Franklin Inn Club is Philadelphia’s Longest Surviving Literary Society
But what about the isolating effects of technology?
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Times certainly have changed. Back in the day, members of the Franklin Inn Club lived in Center City during the week and sought out friends for long lunches. On weekends, they retreated to their estates—many of them on the Main Line. “Let’s face it, you can’t just say, ‘I’ll be back in two hours,’ and saunter out of your office anymore,” says Jan Gordon, a long-standing member and a former FIC president.
Philadelphia’s longest surviving literary society was founded in February 1902—so old it’s located on one of the city’s last surviving wood-paved streets. Originally, blocks were inlaid to soften the sound of horses’ hooves, later replaced with quarter-sawn oak.
Today, Camac Street runs between 12th and 13th streets, south of Walnut. It was once called the “Avenue of Artists” because so many arts and drama clubs lined it. Only a few remain. Known as “Innmates,” FIC members still gather for cordial but lively discussion on current issues, and for presentations by representatives of the arts, the sciences and more.
The FIC’s slogan salutes the art of conversation—maybe even pontification: “Be Sociable, Share!” And that’s exactly what a few Main Line members are working on today at the upscale Beaumont retirement home in Bryn Mawr. Now 90, Peter Binzen joined the FIC in 1969 in the midst of his 50-year editorial career at the Philadelphia Bulletin and the Inquirer. His credits include Nearly Everybody Read It (a history of the Bulletin), Whitetown, U.S.A. (about working-class whites) and The Cop Who Would Be King (a Frank Rizzo biography). Another book, on former Philadelphia mayor Richardson Dilworth, is about to be published. “I’m not [at the club] as much,” he admits. “But back in the day, it was a stimulating place.”
There was a time when former president Edwin Wolf (onetime director of the Library Company of Philadelphia) would introduce a speaker with an original essay worth publishing. “No matter who you sat next to, it was always interesting,” Binzen says.
John Rosso has been head of the classical languages program at West Chester University for the past 45 years. He began his involvement with the FIC when he feared that his beloved Rittenhouse Club might fold. (It never did.) The FIC was his backup, and he’s since put it on the front burner, becoming a life member. Now 70, Rosso points out that if more members would pay lifetime dues, the club could establish an endowment—or, at the very least, recover from a deficit.
Also active in historic preservation, Rosso lives in Daylesford in a tavern dating back to 1715. The place has indirect ties to former FIC member A. (Alfred) Edward Newton, one of history’s best-known bibliophiles. A captain of U.S. industry, he wrote seven books about his collection, and his country estate, Oak Knoll, once stood directly across from Rosso’s home.
After Newton and his wife died in the early 1940s, the house was torn down, and their daughter, Caroline, bought Rosso’s house, adding a massive bay window so she could look out on Oak Knoll’s ruins. She, too, was a bibliophile and literary patron. She was also a patient and pupil
of Sigmund Freud, later working as a prominent psychoanalyst herself.