Posted August 23, 2016
  • Ernest Hexamer, “Gray’s Ferry Chemical Works, Volume 29, Plate 2777-2778, Philadelphia, PA: Ernest Hexamer, 1894. 

  • “Gray's Ferry Chemical Works; Harrison Brothers & Company, proprieters (sic)." ca. 1870,, Manuscript and Archives Dept. (Accession 0840), Hagley Museum and Library, Wilmington, DE 19807

  • “Straining Operation” ca 1930, Box 16,, DuPont Company Product Information photographs (Accession 1972.341), Hagley Museum and Library, Wilmington, DE 19807.

  • “Conceptual Rendering of Pennovation Works”, Facilities and Real Estate Services, University of Pennsylvania 

PennPraxis uncovers the history of Pennovation Works site

PennPraxis is currently working with Penn’s Facilities and Real Estate Services (FRES) to understand the legacy of innovation at Pennovation Works and interpret this history on site. Pennovation Works is Penn’s new technology and innovation hub, a campus of shared offices, laboratories and flexible light industrial spaces. Entrepreneurs, researchers, and industry partners are invited to work on this 23-acre site in the Grays Ferry neighborhood of South Philadelphia.

Located where a former DuPont paint factory and research facility was once housed, Pennovation Works is the latest chapter in this property’s long history of invention, research, and production. Since the 1860’s, this area has been a humming industrial ecosystem, with chemicals, paints and finishes produced on the banks of the Schuyklill River. Even before industrialization, the Grays Ferry neighborhood was a significant crossroads in the history of Philadelphia.

This summer, PennPraxis has been working to conduct research to further tell this story. Establishing links between the activities today on the site and the traditions and stories of its past can help make Pennovation Works a desirable and inspiring place to work, and a place that is more connected with its surroundings and with the University. Understanding the development and uses of this site can inform the University’s plans as the campus evolves. PennPraxis has looked to other innovation campuses around the country to assess how these institutions are integrating historical interpretation into the site experience and planning process. The University of Pennsylvania has the opportunity to pursue engaging, creative interpretation strategies at Pennovation Works.

This latest step in the Pennovation Works Historical Research and Interpretation Strategy has provided informative stories about the history of the site, created connections, and inspired various approaches for interpreting the site history. This fall, PennPraxis will move forward with this project, establishing recommendations for interpretation strategies.