Walking Encyclopedia: Harrowgate
By Jacob Downs
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. (Author information current at time of publication.)
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.
Connecting Headlines with History
- Workshop of the World
- Scanlon Playground Remembered (Facebook)
- The Cobertizos of Kensington (Hidden City)
- Kensington and Allegheny Commercial District (Philadelphia City Planning Commission, 1978, University of Pennsylvania Libraries)
- Kensington Trust Company Photographs (Philadelphia Buildings and Architects)
- The Day the Bronx Bomber Played in Kensington (Philadelphia Archdiocesan Research Center)