Historical Documentation of Place in Greater Philadelphia

A Front Door:
This is an effort to bring together some resources -- images, documents, tools, and links -- for pursuing historical information about place in the five-county Philadelphia area: Bucks, Chester, Delaware. Montgomery, and Philadelphia counties. The project has been building incrementally, as opportunities have permitted, since 1997. The overarching idea is to use new media to more effectively disseminate information about place, to enhance cross-institutional access to documentary materials of this sort, to better connect people with the history of their environment, and to thus enrich their lives here.
[Link to background discussion] [Link to preliminary ideas about promising documentary resources]

A Back Door: working elements in place, with a minimum of commentary.
Kids' Area: A Tour through historic Philadelphia helps kids to get to know the city as well as to look carefully at images and maps (and to have fun!!!.)

Contents and quick links:
RESOURCES at this site:
Image sets: - [Commercial Panoramas] [Paintings, Watercolors, and Sketches] [Engraved and Lithographed Views] [Photographs]
[Measured drawings] [Illustrations in Architectural Publications] [Real Estate Atlases] [Holdings by Repository] [Integrated Prototypes]
Textual Documents: - [Full texts] [Research Tools] [City Directories] [Databases and other Searching Tools]

CONNECTIONS to other sites:
- [Links to Repositories] [Places in Time one can Visit] [Related Links]
[Analogous Projects]
RESOURCES at this site:


Commercial Panoramas:
Our initial pilot project. These are views of commercial blockfronts in downtown Philadelphia dating from 1851 to 1880. About fifty large-scale plates were published, and a few dozen were prepared in manuscript. These have been scanned from originals at the Athenaeum of Philadelphia, the Historical Society of Pennsylvania, the Free Library of Philadelphia, and the Library Company of Philadelphia. Links to individual plates have been provided via an inventory of the known views, and presented graphically on index maps. There were three principal sets of these commercial panoramas of Philadelphia encountered so far:

Paintings, Watercolors, and Sketches

Watercolor and drawing collections:

Paintings inventories:
We have begun to gather lists and scans of individual oil paintings, watercolors, and drawings of Philadelphia-area places found in various repositories, working from published catalogues, inquiries, and various lists. These include:

Engraved and Lithographed Views


Some further tools for locating photos:

Measured Drawings

Illustrations in Architectural Publications

A rich source of illustrations of buildings, almost exclusively architect-designed buildings, were the publications aimed mainly at a professional aarchitectural audience that began in the decade following the Civil War. A few short-lived ones were published locally, but a good number of area examples appeared in national and other regional journals. We working on two units of this sort:

Real Estate Atlases and Maps

Among the most useful records of place are the succession of real estate and fire insurance atlases published every few years since the late 1850s, whose large-format, color-coded plates collectively record the state of urban and suburban landscapes in painstaking detail at various dates. We've begun three projects:

Holdings by Repository

We also list and link here some items and collections by their repositories, mainly unique items or whole collections, including:

Note:Unless otherwise stated, all images on this site are used here with the express permission of the repositories that hold them. None may be downloaded from this site for publication or reuse -- on paper, digitally, or in other forms -- without such permission from those repositories. All rights are also reserved regarding textual materials that appear here. By proceeding beyond this page into this website, you are affirming your agreement to abide by the conditions stipulated by each image provider before any republication, analog or digital, of their materials is undertaken.

Integrated Protoypes

Germantown: A part of this website documenting a four-block area of Germantown Avenue through images and information on past and present buildings, drawn from a variety of sources.

Western 'Wash West': a webbed version of an exhibition integrating several of these types of sources and focused on the area of Center City from 11th to just east of Broad street, and from South to just south of Market Street.

Apartment, Flat, and Hotel Locations in Philadelphia, 1890-1920: A Bryn Mawr College student's project drawing from multiple sources, including published tax assessments and social directories, that document several dozen buildings of these types.

Full texts:

Travelers' Observations

A small compilation of written observations about early Philadelphia, illustrated with images from the time. A placeholder for an idea of combining texts with illustrations or other forms of annotation to enrich such word-pictures.

Research Tools:
Aids for accessing information about Philadelphia-area places.

City Directories

Philadelphia City Directories, 1785-1867 [via]

Philadelphia City Directories, 1785-1867 [via]

1785 Philadelphia City Directories --compiled and edited by faculty and students at the University of Delaware.

1791 Biddle's Philadelphia Directory (Excel format) --Matt Ainslie, U. of Delaware

1861 McElroy's Philadelphia City Directory --Greater Philadelphia GeoHistory Network.

1890 Gopsill's Philadelphia City Directory (page by page as .pdf) via

Philadelphia Historic Streets Index from

Tax Records

1798 Federal Direct Tax for Philadelphia --compiled and edited by faculty and students at the University of Delaware.



Fire Insurance Records

Census Records

1810 Federal Census for Philadelphia --compiled and edited by faculty and students at the University of Delaware.

1880 Federal Census and other genealogical sources -- via (LDS)

The Census of African-American Philadelphia, 1838:

Land Records

Real Estate Advertisements

A Bryn Mawr College student's project attempting to showcase "how real estate was advertised and portrayed in newspapers between the 1880s and the 1920s."

Philadelphia Maps and Geographic Information, including census and digital map data --U. Penn Library

Student papers: Finding Lists and web projects

Other Reports:

Interconnected finding aids (some mentioned above by medium):

Surveys of area places of historic interest:

Databases and other Searching Tools
[occasionally knocked off-line -- give another try, or email if it fails]

Databases with information on area places:

Databases on area views:

Textual inventories of area views:

Integrated tools for searching the elements on this site:


CONNECTIONS to other sites:


EXTERNAL LINKS to PAGES about AREA SYSTEMS (when we started out, this was a category we had in mind)

SOME ANALOGOUS PROJECTS:; last rev. 22 Feb. 16 jc Thoughts, comments?