Encyclopedia of Greater Philadelphia

Charlene Mires

Main Line of Public Works

During the 1820s, seeking to compete with New York and Baltimore in tapping western markets, business and political leaders in Philadelphia pushed for a state-funded canal to link Philadelphia with Pittsburgh. The result, an innovative yet peculiar patchwork of canals and railways known as the Main Line of Public Works, succeeded in moving freight and passengers across the mountainous middle of Pennsylvania. The 395-mile system reduced travel time and spurred growth of towns and market activity along the line, but it proved costly to operate and plunged the state into debt. Within three decades, more powerful locomotives rendered the Main Line of Public Works obsolete.

[caption id="attachment_35202" align="alignright" width="300"]A black and white photograph of barges traversing the Erie Canal at Rochester, New York. A hotel with a painted sign reading Osburn House and other large buildings line the banks of canal. A group of men stands by the edge of the canal watching the barges. The Erie Canal, shown at Rochester, New York, in this 1900 photograph, linked the Hudson River and the Great Lakes. The immensely successful project dramatically decreased shipping time and costs between the agricultural regions in the midwestern United States and New York City, and increased New York’s economic advantage over Philadelphia, prompting the construction of the Main Line Works. (Library of Congress)[/caption]

The impetus for the Pennsylvania canal scheme came largely from the looming threat of New York’s state-funded Erie Canal, which began construction in 1817. When completed in 1825, the canal linked the Hudson River to the Great Lakes, thus extending New York City’s orbit of trade to all the western interior and vastly increasing its competitive edge over Philadelphia. Additional threats to Philadelphia’s economic standing lay to the south, where Baltimore benefited from the movement of agricultural products down the Susquehanna River from Pennsylvania’s interior. The National Road, a federal east-west road project begun in 1811, also siphoned travel and trade from the southwestern corner of Pennsylvania into Maryland, where it connected with the Baltimore Turnpike.

Facing the loss of economic standing and recognizing the potential for trade as Americans moved west, Philadelphia business and political leaders campaigned for an improved transportation system to span across Pennsylvania. Since the colonial era, Philadelphia had looked west as far as Lancaster—about sixty-five miles away—for trade and travel enabled by the Philadelphia-Lancaster Road (a paved toll road after 1795). They also looked northwest to Reading, established in 1748 along the Schuylkill River. A canal between Reading and the Susquehanna Rivers, discussed since the 1790s, did not come to fruition until 1821. Meanwhile, developments in the early nineteenth century added to Philadelphians’ imagination of an economic region reaching farther into the interior of Pennsylvania and beyond: the state capital moved from Philadelphia to Lancaster in 1799 and then to Harrisburg in 1812; Pittsburgh grew from the site of a fort into a city; and new western states came into the union (Ohio in 1803, Indiana in 1816, and Illinois in 1818). Whetting appetites for new fortunes, opportunities in the West were growing as steamboats began to ply the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers, reaching the expanding territory of cotton agriculture in the deep South. What could Philadelphians do to claim a share of the riches to come from the interior? How could they compete with New York and Baltimore, which seemed to be pulling ahead in the race to reach the West?

The Canal Campaign

Matthew Carey (1760-1839), newspaper editor and political economist, launched a vigorous campaign for a state-funded canal between Philadelphia and Pittsburgh. Together with such prominent citizens as Congressman John Sergeant (1779-1852) and Nicholas Biddle (1786-1844), then president of the Second Bank of the United States, Carey formed the Pennsylvania Society for Promotion of Internal Improvements. With dues collected from fifty-five members, the society dispatched the architect and engineer William Strickland (1788-1854) to England to study the latest in transportation technology. Although Strickland returned with data that included the newest technology, railroads, Carey pushed aggressively for the more time-tested alternative of canals. Petitions, pamphlets, newspaper editorials, and mass meetings added momentum, despite opposition from southern Pennsylvania counties that traded with Baltimore and northeastern counties with economic ties to New York. In 1825, an Internal Improvement Convention in Harrisburg endorsed Carey’s preference for a canal, and the next year the Pennsylvania legislature authorized construction of a state-funded Pennsylvania Canal between Philadelphia and Pittsburgh. Adding a note of patriotic nationalism, construction began on the nation’s fiftieth birthday, July 4, 1826.

[caption id="attachment_35216" align="alignright" width="300"]a color illustration of the Belmont inclined plane, a cable-driven mechanism for pulling rail cars up a slope to overcome the hilly landscape of Philadelphia's hinterlands. Pennsylvania’s terrain posed a challenge for the Main Line’s engineers, who had to combine canal and railway sections to navigate through the Allegheny Mountains. The Belmont Inclined Plane just west of Philadelphia used a steam-powered winch to haul the canal boats up the steep Belmont Plateau where they were attached to a steam locomotive. (Library Company of Philadelphia)[/caption]

Canal fever faced unavoidable hurdles of geography. Across the breadth of Pennsylvania, the state’s major rivers offered good settings for canals, but not continuously and not in a straight line between Philadelphia and Pittsburgh. And how could a canal possibly climb over the Allegheny Mountains? Such barriers did not stop the Main Line of Public Works. After nine years of construction, the system offered a journey that started in Philadelphia by rail—but the new Philadelphia and Columbia Railroad first moved by horsepower from a terminal near Broad and Vine Streets (then the northern city limits) across the Schuylkill via a newly built Columbia Viaduct Bridge. Then, a stationary steam engine pulled the cars by cable up an inclined plane to the top of Belmont Plateau in the area later incorporated into Fairmount Park. Thus positioned, cars could be joined to a steam locomotive to ride the rails west via Lancaster and down another inclined plane to Columbia on the Susquehanna River.

From Columbia, the journey continued northwest by canal alongside the Susquehanna and Juniata Rivers until the densely forested Allegheny Mountains blocked the way. At this juncture, at the town of Hollidaysburg, the trip required changing from water travel to another system of inclined planes, this one far more extensive than the beginning incline in Philadelphia. The Allegheny Portage Railroad involved hauling cars along a thirty-six-mile sequence of ten inclines and through a tunnel—the nation’s first for a railroad—to conquer a 1,400-foot change in elevation. After the trip over the mountains, the Main Line continued by canal from Johnstown to its ultimate destination in Pittsburgh. By the 1840s, the burdens of transferring people and cargo between canals and railways diminished with the introduction of canal boats that could be separated into sections to ride on rail cars when necessary and then reattached to return to the water.

Human Toll of the Route

[caption id="attachment_35206" align="alignright" width="300"]A color photograph of a low, unmarked stone memorial in the grassy edge of a wooded area. Behind it, a SEPTA train passes at high speed. Short: In summer of 1832, fifty-seven Irish immigrant workers building the Philadelphia and Columbia Railroad died in an area known as Duffy’s Cut in Chester County, shown here around 2015. While the deaths were attributed to a cholera outbreak, investigations in the twenty-first century found several of the men sustained blunt-force trauma and one had been shot at close range. (Photograph by William E. Watson)[/caption]

Built at a cost of more than $12 million, the Main Line also extracted human costs as laborers, many of them Irish immigrants, constructed the system’s railroads, canals, 174 locks, forty-nine aqueducts, and three tunnels. At a spot in Chester County known as Duffy’s Cut, fifty-seven Irish laborers for a contractor building the Philadelphia and Columbia Railroad died during a cholera outbreak during the summer of 1832. Later archaeological investigation revealed blunt-force trauma to some workers and one with a bullet wound.

The Main Line of Public Works succeeded to the extent that it cut travel time between Philadelphia and Pittsburgh from twenty-three days to about four, and it moved both freight and people between Philadelphia and the West. However, it did not restore Philadelphia to its earlier primacy in American trade because it could not compete successfully with the lower costs and easier transit available on the straight-line Erie Canal. Nevertheless, the Main Line brought products such as wheat, flour, whiskey, and lumber into the port of Philadelphia, and it carried manufactured goods from the city to the interior. Along the line, Columbia, Hollidaysburg, and Johnstown became bustling towns. The Main Line’s passengers included the English novelist Charles Dickens (1812-70), the “Swedish Nightingale” singer Jenny Lind (1820-87), and Jarena Lee (1783-64), the African American circuit preacher. The system also played a role in the Underground Railroad, as abolitionists including the lumber partners William Whipper (1804-76) and Stephen Smith (1795-1873) used their own boats and rail cars to move freedom seekers surreptitiously along the line.

[caption id="attachment_35205" align="alignright" width="300"]A color photograph showing a stone arch bridge. The stones on the arch are laid on an angle to support the uneven landscape of the area. The bridge stands in a grassy park with a stand of trees in the distance. The Allegheny Portage Railroad used a complex system of inclined planes, tunnels, and a skew arch bridge, shown here in a modern photograph, to connect the Pennsylvania Canal across the Allegheny Mountains. River boats and barges were loaded onto rail cars and pulled by mules at grade and steam winches on inclines. (Wikimedia Commons)[/caption]

By the 1850s, however, more powerful locomotives made railroads a more feasible option through mountainous terrain as well as a faster alternative to canals. In 1857 the state, deeply in debt from construction of the Main Line and other canals, sold the line to the Pennsylvania Railroad Company. Engineering of the Horseshoe Curve in central Pennsylvania ended the need for the Portage Railroad, which faded, abandoned, into the landscape. The “Main Line” ceased to exist in its original form, but the name nevertheless survived for the subsequent line of the Pennsylvania Railroad and especially in reference to the elite suburbs that developed along the line west of Philadelphia. Remnants of the system through central Pennsylvania became recreational trails and parks, and tourists could visit the Allegheny Portage Railroad National Historic Site managed by the National Park Service.

Although short-lived, the Main Line of Public Works helped to link the eastern seaboard to the expanding interior of the United States. At a time when national politicians debated whether the federal government should play a role in “internal improvements,” the Main Line tapped state funds for the system sought by boosters of Philadelphia. In the end, though, New York’s Erie Canal proved to be more effective—even some merchants in Philadelphia shipped goods to the West via New York rather than bear the cost of multiple transfers of the Main Line.

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

Great Wagon Road

Following routes established by Native Americans, the Great Wagon Road enabled eighteenth-century travel from Philadelphia and its hinterlands westward to Lancaster and then south into the backcountry of Maryland, Virginia, and North Carolina. In search of affordable farmland and economic opportunity, thousands of Scots Irish, Germans, and others left the Philadelphia region to establish farms, taverns, villages, and new lives along the rugged road that stretched across southeastern Pennsylvania and eventually continued more than four hundred miles through the Shenandoah Valley of the Appalachian Mountains and beyond. The new population of the backcountry sustained connections with Philadelphia through trade, often facilitated by merchants in market towns such as Lancaster and York in Pennsylvania, Hagerstown in Maryland, and Winchester in northern Virginia.

[caption id="attachment_34539" align="alignright" width="300"]A color photograph of the Hager House, a two-story stone residence with a large front porch. Jonathan Hager founded Hagerstown, Maryland, after purchasing 200 acres of land off the Great Wagon Road in 1739. An immigrant from Westphalia, Germany, via Philadelphia, Hager lived in this home for only a few short years before moving to the growing town center of Hagerstown. (Wikimedia Commons)[/caption]

The Great Wagon Road saw its most intensive activity in the middle decades of the eighteenth century, prior to the American Revolution. During this period, the increasing population of Pennsylvania made land more scarce and costly, not only for new arrivals but for settled farmers seeking to secure livelihoods for future generations. At the same time, governors in Maryland and Virginia were promoting backcountry settlement by Europeans as a means of securing their frontiers. A flow of settlers began by the 1720s, a decade of high immigration of Germans and Scots Irish into Pennsylvania, then increased dramatically after the 1744 Treaty of Lancaster settled Iroquois Nation claims in the Shenandoah Valley. A German migrant through Philadelphia, Jonathan Hager (1714-75), bought land in Maryland in 1739 and subsequently founded Hagerstown. The colonial governors of Maryland and Virginia sped settlement by awarding large land grants to individuals on the condition that they recruit specified numbers of migrants. For example, New Jersey speculator Benjamin Borden (1675-1743), born in Monmouth County, moved to the northern Shenandoah Valley by 1734 and received a grant of 100,000 acres on the James River for his pledge to recruit settlers from Ireland. Jost Hite (1685-1761), a German immigrant living on the Perkiomen Creek northwest of Philadelphia, received a grant of 140,000 acres and agreed to recruit 140 families. Their settlement in Virginia, together with Quakers who migrated to a similar grant made to Alexander Ross (1682-1748) from Chester County, led to the founding of the new town of Winchester.

Barely a Road

[caption id="attachment_34541" align="alignright" width="300"]A color photograph of a conestoga wagon with wooden frame and wheels and a cloth cover. The wagon is on display inside of a museum setting. Heavy-duty Conestoga wagons, created to handle poor road conditions and mountain slopes, hauled freight along the Great Wagon Road. German immigrants designed the iconic wagon around 1750 in the Conestoga Creek area of Lancaster County. (Wikimedia Commons)[/caption]

In its earliest days, the Great Wagon Road could hardly be termed a “road.” The Indian trails that it traced for much of its length originated as pathways for individuals walking in single file. The subsequent road developed from the traffic of more individuals, people on horseback, herds of cattle, carts pulled by animals, and eventually the heavy-duty Conestoga wagons that became the freight-haulers of the road. In places, the route consisted of not a single road but of variations created by travelers to avoid hazards or reach new destinations. The journey required fording or ferrying across rivers along the way. The Pennsylvania portion of the Great Wagon Road roughly followed the Great Minquas Trail used by Lenni Lenape, Susquehannocks (Minquas), and European traders. During the middle eighteenth century, travelers on this route between Philadelphia and Lancaster (founded in 1729) found a stump-punctuated dirt road despite its designation as a “King’s Road.” As the road turned south after Lancaster and York (founded 1741), it approximated the route known to Europeans as the Great Warriors’ Path, created and still valued by Native Americans for passage through the Shenandoah Valley west of the Blue Ridge. Past the Shenandoah Valley into western Virginia and the Carolinas, additional branches of the road often consisted of little more than tromped grass, mud, and the wagon ruts of previous travelers.

[caption id="attachment_34543" align="alignright" width="270"]a black and white photograph of a small stone church with arched windows. The roof is topped by a white steeple with a weather vane. There is a small graveyard next do it. The photograph is taken in winter and several leafless trees stand in the background. Moravians from Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, traveled the Great Wagon Road south to North Carolina, where they founded the community of Wachovia in 1753. The Bethabara Gemeinhaus, a stone church completed in 1788, marks the site of the settlement’s earliest commercial center. (Library of Congress)[/caption]

Despite its rugged conditions, “the Great Waggon Road to Philadelphia” appeared designated as such in 1753, on A Map of the Inhabited Part of Virginia containing the whole Province of Maryland, with Part of Pensilvania, New Jersey and North Carolina. By that time, the road had enabled a multiethnic ribbon of back-country settlement reaching from Pennsylvania south to the Yadkin River of North Carolina. In addition to the dominant Germans and Scots Irish, the settlers of the backcountry included Quakers who clustered around Winchester, Virginia (which sheltered exiled Philadelphia Quakers during the American Revolution). German-speaking Moravians from Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, founded the community of Wachovia in western North Carolina in 1753. By 1780, the southern backcountry had an estimated population of about 380,000, including the Pennsylvania migrants as well as English, French Huguenot, German, and Highland Scot settlers who moved inland from coastal Virginia and the Carolinas. The Great Wagon Road also enabled journeys through the region, for example by socially elite travelers seeking the resort springs of western Virginia.

Towns Spaced a Day’s Journey Apart

While most migrants came to establish farms in the broad valley between the backcountry’s mountain ranges, towns also developed at intervals along the Great Wagon Road in Maryland, Virginia, and North Carolina. Spaced approximately one day’s journey apart, often founded by former Pennsylvanians and at times with street grids and center squares reminiscent of Philadelphia, towns anchored the backcountry as a market area for Philadelphia trade. They usually developed where the Great Wagon Road intersected with east-west roads from coastal regions. The resulting network of roads made it possible for wheat farmers in the backcountry to take harvests east to market in Alexandria or Richmond, Virginia, but bring back the profits to spend on finished goods imported by local merchants from Philadelphia via the Great Wagon Road. Towns along the Wagon Road served as points of transfer for crops bound for market in Philadelphia, including wheat and flour further exported from Philadelphia to Europe. Peddlers plied their trade along the road, and drovers moved herds of cattle to Philadelphia butchers. Philadelphia merchants and banks extended credit to backcountry businesses and land investors.

[caption id="attachment_34551" align="alignright" width="193"]A black and white illustration of Daniel Boone wearing a coat with fur on the collar and lapels. He has an elaborate hunting knife tucked into his belt. Daniel Boone opened the Wilderness Road from North Carolina into what would become Kentucky and Tennessee, connecting the Great Wagon Road to the unsettled west. Born in Pennsylvania, Boone moved to North Carolina at age fifteen and gained fame as the trailblazer of the Cumberland Gap. (Library of Congress)[/caption]

The Great Wagon Road became a pathway of settlement deeper into the western frontier after 1769, when Pennsylvania-born Daniel Boone (1734-1820) opened the Wilderness Road from North Carolina west into the territory that became Tennessee and Kentucky. Born in the rural reaches of Philadelphia County that later became Berks County, Boone migrated to North Carolina with his Quaker family at the age of 15. He gained fame as the trailblazer of the pass through the Cumberland Gap, thereby connecting the Great Wagon Road to points west.

The Great Wagon Road declined in importance with the development of additional improved roads and then railroads in the early nineteenth century. With some variations in route, it became the Lancaster Turnpike (incorporated 1792) in Pennsylvania and the Valley Turnpike (incorporated 1834) in Virginia. In the twentieth century, U.S. 30 in Pennsylvania and U.S. 11 and Interstate 81 through the Shenandoah Valley approximated the route of the Great Wagon Road. Testaments to connections with the Philadelphia region persisted in the form of surviving eighteenth-century houses, roadside historical markers, Pennsylvania-style bank barns, and towns with Presbyterian and Lutheran churches founded by Scots Irish and German settlers. The old road remained a subject of interest for scholars and a source of heritage tourism, and knowledgeable locals could still point out ruts and trenches believed to be remnants of the original road that linked Philadelphia to the settlement of the backcountry South.

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


From their earliest introduction in Pennsylvania in the late eighteenth century to their modern incarnations as high-speed highways, turnpikes have expanded Philadelphia’s reach to points west and linked the region with other commercial centers and suburbs of the eastern seaboard. Beginning with the first turnpike in the United States, a sixty-two-mile paved toll road from Philadelphia to Lancaster completed in 1795, private investment authorized by state governments enabled swift and extensive construction of improved roads to meet the needs of changing times. The first generation of turnpikes, completed by the 1820s, gave the Philadelphia region connections reaching as far west as Ohio, north through New Jersey to New York, and south through Delaware to Baltimore. In the automobile age of the twentieth century, when states again embraced toll roads as a way of financing high-speed, limited-access superhighways, the Pennsylvania and New Jersey turnpikes cut through Philadelphia’s suburbs and embedded the region in the interstate highway system.

[caption id="attachment_34514" align="alignright" width="300"]A 2010 photograph of the Ship Inn, a tavern along the Lancaster Pike. The Ship Inn served as a tavern along the Lancaster Pike. This 2010 photograph depicts the building’s Federalist-style architecture, as originally built by John Bowen in 1796. (Wikimedia Commons)[/caption]

Turnpikes take their name from the pole or pike used to block entrance to a road until a toll is paid. First introduced as a means of road improvement in England in the late seventeenth century, turnpikes emerged in the United States in the decades after the American Revolution. The need to improve the new nation’s rudimentary and haphazard dirt roads, many of them created by foot traffic over former Indian trails, far exceeded local capabilities or public finances. Seeking a solution, state legislatures awarded charters of incorporation for turnpike companies and empowered them to sell stock and collect tolls in exchange for improving or creating roads for faster and easier travel. With state economies highly dependent on moving agricultural goods to market and with populations spreading westward, legislatures readily granted charters to hundreds of turnpike companies. Within a few decades, by the 1830s, the nation had almost twelve thousand miles of turnpikes.

Pennsylvania inspired the wave of toll road construction with the success of the Lancaster Turnpike, which mostly followed the Philadelphia-Lancaster Road that had been in use throughout the eighteenth century. The earlier road, in addition to serving as the link between Philadelphia and Lancaster (founded in 1729), was the “Great Wagon Road” that enabled migrants and freight to move west across southeastern Pennsylvania and from there into the backcountry of Maryland, Virginia, and North Carolina. Discussion of improving the heavily traveled road began among merchants and state legislators shortly after the War for Independence and, with lobbying by Philadelphia elites, came to fruition with a charter of incorporation for a turnpike company in 1792. Residents in and around Lancaster and Philadelphia eagerly bought one thousand shares of stock, valued at $300 each, and the company organized under the leadership of William Bingham (1752-1804), a Federalist political leader and prominent Philadelphia merchant.

Paved With Stone

By 1795, the completed turnpike to Lancaster required tolls but it had been paved with layers of crushed stone, widened and straightened, and engineered for good drainage. Inns and taverns opened along the route— purportedly as many as one per mile— to serve an increasing volume of traffic. A sturdy stone bridge carried the road across Brandywine River in Downingtown; by 1805, a separately chartered toll bridge (the “Permanent Bridge”) carried Philadelphia traffic to the turnpike over the Schuylkill River at High (Market) Street. Although some objected to paying to use the road and its bridges, the faster travel time to market made the tolls worthwhile for farmers, and the reliability of the road benefited freight haulers and stagecoach operators. The project produced steady if not spectacular dividends for investors.

[caption id="attachment_34509" align="alignright" width="300"]A Carl Rakeman painting of the first Macadam Road in the United States. This 1823 painting of the Boonsborough Turnpike Road in Maryland depicts the first use of a macadam surface within the United States. John McAdam invented this new form of pavement in Scotland, while serving as a road trustee in Bristol, South West England. (Federal Highway Administration)[/caption]

The Lancaster Turnpike inspired a nationwide rush of turnpike-building and rivalries among cities. As toll roads radiated outward not only from Philadelphia but also from New York, Wilmington, and Baltimore, they knit together a region that later travelers would recognize as the Northeast Corridor. The important connection between the commercial hubs of Philadelphia and New York received attention from turnpike projects extending from both cities. For example, the Frankford and Bristol Turnpike (chartered 1803) carried traffic through Bucks County to the Delaware River at Morrisville, where a ferry crossing allowed connection with turnpikes across New Jersey to New York. (Until the 1850s, most turnpike activity in New Jersey emanated from New York investors eager to bolster New York-Philadelphia commerce or improve connections with agricultural areas in northeast Pennsylvania.) To the south, the Philadelphia, Brandywine, and New London Turnpike Company chartered by Pennsylvania in 1808 and Delaware’s Philadelphia Pike, built across the northern neck of the state between 1813 and 1823, enabled travel and trade between Philadelphia and Baltimore.

Toll roads reached out from Philadelphia like spokes of a wheel, connecting the city to the interior of Pennsylvania. Turnpike companies improved the northwesterly Germantown and Ridge Roads through Philadelphia County, and then the Germantown and Perkiomen Turnpike (opened in 1799) extended travel for an additional twenty-six miles to Reading. Turnpikes also strengthened Philadelphia’s connections to the Lehigh Valley via Bethlehem Pike (chartered in 1804). Where turnpikes reached into the agricultural countryside of southern Chester County, they met with similar roads extending northward from Wilmington, Delaware. Across the expanse of Pennsylvania, helped by state funding for turnpikes beginning in 1806, a proliferation of short turnpikes between communities created the means for people and products to travel between Philadelphia and any corner of the state, then west into Ohio. 

Regional Turnpike Network Expands

By the 1820s, turnpikes had vastly expanded Philadelphia’s regional connections by improved (often paved) roads. Enthusiasm for turnpikes waned, however, with the advent of canals and railroads and the realization that most turnpikes returned meager long-term profits. During the 1850s, South Jersey gained the Black Horse and White Horse Pikes as improvements to earlier roads, and Pennsylvania chartered turnpikes between Philadelphia and West Chester (1848), between Darby and Ridley in Delaware County (1851), and near Philadelphia along the Wissahickon Creek (1856). But most turnpike development at mid-century focused on shorter wooden-plank roads connecting with the railroads and canals. By the end of the nineteenth century, most turnpikes reverted to public use as the charters for turnpike companies ended or as the companies surrendered them for lack of profit. An era of turnpikes ended, but the states gained an extensive network of public roads made possible by private investment. Over time, the nineteenth-century turnpikes became state and U.S. highways.

[caption id="attachment_34513" align="alignright" width="300"]A 1942 photograph of a toll booth along the Pennsylvania Turnpike. The Pennsylvania Turnpike, begun during the Great Depression, opened on October 1, 1940, with a 160-mile stretch of road between Carlisle and Irwin, Pennsylvania. This photograph captured cars passing through a toll booth onto the turnpike in 1942. (Library of Congress)[/caption]

As a method for financing transformational roadways, turnpikes revived in the twentieth century to meet the demands of the automobile age. The new generation of toll roads in Pennsylvania and New Jersey blazed multilane, limited-access superhighways across long distances, not radiating outward from cities but skirting their suburban fringes. The outlying interchanges for Philadelphia on the Pennsylvania and New Jersey turnpikes still positioned the city within the emerging Northeast Corridor and connected it to the West, but vehicles also could speed by Philadelphia en route to other destinations. Turnpike service plazas, offering gasoline, restaurants, and restrooms, encouraged drivers to stay on the highway.

 The Pennsylvania Turnpike, begun during the Great Depression of the 1930s, aimed to produce jobs as well as an improved highway across the state. Its first phase (opened in 1940) ran through central Pennsylvania between Harrisburg and Pittsburgh, a route that allowed its builders to take advantage of a roadbed and mountain tunnels that had been abandoned by a nineteenth-century railroad venture. When the turnpike extended to the Philadelphia area in 1950, its interchange twenty miles west of the city near Valley Forge set the stage for a rush of industrial, commercial, and residential development. The growth of an “edge city” at the former village of King of Prussia gained further impetus from completion of the turnpike’s Northeast Extension toward New Jersey and Scranton between 1954 and 1957 and the Schuylkill Expressway connection with Philadelphia in 1958. The turnpike’s exits at Plymouth Meeting, Whitemarsh, and Willow Grove also attracted commercial development to Philadelphia’s suburbs.

New Jersey Turnpike

The New Jersey Turnpike, authorized in 1948 and opened in segments during 1951-52, solidified the state’s position as a vital East Coast transportation corridor by funneling nonstop traffic on a nearly straight diagonal from rural South Jersey (where the Delaware Memorial Bridge replaced ferry service across the Delaware River in 1951) to the George Washington Bridge into Manhattan. As the interstate highway system developed during the 1950s and 1960s, the turnpike offered an alternative to the partially completed Interstate 95 between that highway’s segments in Delaware (the Delaware Turnpike) and New York, thus speeding trips between Washington, D.C., and Boston. The turnpike’s exit closest to Philadelphia, in largely agricultural Mount Laurel Township, Burlington County, spurred plans for development resembling King of Prussia in Pennsylvania—industrial parks, shopping centers, and suburban subdivisions. In Mount Laurel, however, these proposals threatened displacement of longtime African American residents, who viewed the township’s development strategy as an attempt to cultivate a more white, middle class population. Their effort to build low-cost garden apartments for displaced residents led to two far-reaching court decisions (1975 and 1983) banning exclusionary zoning and defining the responsibilities of communities to provide affordable housing.

[caption id="attachment_34512" align="alignright" width="233"]A 1951 photograph depicts the construction of a bridge along the New Jersey Turnpike. The New Jersey Turnpike, authorized in 1948, funneled traffic diagonally from rural South Jersey to the George Washington Bridge in Manhattan. This photograph depicts a bridge along the turnpike, crossing the Hackensack River, under construction in 1951. (Wikimedia Commons)[/caption]

For the new generation of automobile turnpikes, Pennsylvania and New Jersey created independent agencies with authority to raise revenue, build the roads, and manage the enterprises: the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission and the New Jersey Turnpike Authority. (In Delaware, the state Department of Transportation held jurisdiction over the tolled segment of I-95.) The Pennsylvania Turnpike, a risky proposition during the Great Depression, began construction with a $29 million grant from the federal Public Works Administration and sold its first $41 million in revenue bonds to the federal Reconstruction Finance Corporation, which in turn sold them to private investors. The New Jersey Turnpike, originating in the boom years following World War II, launched with the largest toll-road bond issue in history up to that time—$250 million in thirty-five-year bonds. The turnpike agencies in Pennsylvania and New Jersey had power, patronage, and unending streams of revenue from toll booths and service plazas operating twenty-four hours a day, every day of the year—circumstances that led to instances of corruption in both states.

For the Philadelphia region, beginning with the Lancaster Turnpike of 1795 and continuing into the twenty-first century, turnpikes achieved transformational change for the movement of people and goods. Private investment and tolls achieved improvements in road surfacing, speed, and safety beyond the capacity of public financing. The resulting turnpikes contributed to forming regional ties between Philadelphia and nearby communities in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Delaware while also forging connections to travel and commerce of the nation.

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

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.


Avenue of the Arts


Fitler Square


Logan Square

Old City

Rittenhouse Square

Society Hill

South Street

Washington Square

LOVE (Sculpture)

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.

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