Exploring Row House Frontage Widths in Philadelphia:

avenues of approach

The row house is Philadelphia's vernacular dwelling. From the 1600's to the present street-fronts have been syncopated by the rythem of row house facades throughout every neighborhood and within every century. Yet little scholarly research has examined the row houses' varying widths. But how do we begin to address this issue given the scale of the row house's proliferation and variety of its urban contexts throughout Philadelphia? This website was developed for purpose of framing the question of frontage and exploring several methods of approaching this question using various resources and databases in Philadelphia depositories. Each of the "avenues of approach" outlined here have both strong and weak points, but in all they provide a sampling of diverse angles through which a complicated issue can be examined. The approaches this website outlines focus spefically on row houses developed and designed in the 19th century. It was during this time period that speculative development, the engine of row house proliferation, reached its height.

What factors contributed to the determinations of row house frontage width in Philadelphia in the 19th century?


Philadelphia Atlases

The first approach uses real estate atlases at the Free Library of Philadelphia to track row house footprints and assign width values to row houses block by block.

Developers and Designers

The second approach follows the historical design and development implented by two men and one estates. At various locations in the city.

Fire Insurance Records

This third approach taps into the abundant records of fire insurance surveys held at the Historical Society of Pennsylvania as a method for tracing row house development over a span of several decades.

Girard Row. "General view from Northwest." Spruce Street, Philadelphia. Historic American Buildings Survey. HABS PA,51-PHILA,687-1 326-334  

This webpage is a project developed by Anna Blinn for a class entitled "Field Techniques: Places in Time" (Growth and Structure of Cities 306) at Bryn Mawr College, instructed by Jeff Cohen. Last updated: 12/05 akb.