A. Edge to Center: Movin' West

Maps and other records suggest that, at the close of the 18th century, this part of Philadelphia west of 11th Street presented an unprepossessing landscape defined by isolated frame structures set down among blocks traversed by fields, watercourses, and probably dumping grounds. Over the next few decades, this ephemeral landscape would be overtaken by one marked by institutions, mansions, and brick rowhouses rising in neat lines that extended the patterns of the developing neighborhoods just to the east.

The first substantial buildings that would commend themselves to viewmakers and commentators were institutions and large individual houses claiming large parcels of land in the anticipated direction of future development. The major streets south of Market soon became a showplace for major structures in modern styles, several of them designed by the country's earliest professional architects, including William Strickland, John Haviland, and T. U. Walter. Built among these was a procession of speculatively built brick rowhouses, the larger of them three windows across, with a frontage of 18 to 25 feet. They deferred to the special, custom-built mansions with doorways centered among their five-bay widths, which claimed an image of social and economic leadership.

By the late 1830s this newly built quarter was distinct from the older parts of the city by the Delaware. The houses were bigger, "set up" over marble stoops, and "set back" from the building line for greater privacy. Fashionable blocks presented longer uniform rows and were initially almost exclusively residential, a condition that would erode beginning from the north over the course of the 19th century. As the major streets of this quarter of the city filled before mid-century, rows of smaller houses with narrower frontages -- many of them only two windows wide and two stories tall -- rose in lesser streets and alleys. While some were built speculatively in extended rows, other houses, often with only one-room footprints 13 to 16 feet wide, were built by lesser entrepreneurs in smaller groupings on courts reached by narrow passages from the streets. Most of the smaller houses appear to have been intended for rental rather than sale. The resulting neighborhood accommodated a remarkable range of buildings and with it a remarkable degree of social integration within most blocks, setting patterns in brick and in people that would persist to the present.

Section A: [exhibition]
Last Revision 03/10/00 eb.