hall (one of his architectural projects) and a description of a building at the Methodist Episcopal Hospital of Philadelphia.

"Subgroup 2: Castor, Thomas Ellwood 1840–1928" contains Thomas Ellwood Castor's accounting student workbook, financial records in the form of receipts and invoices, legal documents such as wills, mortgages and leases, and documents relating to the building of Thomas Ellwood Castor's house on Penn Street.

In "Subgroup 3: Castor, Thomas 1810–1884" are found Thomas Castor's financial, real estate, and legal records, as well as records relating to the building of his shops and to a suit over the dissolution of the partnership between him and his brother Peter Castor.

The Quaker newspaper in "Subgroup 4: Castor, Sarah Wood (Kester) 1807–1879" is filed in this subgroup since it bears an inscription of Sarah Castor's name and since she was the only known Quaker represented in the collection.

Overview of Arrangement

Subgroup 1 Castor, Horace William 1870–1966: 3 boxes (18 folders)

Box 1 Folder 1. Architecture

Box 1 Folder 2. Correspondence, Business

Box 1 Folder 3. Correspondence, Personal

Box 1 Folder 4. Events

Box 1 Folder 5. Genealogy

Box 1 Folder 6. Historical essays

Box 1 Folder 7. Historical research notes

Box 1 Folder 8. Newspaper clippings 1

Box 1 Folder 9. Newspaper clippings 2

Oversized Box. Folder 1. Newspaper clippings 3

Box 1 Folder 10. Pamphlets and booklets 1

Box 1 Folder 11. Pamphlets and booklets 2

Box 1 Folder 12. Personal collections

Box 2 Folder 1. Photos 1

Oversized Box. Folder 2. Photos 2

Box 2 Folder 2. Real estate

Box 2 Folder 3. Schools

Box 2 Folder 4. Society affiliations

Subgroup 2. Castor, Thomas Ellwood 1840–1928: 1 box (4 folders)

Box 2 Folder 5. Accounting

Box 2 Folder 6. Financial records

Box 2 Folder 7. Legal documents

Box 2 Folder 8. Real estate

Subgroup 3. Castor, Thomas 1810–1884: 2 boxes (6 folders)

Box 2 Folder 9. Financial records 1

Box 2 Folder 10. Financial records 2

Box 3 Folder 1. Frankford civic affairs

Box 3 Folder 2. Partnership

Box 3 Folder 3. Real estate 1

Box 3 Folder 4. Real estate 2

Subgroup 4. Castor, Sarah Wood (Kester) 1807–1879: 1 box (1 folder)

Oversized Box. Newspaper

Subgroup Descriptions

Subgroup 1: Horace William Castor Description of a building at the Methodist Episcopal Hospital of Philadelphia designed by Horace W. Castor. Business and personal correspondence, including letters concerning a monument for Lt. Thomas Foster Castor, a graduate of West Point, and the second son of Jesse Yonkers Castor. Genealogical tables. Historical notes and essays, including a note about the acquisition for The Historical Society of Frankford of a petition from Holmesburg residents to Abraham Lincoln, notes on Pine Street Church, and a copy of Horace W. Castor's 1941 paper: "A Story of Pine Street Church and Frankford Gun Powder." Newspaper clippings principally of local history articles about Frankford and Philadelphia. Miscellaneous pamphlets and booklets. Two publications: Red and Black, of the Central Manual Training High School. Envelopes with hand-written notes about related documents. Programs. Photos, including a photo of a 1914 banquet for former Philadelphia Mayor William Burns Smith held in Scottish Rite Hall (one of Horace W. Castor's architectural projects). Real estate correspondence and reports about development of property for A&P at 4628–4630 Frankford Avenue, the former site of Thomas Castor's house (see: Horace W. Castor's paper on "Thomas Castor," page 17, File P-6 in HSF collection: Papers Read before The Historical Society of Frankford). Membership documents from The Union League, and The Historical Society of Pennsylvania.

Subgroup 2: Thomas Ellwood Castor Thomas Ellwood Castor's accounting student workbook. Financial records: receipts for payment of insurance premiums, invoices for expenses incurred and charges for work Thomas Ellwood Castor performed. Legal documents: Bonds, mortgages and wills. Real estate documents: leases for property on Frankford Avenue, and documents relating to the building of Thomas Ellwood's house on Penn Street.

Subgroup 3: Thomas Castor Financial records: receipts and invoices for expenses incurred by Thomas Castor, including an assessment from United Firemen's Insurance Co of Philadelphia. Documents relating to the building of Thomas' shops. Documents relating to a suit over the dissolution of the partnership between Thomas and his brother Peter Castor. Real estate documents: mortgages, bonds, deeds.

Subgroup 4: Sarah Wood (Kester) Castor An 1875 issue of a Quaker newspaper inscribed with Sarah Castor's name and address.

The Horace Castor family papers were purchased by the Historical Society of Frankford in November 2005 from David Rowland, President of the Old York Road Historical Society, who had purchased them from Gilmore’s Book Shop in Philadelphia. According to Mr. Rowland, Gilmore had purchased them from a Castor family member who lived in the Jenkintown area of suburban Philadelphia. Realizing the papers related more to Frankford than to OYRHS' collecting area, Mr. Rowland offered them to HSF. Prior to HSF acquiring them, the papers were also briefly in the possession of HSF member Vi Young, who is a descendant of the Castors and is interested in her family history. All of those who were in possession of the papers prior to HSF acquiring them – Gilmore's Book Shop, David Rowland, and Vi Young - took some items from the collection. These removals apparently amounted to approximately two dozen documents and photographs.

Many documents in the papers relate to Horace Castor materials that had already been in HSF's Library collection. Horace Castor was an active member of HSF for many years and many of his papers were already in HSF's collections when HSF acquired the papers. Indeed, in many cases documents in HSF collections refer directly to documents in the papers and vice versa. See the Related Materials section for more information on other Castor materials in HSF's collections.

The papers were processed by HSF Volunteer Richard D. Claypool in 2008-2009 under the direction of HSF Archivist Jack McCarthy. The processing entailed re-housing the materials into archival enclosures, arranging them, and creating this finding aid. The project was completed in December 2009.

Summary descriptive information on this collection was compiled in 2014-2016 as part of a project conducted by the Historical Society of Pennsylvania to make better known and more accessible the largely hidden collections of small, primarily volunteer run repositories in the Philadelphia area. The Hidden Collections Initiative for Pennsylvania Small Archival Repositories (HCI-PSAR) was funded by a grant from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

This is a preliminary finding aid. No physical processing, rehousing, reorganizing, or folder listing was accomplished during the HCI-PSAR project.

In some cases, more detailed inventories or finding aids may be available on-site at the repository where this collection is held; please contact the Historical Society of Frankford directly for more information.

Before the Historical Society of Frankford processed this collection, it was in a disorganized state. Although some items were damaged, most of the documents were fairly well preserved. A key feature is the preservation of research notes and notes about documents now missing or in other collections of the Historical Society of Frankford. However, the general disorder in which the collection was found prevented identification of whatever original order Mr. Castor may have established.

Historical Society of Frankford
Finding Aid Author
Finding aid prepared by Richard D. Claypool in 2009. EAD conversion was completed through the Historical Society of Pennsylvania's Hidden Collections Initiative for Pennsylvania Small Archival Repositories
This preliminary finding aid was created as part of the Historical Society of Pennsylvania's Hidden Collections Initiative for Pennsylvania Small Archival Repositories. The HCI-PSAR project was made possible by a grant from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.
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