Encyclopedia of Greater Philadelphia

Charlene Mires

I’d Rather Be in Philadelphia

The expression “I’d rather be in Philadelphia” is derived from a fictional epitaph that locally-born entertainer W.C. Fields (1880-1946) proposed for himself in Vanity Fair magazine in 1925: “Here lies W.C. Fields. I would rather be living in Philadelphia.” By implying that Philadelphia would be slightly preferable to the grave, the joke tapped a vein of critical commentary about the city in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Variations of the witticism persisted in popular culture, but it did not ultimately find a place on the entertainer’s tomb.

[caption id="attachment_33544" align="alignright" width="234"]A black and white photograph of W. C. Fields, dressed in a full-length fur coat and bowler cap, shaking hands with Philip Goodman, who wears a long coat and cap and smokes a pipe. They stand on the deck of a ship. Philadelphia-born actor W. C. Fields, shown left in the 1920s with theater producer Philip Goodman, originated the phrase “I’d Rather Be in Philadelphia” in a 1925 Vanity Fair article. The actor suggested the sardonic expression as an epitaph for himself. (Library of Congress)[/caption]

Fields often lampooned Philadelphia, the boyhood hometown that he left to follow a career in show business. With the given name William Claude Dunkenfield (or Claude William, according to some sources), Fields was born in Darby, Delaware County, and grew up in a succession of rented row houses in West and North Philadelphia. After only a few years of school, he picked up odd jobs available to boys of his era: assisting in a cigar shop, hawking newspapers, delivering ice, shucking oysters, racking balls in billiard halls, peddling produce, and carrying cash between departments in the Strawbridge and Clothier store on Market Street. Frequently at odds with his father, he left home for at least a few months of his youth—a period he later embellished into tall tales of life on the streets as a vagabond.

Fields found his calling as an entertainer in Philadelphia’s theater district, which at the time thrived on North Eighth Street between Race and Vine. Captivated by the vaudeville shows of the 1890s, he taught himself to juggle and developed an act as “tramp juggler,” a silent hobo character who could adeptly toss cigar boxes, which became a hallmark of his act. After getting his start in venues like Natatorium Hall at Broad Street and Columbia Avenue, Plymouth Park near Norristown, and Fortescue’s Pier in Atlantic City, he attracted the notice of promoters of touring burlesque and vaudeville shows. With them, he performed nationally and internationally, gaining the skill and acclaim that led him to Broadway and the famed Ziegfeld Follies. The stage name he adopted, “W.C. Fields,” became his legal name in 1908. 

By the 1920s, when Vanity Fair published his imagined epitaph, Fields was transitioning from pantomime juggler to character actor, comedian, and storyteller, not only on stage but in the emerging mediums of radio and the movies. Barbs about Philadelphia became a common part of the act. “I once spent a year in Philadelphia,” he said. “I think it was on a Sunday.” Or, “Anyone found smiling after the curfew rang was liable to be arrested.” In a later feature film, My Little Chickadee (1940), a character played by Fields described his last wish: “I’d like to see Paris before I die. Philadelphia will do.” His humor struck a chord among audiences accustomed to thinking of Philadelphia as sedate, old-fashioned, and corrupt—a perception that had been nurtured by such commentators as Charles Dickens (1812-70), who described the city as “rather dull and out of spirits”; Lincoln Steffens (1866-1936), who identified Philadelphia as “the most corrupt and the most contented” of cities; and Henry James (1843-1916), who referred to its “bourgeois blankness.”

[caption id="attachment_33546" align="alignright" width="300"]A black and white photograph of a billboard reading 'Philadelphia isn't as bad as philadelphians say it is." The billboard stands next to a highway. 1960s era vehicles pass by on the highway. Philadelphia’s tourist and marketing campaigns attempted to overcome the image of Philadelphia that Fields created in his work. This billboard stood on the Schuylkill Expressway near Conshohocken in the 1970s, serving as a humorous rebuttal to the city’s popular portrayal by local residents. (Special Collections Research Center, Temple University Libraries)[/caption]

In later years, place-marketing and tourism promotion campaigns worked vigorously to counteract the image of Philadelphia embedded in Fields’ comedy. Still, variations of “I would rather be living in Philadelphia” persisted. While hospitalized in Washington after the 1981 assassination attempt on his life, President Ronald Reagan (1911-2004) scribbled on a note, “All in all, I’d rather in be in Philadelphia.” Similar phrases cropped up in dialogue in the movie Die Hard (1988) and the television series Lois and Clark: The New Adventures of Superman (1993). “I’d Rather Be in Philadelphia” served as a title for a 1983 compilation rock album, a 1993 mystery novel by Gillian Roberts, and a 2007 episode of the television series Gilmore Girls. On the internet in the early decades of the twenty-first century, the expression appeared frequently as a touchstone for bloggers and as the title for a Twitter feed.

The comedy of W.C. Fields, while not flattering to Philadelphia, contributed to the city’s place in American popular culture even after the entertainer left the city behind. After his death, the marker on his vault at Forest Lawn Memorial Park in Glendale, California, bore the simple inscription: “W.C. Fields, 1880-1946.”

Charlene Mires is Professor of History at Rutgers-Camden and Editor-in-Chief of The Encyclopedia of Greater Philadelphia.

Philadelphia Cream Cheese

Although not made or invented locally, Philadelphia Cream Cheese reflects the region’s agricultural history and reputation as a purveyor of fine foods. Established by a New York distributor of dairy products in 1880, the brand came to be owned by the Kraft Heinz Company of Pittsburgh and Chicago. Nevertheless Philadelphia, printed in blue capital letters on foil wrapping and on the lids of little plastic tubs, spread across the globe on packaging for the industry leader in cream cheese.

Although Philadelphia did not directly give birth to the brand, the city had an association with uncured, highly perishable cream cheese that dated to at least the early nineteenth century. Knowledge of the product came to the region from England, where cream-based cheeses were popular with the upper class. Early farmers around Philadelphia raised cattle more for beef than for dairy purposes, but rural women often made cheese and butter from the milk of their cows. Even before refrigeration, these goods could be taken quickly to market in nearby Philadelphia via the network of roads and turnpikes developed by the nineteenth century. Some hard cheeses could be exported, but the more delicate cheese made from cream had a very short shelf life, which prevented it from traveling beyond the immediate region.

[caption id="attachment_33365" align="alignright" width="190"] As the national rail network expanded during the later nineteenth century, cream cheese became popular in cities outside of Philadelphia. Fine restaurants soon began to feature it in luxury dishes, as illustrated by this 1901 menu with a cheese course offering both "cream" and "cheddar." (New York Public Library)[/caption]

Because cream cheese had such a limited range of distribution, Philadelphia became one of the few places where it could be found. Expensive and rare because of its production in very small batches, cream cheese drew the notice of early nineteenth-century visitors who commented on the novelty and pleasure of sampling Philadelphia’s delicacy. The city’s association with the product grew as travelers wrote about their experiences and as local publishers of newspapers, books, and magazines printed recipes for how to make cream cheese. After railroads extended the range of markets and reduced travel time beginning in the 1830s, the fine cheese from Philadelphia could travel a bit farther, to New York City. While farmers in outlying New York counties also made cream cheese, fine restaurants and markets in Manhattan offered “Philadelphia cream cheese” to their customers.

The branding of Philadelphia Cream Cheese reflected this early history, but only because a New York cheese distributor cashed in on the cachet of the city’s reputation. In the late nineteenth century, Americans who aspired to high social status hungered for luxury foods. At the same time, production of cream cheese and demand for it increased as cheese making shifted from home production to factories. The first modern cheese factories opened in New York, where dairy farming had expanded substantially after completion of the Erie Canal in 1825 linked New York City with the interior. Among the many cheese factory operators of New York, dairy farmer William A. Lawrence (1842-1911) opened his facility in 1862 in Orange County. Prompted by a request from an upscale grocer in New York City, in 1875 he became the first to factory-produce cream cheese. Then, in 1880, he joined forces with distributor Alvah Reynolds (1830-1925), who came up with a brand that he felt would associate Lawrence’s product with high-quality foods: Philadelphia Cream Cheese. Reynolds himself manufactured Philadelphia Cream Cheese from 1882 until 1903, then sold the brand to the Phenix Cheese Company of New York. In 1928, Phenix merged with Chicago-based Kraft Foods, which through another merger in 2015 became Kraft Heinz.

[caption id="attachment_33363" align="alignright" width="300"] Originally produced in circular disks, the now iconic foil-wrapped blocks of Philadelphia Cream Cheese were made possible once stabilizer ingredients were incorporated into the recipe in the late 1920s. (Wikimedia Commons)[/caption]

As the ownership of the Philadelphia Cream Cheese brand changed, so did the nature of cream cheese. No longer rare because of mass production, cream cheese became an everyday food item instead of a luxury. While still asserting the richness and pleasure of tasting cream cheese, the Phenix Cheese Company and Kraft marketed their brand as a healthful, family-friendly food. Advertisements taught consumers that cream cheese could be enjoyed not only by itself but as an ingredient that might be spread on toast or incorporated into recipes. In some respects, despite name on the dominant brand, cream cheese became indelibly associated with New York because of its pairing with bagels and use as an ingredient in New York-style cheesecake. But the Philadelphia brand also expanded nationally and internationally after stabilizer ingredients introduced in the late 1920s made it possible for Kraft to package cream cheese in foil-wrapped blocks and distribute it widely. By the end of the twentieth century, Philadelphia Cream Cheese could be found in a proliferating array of flavors and products around the world.

[caption id="attachment_33368" align="alignright" width="300"] Still produced in Lowville, New York, cream cheese has become a part of the local culture, as this 2013 promotional banner indicates. A festival is held annually to celebrate the famous product. (Lowville Cream Cheese Festival)[/caption]

Under the ownership of Kraft Heinz, in the twenty-first century Philadelphia Cream Cheese continued to be manufactured in a factory in Lowville, New York, in the state where the brand originated, and the people of Lowville organized an annual Cream Cheese Festival to celebrate their local product. The parent company, meanwhile, celebrated Philadelphia through promotions including a video contest, “The Real Women of Philadelphia,” and advertising slogans like “It Must Be Philly.” Mostly by name alone, but also by benefit of its agricultural history, Philadelphia reigned as the world’s leader in cream cheese.

Charlene Mires is Professor of History at Rutgers-Camden and Editor-in-Chief of The Encyclopedia of Greater Philadelphia.

Railroad Suburbs

As railroads reached outlying villages and the countryside around Philadelphia during the nineteenth century, railroad companies and other enterprising real estate developers created fashionable residential enclaves, new suburban towns, and vast semirural estates. These developments enabled prosperous Philadelphians to live apart from the city while still enjoying its amenities and maintaining their positions in the urban industries, businesses, and professions that produced their wealth. In the new railroad suburbs, local shopkeepers and service workers also helped sustain semirural living for the upper and middle classes. Although automobiles later changed commuting habits, the railroads and the suburbs that developed around their stations established a geography and social order that in many ways persisted into the twenty-first century.

[caption id="attachment_33022" align="alignright" width="300"]a black and white photograph of the Ebenezer Maxwell House, a gothic revival mansion with stone facade, central turret, and mansard roof. An iron fence surrounds the property. Residents of the recently developed railroad suburbs built their homes in fashionable architectural styles to showcase their wealth. Merchant Ebenezer Maxwell built this Gothic Revival home, which still stands on West Tulpehocken Street, in 1859. (Library of Congress)[/caption]

The region’s first railroad suburbs developed along the Philadelphia, Germantown & Norristown Railroad (the PGN), which introduced commuter trains running northwest from the city in 1832. Using steam locomotives, the PGN operated frequent passenger service along essentially the same routes later served by SEPTA’s Chestnut Hill East and Norristown regional rail lines. The commuter trains made Germantown, founded in 1683, a suburb connected with Philadelphia long before its consolidation into the city in 1854. By the late 1850s, in addition to its stock of colonial-era homes Germantown had a cluster of suburban villas in the neighborhood of West Walnut Lane and Greene and West Tulpehocken Streets. Farther northwest, a few commuters from Chestnut Hill connected to the PGN by stagecoach or carriage during the 1830s and 1840s, but after 1854 they could ride the new Chestnut Hill Railroad to Germantown. The construction of a new Episcopal Church, St. Paul’s (built 1856-61), signaled Chestnut Hill’s increasing status as a suburb for the elite.

As railroad commuting expanded during the later decades of the nineteenth century, it produced social and geographic segregation as upper and middle class families sought distance from the intensifying industrialization and high rates of immigration in Philadelphia and other American cities. The cost of rail fares initially put daily commuting by train out of reach for all but the wealthiest riders, while local streetcars and (later) buses remained the affordable options for others. Because rail fares varied by distance, inner suburbs like Germantown had more middle-class commuters than more distant, semirural idylls of the elite. Steam trains did not appeal to many middle-class commuters to Philadelphia because the locations of terminals on the periphery of the business district required an additional long walk or streetcar ride to get to work. Streetcars running into the central city from closer, newly developing areas of North and West Philadelphia offered more-direct access, as did the Delaware River ferries that connected with railroads serving South Jersey. This did not change until late in the nineteenth century, when the two major rail systems serving the city relocated their main facilities to Center City (the Pennsylvania Railroad’s Broad Street Station, built 1879-82, and the Reading Terminal, built 1891-93).

Similar Patterns Elsewhere

The development of railroad suburbs in the Philadelphia region resembled patterns of metropolitan expansion occurring around the same time along railroad lines radiating from other major cities, including New York, Boston, and Chicago. During the 1850s, other Philadelphia-area railroads joined the PGN in offering commuter train services. The Philadelphia, Wilmington and Baltimore Railroad started publishing housing guides for its line through Delaware County, and the West Chester and Philadelphia touted its route for commuters between its namesake communities. In southern New Jersey, the Camden and Atlantic Railroad, which began service in 1854, led to residential growth in Haddonfield, and a group of Philadelphia merchants acquired land and developed Merchantville after the arrival of the Camden and Burlington Railroad in 1867-68. From these South Jersey suburbs, commuters traveled by rail to Camden and then crossed by ferry to the commercial center of Philadelphia east of Sixth Street.

[caption id="attachment_33031" align="alignright" width="246"]a black and white portrait of Anthony J. Drexel. Banker Anthony J. Drexel, shown here in the late nineteenth century, planned the suburb of Wayne, Pennsylvania, in collaboration with George W. Childs, his co-owner at the Philadelphia Public Ledger. Downtown Wayne centers on an 1884 Pennsylvania Railroad Main Line station, served in the twenty-first century by the SEPTA Paoli/Thorndale line. (Historical Society of Pennsylvania)[/caption]

By the 1870s and 1880s, a period of transition for the railroads, some lines had few commuter trains but on others the service became quite intensive. For example, in 1876, the Chestnut Hill Branch of the Philadelphia & Reading (successor to the PGN) offered thirty daily round trips between Center City and Germantown and encouraged daily commuting by offering special low-fare trains. During the 1870s, the Pennsylvania Railroad created havens for the elite along its Main Line, which extended west of Philadelphia through parts of Montgomery, Delaware, and Chester Counties, and spurred similar suburban development in Chestnut Hill. Developers of new suburbs also sought to appeal to the middle class, and the railroads offered incentives (such as free or discounted tickets) to encourage middle-class families to build houses along their lines. The Pennsylvania Railroad’s activity along its Main Line inspired the president of the Philadelphia, Wilmington and Baltimore Railroad to develop a similar but more affordable planned suburb for the middle class, Ridley Park, simultaneously with the opening of a new line in 1870 through southeast Delaware County between Philadelphia and Chester. In response to the availability of rail service, Sharon Hill and Norwood also developed along the line. A new line of the Pennsylvania Railroad running from Philadelphia to Norristown and Reading, beginning in 1884, enticed real estate developers to buy up farmland to create the middle-class suburb of Cynwyd (formerly known as Academyville). Along the Main Line, during the 1880s the co-owners of the Philadelphia Public Ledger, George W. Childs (1829-94) and banker A.J. Drexel (1826-1893), developed the planned suburban community of Wayne. In South Jersey, beginning in 1885 local landholders near the Camden and Atlantic Railroad line sold building lots to create the new suburb of Collingswood. Around the same time, local entrepreneurs began to convert farmland into the new suburb of Haddon Heights and persuaded the Reading Railroad, owner of the Philadelphia and Atlantic City Railway, to establish a station to serve the community.

In the new railroad suburbs, buyers found large single-family and semidetached homes with expansive porches and yards, a distinctly different environment from Philadelphia’s row houses. Making these railroad suburbs attractive to these residents required not only countryside ambiance but also more infrastructure of the type available in the city, such as water systems and paved streets. The Pennsylvania Railroad acknowledged this in a 1916 brochure when it touted “the charm of this suburban life, with its pure air, pure water and healthful surroundings, combined with the educational advantages provided, churches, stores and excellent transit facilities to and from the city, is manifest.” Despite developers’ appeals to the middle and upper classes, however, the railroad suburbs were never solely the domain of the region’s wealthiest residents. Most evolved around or within existing communities with their own people and histories, and even the most luxurious suburban estates required a network of support from local businesses and service workers who lived close to the railroad stations in row houses or other modest homes. Starting in the 1890s, electrified streetcar lines also brought more class diversity to some of the same suburbs that had originated along the rail lines, including Chestnut Hill in Philadelphia and Merchantville and Collingswood in New Jersey. Transit fares held steady while working-class incomes rose, making more distant places affordable to a wider range of residents.

The Main Line Corridor

[caption id="attachment_33015" align="alignright" width="225"]A color photo of the Bryn Mawr Hotel, a stone and red brick hotel building in the Queen Anne Style with a prominent rotunda. The Bryn Mawr Hotel, constructed in 1872 and rebuilt in 1890, echoed the atmosphere of the elite seaside resort town of Cape May, New Jersey. Developers used community centerpieces like the hotel and new Welsh names to entice prospective buyers to villages along the Main Line of the Pennsylvania Railroad. (Wikimedia Commons)[/caption]

The Pennsylvania Railroad’s role in developing Philadelphia’s western suburbs originated from its purchase of farmland during the 1860s and 1870s in order to straighten the route of its Main Line between Philadelphia and Pittsburgh. With its expanded holdings within commuting distance of Philadelphia, the railroad developed a corridor of privilege from existing villages and the surrounding countryside. To increase the area’s appeal, the company gave Welsh and Scottish place names to towns that did not already have them: Athensville became Ardmore, for example, and Humphreysville became Bryn Mawr. To give prospective buyers an opportunity to become acquainted with the area, the railroad took its cue from the resort ambiance of Cape May, New Jersey, and built the Bryn Mawr Hotel (opened in 1872, rebuilt in 1890 and later home to the Baldwin School). Railroad executives led the way by building estate homes. Alexander Cassatt (1839-1906), later the Pennsylvania Railroad’s president, had a city residence on Rittenhouse Square, but in 1872 he began building Cheswold, a mansion set on fifty-four acres in Haverford. Leaders of Philadelphia business and industry followed, including department store partner Isaac Clothier (1837-1921), who built a castle called Ballytore in Wynnewood in 1885. Collectively, the communities and estates that developed around Pennsylvania Railroad stations from Overbrook west to Paoli became “the Main Line,” a name that became synonymous with upper-class living despite the continuing presence of other local residents as well as the businesses and domestic workers necessary to support a gracious lifestyle. Many of the massive estates later became home to religious orders, schools, or other institutions.

In Northwest Philadelphia, completion of the Pennsylvania Railroad’s Chestnut Hill Branch in the early 1880s set off a new wave of suburban development west of Germantown Avenue. Henry Houston (1820-95), a member of the railroad’s board of directors with extensive land holdings in Northwest Philadelphia and adjacent Montgomery County, proposed the new rail line and then followed the pattern of the Main Line by beckoning elite residents to Chestnut Hill with amenities such as the Wissahickon Inn (1883, later the Chestnut Hill Academy), the Philadelphia Cricket Club (1883), and another Protestant Episcopal Church, St. Martin-in-the-Fields (1888). In his Wissahickon Heights development (later renamed St. Martin’s), he made homes available by lease. Houston’s son-in-law George Woodward (1863-1952) continued the family tradition and Chestnut Hill’s suburban evolution in the early twentieth century with picturesque developments such as French Village (1913), Linden Court (1915), and English Village (1925). Between Chestnut Hill and Germantown, in Mount Airy, the Drexel Company built the planned suburb of Pelham between 1895 and 1910.

[caption id="attachment_33033" align="alignright" width="300"]A color postcard of the Philadelphia Cricket Club's grounds and clubhouse. Construction of the Philadelphia Cricket Club in 1883 helped cement Chestnut Hill’s image as an exclusive retreat for the wealthy. By this time, both the Pennsylvania and Reading Railroads operated competing lines from Center City to the area. (Library Company of Philadelphia)[/caption]

In the golden age of railroad suburbs, from the 1880s through the 1910s, more than one thousand daily trains served hundreds of stations in and around Philadelphia. The combination of railroad and streetcar suburbs brought population growth to Philadelphia’s suburbs. The population of Montgomery County, Pennsylvania, doubled between 1870 and 1920 while Delaware County, Pennsylvania, and Camden County, New Jersey, quadrupled during the same period. Most early growth took place within about an eight-mile radius of the city, because of both travel time and the distance-based railroad fares. Bedroom communities within this range included Bala, Cynwyd, Darby, Jenkintown, Lansdowne, and Narberth in Pennsylvania; and Audubon, Bellmawr, Collingswood, Haddon Heights, Haddonfield, Magnolia, Runnemede, Westmount, and Westville in New Jersey.

Autos Begin to Erode Rail Demand

By the 1920s, automobiles and buses came into the suburban transportation mix and railroad suburbs, although still located on train lines, no longer depended on the rails to link them to the city and neighboring communities. In New Jersey, the 1926 opening of the Delaware River Bridge (later renamed the Benjamin Franklin Bridge) also hastened the shift from rail to automobile commuting. As passengers left the trains, the railroads eliminated or cut back service on many lines, although the Pennsylvania and Reading railroads invested in electric trains and often increased services between 1915 and 1933. After World War II, as automobile ownership and suburban bus service increased, and by the 1960s, the once-dominant railroads wanted to discontinue their money-losing commuter trains. In Pennsylvania, the City of Philadelphia and then the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority (SEPTA) intervened in the 1950s and 1960s, and by 1983, SEPTA had taken over the remaining trains. For the New Jersey suburbs, the Port Authority Transit Corporation (PATCO) between Philadelphia and Lindenwold took the place of earlier rail systems in 1969. New Jersey Transit’s River Line began operating between Camden and Trenton in 2004. In the automobile age, some railroad suburbs retained their appeal as fashionable enclaves while others transitioned into neighborhoods of large houses divided into cheap apartments.

In the early-twenty-first century, although most people living in Philadelphia’s railroad suburbs did not use the trains to go to work, the old commuter lines still affected the social geography of the region because the road system largely followed those lines. With the exception of a handful of edge cities like King of Prussia, Pennsylvania, much of Philadelphia’s suburban development followed the old railroad lines. In 2017, SEPTA and PATCO trains still carried more than 156,000 daily riders, including not only suburban dwellers but also working-class and lower-middle-class reverse commuters traveling to jobs in the suburbs. Along the tracks, railroad stations and homes built by the enterprising developers of the nineteenth century survived as visible reminders of the origins of the railroad suburbs.

Charlene Mires is Professor of History at Rutgers-Camden and Editor-in-Chief of The Encyclopedia of Greater Philadelphia. John Hepp is Professor of History and co-chair of the Division of Global Cultures at Wilkes University in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania. He teaches urban and cultural history with an emphasis on the middle classes in the period 1800 to 1940.

Historic Preservation

Through more than three centuries of building and rebuilding settlements, towns, and cities, the region centered on Philadelphia and spanning southeastern Pennsylvania, South Jersey, and northern Delaware became a living museum of American architectural history. The fate of structures ranging from log cabins and colonial mansions to courthouses, warehouses, and the famed Independence Hall often depended on changing economic circumstances in communities or happenstances of care or neglect by property owners. However, through the nineteenth and twentieth centuries an organized preservation movement emerged locally and across the nation. By the twenty-first century, layers of local, state, and federal law supported historic preservation, but controversy could flare when plans for new development came into conflict with desires to protect buildings regarded as significant representations of the past.

[caption id="attachment_33252" align="alignright" width="300"]a color photograph of Independence Hall Independence Hall escaped demolition in 1816 when the city purchased it from the state, which planned to sell the land as building lots. The campaign to save and restore the building, originally the Pennsylvania State House, was the earliest recorded historic preservation effort in the United States. (Library of Congress)[/caption]

As early as 1748, the Swedish naturalist Peter Kalm (1716-79) noted during his travels that Philadelphians were preserving an aging house—identified only as “the Swanson house”—as a reminder of the city’s earlier settlers. But in the colonial and early national eras, in a region with a growing population and high demand for residential and commercial structures, sentiment seldom saved old buildings from being replaced with new ones. Memories of streetscapes and landscapes were more likely to be preserved through works of art, such as the prints of William Russell Birch (1755-1834) published in the 1790s or the illustrations in Annals of Philadelphia, by New Jersey native John Fanning Watson (1779-1860), published in various editions beginning in 1830. In Delaware, a street survey by architect Robert Mills (1781-1855), Survey of New Castle, documented that town’s seventeenth- and eighteenth-century buildings in 1805. Colonial-era structures that survived into the nineteenth century did so as a byproduct of durability or continuing use, which preserved architectural legacies such as the pattern-brick houses of southern New Jersey. Northwest of the original limits of Philadelphia, mansions remained standing as a result of the city’s purchase of country estates in the early nineteenth century to create Fairmount Park. Farther out, mansions in Germantown passed down in families for generations. Throughout the region, the most substantial homes built of stone or brick had the highest rates of survival.

The slow emergence of interest in historic preservation can be charted by the treatment of Independence Hall, originally the Pennsylvania State House (built beginning in 1732). Pennsylvanians demonstrated a lack of interest in preservation when, in 1781, they demolished the building’s original wood steeple after it became unstable. In 1813, the state also demolished the original arched piazzas and wing buildings that flanked the central structure and replaced them with rows of fireproof office buildings. Around the same time, descendants of Benjamin Franklin (1706-90) also allowed his Franklin Court home and property to be demolished and redeveloped into building lots.

Preserving the Old State House

Regard for the old State House as a physical reminder of the past changed with the passage of time, especially as the American Revolution began to fade from lived experience into historical memory. In 1816, long after the Pennsylvania capital moved west to Lancaster and then to Harrisburg, Philadelphians mobilized to purchase the old State House and its square as city property rather than see the state carry out plans to sell them off for building lots. City officials had practical as well as historical motives, given the building’s use as a polling place for local elections and the value of a healthful open square in the increasingly congested city. Still, their action marked the first documented act of historic preservation in the United States. In 1828, when the Philadelphia City Councils authorized reconstructing the State House steeple to house a new clock and bell, they insisted that the architect William Strickland (1788-1854) revise his designs to replicate the original as closely as possible. Nearby, in the 1850s the Carpenters’ Company also preserved its headquarters, Carpenters’ Hall (built 1770), the meeting place of the First Continental Congress.

[caption id="attachment_33057" align="alignright" width="300"]A black and white photograph of the Indian King Tavern, a white two-story building with a three-story attachment. The second floor has a row of windows with black shutters. A wooden horse trough is on the sidewalk in front. New Jersey’s State Assembly officially adopted the Declaration of Independence at the Indian King Tavern in 1777. In 1903, the tavern became the state’s first government-owned historic site. (Library of Congress)[/caption]

Historic preservation during the nineteenth century focused primarily on high-style buildings, especially residences associated with prominent individuals. In Philadelphia and the surrounding region, where George Washington (1732-99) slept, worked, and led armies into battle, some of these efforts drew inspiration from the 1850s campaign to save Mount Vernon, Washington’s Virginia home—a project generally regarded as the birth of the historic preservation movement in the United States. The Colonial Revival, an embrace of colonial-era aesthetics that emerged around the time of the 1876 Centennial, also inspired preservation campaigns. In the subsequent decades, in an era of when increasing immigration and industrialization seemed to undermine older social and economic orders, historical societies, patriotic organizations, and state governments took steps to safeguard sites of early American history. In Pennsylvania, for example, the state appointed a Valley Forge Park Commission in 1893, and in New Jersey, the state made the Indian King Tavern (built c. 1750) in Haddonfield its first government-owned historic site in 1903. The first preservation organization in Delaware, the Friends of Old Drawyers, formed in 1895 to save the Presbyterian church by that name (built c. 1773) in New Castle County.

[caption id="attachment_33027" align="alignright" width="201"]a black and white portrait of Mabel Lloyd Ridgely, seated in a white lace dress. A rolled up poster or magazine is tucked under her arm. Women spearheaded many preservation projects in the twentieth century as a way to participate in the public and civic realms. Suffragist Mabel Lloyd Ridgely, pictured in The Women Citizen in 1919, saved the Old Delaware State House from demolition in 1912. (Wikimedia Commons)[/caption]

Often, leaders of preservation projects in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century could trace their own ancestry to the era of colonial settlement or the American Revolution. And like the Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association in Virginia, women often led local efforts to preserve or restore historic homes. During the second half of the nineteenth century, women organized to save the Valley Forge home that served as Washington’s headquarters during the 1777-78 encampment of the Continental Army. Ancestral societies such as the Colonial Dames of America prevented demolition and preserved historic houses such as Stenton (built 1720s), the Germantown country home of colonial leader James Logan (1674-1751). The Daughters of the American Revolution in the 1890s took the lead in renovating the second floor of Independence Hall to reestablish a colonial ambience, and in Delaware Mabel Lloyd Ridgely (1872-1962) saved her state’s old State House (built 1787-91) from demolition in 1912. Later, in the twentieth century, the Colonial Dames of New Jersey took charge of the preserving and conserving Peachfield, a Burlington County estate dating to 1674, and the 1759 “Old Schoolhouse” in Mount Holly.

Period Rooms in Museums

While some colonial houses converted into museums, the interiors of others became museum pieces as appreciation for colonial-era aesthetics led art museum curators to install period rooms stripped from actual colonial-era houses. Thus, in 1918 the interior of a room from the Philadelphia home of Mayor Samuel Powel (1738-93, home built 1765) came to be preserved in New York, at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Interiors from other parts of the country, especially from the South, came to Delaware for the collections of Henry Francis du Pont (1880-1969), who created the Winterthur Museum showcase of American decorative arts. The museum became a point of pilgrimage for preservationists, and du Pont and his sister Louise du Point Crowninshield (1877-1958) became early leaders in organizations such as the National Trust for Historic Preservation, founded in 1949. In the same era at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, Fiske Kimball (1888-1955), the architecture and preservation authority who served as director for nearly three decades, oversaw the installation of period rooms as well as restorations of mansions in Fairmount Park.

Historic preservation gained momentum among professional architects and citizen activists during the early and middle decades of the twentieth century. New Castle, Delaware, became a destination for architects seeking to learn from the surviving colonial-era buildings of the town founded by the Dutch in 1651, where William Penn (1644-1718) first landed in America in 1682. Preservation in the riverfront town gained momentum during the 1920s and 1930s as individuals and groups purchased and restored structures including the building known as the “Dutch House” (c. 1690-1710), the Amstel House (c. 1738), and the George Read House (1797-1803).

[caption id="attachment_33025" align="alignright" width="255"]A black and white photograph of Frances Wister standing before a plaque celebrating the founders and architects of the Academy of Music. A wreath of evergreen leaves Frances Wister devoted most of her life to the preservation of Philadelphia’s historic landmarks and homes, including those belonging to her own extended family. This photo shows Wister in 1924 after a successful battle to save the Academy of Music. (Special Collections Research Center, Temple University Libraries)[/caption]

Preservation activity also responded to industrial and commercial growth, which produced a new generation of buildings overshadowing and sometimes threatening structures of earlier times. Organizations formed for the specific purpose of historic preservation, especially in the oldest sections of Philadelphia. The Philadelphia Society for the Preservation of Landmarks, founded under the leadership of Frances Wister (1874-1956) in 1931, saved the colonial-era Powel House at 244 S. Third Street from demolition. The society later extended its protection to the Hill-Physick House (built 1786) nearby on Fourth Street; Grumblethorpe (built 1744), the Wister family home in Germantown; and Waynesborough (built 1724), the birthplace of Revolutionary War General Anthony Wayne (1745-96), in Chester County. Inspired by the Landmarks Society, residents of Elfreth’s Alley took steps to preserve their little colonial-era street near the Delaware River between Arch and Race Streets, which unlike other nearby structures had been spared during construction of the Delaware River Bridge (opened in 1926, later renamed the Benjamin Franklin Bridge). Another group, An Organization for the Conservation of Historic Sites in Old Philadelphia, evolved from a committee of the Sons of the Revolution under the leadership of Judge Edwin O. Lewis (1879-1974). In 1942, Lewis and other prominent Philadelphians founded the Independence Hall Association, which successfully lobbied the state and federal governments to create expanded parks around Independence Hall (ironically spurring widespread demolition of nineteenth-century structures during the 1950s to showcase buildings associated with the nation’s founding). The authorization of Independence National Historical Park in 1948 brought a new cadre of National Park Service professionals to town, among them the nationally known preservation architect Charles E. Peterson (1906-2004), who took an active role in revitalizing the Center City neighborhood that became known as Society Hill.

Post-World War II Preservation

[caption id="attachment_33054" align="alignright" width="300"]A black and white photograph of a line of three- or four-story row homes on the 600 block of Spruce Street, Philadelphia. Thousands of historic homes in the Society Hill neighborhood of Philadelphia escaped the wrecking ball in the 1950s and ’60s when urban renewal efforts were causing widespread demolitions nearby. The homes on the 600 block of Spruce Street remain largely unchanged from this 1957 photograph. (PhillyHistory.org)[/caption]

New fuel for the historic preservation movement arrived after World War II as urban renewal and the construction of interstate highways led to widespread demolition of aging urban neighborhoods in the Philadelphia region and elsewhere. In reaction, interest in preservation expanded beyond colonial-era buildings associated with famous people to encompass a wider range of time periods and building types. Philadelphia became one of the first cities in the nation to establish a Historical Commission, created by ordinance in 1955 and given the power to certify properties as historic, thereby adding protections against alterations or demolition. In Society Hill, Philadelphia departed from urban renewal through wholesale demolition and pioneered an approach of selectively preserving and restoring colonial-era buildings. The neighborhood, which had deteriorated into slum conditions by the middle of the twentieth century, transformed into a showcase, although gentrified by homeowners who were younger, wealthier, and more likely to be white than earlier occupants. In Germantown, a citizens group called Colonial Germantown Inc. (formed in 1956) adopted a similar strategy of combining historic preservation with development.

Elsewhere in Philadelphia and in other cities in the region, widespread demolition remained the rule. Proposals for new highways spurred movements to preserve communities that risked being displaced. Residents of the South Street corridor in Philadelphia successfully mobilized against a planned Crosstown Expressway during the 1960s, but Chinatown lost its battle against the Vine Street Expressway in the 1970s. The construction of I-95 during the 1960s and 1970s separated most of Philadelphia from its historic waterfront and wiped out late nineteenth-century neighborhoods in Wilmington, Delaware, where most traces of eighteenth-century life had already been erased by urban renewal. The Delaware Historical Society saved some of Wilmington’s early buildings by moving them, forming the Willingtown Square collection of eighteenth-century buildings in 1976.

In the face of continuing threats to historic resources, federal law during the 1960s and 1970s opened a new era in preservation, with significant impact in Philadelphia and the surrounding region. The National Historic Preservation Act of 1966 established a National Register of Historic Places, which necessitated state-level review of nominations. Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Delaware all established historic preservation offices to review proposals for the Register and offer technical assistance. In addition to individual buildings, historic districts and sites likely to hold archaeological resources could be nominated for the National Register. Properties at least fifty years old could be listed, setting a new threshold for defining sites as “historic” to encompass not only the distant past but also parts of the twentieth century. The law’s Section 106 also called for assessing impacts on historic resources prior to federally funded projects, a requirement that spurred creation of local consulting firms employing preservation architects, historians, and archaeologists. Their work produced new knowledge and documentation for sites such as the First African Baptist Church Burial Ground at Eighth and Vine Streets in Philadelphia, excavated during the 1980s and 1990s in connection with projects adjacent to the Vine Street Expressway.

Tax Incentives for Preservation

Further impact in the region followed the Tax Reform Act of 1976, which created the Federal Historic Preservation Tax Incentives Program. Federal tax credits proved to be enticing to developers and transformational in local neighborhoods like Old City in Philadelphia, where developers rehabilitated and adapted former factories, warehouses, and office buildings. The new purposes for these structures, many from the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, ranged from affordable housing for seniors to high-end apartment buildings that developers later converted to condominiums. Following the federal government’s lead, Pennsylvania and Delaware enacted state-level tax credits for preservation.

With designations for the National Register of Historic Places largely honorary, legal protections for historic buildings required additional support and regulation at the state and local level. In the region around Philadelphia, New Jersey went farthest in creating an infrastructure for historic preservation, establishing the New Jersey Historic Trust (1967), a Historic Sites Council (1967), and a New Jersey Register of Historic Places (1970). In 1971, Haddonfield became the first municipality in the state to adopt a historic preservation ordinance, and many others followed after 1986, when an amendment to the New Jersey Municipal Land Use Law included provisions encouraging local historic preservation ordinances. Despite preservation successes in many communities, however, destruction of notable New Jersey buildings occurred in the service of redevelopment and with support of state government agencies. For example, the state overruled a 2007 decision by the Historic Sites Council to prevent demolition of the 1927 Sears Roebuck building in Camden, setting the stage for a five-year court battle by local activists that ultimately failed. Demolition followed, clearing the site to become a corporate campus for Campbell’s Soup and Subaru International. In 2017, the New Jersey Department of Transportation bulldozed the Hugg-Harrison-Glover House (built 1764) in Bellmawr in the midst of a vigorous preservation campaign by the Camden County Historical Society.

[caption id="attachment_33253" align="alignright" width="297"]A black and white photograph of the facade of the Boyd Theater, a 1920s-era Art Deco style movie palace. The facade is of carved white granite and an ornate entryway frames a central ticket booth. A large vertical sign on the front reads "BOYD" and a marquee advertises "Theodore Dreisers Novel Jennie Gerhart" and "Sylvia Sidney in Jennie Gerhart". A banner beneath the marquee reads "Its Cool Inside!" The recent popularity of historic preservation projects and a long battle waged by preservationists could not save the Boyd Theater’s 1928 Art Deco interior from destruction. In 2014, the Philadelphia Historical Commission approved demolition on the basis of the financial hardship of the owner. (Phillyhistory.org)[/caption]

In Pennsylvania, relatively few municipalities established local governance over historic preservation through two available programs, the state-level Act 167 for certifying local historic districts and the zoning provisions of the Municipalities Planning Code. Momentum for historic preservation depended heavily on activism by nongovernmental organizations such as the Philadelphia Historic Preservation Corporation (founded 1979) and Preservation Coalition of Greater Philadelphia (founded 1982), which merged in 1996 to form the Preservation Alliance for Greater Philadelphia. Even in Philadelphia, with an established Historical Commission, failures to establish local certification for structures on the National Register left historic properties at risk, as illustrated in 2016-18 by plans to add a high-rise apartment building towering over nineteenth-century Jewelers Row. In 2014, Philadelphia preservationists also lost a hard-fought battle to preserve the Boyd Theater (built 1928), an Art Deco movie palace at Nineteenth and Chestnut Streets that the Historical Commission allowed to be demolished on the basis of financial hardship of the owner. By 2017, the apparent weaknesses in Philadelphia’s historic preservation policies prompted Mayor Jim Kenney (b. 1958) to appoint a task force to recommend improvements.

By the twenty-first century, advocates for historic preservation emphasized not only aesthetics and historic values but also economic benefits, such as the role of preservation in supporting the heritage tourism industry. Preservation advocates stressed both the cost savings and the environmental benefits of rehabilitating structures over scrapping them to build anew. The pressures of development remained among the chief challenges to historic preservation, not only in cities but also in rapidly changing rural areas. Meanwhile, climate change raised new concerns as rising sea levels began to impact shore areas of New Jersey and Delaware, floods occurred more often in historic riverside communities in Pennsylvania, and high-intensity storms increased in frequency. In all three states, preservation agencies struggled to rebound from funding and staff cuts imposed during the economic recession that began in 2008. Across the region, preservation activists developed action plans for the long term, and fought battles where necessary, to assure a future for the material remains of the past.

Charlene Mires is Professor of History at Rutgers-Camden and Editor-in-Chief of The Encyclopedia of Greater Philadelphia.

Center City

Forming a core of civic, commercial, and residential life since Philadelphia’s seventeenth-century founding, Center City has been a continually evolving experiment in urban living and management. The roughly rectangular area of about 2.3 square miles between the Delaware and Schuylkill Rivers, from Vine Street to South Street, occupies the territory of the original 1682 city plan for Philadelphia. Once a forested expanse with hills, ponds, and streams, the land between the rivers transformed over time into a populated grid where residential and commercial interests jostled, shifted, and spread from east to west to fill in the footprint of “the city proper.” Rivers, roads, and later railroads, public transit, and highways linked the city with the wider region, making the urban core a hub for people, culture, and commerce—but also making it possible for residents and businesses to move to outlying neighborhoods and suburbs. In the twentieth century, new generations of city planners mobilized to combat the effects of suburbanization and revitalize Center City as a place where residents and visitors could live, work, and play.

[caption id="attachment_33037" align="alignright" width="300"]A simple line map of the Center City grid plan with land allotments, roads, and public squares marked This map, drawn by surveyor Thomas Holme and published in London in 1683, is the original plan for Philadelphia. William Penn hoped that development would occur along both the Schuylkill and Delaware River waterfronts and High (Market) Street, leaving plenty of open space. (Historical Society of Pennsylvania)[/caption]

Surveyor Thomas Holme (1624-95) and founder William Penn (1644-1718) conceived the idea for a gridded city punctuated by garden squares in the 1680s. They drew inspiration from baroque town planning, post-Great London fire (1666) concerns for city health, desires to compensate initial investors in Pennsylvania with land, and personal preferences of Penn and early interest groups such as the Free Society of Traders. The plan drawn by Holme intended settlement to occur on both the Schuylkill and Delaware waterfronts and along the main streets of High (later Market) and Broad. After the first printing of the plan in 1683, the river-to-river grid appeared prominently on maps of Pennsylvania, but creating a city in the image of Penn and Holme’s plan required nearly two centuries of clearing trees, leveling land, extending streets, and building upon the grid.

[caption id="attachment_33093" align="alignright" width="300"]Photograph depicting a modern-day Elfreth's Alley. Center City's little streets, like Elfreth's Alley in this 2013 photograph, developed as Philadelphians subdivided the spacious lots imagined by the original city plan. (Photograph for The Encyclopedia of Greater Philadelphia by Jamie Castagnoli)[/caption]

Early settlement focused on the Delaware waterfront, which became the main site of commercial and residential building and growth during the colonial era. While property at the city plan’s western edge, on the Schuylkill, remained relatively open with scattered farms and industrial workshops, the Delaware riverfront grew with wharves, warehouses, churches, taverns, and houses. Settlement hugged the Delaware shore in a semi-crescent shape, most densely along High Street and thinning to the north and south. More and more residents clustered into the area by subdividing lots. Residences of the most prosperous Philadelphians faced the main streets while smaller houses on back alleys and courts filled with laborers and the poor. Instead of civic buildings on a center square, as Penn and Holme had planned, by the 1720s a town hall and Quaker meetinghouse anchored the city at Second and High Streets. Construction of the Pennsylvania State House (Independence Hall) in the 1730s pulled the city westward to around Fifth Street, but as late as the 1790s, Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826) received advice to rent quarters east of Seventh Street because “so few houses” stood farther west.

Port of Commerce and Entry

The port on the Delaware, ferries from New Jersey, and roads radiating outward into Pennsylvania, Delaware, and Maryland enabled people and goods to move in and out of the compact city. Throughout the colonial era English, Irish, Scots-Irish, Welsh, German, and free and enslaved people of African heritage came through the port of Philadelphia to build and settle the city and surrounding region, which had been occupied earlier by Native American camps and Swedish settlements. From nearby hinterlands and across the Delaware River from New Jersey, agricultural products came to the High Street market and shipped out to other colonies and the world. The presence of the market, which extended to the west as the city grew, gave High Street of the original city plan a new name: Market Street (informally at first, made official in 1858).

[caption id="attachment_33039" align="alignright" width="300"]An illustration of a large crowd of men in front of Independence Hall on election day in 1815. American flags fly prominently from several buildings. This scene by John Lewis Krimmel shows an election day crowd in 1815, with a steeple-less State House (Independence Hall) in the background and Congress Hall, seat of the United States Congress from 1790 to 1800, in the foreground. (Historical Society of Pennsylvania)[/caption]

The settled area of the city extended to Seventh Street by 1790, and by 1800 the forest had been cleared from river to river. In the decades following the American Revolution, as property values closest to commercial High Street increased, the settled area of Philadelphia became more segregated by economic status. The laboring class and the poor migrated in greater concentrations to low-rent districts at the southern and northern fringe, including a notoriously bawdy area known as “Helltown” north of Arch Street between Third Street and the Delaware River. Beginning in the 1790s and continuing into the early nineteenth century, a significant free African American neighborhood grew at Sixth and Lombard Streets, around Mother Bethel AME Church. African Americans also clustered in the area north of Arch Street and west of Fourth. A German neighborhood formed on the city’s northern border, and French immigrants who arrived during the French and Haitian revolutions opened businesses in the vicinity of Second and Walnut.

[caption id="attachment_33017" align="alignright" width="300"]a black and white engraving of a crowd of revelers at Center Square, now Penn Square, Philadelphia in 1819. Different tents on the grounds feature musicians, games, and groups of women. Two uniformed soldiers stand arm in arm together in the front center. There are American flags and a portrait of George Washington displayed. A round pump house stands in the background surrounded by a marching band. Previous to City Hall, the land at Center (or Centre) Square most notably acted as home to a pump house designed by the architect Benjamin Latrobe that stood from 1801 to 1829, supplying water to the city via a gravity-fed system from the Schuylkill. This 1819 sketch by John Lewis Krimmel uses the square and its pump house as the setting for a raucous Fourth of July celebration. (Historical Society of Pennsylvania)[/caption]

Philadelphians of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century made choices that imposed order and shaped the look and feel of the city proper for centuries to come. In 1795, city officials banned wood-frame buildings from inside the city limits, which assured that the fine rows of new homes built in the early decades of the nineteenth century would be made of red brick, often with marble-front raised basements and steps. The city government also looked back to the original city plan to guide improvements of the neglected public squares. Between 1801 and 1829 the center square, which Penn and Holme had intended for public buildings, became home to a neoclassical pump house that architect Benjamin Latrobe (1764-1820) designed to supply water to the city via a gravity-fed system from the Schuylkill. In 1825 the City Councils gave the squares new names that imprinted history in the landscape: Washington (for the southeast square), Franklin (northeast), Rittenhouse (southwest), Logan (northwest), and Penn (in the center). Washington and Franklin squares transformed during the 1820s and 1830s from neglected plots and sometime burial grounds into landscaped parks. Rittenhouse and Logan squares similarly improved during the 1840s and 1850s, as the population spread west. Rittenhouse Square became an especially prime address as lands west of Broad Street began to fill with row houses, new houses of worship, schools, and businesses during the 1850s and 1860s.

Expansion on the Waterfront and Inland

While residents and businesses planted new structures across the width of the grid, earlier settled blocks churned with changing purposes and redevelopment. The Merchants Exchange completed in 1834 at Third and Walnut Streets signaled the continuing importance of maritime commerce, as did the 1830s rebuilding of a warehouse district on Front Street north of Market Street and the creation of the waterfront Delaware Avenue, funded by a bequest of merchant Stephen Girard (1750-1831). However, businesses also moved inland from the waterfront and formed specialized clusters for banking, insurance, and publishing. In the oldest sections of the city proper, many colonial-era homes survived but deteriorated into subdivided multiple-family dwellings or industrial workshops. Homes associated with the nation’s founders gave way to commercial buildings on High Street, and factories replaced brick houses on Arch and Cherry Streets. Philadelphians built over cemeteries and turned streams into underground sewers.

[caption id="attachment_33038" align="alignright" width="300"]A map of the Center City neighborhood of Philadelphia as it appeared in 1857, rendered in color. Dense residential housing is visible primarily between the Delaware River and Broad Street, while the area from Broad street to the Schuylkill River is dominated by industrial buildings and open space. This map, drawn in 1857 from the west bank of the Schuylkill River, shows how Center City began to expand in the nineteenth century. Industry started to take root on the Schuylkill waterfront, but population and commercial districts were still largely concentrated east of Broad Street. (Historical Society of Pennsylvania)[/caption]

The relationship of the city proper with outlying areas changed fundamentally from the 1830s through the 1850s, first with the expansion of public transportation networks and then with the Consolidation Act of 1854. Railroads, omnibuses, and horse-drawn streetcars allowed increasing numbers of Philadelphians to move beyond the boundaries of the original “walking city.” The Consolidation Act extended the city’s boundaries to encompass all of Philadelphia County, but in doing so it reduced the old city proper into a nameless section of a larger whole. “Old city proper” lingered as a name for the central city, remaining in use as late as the 1920s. However, by the late nineteenth and early centuries “center city” (or “centre city”) appeared frequently in newspaper advertisements for real estate and employment, suggesting a widespread understanding of the phrase as a designation for Philadelphia’s downtown. During the 1920s and 1930s, Center City (sometimes capitalized and sometimes not) became more common as a place name in advertising, in the names of buildings, and in city government communication. Thereafter, embraced by city planners as well as organizations such as the Center City Residents Association (formed in 1947), Center City dominated as the name for the old city proper.

Following consolidation, Philadelphians made another pivotal decision for the future shape and functions of the central city when they selected Penn (or Center) Square, the site Penn and Holme had intended for public buildings, as the location for a new City Hall. The site at Broad and Market Streets, determined by referendum in 1870 after years of debate, followed the westward trend of the city away from the traditional home of municipal government on Independence Square. By the time voters chose Penn Square over Washington Square, substantial development had occurred on Broad Street, including construction of the Academy of Music (opened in 1857) and fine hotels on South Broad and development of business and industry to the north. Anticipation of the new City Hall, which took form between 1871 and 1901, spurred additional nearby development. The Pennsylvania Railroad and Reading Railroad opened massive new stations on Market Street flanking Penn Square (Broad Street Station, built 1880-82 and expanded 1892-94 at Fifteenth Street, and the Reading Terminal, built 1891-93 at Twelfth Street). Adding to Broad Street’s status as a cultural corridor, the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts moved to its new building designed by Frank Furness (1839-1912) in 1876. The same year, as Philadelphia celebrated the nation’s centennial, John Wanamaker (1838-1922) opened his “Grand Depot” store in the former Pennsylvania Railroad Freight Depot at Thirteenth and Market Street, heralding an era when large department stores drew crowds of shoppers from the city and surrounding areas to an increasingly bustling and diverse downtown.

Immigrant Settlement in Older Areas

[caption id="attachment_33020" align="alignright" width="235"]A color photograph of the Friendship Gate, a colorful traditional Chinese gateway ornamented with golden dragons. Chinese language characters are painted in red on a white background. They translate to read the words "Philadelphia Chinatown". The Friendship Gate at Tenth and Arch Streets has been a major landmark of the Chinatown district of Center City since its construction in the 1980s. Urban renewal plans have targeted Chinatown for redevelopment multiple times, leading residents to form strong opposition groups. (Library of Congress)[/caption]

Older blocks continued to lose their cachet but served as points of entry for immigrants and other new arrivals to Philadelphia. Beginning in the 1870s, a Chinatown began to form in the 900 block of Race Street as Chinese merchants and laundrymen migrated to Philadelphia from the West Coast. With few options, the Chinese created their community in the midst of a vice district known as the Tenderloin, north of Race Street between Sixth and Thirteenth Streets. In the remnants of the colonial city near the Delaware River, refugees from pogroms in Russia created a Jewish Quarter beginning in the 1880s. African Americans migrating from the South to escape repressive Jim Crow conditions extended the historically black neighborhood around Mother Bethel AME Church westward toward Broad Street and beyond.

In the northwest quadrant of Center City, meanwhile, the new City Hall helped to fuel imagination of a grand new boulevard extending northwest to link the center of the city with Fairmount Park. Plans formed slowly but came to fruition with the opening of the Benjamin Franklin Parkway in 1918. The civic improvement gave Philadelphia an expansive new avenue in the style of Paris and spurred development of a new cultural district around Logan Square (which became a traffic circle). In the process, the city demolished 1,300 residential and industrial properties but spared the Cathedral Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul, which had faced Logan Square since 1846.

Although the urban core remained in part residential, by the early the twentieth century commerce and culture firmly dominated the landscape and the skyline. The central city reached new heights not only with the 548-foot tower of City Hall but also with the advent of skyscrapers, starting with the Land Title Building at Broad and Chestnut Streets (fifteen stories built 1897-98; twenty-two story addition built 1902). The combination of railroad stations, cultural institutions, department stores, and other businesses anchored Center City as a hub for commercial and cultural life, including conventions that filled Broad Street hotels. At the same time, a greater variety of residents gained the option of commuting from outlying areas on electrified streetcars (introduced in the 1890s), the Market-Frankford Subway-Elevated Line (built 1903-8, extended to Frankford in 1922), and the Broad Street Subway (1928-32). Motor vehicles added flexibility of travel and the option of driving to New Jersey over Philadelphia’s first bridge over the Delaware River, the Delaware River Bridge (opened in 1926 and renamed the Benjamin Franklin Bridge in 1955).

Restructuring in the Twentieth Century

[caption id="attachment_33026" align="alignright" width="300"]A black and white photograph of three men in suits. The two men on the left are presenting a plaque to Edmund Bacon, who stands to the right of them. Urban renewal efforts in the mid-twentieth century targeted areas of Center City deemed “blighted.” Edmund “Ed” Bacon spearheaded many of these campaigns as the president of the Philadelphia City Planning Commission from 1949 to 1970. He is shown (right) receiving an award from the Center City Business Men’s Association in 1962. (PhillyHistory.org)[/caption]

As the region became more suburban from the late nineteenth into the twentieth century, Center City felt the impact. By the 1950s and 1960s, urban reformers focused their attention on areas of poverty and “blight” along the Delaware waterfront and in nearby neighborhoods. Pointing to areas that had “changed over the years from aesthetic assets to eyesores,” the Philadelphia Planning Commission led by Edmund Bacon (1910-2005), the Philadelphia Redevelopment Authority (established 1945), and the Olde Philadelphia Development Corporation (1956) spearheaded massive restructuring plans for Center City that involved redeveloping areas perceived as slums and adding infrastructure. Catering to car culture, highways created new boundaries and connections for Center City. Construction of I-95 along the Delaware waterfront in the 1960s linked Philadelphia to the Northeast Corridor but largely cut off the city from its formerly bustling harbor. On the other side of town, the Schuylkill Expressway reached completion in 1958. Planners also sought to improve movement of automobile traffic across the city with new expressways along the northern and southern boundaries of the old city proper. They succeeded in implementing the Vine Street Expressway, over strong opposition from residents of Chinatown, but could not overcome neighborhood resistance to a planned Crosstown Expressway along South Street.

In Center City, redevelopment sought to compete with the appeal of suburbia with a new mix of residential, recreational, and commercial space, including high-rise apartment buildings and the suburban-style Gallery shopping mall on Market Street. West of City Hall, the Penn Center complex of office buildings rose in the corridor where an aging viaduct known as the “Chinese Wall” had carried trains into the old Broad Street Station. Around Independence Hall, historical parks managed by the state and federal governments replaced blocks of commercial buildings. South of Independence Hall, by removing and resettling predominantly ethnic and poor residents, then preserving and restoring the best of their colonial-era homes, urban renewal transformed the old Jewish Quarter into upscale Society Hill. In addition to the urban pioneers who bought and rehabilitated the houses of Society Hill, residents added new vitality to other Center City neighborhoods, for example creating a “Gayborhood” in the vicinity of Thirteenth and Locust Street and an arts community in the abandoned factory lofts east of Third Street and north of Market.

The High-Rise Boom

[caption id="attachment_33019" align="alignright" width="233"]A color photograph of Philadelphia city Hall from South broad Street looking north. The building has a prominent tower with an illuminated clock face, topped with a dome and a statue of William Penn. Philadelphia’s City Hall was constructed between 1871 and 1901 on Center (Penn) Square. A “gentleman’s agreement” prevented construction of any building taller than the 37-foot bronze statue of William Penn on the central tower. (Library of Congress)[/caption]

The continuing revitalization of Center City as a mix of residential and commercial historic ambiance and new development built upon these twentieth-century projects. Beginning in 1976, federal tax credits for historic preservation spurred creation of a new supply of luxury apartments through adaptive reuse of old hotels, factories, and office buildings. A boom in skyscraper construction west of Broad Street occurred after 1987, when One Liberty Place broke a longstanding but unofficial practice of respecting the William Penn statue atop City Hall as the highest point in the city. Other skyscrapers followed, with Comcast surpassing all others for height with its fifty-seven-story headquarters built in 2008 and again with its sixty-story Technology and Innovation Center built between 2014 and 2018. East of Market Street, after retailing suffered the failures and consolidations of department stores, the onetime showcase urban shopping mall, the Gallery, itself became the site of redevelopment into a retail-entertainment complex to be called Fashion District Philadelphia.

In an era of industrial decline, Center City anchored a tourism industry that became increasingly important to the region’s economy. Promoters showcased the birthplace of a nation with museums and historic sites like Independence National Historical Park as well as yearly attractions such as the Mummers Parade, an abundance of public art, and a thriving dining and entertainment scene. To compete for conventions as well as recreational travelers, the Pennsylvania Convention Center opened in 1993, taking up the whole of four city blocks between Arch and Race Streets from Eleventh Street to Thirteenth (then more than doubling in square footage with an extension to Broad Street in the 2010s). Redevelopment in service to tourism also occurred in Independence National Historical Park, which gained a block-long visitor center, an expanded exhibit hall for the Liberty Bell, and the National Constitution Center, and nearby a Museum of the American Revolution.

Stewards of Philadelphia’s Center City, like those in other American cities, grappled with the challenge of preserving the past while ensuring a secure future for the city and its residents. Beginning in 1991, the Center City District—a business improvement district—supplemented city services to improve quality of life with initiatives ranging from street cleaning to development of Dilworth Park adjacent to City Hall and Sister Cities Park on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway. By the early decades of the twenty-first century, new attention turned toward reintegrating the Delaware River waterfront into the urban grid, and the Schuylkill River Trail opened on the western edge of the original city plan. By 2017, an estimated 190,000 of Philadelphia’s 1.5 million residents lived in Center City and adjacent blocks north to Girard Avenue and south to Tasker Street, including a high concentration of young professionals and increasing numbers of older residents relocating from the suburbs. In a city of many neighborhoods, Center City remained a heart of political and cultural activity and a visible expression of Philadelphia’s growth and change—not only a geographic location, but a signpost of urban vitality.

Catharine Dann Roeber is associate professor of decorative arts and material culture at the University of Delaware and the author of the PhD dissertation Building and Planting: Material Culture, Memory, and the Making of William Penn’s Pennsylvania, completed at the College of William and Mary in 2011. Charlene Mires is professor of history at Rutgers-Camden and editor-in-chief of The Encyclopedia of Greater Philadelphia.

Neighborhoods

Avenue of the Arts

Chinatown

Fitler Square

Gayborhood/Midtown

Logan Square

Old City

Rittenhouse Square

Society Hill

South Street

Washington Square

LOVE (Sculpture)

[caption id="attachment_32697" align="aligncenter" width="575"] Eager tourists wait in line in Love Park to take pictures with the famous sculpture and its scenic background, the Benjamin Franklin Parkway. (Encyclopedia of Greater Philadelphia photograph)[/caption]

The sculpture commonly known as “the LOVE statue,” first placed in Philadelphia’s John F. Kennedy Plaza for the 1976 Bicentennial, was not the only sculpture of its kind—by the twenty-first century, it was not even the only sculpture of its type in Philadelphia. Yet LOVE, by Robert Indiana (1928-2018), came to be embraced by Philadelphians and the city’s promoters as a distinctive icon for the City of Brotherly Love. Standing like a beacon thirteen feet high (six feet of artwork atop a seven-foot base), the colorful aluminum sculpture became a marker of identity for the surrounding plaza, increasingly known only as “Love Park.”

The LOVE design of four letters stacked in a square with a tilted “O” predated the Bicentennial, as did the artist’s association with Philadelphia. Indiana (who took the name of his home state) worked in New York, but his first single-artist museum exhibition occurred in Philadelphia in 1968 at the Institute of Contemporary Art (ICA) at the University of Pennsylvania. On the rise as a Pop artist, Indiana was working in a style he termed “verbal-visual,” in which words became elements of art. LOVE, which appeared at ICA in the form of paintings, prints, and a small sculpture, had been developing as a motif in Indiana’s art since 1961, when he created the design for a personal Christmas card and then for an immensely popular set of holiday cards issued by New York’s Museum of Modern Art. A subsequent LOVE poster for an Indiana show at New York’s Stable Gallery in 1966 further disseminated the design, which struck a responsive chord in the emerging counterculture of the 1960s. Along with love-ins, love beads, and other symbols of love and peace, Indiana’s work seemed symbolic of the times.

[caption id="attachment_32698" align="alignright" width="173"] The AMOR sculpture, created in 1998 by Robert Indiana, is the sister statue of the famous LOVE statue. Conceived in response to the changing demographics of the United States, the work stands in Sister Cities Park, Philadelphia. (Encyclopedia of Greater Philadelphia photograph)[/caption]

In addition to LOVE, the body of Indiana’s work displayed by ICA in 1968 included many other paintings, sculpture, and prints with themes drawing primarily upon American literature, current events, history, and popular culture. ICA director Stephen S. Prokopoff (1929-2001), one of the exhibition’s curators, viewed Indiana’s focus on American themes as harmonizing with Philadelphia’s history as a center for American art in the early nineteenth century. The catalog for the ICA exhibition contributed to later scholarship about Indiana’s work by including the artist’s “auto-chronology” of his life and work to that point in time.

By the early 1970s, LOVE came to overshadow Indiana’s other work as it circulated in many forms, as original art and in copies both authorized and unauthorized. The artist had come to the opening of the ICA exhibit sporting an 18-carat gold LOVE ring, one of series of 100 he had authorized to be made by Villanova-based Rare Rings, a new venture by Pop-art merchandise entrepreneurs Joan Kron and Audrey Sabol. For the cover of the novel Love Story (1970), another artist closely mimicked the colors and typography of Indiana’s design. Indiana himself produced versions large and small. A 12-foot-tall steel sculpture of LOVE, which became part of the permanent collection of the Indianapolis Museum of Art, traveled for exhibition in Boston and New York in 1971 and 1972. A 20-foot painting of LOVE appeared in an Indiana exhibition in New York. Indiana also created a miniature version of LOVE for a postage stamp, issued in time for Valentine’s Day 1973. Philadelphia, as the City of Brotherly Love, provided the setting for a first-day-of-issue ceremony held at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. The U.S. Postal Service went on to sell more than 300 million of the eight-cent LOVE stamps. Intended to be red, green, and blue, the stamps turned out to be red, green, and purple—the result of overprinting blue over red.

[caption id="attachment_32699" align="alignright" width="201"] Promotional banners installed at LOVE Park following renovations in 2016-18 feature updated marketing, including the social media hashtag #lovepark. (Encyclopedia of Greater Philadelphia photograph)[/caption]

The aluminum LOVE sculpture placed in John F. Kennedy Plaza, the public park at Fifteenth and JFK Boulevard near City Hall, featured the same colors as the stamp—red, green, and purple (replaced by blue during subsequent restorations but returned to the original purple in 2018). Indiana loaned the work to Philadelphia for the Bicentennial, a year also marked by the installation of Clothespin by another leading Pop artist, Claes Oldenburg (b. 1929), one block away at Fifteenth and Market Streets. LOVE, alas, proved to be fleeting. When the artist’s dealer recalled the sculpture to New York for a potential buyer in 1978, a public outcry ensued. City officials, who admitted to having no knowledge of the art market, had declined to pay the $45,000 asking price to keep LOVE in the park. Ultimately the price came down to $35,000, paid as a donation by Fitz Eugene Dixon Jr. (1923-2006), owner of the Philadelphia 76ers basketball team and chairman of the Philadelphia Art Commission. The Quaker Export Packaging Company donated its labor to retrieve the lost LOVE.

Secured again in John F. Kennedy Plaza, LOVE became a landmark and reference point in local geography. The Philadelphia Inquirer attributed the usage “Love Park” to homeless people who frequented the plaza during the 1980s. During the 1990s, “Love Park” gained widespread currency among skateboarders attracted by the varied levels of stone and concrete walls, steps, and benches of the plaza. Skateboarding videos and video games spread the image of LOVE in Philadelphia. By the time a thorough redesign and reconstruction of the plaza occurred in 2016-18, plans prioritized keeping LOVE in its place and termed the surrounding public space as JFK Plaza/Love Park. When the park reopened, “Love Park” appeared on banners and signs as a promotional brand.

[caption id="attachment_32693" align="alignright" width="300"] The LOVE statue installed at the University of Pennsylvania in 1966 is an earlier version of the later-famous statue in Love Park (1976). The statue, located on campus in Blanche Levy Park, is part of the university’s sculpture tour. (Encyclopedia of Greater Philadelphia photograph)[/caption]

Indiana continued to create LOVE sculptures into the late 1990s, including variations in other languages. By the twenty-first century, they could be found across the United States, in Israel, Europe, and Asia. In the Philadelphia region, the University of Pennsylvania and Lehigh University each had its own LOVE, and Ursinus College had a copy authorized by the artist. In 2015 for the visit of Pope Francis (b. 1936), the Philadelphia Museum of Art brought one of Indiana’s Spanish-language AMOR sculptures to the city, where it remained.

Philadelphia did not possess LOVE alone. Nevertheless, the sculpture became one of the city’s most recognizable icons, attested and reinforced by the steady flow of visitors seeking it out, posing for photographs, and placing themselves into a distinctively Philadelphia scene of LOVE.

Charlene Mires is Professor of History at Rutgers-Camden and Editor-in-Chief of The Encyclopedia of Greater Philadelphia.

O Little Town of Bethlehem

One of the best-known hymns of the Christmas season, “O Little Town of Bethlehem,” originated in 1868 as a poem written for the Sunday School of the Church of the Holy Trinity on Philadelphia’s Rittenhouse Square. The words by Rector Phillips Brooks (1835-93) and music by church organist Lewis H. Redner (1831-1908) resonated themes of stillness and peace in the aftermath of the Civil War.

[caption id="attachment_32288" align="alignright" width="245"] Featured in this circa 1900 photograph is the Church of the Holy Trinity, the site where Reverend Phillips Brooks wrote the much beloved Christmas carol “O Little Town of Bethlehem” in 1868 following a trip to the Holy Land. (PhillyHistory.org)[/caption]

Born in Boston and educated at Harvard University, Brooks came to Philadelphia after his ordination as an Episcopal priest in 1859. He served first as rector for the Church of the Advent, York Avenue and Buttonwood Street, before moving in 1862 to Holy Trinity, then a new church (built 1856-59) in the area fast becoming the most fashionable in Philadelphia. A dynamic preacher, while still in his twenties Brooks rose in prominence as he preached forcefully against slavery during the Civil War, extended his ministry to African American troops in nearby training camps, advocated equal rights for freedmen, and became active in the Union League. At the end of four years of war, Brooks movingly eulogized Abraham Lincoln (1809-65) and the soldiers who gave their lives. The fallen included his brother George (1838-63), who died of typhoid while serving in the Union Army.

Brooks found the inspiration for his hymn after the war, during a year abroad (1865-66) in Europe and the Holy Land. While traveling, he wrote to the children of his parish about visiting Bethlehem on Christmas Eve and feeling reminded of the hymn-singing of his home congregation. It was not until three years later, however, in 1868, that he reflected on his experience by writing a poem for his Sunday School students, with the first stanza beginning: “O little town of Bethlehem, / How still we see thee lie! / Above thy deep and dreamless sleep / The silent stars go by.” The church organist, Lewis Redner, set the words to the music of a composition he had titled “St. Louis,” and the hymn had its first performance at Holy Trinity during the last Christmas season before Brooks left in 1869 to become rector of Boston’s Trinity Church.

[caption id="attachment_32289" align="alignright" width="300"] The first two stanzas of “O Little Town of Bethlehem” featuring the author’s own handwriting, circa 1868, were reproduced in Studies of Familiar Hymns (1903) by Louis F. Benson (1855-1930). Reverend Phillips Brooks originally wrote these lyrics as a poem for the Sunday school students of his Philadelphia parish. (Internet Archive)[/caption]

Brooks subsequently became better known for his service in Boston than his seven years in Philadelphia as he rose to become Bishop of Massachusetts and, among many other calls to preach, delivered a sermon for Queen Victoria in Westminster Abbey. Following his death in 1893, Bostonians memorialized Brooks in Copley Square with a monument by August Saint-Gaudens (1848-1907). “O Little Town of Bethlehem” lived on, sung in the United States in the form composed by Redner and in England to the tune of an English folk song, “Forest Green.”  An early publisher of Brooks’s papers observed of the hymn, “It is an exquisitely simple thing, and yet one feels behind the words the existence of a great soul, meditating on the mystery of the divine revelation.” Composed in Philadelphia, published in hymnals for many denominations, and performed by musicians from Elvis Presley (1935-77) to the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, “O Little Town of Bethlehem” became an annual and beloved hallmark of the Christmas season.

Charlene Mires is Professor of  History at Rutgers-Camden and Editor-in-Chief of the Encyclopedia of Greater Philadelphia.

Lafayette’s Tour

[caption id="attachment_21033" align="aligncenter" width="575"]Handkerchief printed with scene of Independence Hall Public fascination with the visit of Lafayette sparked a lively industry in mass-produced souvenirs, such as this handkerchief depicting his arrival at Independence Hall. (Winterthur Museum)[/caption] [caption id="attachment_19346" align="alignright" width="251"]Marquis de Lafayette rose to the rank of Major General in the Continental Army. During his service he and George Washington would form a life-long friendship. (Philadelphia Museum of Art) Marquis de Lafayette rose to the rank of Major General in the Continental Army. During his service, he and George Washington formed a life-long friendship. (Philadelphia Museum of Art)[/caption]

When the Marquis de Lafayette (1757-1834), a French hero of the American Revolution, returned to the United States in 1824-25, Philadelphians joined in a wave of nationwide affection for the nobleman who had volunteered for service in the Continental Army at the age of 19. Lafayette’s return to the region stirred increasing regard for preserving relics of the Revolution, especially the old Pennsylvania State House, which began to acquire a new name: Independence Hall.

Lafayette (Marie Joseph Paul Yyves Roch Gilbert de Motier, Marquis de Lafayette) returned to the United States as the “nation’s guest” by invitation of his longtime friend President James Monroe (1758-1831). With the Declaration of Independence nearly fifty years in the past, Lafayette represented a generation of heroes soon to pass from living history into memory. Throughout the United States, his presence touched off elaborate preparations, pageantry, and a lively market for Lafayette keepsakes. The tour, originally intended to last four months, triggered such intense public enthusiasm that Lafayette stayed for thirteen months and traveled to all twenty-four states in the nation. He visited Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826) at Monticello and the Mount Vernon tomb of his general and friend George Washington (1732-99).

[caption id="attachment_19343" align="alignright" width="225"]Frank Johnson, a famous composer and band leader, performed with his African-American band to entertain Lafayette during his last night in Philadelphia. (Historical Society of  Pennsylvania) Frank Johnson, a famous musician, composer, and band leader, performed with his African American band at the "Lafayette Ball," a major social event during Lafayette's last night in Philadelphia. (Historical Society of Pennsylvania)[/caption]

Lafayette came to the Philadelphia region twice, near the beginning and end of his tour. In September 1824, after arriving in New York from France, he journeyed through northern New Jersey to Trenton, where he crossed the covered bridge over the Delaware River to Morrisville, Pennsylvania. Entertained at an evening ball at Holmesburg and then lodged overnight at the Frankford Arsenal, the next day Lafayette entered Philadelphia in a carriage pulled by six cream-colored horses and accompanied by a three-mile-long procession of citizens on horseback, public officials from Pennsylvania and New Jersey, military units, veterans of the Revolution, tradesmen, and farmers from the countryside. The parade followed a route carefully planned to pass impressive neighborhoods and landmarks and cheering throngs of onlookers on the way to the old State House. Temporary triumphal arches along the route ushered the marchers and riders through Northern Liberties into the city.

For nearly two months, Philadelphians had planned for the moment of Lafayette’s arrival. For his reception, an arrangements committee commissioned architect William Strickland (1788-1854) to refurbish the room in the old State House where independence had been declared. By that time in a state of neglect, the east room on the building’s first floor attracted renewed attention as it became transformed for the occasion. As Philadelphians acquired new mahogany chairs and sofas, draperies, and carpets to create a suitably lavish reception, they also coined a name for the room: the “Hall of Independence” or “Independence Hall.” Originally applied only to the first-floor room where independence had been declared, over subsequent decades the name became applied to the building as a whole.

Lafayette’s reception in the Hall of Independence, during which he and Philadelphia’s mayor exchanged greetings and reflected on the historic events that transpired where they stood, established a precedent for other nineteenth-century guests, from dignitaries to visiting fire companies. Lafayette’s eight-day visit also created new attachments to the memory of the American Revolution for thousands of schoolchildren who assembled in the State House Yard to be in his presence, for residents who attended a celebratory civic ball at the Chestnut Street Theatre, and for those who adorned themselves and their homes with mass-produced souvenirs. “Everything is Lafayette, whether it be on our heads or under our feet,” the Saturday Evening Post commented in the aftermath. “We wrap our bodies in Lafayette coats during the day, and repose between Lafayette blankets at night.”

[caption id="attachment_19345" align="alignright" width="185"]Dutch artist Ary Sheffer presented Congress with this full-length portrait of Lafayette. Lafayette so admired the portrait that he distributed engravings of the painting throughout the United States. (Philadelphia Museum of Art) Dutch artist Ary Sheffer presented Congress with this full-length portrait of Lafayette. Lafayette enjoyed the painting so much that he distributed copies of it wherever he stopped during his stay. (Philadelphia Museum of Art)[/caption]

Departing Philadelphia, Lafayette traveled by steamboat on the Delaware River to Chester, Pennsylvania, which celebrated him with a parade and banquet, and from there to Wilmington, Delaware. When he returned to the region for a somewhat longer, but quieter, stay near the end of his tour in July 1825, his itinerary included visits to Germantown, Mount Airy, and Chestnut Hill. On the way south for departure from Washington, he stopped in West Chester (where an estimated ten thousand people gathered to witness his procession) and joined military units and aged veterans in a tour of the area of the Battle of Brandywine, where he had been wounded during the Philadelphia campaign.

Lafayette’s tour left lasting effects around the United States in the form of towns, counties, colleges, and streets bearing his name, projects to create monuments, and new regard for material relics of the American Revolution. In Philadelphia, historically-minded citizens formed the Historical Society of Pennsylvania in 1824. Some who served on the arrangements committee for Lafayette’s visit mobilized again 1828 to replace the steeple on Independence Hall, which had lacked this distinctive feature since the original rotted away more than four decades before. The new steeple served contemporary needs for a clock and bell, but the Philadelphia City Councils insisted that it must resemble as closely as possible the building as it stood at the time of the American Revolution.

Charlene Mires is Professor of History at Rutgers-Camden and Editor-in-Chief of The Encyclopedia of Greater Philadelphia.

Tourism

Philadelphia has been a tourist destination since leisure travel emerged as a common pastime for the middle and upper classes in the nineteenth century. By the twenty-first century, the region’s economy depended heavily on tourism to Philadelphia and nearby destinations such as the Brandywine Valley, Valley Forge, and the Jersey and Delaware shores. Historic sites of the colonial era and American Revolution attracted many travelers, but these assets also created a challenge for promoters seeking to portray Philadelphia as not just a place of historical interest but as a lively, exciting place to spend a vacation.

[caption id="attachment_20445" align="alignright" width="300"]a color lithograph of people viewing the Fairmount Waterworks and Collosus Bridge from Harding's Hotel The Fairmount Water Works was an early tourist draw whose scenic appearance and scientific innovation appealed to early nineteenth century tastes. (Historical Society of Pennsylvania)[/caption]

“Tourism” in the sense of travel for no reason other than seeing the sights did not become a phenomenon in the United States until the 1820s, when improvements in transportation and accommodations made touring possible for people with wealth and leisure time. Precedents existed, however. From the time of Philadelphia’s founding in the 1680s, the growing city attracted individual travelers and migrants from other colonies and abroad. Visitors also sought out nearby resorts such as the healthful mineral waters at Yellow Springs in Chester County and Bristol Springs in Bucks County, both popular destinations in the eighteenth century. By the 1810s, Cape May at the southern tip of New Jersey began to develop into a resort for affluent families who traveled on ships from Philadelphia, Wilmington, Trenton, and Baltimore to relax in hotels by the sea.

In the early nineteenth century, tourists favored sites of pastoral scenic beauty more than city destinations, so it is likely that Philadelphia sent out more tourists than it received. Nevertheless, the city began to develop an infrastructure for tourism, including the city’s first full-fledged hotel, the United States Hotel, opened in 1828 on Chestnut Street opposite the Second Bank of the United States. Philadelphia publishers also began to produce guides to the city’s sights. Tourists who came to Philadelphia sought out new institutions and immersive experiences, as they did in other major cities. They toured innovations such as the Fairmount Water Works and Eastern State Penitentiary and visited the monumental Laurel Hill Cemetery. They took in exhibitions at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts or Charles Willson Peale’s museum, attended theatrical performances, and explored nature in public gardens and along the Wissahickon Valley. Often they attended worship services at a variety of churches or observed court proceedings. Some also sought out places with historic associations, but the old Pennsylvania State House, where Americans declared independence from Great Britain in 1776, remained in use for courts and other purposes. Only gradually over the nineteenth century did this building become known as Independence Hall and fully presented to the public as a historic site.

In the 1830s, railroads began to open tourism to the emerging middle class. Although far from comfortable for long-distance travel, by 1840 rail lines connected the Mid-Atlantic region to most of the Atlantic Coast from New Hampshire to the Carolinas. Railroads helped to open the tourism potential of the Jersey Shore, as entrepreneurs in the 1850s extended rails from Philadelphia and New York to new resorts such as Atlantic City and expanded links to established destinations such as Cape May. Railroads also enabled countryside excursions from Philadelphia to the Brandywine Valley and Valley Forge.

Vacations of One or Two Weeks

The “vacation” of one or two weeks a year became more common among middle-class Americans from the 1850s through the 1870s, with the time away from work often spent at resort hotels. This increased tourism to seaside areas such as the Jersey Shore but did not significantly benefit Philadelphia and other cities, where travel continued to be dominated by people doing business or visiting family and friends. Vacationers who opted for touring, rather than resort stays, often sought to see as many sights as possible within their limited time. This created a challenge for Philadelphia that persisted for decades: leisure travelers seldom stayed very long in any one place, limiting their economic impact.

[caption id="attachment_20447" align="alignright" width="300"]a black and white illustration of visitors examining a wall paper printing press at the Centennial Exhibition The Centennial Exhibition brought crowds of tourists from around the world into Philadelphia to marvel at new technologies. (Library of Congress)[/caption]

Philadelphia helped to usher in a new era for urban tourism when it staged the first full-scale world’s fair in the United States, the Centennial Exhibition of 1876. World’s fairs, enormously popular in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, gave tourists an incentive to visit the host cities and fulfilled desires to pack many experiences into a short vacation. The Centennial Exhibition in Fairmount Park attracted more than 10 million visitors. Although that number included local residents and repeat visits, the extent of out-of-town tourists is suggested by the construction of eight temporary hotels adjacent to the fairgrounds, the largest offering 1,325 rooms, to supplement fifty-one downtown hotels each with fifty rooms or more. Railroads also encouraged tourism by offering special fares. World’s fair tourists included not only adults but also entire families.

As a celebration of the one hundredth anniversary of the Declaration of Independence, the Centennial highlighted the dual character of Philadelphia that persisted into the twentieth century as an opportunity but also a challenge for promoters. The region had historic sites of the American Revolution in abundance, and their appeal could not be denied. However, Philadelphia also was a booming industrial city seeking to highlight modern progress more than the past. In 1876, Independence Hall attracted visitors with new exhibits styled as the “National Museum” and took center stage for the Fourth of July, but the world’s fair of modern marvels drew visitors’ greatest attention. By the turn of the century, Philadelphia’s new City Hall (completed in 1901) allowed government functions to finally move out of Independence Hall, leaving it to serve solely historic purposes for the first time. The Betsy Ross House in the 400 block of Arch Street also became an attraction after a fund-raising campaign in the 1890s saved it from demolition. However, City Hall helped to pull civic activity westward to Broad Street’s emerging corridor of skyscrapers and the city’s grandest new hotel, the Bellevue-Stratford (opened in 1904). When the nation celebrated the Declaration of Independence again in 1926, organizers of the Sesquicentennial International Exhibition erected a faux-Colonial “High Street” amid the attractions in South Philadelphia and a giant electrified Liberty Bell across Broad Street. Visiting authentic eighteenth-century landmarks required a side trip away from the fair to the oldest sections of the city.

[caption id="attachment_20446" align="alignright" width="300"]A color lithograph of the interior of Independence Hall in the mid-nineteenth century showing visitors in the newly-renovated building Independence Hall transformed from a government building into a museum into the centerpiece of a national historical park. (Library Company of Philadelphia)[/caption]

The forces of past and present combined to reshape the tourism landscape of Philadelphia and the nearby region in the first half of the twentieth century. City planners and architects, seeking alternatives to deteriorating urban conditions, carried out projects such as the Benjamin Franklin Parkway (built 1917-26) and joined with patriotic citizens to support creation of Independence National Historical Park (authorized by Congress in 1948). These projects, requiring demolition of many blocks of eighteenth and nineteenth-century structures, created new, attractive cultural districts and settings for the large-scale events that became a hallmark of Philadelphia later in the century. On a smaller scale, meanwhile, the historic preservation movement sought to sustain material connections to the past in an era of rapid change. Preservation efforts assured that Philadelphia would retain Elfreth’s Alley, the 1765 home of Mayor Samuel Powel (1738-93), and other colonial-era sites in the city and region. Preservationists intervened to prevent the former home of the Franklin Institute, a Greek Revival building designed by John Haviland (1792-1852), from being demolished for a parking lot; instead, radio manufacturer Atwater Kent (1873-1949) bought the structure at 15 S. Seventh Street and gave it to the city for a local history museum (opened in 1941 as the Atwater Kent Museum, later renamed the Philadelphia History Museum at the Atwater Kent). The inheritors of a number of private estates in the region also created public museums and gardens, notably the DuPont family’s Longwood Gardens and Winterthur Museum, Garden, and Library in the Brandywine Valley of Pennsylvania and Delaware.

Government Looks to Leisure Travel

[caption id="attachment_20500" align="alignright" width="188"]a black and white photograph of tourists sightseeing in open-cab vehicles on Chestnut Street Tourists at the turn of the twentieth century could enjoy sightseeing in a new invention, the automobile. These tourists paid one dollar for a round trip sightseeing tour of the city and Fairmount Park. (Special Collections Research Center, Temple University Libraries)[/caption]

With an increasing stock of attractions and with tourism growing, first from improvements in comfort on the railroads and then with the advent of automobiles, business and government leaders moved to capitalize on the economic potential of leisure travel. In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, American cities competed vigorously for industrial and business opportunities. Groups such as the Philadelphia Board of Trade had long promoted the city as a meeting place for national conventions. Yet Philadelphia lagged behind Boston, another rival similarly stocked with historic sites, in attracting leisure travelers. In the 1920s, with urging from the hotel industry, the Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce devoted increasing effort to promoting tourism and school field trips to historic sites. In 1929, the Chamber’s Convention and Exhibition Bureau became the Convention and Tourist Bureau; renamed the Philadelphia Convention and Visitors Bureau in 1945, the organization became an independent entity in 1951.

By mid-century, tourism was not only a local concern but also the dedicated purpose of agencies in federal and state governments. Thus Philadelphia became embedded in a regional network of tourist sites managed by government agencies as well as private operators, connected by the movement of tourists among sites they wished to see. State agencies invested in advertising to potential tourists, erecting historical markers along highways, and managing sites such as Washington’s Crossing on both sides of the Delaware River in Pennsylvania and New Jersey; Pennsbury Manor in Bucks County; Valley Forge in Chester County (which became a national historical park in 1976); and Batsto Village in South Jersey.

[caption id="attachment_20450" align="alignright" width="188"]a color illustration of a horse-drawn carriage and Independence Hall in front of a silhouette of the Philadelphia skyline In the mid-twentieth century, Philadelphia was advertised as a destination for both historical destinations and modern attractions, as seen in the cover of this Philadelphia Transportation Company guidebook. (Private collection)[/caption]

The years following World War II propelled a surge of tourism made possible by automobiles and driven by the popularity of family vacations. At a time when the Cold War between the United States and the Soviet Union placed a high value on the “American way of life,” families sought to instill civic values in their children with trips to historic sites and symbols, including Independence Hall and the Liberty Bell. The construction of Independence National Historical Park underway during the 1950s did not deter vacationing families, and the reform administrations of Mayors Joseph S. Clark (1901-88) and Richardson Dilworth (1898-1974) viewed tourism as integral to revitalizing the city in the wake of the Great Depression and World War II. In 1951, a new city charter established the Office of City Representative, whose responsibilities included promoting Philadelphia as well as representing the mayor at ceremonial events.

During the 1950s Pennsylvania helped promote Philadelphia with depictions of families visiting Independence Hall on the state’s official tourism map, but Philadelphia boosters sought to modernize the city’s appeal. In 1960 the Convention and Visitors Bureau opened a new headquarters and visitor center resembling a space-age flying saucer near the foot of the Benjamin Franklin Parkway, a mile west of the “historic district.” In addition to the Convention and Visitors Bureau and the City Representative, tourism development efforts included a Philadelphia Area Council on Tourism (PACT) created in 1961 by Dilworth but not fully funded by City Council. The agencies sometimes worked together, but at other times operated without coordination. Despite their efforts, a 1967 study found that visitors considered Philadelphia an above-average place to visit historic sites, but not an especially exciting place for a vacation. Philadelphians themselves seemed to need to be convinced of the city’s charms, as evidenced by a billboard and slogan for a Chamber of Commerce event in 1972: “Philadelphia isn’t as bad as Philadelphians say it is.”

The Bicentennial Quandary

Although the approaching 1976 Bicentennial of the Declaration of Independence offered a new opportunity to capitalize on the region’s history, local ambitions competed with decentralized, nationwide celebrations. Fears of urban unrest stoked by Mayor Frank Rizzo (1920-91) and an outbreak of Legionnaires' disease undercut Philadelphia’s appeal. Nevertheless, Bicentennial projects expanded the region’s array of tourism attractions and services, including the opening of the Afro-American Historical and Cultural Museum (later renamed the African American Museum in Philadelphia), the National Museum of Jewish American History, the Mummers Museum, a new Visitor Center for Independence National Historical Park, and a modern pavilion to show off the Liberty Bell.

[caption id="attachment_20452" align="alignright" width="300"]A color photograph of Independence Mall as viewed from above and behind Independence Hall A wave of post-war patriotism sparked the construction of Independence Mall, which made Independence Hall and other nearby landmarks more accessible to tourists by demolishing other residential and commercial properties in the vicinity. (Courtesy of the National Park Service)[/caption]

The sense that Philadelphia was not doing enough to benefit from tourist dollars persisted into the 1980s and 1990s, an era when globalization made place-marketing a key strategy for localities seeking to differentiate themselves and attract investment. Philadelphia’s painful transition from industrial powerhouse to post-industrial city raised the stakes. To meet the challenge, Mayor Edward G. Rendell (b. 1944) created the Greater Philadelphia Tourism Marketing Corporation (GPTMC, later rebranded Visit Philadelphia) in 1996 to target leisure travelers. Operating separately from the Convention and Visitors Bureau, the new agency took a regional approach to “Philadelphia and Its Countryside” and formed partnerships with similar organizations in the region: the Valley Forge Convention and Visitors Board, Visit Bucks County, and the Brandywine Conference and Visitors Bureau, among others. Beyond this five-county Pennsylvania-based collaboration, similar place-marketing organizations operated in South Jersey, including the South Jersey Tourism Corporation and the Jersey Shore Convention and Visitors Bureau, and in Delaware. The tourism marketers diversified their appeals beyond the traditional Caucasian family vacationer by reaching out to African Americans (through the Multicultural Affairs Congress of the Convention and Visitors Bureau, formed in 1987), gays and lesbians (“Get Your History Straight and Your Nightlife Gay” campaign, GPTMC, 2003), and international travelers. Seeking to advance Philadelphia as an international brand, a Global Philadelphia Association formed in 2010 and five years later succeeded in making Philadelphia the first United States member of the Organization of World Heritage Cities, composed of cities with sites on the World Heritage List of the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (in Philadelphia's case, Independence Hall).

From the 1990s into the early decades of the twenty-first century, the Philadelphia region’s tourism industry created an increasingly elaborate and interdependent infrastructure to attract leisure travelers and convince them to make more than a brief stop to see the Liberty Bell on their way between Washington, D.C., and New York City. With millions of dollars in investment from government, private foundations, and individual donors, underused plazas at Independence National Historical Park evolved into a civic campus with a new exhibit hall for the Liberty Bell, the National Constitution Center, and an Independence Visitor Center to promote the region. Waterfront development in Camden featured the New Jersey State Aquarium, a concert amphitheater, a minor league ball park, and the Battleship New Jersey. Hotels proliferated, especially within walking distance of the Pennsylvania Convention Center (opened in 1993 and expanded in 2011). Temple University established a School of Tourism and Hospitality Management in 1998, and the Association of Philadelphia Tour Guides (formed in 2008) launched a training and certification program in 2011. In the Germantown section of Northwest Philadelphia, historic house museums banded together as Historic Germantown and promoted “Freedom’s Backyard.”

Broadening the City’s Appeal to Tourists

[caption id="attachment_20451" align="alignright" width="300"]The Benjamin Franklin Parkway boasts a number of Philadelphia's most popular tourist attractions, including the Philadelphia Museum of Art and the Franklin Institute. It was built as part of a large-scale urban beautification effort. (Map by R. Estes for VisitPhilly.com) The Benjamin Franklin Parkway boasts a number of Philadelphia's most popular tourist attractions, including the Philadelphia Museum of Art and the Franklin Institute. It was built as part of a large-scale urban beautification effort. (Map by R. Estes for Visit Philadelphia)[/caption]

Throughout the region, historic sites, museums, and other cultural organizations sought to attract local residents as well as visitors with varieties of programming. Places that appealed to nineteenth-century tourists because they were new and innovative, such as Eastern State Penitentiary and the Fairmount Water Works, gained new purposes as historic places and centers for education. Tourists could focus their attention on Philadelphia’s place in the nation’s history, to be sure, but the appeal of the city and the region also built upon the arts, on museums and sites focusing on science and medicine, on sports and recreation, on attractions and activities for children, and on a surge of innovative restaurants attracting national and international attention. Beyond the annual celebration of the Fourth of July–expanded and branded as Welcome America–tourism swelled during such mega-events as concerts (from Live Aid in 1985 to the Labor Day-weekend Made in America music festival introduced in 2012), the visits of two popes (John Paul II in 1979 and Francis in 2015), the annual Philadelphia Flower Show and similar extravaganzas, and recurring sports rivalries such as the Army-Navy game.

As a major sector of the region’s post-industrial economy, tourism could be vulnerable to setbacks during times of recession or national emergency, such as the attacks on the United States that occurred on September 11, 2001. Despite these challenges, tourism to the region appeared to have reached new heights by the second decade of the twenty-first century. For the period from 1997 to 2014, Visit Philadelphia reported a 90 percent increase in overnight leisure travelers to its five-county Pennsylvania region, from 7.3 million to 13.9 million (a total exceeding the 10 million visitor count of the Centennial in 1876). Economically, according to the agency’s calculations, this translated to support for 92,000 jobs and $655 million in local and state tax revenue. Once a casual pastime of the wealthy, tourism in the twenty-first century became a more widespread and diverse phenomenon but took place within the realms of sophisticated place-marketing and global competition.

Charlene Mires is Professor of History at Rutgers-Camden and Editor-in-Chief of the Encyclopedia of Greater Philadelphia. She is the author of Independence Hall in American Memory (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2002) and Capital of the World: The Race to Host the United Nations (NYU Press, 2013).

Columbus Day

[caption id="attachment_12850" align="alignright" width="300"]A color photograph of a white statue of Christopher Columbus standing on a base. The statue is surrounded by a black fence and and grass, with trees in the background. On the fence are the white outlines of three sailing ships. The annual Columbus Day parade in Philadelphia concludes near this statue of Christopher Columbus in Marconi Plaza. (Library of Congress)[/caption]

Observed on the second Monday in October, Columbus Day in the Philadelphia region gained prominence as Italian immigrant communities grew in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. By commemorating the 1492 arrival of Christopher Columbus (1451-1506) in the New World, Italian-Americans embraced the navigator as their countryman, celebrated Italian culture, and called attention to their American loyalty and identity. While the practices and places for observing Columbus Day changed over time, the holiday in Philadelphia and its suburbs retained a distinctively Italian flavor.

The first major anniversary of Columbus to be celebrated in the United States, 1792, passed quietly in Philadelphia although not without notice. While Boston and New York hosted public events, in Philadelphia the nationally circulated Daily American Advertiser published an oration about Columbus delivered earlier at Princeton College in New Jersey.

[caption id="attachment_12860" align="alignright" width="300"]Members of the Jesters New Year's Brigade march down Broad Street on October 12, 2014, during Philadelphia's annual Columbus Day Parade. Dozens of organizations, many of them rooted in the Italian-American heritage of South Philadelphia, take part in the parade that ends at Marconi Plaza. (Photograph by Donald D. Groff for the Encyclopedia of Greater Philadelphia) Flag-bearing revelers pay tribute to Christopher Columbus as they march down Broad Street on October 12, 2014, during Philadelphia's Columbus Day parade. Dozens of groups, many rooted in the Italian-American heritage of South Philadelphia, take part. (Photograph by Donald D. Groff for the Encyclopedia of Greater Philadelphia)[/caption]

The reputation of Columbus as an American hero grew during the nineteenth century following the 1827 publication of The Life and Voyages of Christopher Columbus, by Washington Irving. It was not until the 1860s, however, that Columbus Day emerged as an annual celebration among Italian immigrant communities, first in New York in 1866 and in Philadelphia by 1869. That year, the Societá di Unione e Fratellanza Italiana, a mutual aid society in South Philadelphia, held the first in a series of annual balls on October 12 and made honoring Columbus one of its central activities. In 1876, Italian-Americans dedicated a monument of Columbus in Fairmount Park as their contribution to the Centennial celebration of the United States.

Italian-Americans embraced Columbus because of the place of his birth, the city-state of Genoa, within the region that became part of the Italian nation formed in 1861. Although Columbus’s birthplace has at times been debated by scholars and others, nineteenth-century immigrants to the United States did not question their shared heritage with the “discoverer” of America. They also identified with Columbus on the basis of shared religion, and the Catholic Church became a major proponent of commemorating Columbus for his role in extending Catholicism to the New World. 

The ethnic and religious character of the holiday was clear in Philadelphia in 1892, the four-hundredth anniversary of the first Columbus voyage, which came in the midst of a surge of Italian immigration. In addition to celebrations in Italian neighborhoods, the Columbus commemoration activities that year included a torchlight parade of Catholic organizations on Broad Street, a Solemn Pontifical Mass at the Cathedral on Logan Square, and a performance by parochial schoolchildren at the Academy of Music.

As an expression of American identity, Columbus Day had a patriotic spirit that combined with its ties to religion and ethnicity. As state governments began to grant legal status to the holiday in the first decades of the twentieth century, participation widened to include public officials, office-seekers, and military units. Patriotic overtones were especially apparent in Philadelphia during the Cold War era as parades and ceremonies at Independence Hall from the 1950s through the 1970s symbolically linked the arrival of Columbus in America with the founding of the republic.

Monuments to Christopher Columbus have anchored and sometimes shifted the location of Columbus Day observances. The Columbus monument dedicated in Fairmount Park in 1876 served as a focal point for commemoration for the next century, until the statue was moved to Marconi Plaza in South Philadelphia during the bicentennial year of 1976. Following its dedication there by Mayor Frank Rizzo (1920-91), the monument’s new location in the city’s traditionally Italian neighborhood became the destination of the annual Columbus Day parade. In Camden, a Columbus monument erected in 1915 by the Sons of Italy in Forest Hill Park (later renamed Farnham Park) played a similar role as a site of commemoration in the first half of the twentieth century. A Columbus monument in Norristown, Pennsylvania, dedicated in 1992 after years of effort, from that point forward became the centerpiece for celebration each year in the Montgomery County seat.

[caption id="attachment_12849" align="alignright" width="575"]A color photograph of Penn's Landing, with ships on the water, a boardwalk with people walking on it, green trees and a steel obelisk above the treetops on the right side of the image. A older sailing ship is in the background of the image, along with more trees and buildings. The Christopher Columbus monument (right) was constructed in the shape of a large, stainless-steel obelisk, to memorialize the 500th anniversary of Columbus reaching the New World. (Photograph by Donald D. Groff for the Encyclopedia of Greater Philadelphia.)[/caption]

By the time of the five-hundredth anniversary of the first Columbus voyage in 1992, celebrating the navigator became more controversial and contentious. When the Philadelphia City Council voted in 1989 to rename a portion of Delaware Avenue as Columbus Boulevard, Native Americans protested that Columbus represented conquest of their land and neighborhood groups resisted the loss of a familiar street name. In 1992 Penn’s Landing gained a new, modern obelisk to honor Columbus, but on the day of its unveiling a group dressed as Native Americans splattered the monument with red paint and painted over “Columbus Boulevard” street signs.

While the history and reputation of Columbus became a matter of national and international debate, the region’s tourism promoters sought to draw visitors with a year of events called “Neighbors in the New World,” to emphasize multicultural unity and progress. Many museums and organizations embraced the theme, but others such as the annual American Indian Arts Festival at the Rankokus Reservation in Burlington County, New Jersey, stressed the cultural traditions that Columbus’s arrival endangered. 

Although 1992 added layers of multiculturalism and conflict to Columbus Day, in the early decades of the twenty-first century the holiday in Philadelphia and its suburbs continued to be a predominantly Italian affair. The obelisk at Penn’s Landing offered a new location for honoring the navigator, but the region’s major Columbus Day parade on Broad Street in South Philadelphia remained dominated by Italian heritage organizations and a celebration of the contributions of immigrants to Greater Philadelphia and the nation.

Charlene Mires is Professor of History at Rutgers-Camden and Editor-in-Chief of the Encyclopedia of Greater Philadelphia.

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