Sharon Ann Holt, Ph.D
Research Associate of the Philadelphia Center for Early American Studies
University of Pennsylvania
The naming and renaming of High Street/Market Street may provide the most eloquent summary of the street's history and of its meaning for Philadelphia. The historical record demonstrates that the names did not follow each other in orderly succession. They existed side-by-side, overlapping, disappearing and reasserting themselves through most of the city's history.
The confusion began early when the street, plotted and named High Street by Thomas Holme, also hosted the great market at 2nd street. Early residents of the city needed no street numbers to locate themselves; they were simply, "a few doors east of . . ." or "just west of . . ." some prominent landmark or well-known neighbor. Thus those living near the market, around which the life of the city turned, advertised themselves as, "in High street, near the country market," or some such locution, yoking the two names from the very start.
Generations came and went without stabilizing the name. As the market sheds crept west along High street it became ever more the Market street, and newspaper references to it as such began to appear. Even among the actuaries, there was confusion; insurance evaluators would write Market St. on their policies, then cross it out in favor of High, or vice versa. During the Revolutionary years, when the high and mighty dwelt there, a few on the very block with which we are here concerned, the street was briefly and securely, High street.
Shortly after though, and for as long as forty years, it was again both Market and High. The situation might have confused many a visitor but for the inescapable visual fact that the street was a seething hive of activity, and one found it because of what it was, no matter what it was called. By the middle of the nineteenth century, at last, the marketing of goods had become the highest priority of Philadelphia's many potential activities, and the street's odd double identity resolved into the simple evocation, Market Street.
We can notice, not without irony, that having given their identity to the street, the market sheds themselves shortly thereafter disappeared. As a further irony, it may perhaps be worth commenting that the festive environment now desired for 20th-century tourist/consumers bids fair to revive the old ambivalence. The "ugly" remnants of Philadelphia's triumphant merchandising years came down wholesale to make Independence Mall. Planners had rejected the crassness of marketing to create a space that would evoke the higher thoughts ostensibly more appropriate to the contemplation of America's cradle of liberty. Here we now are, though, reworking the block again, in hopes that no visitors to that cradle, no thinkers of those high and sublime thoughts, will get away without spending generously in our marketplaces. Twas ever thus, it seems. As goes Market Street, so goes Philadelphia, the city that sold the world on liberty.
1 Willard S. Randall wrote that Benjamin Franklin suggested taking Kinsey's house for the Hospital, since Kinsey had made off with some considerable sum of public funds before his death. I could not confirm this story by reference to Franklin's letters from the period, so I cannot vouch for its authenticity. See Randall, "The Founding City: From Bloodletting to Brain Scanning," Philadelphia Inquirer magazine, Dec. 26, 1976. Available at the Free Library.
2 Pennsylvania Gazette, Sept. 11, 1760. Available on CD-ROM at the University of Pennsylvania.3 Pennsylvania Gazette, April 22, 1742 and June 23, 17484 It must be noted that, though we avoided large hazards, some of the assignments of property ownership and the placement of small features like alleys or setbacks reflect considered judgments rather than certitude. We have indicated doubtful ascriptions with small question marks.5 Hannah Benner Roach, "The Planting of Pennsylvania: a Seventeenth-Century Real Estate Development," Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography, vol 92, 1968, pp. 1-47, 143-194
6 Nathaniel Burt, "Address on the Washington Mansion" given to the Historical Society of Pennsylvania, February 12, 1875. Reprinted by James A. Moore, 1222 and 1224 Sansom St., Philadelphia. Copy available at the Philadelphia Historical Commission, 1401 Arch Street, Philadelphia.7 W. Birch and Son, The City of Philadelphia, 1800. Copy available at the Historical Society of Pennsylvania.
8 Articles and letters to the editor, filed in Washington house folder ("526/528/530 Market"), also Nathaniel Burt, "Address."9 Philip Scranton, Proprietary Capitalism: the Textile Manufacture at Philadelphia (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1983)10 S. A. Mitchell, New Universal Atlas, "Philadelphia, 1850," at the Free Library. (Impossible to photocopy)11 Franklin Fire Insurance survey, Book 118, #15337, April 2, 1852.12 Miscellaneous insurance surveys
13 Miscellaneous insurance surveys; images from Campbell collection,
at the Historical Society of Pennsylvania. [Filed in the images folder
marked, "19th-century, post 1850"14 Pennsylvania Gazette, February
20, 1750. Subscriber, John Durborow. [Filed with pre-1850 images.]