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Manuscript Group 338
REAL ESTATE TRUST COMPANY OF PHILADELPHIA RECORDS
1861-1963
7 cubic feet


Incorporated in 1876, the Real Estate Trust Company of Philadelphia (RETCO) was a leading regional commercial bank that provided security for property titles, trusts, and mortgages for its customers. It also served as trustee for railroads, transit, mining, and manufacturing companies throughout Pennsylvania. As a key member of the Philadelphia business community, the RETCO underwent many changes but always maintained its close ties to the city's financial and political elite. In his book on the Houston and Woodward families of the Philadelphia suburb of Chestnut Hill, David R. Contosa states that one of the founders of the RETCO was Charles Wolcott Henry (1852-1903), the nephew of one-time Philadelphia mayor Alexander Henry. More crucial, however, to the RETCO's ascendancy in the Commonwealth was Henry's brother-in-law, Samuel Frederic Houston. The son of a Pennsylvania Railroad executive, Houston joined the RETCO board of directors in 1896, became vice president in 1903, president in 1928 and chairman of the board from 1943 until 1952. In 1906, according to Contosa, the firm was rocked by scandal when a RETCO executive committed suicide after embezzling money from the company. This episode caused Houston and the RETCO to become much more cautious in their subsequent financial dealings. Despite this incident, the RETCO prospered under Houston's leadership. It had its own building in Center City Philadelphia at Broad and Chestnut Streets and listed among its clients many of the more affluent residents of the Delaware Valley.

The main batch of RETCO records, the Beneficiary Document Files, cover the time period from 1861 through 1963. They consist mainly of routine business correspondence with company beneficiaries or customers, who were located throughout the Mid-Atlantic region. Also included are mortgages, real estate papers, and agreements. Despite the connection between the RETCO and the Houston family, there are no files documenting the holdings of the family in this collection. Also included is one box containing a letter pressbook of the Fidelity Trust and Safe Deposit Company, spanning the dates December 28, 1881 to November 10, 1882. The pressbook contains outgoing company correspondence, with some of the letters including information regarding the client's marital status and the dates that wills, deeds, and other estate documents were filed. It is arranged chronologically, and an alphabetical index is included. In addition to listing the name of the individual and the page number, the index frequently has "decd." written after entries. An additional box contains a bound volume of the the minutes of the German American Title and Trust Company Stockholders, 1897-1918. Included in the ledger book are lists of company board of directors from 1901 to 1918.

Among the estate papers are those of:



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