Encyclopedia of Greater Philadelphia

City of Homes

Photograph of twin homes in West Philadelphia, 1851.Twin homes in West Philadelphia, 1951. (PhillyHistory.org)

In the late nineteenth century, Philadelphia developed dual personalities.  While industry intensified, making the city a hard-driving, muscular “workshop of the world,” by the 1880s civic boosters also promoted Philadelphia’s more domestic qualities as a “city of homes.”

Philadelphians’ pride in home ownership had deep roots in the founding and growth of the city. But even as the boosters of the nineteenth century celebrated the city’s high proportion of homeowners, aging housing stock and developing slum conditions began to pose challenges. With prosperous residents moving outward as neighborhoods sprouted along new transportation lines, reformers and later government agencies responded to the housing needs of the poor. By the twenty-first century, Philadelphia and the surrounding region retained a housing landscape ranging from eighteenth-century rowhouses to high-rise condominiums.

Topics: Housing

Gallery: Housing

South East Prospect of Philadelphia
South East Prospect of Philadelphia

Library Company of Philadelphia (Explore in Row Houses).

Elfreth’s Alley (2013)
Elfreth’s Alley (2013)

Encyclopedia of Greater Philadelphia (Explore in Elfreth’s Alley).

Chew’s house, Germantown.
Chew’s house, Germantown.

Library Company of Philadelphia (Explore in Historic Germantown).

Andalusia
Andalusia

Photograph courtesy of Connie S. Griffith Houchins (Explore in Athens of America).

Workman Place, South Front Street, 1937
Workman Place, South Front Street, 1937

Library of Congress (Explore in Octavia Hill Association).

Young Women’s Union Dining Room
Young Women’s Union Dining Room

Special Collections Research Center, Temple University Libraries (Explore in Settlement Houses).

Carl Mackley Housing
Carl Mackley Housing

Historical Society of Pennsylvania (Explore in Public Housing).

Timeline: Housing

Colonial Era to 1800
Colonial Era to 1800

1682: Survey lays out the new town of Philadelphia; First Purchasers acquire town lots as well as acreage in “liberty lands” to the north and west.

After 1682: Despite William Penn’s intentions for a “green country town” between the Delaware and Schuylkill Rivers, Philadelphians subdivide many of the town lots and cluster close to maritime activity of the Delaware.

c. 1691: Construction of Budd’s Row, first recorded group of row houses.

1724: Carpenters’ Company of City and County of Philadelphia founded.

1798: Philadelphia and other communities in Philadelphia County begin to pass ordinances outlawing wood construction.

Image credit: Library Company of Philadelphia

Nineteenth Century
Nineteenth Century

1800-20: Incorporation of boroughs in Philadelphia County: Frankford, Northern Liberties, Penn Township, Spring Garden Township, Moyamensing, Kensington. (Southwark previously incorporated, 1760s.)

1820: Population of Philadelphia County exceeds city as residential areas develop around factories.

1831: Nation’s first building and loan association founded in Philadelphia.

1858: Streetcars introduced (electrified 1892), allow middle class families to move to West and lower North Philadelphia.

1895: Pennsylvania state law prevents construction of high-rise tenements.

1896: Octavia Hill Association founded.

Image credit: Library Company of Philadelphia

Twentieth Century
Twentieth Century

1900: U.S. Census shows rate of home ownership in Philadelphia to be higher than New York, Boston, and Chicago.

1907: Residential development of West Philadelphia beyond Fortieth Street increases with subway-elevated service between Sixty-Ninth and Fifteenth Streets (to Second Street, 1908).

1922: Elevated line extends to Frankford, spurring development in Northeast.

1937: Philadelphia Housing Authority created.

Beginning 1940s-50s: Expressways enable commuters to reach new housing developments in Northeast Philadelphia (shown here) and suburbs.

1976: Federal Historic Tax Credit program spurs redevelopment of industrial buildings into residential apartments.

Image credit: PhillyHistory.org

Twenty-First Century
Twenty-First Century

2000: City of Philadelphia offers ten-year tax abatement program for improvements to real estate within city limits; spurs new development in neighborhoods such as Brewerytown and Grays Ferry.

2008-10: Recession hits, forcing some new high-rise condominium developments to auction.

2011-13: Following allegations of impropriety, U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development temporarily takes control of Philadelphia Housing Authority.

Image credit: Visit Philadelphia

Map: Housing

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