Philadelphia’s central role in the birth of a new nation is not to be underestimated. But the commemoration of the Declaration of Independence, the work of the Continental Congress, and the writing of the Constitution in the city have tended to overshadow the ways in which the Philadelphia region’s entire story is in many ways America’s story. The topics here explore Greater Philadelphia’s central place in an expansive American narrative.
Philadelphia native Charles Brockden Brown's novel, Arthur Mervyn; or, Memoirs of the Year 1793, became one of the most influential works of American Gothic literature. The author's final resting place is the Arch Street Friends Burial Ground, Fourth and Arch Street.
Philadelphia ranked as one of the nation’s foremost saw manufacturing centers for much of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. By the mid-nineteenth century a number of major saw manufacturers operated in the city, including the world’s largest, Henry Disston’s Keystone Saw Works.
The religious Peace Mission Movement was known for its civil rights activism as well as its 'cultic' qualities. The Divine Lorraine Hotel in North Philadelphia hosted many of the Mission's social welfare activities.
Philadelphia was at the center of the early prison reform movement, first introducing individual cells at Walnut Street Prison and later solitary confinement. The city's prisons later became notorious for conducting experiments on prisoners and a high rate of incarceration.
From its inception, zoning became a fraught subject. By empowering neighborhood groups and local politicians with power over land use in their communities, zoning brought such groups in Philadelphia and elsewhere into contest with developers, industrial concerns, and sometimes with other people who wanted to move into their neighborhoods. In 1962, Mayor James Tate signed a major overhaul to the zoning code at City Hall, the first revision to the code since 1933.
The Electric Factory was opened in 1968 by club promoters, the Spivack brothers. The rock club featured artists such as Janis Joplin, Pink Floyd, and Jimi Hendrix. After the closing of the original club, a second Electric Factory was opened in 1995. The concert venue eventually joined forces with a concert promotion company to form Live Nation Entertainment.
The history of the Philadelphia Navy Yard has been one of constant struggle, repeatedly staring down imminent closure only to be saved at the last second by stalwart local politicians or a timely military conflict. The Navy Yard, located on League Island, operated for 120 years.
A fictional account of real events, The City Merchant by John Beauchamp Jones blames the tumultuous events of the antebellum period on abolitionists and unscrupulous real estate deals. The Second Bank of the United States is part of the plot.
U.S. presidents have long visited Philadelphia to invoke the historic values of the country's founding documents. Independence Hall has been the backdrop for many such visits, beginning in 1833 with Andrew Jackson.
The College of Physicians of Philadelphia was founded in 1787 “to advance the science of medicine and to thereby lessen human misery.” It created professional standards and provided for the exchange of medical knowledge, while also establishing a renowned medical library and medical museum.
The Model Cities program called for federal services to redevelop the nation’s poorest communities. In 1967, North Philadelphia was designated for renewal, but efforts faltered and goals changed, with a textile company moved from North Broad Street to Spring Garden and Seventh Street.
Beginning in the 1920s, the Philadelphia region’s independent transit companies added motorized buses. The south east corner of 13th and Filbert Streets marks the location of the old Union Bus Terminal. Today, The Greyhound station on Filbert Street is just a few blocks away from the old Union Bus Terminal, which was a Thirteenth and Filbert.
The central event in the novel, 'The Garies and Their Friends,' is a graphically-rendered race riot, evoking the historical riots of 1834, 1838, 1842, and 1849. One of these riots, the Lombard Street Riot, has a historical marker located at Sixth and Lombard Streets.
Thanksgiving Day traditions evolved over time while retaining themes of early thanks-giving feasts. Philadelphia, home to the first Thanksgiving Day Parade, contributed to many traditions as they came to be practiced across the nation. In Philadelphia, the parade goes up Franklin Parkway to the Art Museum.
The discovery of oil in Titusville, Pennsylvania, and the drilling of the first successful well in 1859 led to an oil revolution. Soon pipelines emerged as a key to oil transport, and pipeline growth continues today. Some lines reach refineries at Marcus Hook, near the state line between Pennsylvania and Delaware.
Pennsylvania Impressionist painting flourished in eastern Pennsylvania in the first half of the twentieth century. Often referred to as the “New Hope School” because artists in Bucks County produced the best-known works, the style was also practiced vigorously in Montgomery, Chester, Delaware, and Lehigh Counties, and key artists of the movement taught at the Pennsylvania […]
While it was the U.S. capital, Philadelphia was site of the first convictions of American citizens of treason—two of ten men tried for participation in the Whiskey Rebellion, which began in 1791 as a protest against an excise tax levied on domestic whiskey. The trial was at Old City Hall in 1795.
Having already captured New York in 1776, British General Sir William Howe devised a campaign to capture Philadelphia in 1777. Howe was able to occupy the city on September 26 of that year. Fort Mifflin, located on Mud Island, was bombarded to open a supply line to the occupied city.
From 1754-89, relations between Pennsylvania and native tribes eroded badly. By 1789, only one enclave remained, as others were pushed westward or killed in fights with settlers. Near Conestoga, Pa., was the site of a massacre by the Paxton Boys.
Musical Fund Hall is where a convention altered the Pa. Constitution to disallow voting by black residents, a move that inspired the essay 'Appeal of Forty Thousand Citizens, Threatened with Disfranchisement, to the People of Philadelphia,' which argued against ratification.
From 1840 through 1880, a commercial district of cast iron buildings developed in Center City, helping to define the downtown of the emerging modern city, clustered from the Delaware waterfront to Twelfth Street between Arch and Pine Streets. The Smythe Stores building is now a residential building.
Forts and other defenses on the Delaware River and, later, along the Atlantic coast guarded Philadelphia and other commercial centers during times of military jeopardy. Fort Mifflin and other surviving forts serve as reminders of the key role forts played in the region's economic, political, and social history.
In the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries, casino gambling became an accepted public policy in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and other states desperate to generate tax revenue and create jobs. But the gains often came with significant social and economic costs in Atlantic City, Philadelphia, and other communities in the region.
Before the Fair Housing Act of 1968, Philadelphia and its suburbs grappled with policies that severely limited African American housing options. Agencies like the Human Relations Commission and the Fair Housing Commission, located at 601 Walnut Street, assist the public against discriminatory practices.
Through shared economic goals and common values of peace, individual freedom, and cultural openness, the Lenapes and their European allies established the ideals of Delaware Valley society before William Penn received his land grant in 1681. A statue of Lenape leader Tamanend stands at Front and Market Streets.
Although the United States’ involvement in World War I lasted just over a year, the conflict in Europe had a lasting impact on the Philadelphia region. The war created new opportunities for the region's industrial base, including the New York Shipbuilding Corporation of Camden.
People of African descent have migrated to Philadelphia since the seventeenth century. Although African Americans faced discrimination, disfranchisement, and periodic race riots in the 1800s, the community attracted tens of thousands of people during World War I's Great Migration.
The revival of immigration to Philadelphia and its surrounding region in the early nineteenth century provided one of the most powerful elements in reshaping the city's society. The German Society of Pennsylvania assisted German newcomers in finding jobs and housing.
The religious diversity of Philadelphia led to the creation of specialized institutions of higher learning reflecting each religion's values. Catholic-affiliated schools continue to embrace their religious banner, less so those schools with different affiliations.