Philadelphia, the largest city of Pennsylvania
was founded in 1682 by English Quaker William Penn.
Birds Eye View of Philadelphia -
known as the Birthplace of the Nation because of its role in
America's struggle for independence from Britain. Both the
Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of the United
States were drafted in the city. The name Philadelphia was
derived from the Greek words meaning “city of brotherly love,”
and Penn opened his city to people of many different religious
and ethnic backgrounds.
Modern Philadelphia has worked hard to
maintain that diversity while becoming one the great commercial,
cultural, and educational centers in the United States.
The city of Philadelphia, which since 1854 has had
the same boundaries as the county of Philadelphia, is
located in the southeastern corner of the state, at the
junction of the Delaware River and Schuylkill River. A
major port, the city lies about 100 miles
inland from the Atlantic Ocean and is situated
approximately halfway between New York City and
Philadelphia's original street plan, as laid out by William Penn
and his surveyor general, Thomas Holme, established a pattern of
rectangular blocks called a grid system. The grid included four
public squares that defined each of the city's sectors, as well
as a central square that eventually became the site of City
Hall. Numbered thoroughfares ran north and south, while east and
west streets were named mainly for trees, such as Chestnut,
Walnut, Locust, Spruce, and Pine streets. Large building lots
freed residents from the problems of overcrowding experienced by
other 17th-century cities and also encouraged more real estate
As Philadelphia grew in different directions, the grid system
was extended to the city limits. Along these streets, developers
constructed row houses in two-, three-, and occasionally, grand
four-story models. These houses fronted on the street, but
because of the size of the original lots, 18th-century
landowners then added new alleys and courts behind them. There
they built rental units, including the three-story tenements
that became home to thousands of the city's poor Irish, Jewish,
and black immigrants during the 19th century.
The portion of William Penn's original town site that
extended west from the Delaware River also included many
important commercial and government buildings. This
area, often called Center City, now contains the
Independence National Historical Park. The park includes
more than 20 sites associated with early American
history. Perhaps the most famous is Independence Hall,
originally completed in 1753 as the home of the
Pennsylvania colonial government.
The Declaration of Independence was adopted in this
building, and it was also the location of the debate
over the Articles of Confederation, and the Constitution
of the United States.
Other historic buildings nearby include
Carpenters' Hall, where the First Continental Congress
met in 1774; the First and Second Banks of the United
States; and Old City Hall which housed the Supreme Court
of the United States from 1791 to 1800.
The Liberty Bell, which
originally hung in Independence Hall, now rests in its
own glass-walled pavilion, and Franklin Court, the site
of Benjamin Franklin's home, includes an underground
Center Square, later known as Penn Square, marked the exact
geographical center of Philadelphia's original plan and the
intersection of the city's two main thoroughfares, Broad and
Market streets. At this site in 1871 the city began construction
of a massive new City Hall, which, when it was completed 30
years later, became the largest municipal building in the United
States. A towering statue of William Penn stands on top of the
structure. To preserve it as a focal point of downtown
Philadelphia, an informal agreement that remained in effect for
more than a century banned any new buildings that would exceed
the height of City Hall.
Since the 1950s Philadelphia has embarked on major redevelopment
and restoration projects for this downtown area of the city. In
eastern Center City, the Society Hill area was transformed from
a decaying district of mixed housing and commercial structures
into an affluent urban residential village with numerous
restored 18th- and early 19th-century townhouses. Penn Center,
across from City Hall, became the first of several new
commercial and office complexes to be completed. Not until 1987,
however, with the construction of One Liberty Place did
Philadelphia developers abandon the old height restriction and
begin to add skyscrapers to the city skyline. Philadelphia's
transformation distinguished itself by the preservation of the
old and the integration of the new; thus, a restored
18th-century town house may sit comfortably in the shadow of
modern metal-and-glass high-rise buildings.
An enduring feature of Philadelphia is its mosaic of
neighborhoods, reminders of the original villages, townships and
districts that were eventually incorporated into the city. Maps
of Philadelphia identify as many as 100 commonly agreed-upon
subdivisions of the city, and local residents often break down
these areas even further. Many of these neighborhoods retain the
character of the racial and ethnic groups who settled in them.
South Philadelphia, for example, is known as an Italian section
of the city.
The district known as Chinatown developed around
Ninth and Race streets as early as the 1860s and continues to
have a strong Asian influence.
Southwark, which stretches along the Delaware River,
had one of America's first large free black populations
in an urban area and remains an important center for
Philadelphia's black community.
Photos courtesy of
the Library of Congress