Encyclopedia of Greater Philadelphia

Walking Encyclopedia: Harrowgate

Like many neighborhoods in Philadelphia, Harrowgate, located just northwest of Kensington, experienced dramatic changes as a result of the industrial boom in the nineteenth century. Prior to industrialization, Harrowgate was a small community built around medicinal springs and attracted only the wealthiest of Philadelphia’s citizens. Industrialization, however, transformed Harrowgate.

By the late nineteenth century, Harrowgate was a densely populated industrial neighborhood with mills, factories, homes, apartments, and civic institutions such as churches and banks. Irish immigrants, attracted by the large textile industry that existed there, settled in the neighborhood. Germans, English, and Scots also came to Harrowgate during the industrial boom to work in the textile industry.

While industrialization transformed Harrowgate from a vacation spot for wealthy Philadelphians in the eighteenth century to a massive community of working people in the nineteenth century, deindustrialization caused dramatic changes in the twentieth century. Despite the boost that Harrowgate’s textile industry got from World War II, by the 1950s industries throughout the neighborhood began to close their doors. There were many causes for deindustrialization. Neglect during the Depression years caused irreversible damage to many buildings and factories. Industry had to share space with densely packed residences, commercial buildings, and office buildings. Industry’s ability to grow was choked off by the narrow streets and congested landscape. After the war, many people migrated to the suburbs to get away from the congestion and overcrowded conditions of the inner city. Harrowgate’s wealth and many traditional elements of community such as schools and churches were lost as a result of deindustrialization.

Today, the community that can be seen from the platform at Tioga Street Station of the Market-Frankford El is a place of parks occupied by families and children, streets lined with row houses, repurposed factory buildings, and people coming to and from banks, restaurants, homes, and churches. In marked contrast to its earlier history, forty-eight percent of the neighborhood’s population is Hispanic. The remaining population is thirty-four percent white non-Hispanic, ten percent African American, and four percent Asian. Poverty in the area has led to high rates of crime and drug use. Many of the industrial buildings of Harrowgate have closed, fallen into disrepair, or have been demolished, although some are being put to new uses. Some of the churches and schools built during the industrial era struggle to stay open because of waning attendance and funds, while new churches, social service agencies, and small businesses serving the Spanish-speaking population are taking root.

Take the virtual tour of the Harrowgate neighborhood by clicking on the image gallery located on the right.

Jacob Downs earned his Master’s degree from Rutgers University, Camden, in American history. His focus while in the program was the effects of industrialization and urbanization on women during the late nineteenth century. While earning his degree he gained an appreciation for the industrial neighborhoods of Philadelphia. He served as the project manager and primary researcher for the Walking Encyclopedia Tour of Harrowgate.

The Walking Encyclopedia Project was supported by a Discovery Grant from the Heritage Philadelphia Program of the Pew Center for Arts & Heritage. Project partners and advisers included the Philadelphia History Museum, the Historical Society of Pennsylvania, Bob Skiba of the Association of Philadelphia Tour Guides, and Patricia Washington Visit Philadelphia. The route for the Harrowgate tour was provided by Francis Ryan, a native of the Harrowgate neighborhood and instructor at the School of Management and Labor Relations at Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey.

Related Reading

Davis, Allen and Mark Haller, editors. The Peoples of Philadelphia: A History of Ethnic Groups and Lower-Class Life, 1790-1940. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1998.

Holmes, George. Philadelphia’s River Wards. Mount Pleasant: Arcadia Publishing, 2003.

Scranton, Philip. Figured Tapestry: Production, Markets and Power in Philadelphia Textiles, 1885-1940. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1989.

Scranton, Philip. Work Sights: Industrial Philadelphia, 1880-1950. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1986.

Weigley, Russell, editor. Philadelphia: A 300-Year History. New York: W.W. Norton & Co., 1982.


Philadelphia Industry Collections and Images and News Photograph Collection, Urban Archives, Temple University Libraries Special Collection Research Center, Philadelphia.

8 Comments Comments

  1. Thanks, Jacob! I had the pleasure of taking a walking tour of Harrowgate with you a few years ago. It’s really wonderful to see that fascinating tour realized here with great additional photos by Tessa Downs. I hope it encourages readers who don’t live there to visit Harrowgate themselves.

    Bob Skiba Posted July 9, 2014 at 11:38 am
  2. I am not a native, but since moving to Harrowgate in 2001, I have gained many who are. I have been working with goals in mind to help my community & we have finally gotten Harrowgate civic back up & running. We are about to file our RCO paper work and this story about our neighborhood is an absolute gem! Thank you so much!

    Jeannine Missaoui Posted June 23, 2015 at 8:49 pm
  3. Oh and we have a facebook page too!

    Jeannine Missaoui Posted June 23, 2015 at 8:50 pm
  4. Harrow gate was a great neighborhood for raising our family of Four kids. The fun they had at Scanlon playground when they were little, then came baseball and socceer, and ice skating in the winter and the pool on hot summer days all at Scanlon! Vacation Bible at the Moravian Church and vacation reading at the Frankford library were a must. Taking the el into cc. I got many good buys at Jo Mar. We got to watch the circus trains go by for years from our porch and the Bobby Kennedy train passed us by on its way to his burial. Our boys sold philly pretzels, to get money for seeing movies at the Midway. They still talk about seeing Rockie and Jaws at the Midway. Sitting on the steps at night waiting for the Mr. Softie truck to come by was a really big treat. The kids didn’t need video games to entertain them. Board games and playing cards with friends was fun. Raising kids in Hawrrogate in the late 60s, 70s, and 80s sure was fun! I loved reading your research and photos!

    Dorothy Leith Posted July 25, 2015 at 4:15 pm
  5. Do you have any information on the Boger and Crawford mill?

    Henry Martin Posted December 31, 2015 at 1:00 pm
  6. Looking for old photos of the park with the fountain Or any vintage Harrowgate park Photos I am the Vp of the newly formed Harrowgate Civic Association & member of the Friends of Harrowgate park and we are looking for any information and photos Thank You

    Jim Ridgway Posted June 20, 2016 at 1:17 am
  7. Hi
    I want to find out some history of the Plaza in I and Tioga street.

    I was told it was used to be a cemetry and it was removed I want to know do you have any pictures and
    do you know was it a native reservation burial ground ?


    daniel chung Posted September 17, 2017 at 10:57 pm
  8. My memories of living in Kensington were so family oriented. Remembering getting our hoagies at shlack’s Deli at at Rohr Street & AlleghenyAve. Going to Whimpsy Luncheonette at K& A for cheesesteaks and Cherry Cokes. Movies @ the Iris on Kensington Ave. & Midway on Allegheny Ave.Theater’s.
    Remembering all young mother’s with Bobby pins in their hair parking the Baby coaches outside the Woolworth 5&10 cent store to shop. Another fond memory was Walt’s Candy Store
    where we all gather together to socialize. WALT the owner of the store was a blessing to all of us.

    Irene Loglisci Posted April 27, 2018 at 1:22 pm

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