Throughout June, we will be highlighting neighborhoods throughout Philadelphia, the people and places that make our city unique and strong. By the close of the nineteenth century, Philadelphia was recognized as both the "Workshop of the World" and a "City of Neighborhoods." Since that time, waves of economic and social change have continually re-shaped the city into the metropolis we know today. We look forward to sharing the backstory of several of our city's neighborhoods in the weeks ahead.
Bounded by Windrim and Roberts Avenues on the southeast, on the southwest by Wissahickon Avenue, on the east by Wister Street and Stenton Avenue, with a northwest border that has been argued as being Carpenter Lane or Washington Lane.
Founded by German Quaker and Mennonite families in 1683 as an independent borough, Germantown was consolidated into the City of Philadelphia in 1854. The community has played a significant role in American history; it is the birthplace of the American antislavery movement, the site of a Revolutionary War battle, the temporary residence of President George Washington, and the residence of many notable politicians, scholars, artists, and social activists. 

1680 – 1830
Francis Daniel Pastorius founded the first German-American settlement in the colonies, negotiating a land purchase of 15,000 acres from the Penn family. In 1688, five years after its founding, Germantown was home to the first proclamation against slavery by white people in America. Pastorius, Gerret Hendericks, Derick up de Graeff and Abraham up den Graef gathered at Thones Kunders' house and wrote a two-page condemnation of slavery and sent it to the governing bodies of their Quaker church, the Society of Friends. The petition argued for equal human rights for all people. Though the Quaker establishment took no immediate action, the 1688 Germantown Quaker Petition Against Slavery was a clear and forceful argument against slavery and initiated the process of banning slavery within the Society of Friends (1776) and the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania (1780).
The first wave of settlers to the area was a diverse mix, but the majority was of German descent. Most of the earliest settlers in Germantown were a variety of artisans including weavers, paper makers, carpenters, farmers and millers.

When Philadelphia was occupied by the British during the American Revolutionary War, British military units were housed in Germantown. At the Battle of Germantown, on October 4, 1777, the Continental Army attacked this garrison with Benjamin Chew's house Cliveden at the center of the action. During the battle, a party of local residents fired on the British troops as they marched up the avenue, mortally wounding British Brigadier General Agnew. Agnew died in the parlor of Grumblethorpe mansion nearby.

After the war Germantown became a popular summer residence for colonists to escape the summer heat and congestion of the city. The area began to develop with farmsteads, mansions and country dwellings. The idea of a country life in close proximity to the city was exemplified in Germantown and provided an early glimpse of America's first suburbs. The area continued to grow separately from Philadelphia and became seen as an important illustration of the ideals of country living.

During his presidency, George Washington and his family lodged at the Deshler-Morris House in Germantown to escape the yellow fever epidemic ravaging the city in 1793. 
1830 – 1940
The introduction of the Philadelphia, Germantown & Norristown rail line in 1830 (now SEPTA’s Chestnut Hill East line) changed the landscape considerably. It provided not only a new, faster mode of transportation but also new means of business and trade. A horse car line running on Germantown Avenue also contributed to transit infrastructure and increased the appeal of the community to deeper ranks of the middle-class. Growth in the area was largely a result of individual homebuilding projects and small-scale speculative activity. This can be seen in the variety and diversity of the local architecture.

Following the Civil War, many of the old houses on Germantown Avenue were converted to commercial uses or torn down for new architecture of a commercial nature. Off the Avenue, greater amounts of available capital financed larger-scale home-building operations on available tracts of land, producing rows of uniform townhouses and identical double-houses, many of which targeted prosperous middle-class suburbanites. By the last quarter of the 19th-century, smaller streets began to experience infill, as large lots were subdivided and smaller houses were inserted. Blocks became increasingly crowded as rental properties and substandard housing received waves of less affluent newcomers—Irish and then Italian immigrants, followed by African Americans moving north in the Great Migration. 
By the 1880s local residents had modern amenities including indoor plumbing, central heating, and gas lighting. Residents were drawn to such modern amenities while still able to experience country-style living. A garden-like suburb was taking shape, with residents heavily comprised of lawyers, doctors, stockbrokers, and real-estate entrepreneurs.

Germantown experienced a dramatic shift as it became enveloped into a suburb of rapidly industrializing Philadelphia rather than a rural getaway. The number of mills, shops and workshops increased. Slaughter houses and factories emerged and principal industries such as metal works, leather crafters and weaving became Germantown staples.

A second commuter line—today’s Chestnut Hill West line—was built on the west side of Germantown in 1884 by the Pennsylvania Railroad, which contributed to transforming Chelten Avenue into a modern commercial corridor with banks, theaters, high rise office buildings, and large department stores. In the early 20th-century, large new three- and four-story, brick, garden apartment complexes were also built in the upper west side of Germantown.
1940 – 2000
The story of 20th century Germantown is one of commercial rise and gradual decline; of industrial vigor followed by the shuttering of textile production and the loss of manufacturing jobs; of uneven efforts toward racial integration accompanied by discrimination and the steady remove of white residents to the outlying suburbs; and of the moderate interventions of urban renewal and public housing programs. 
Over the last fifty years, Germantown has been hit hard by post-industrial job loss and population decline. Sears and other stores left the area in the 1960s. The last department store in Germantown, a J.C. Penney’s, departed in the early 1980s. Retail in the commercial corridors along Germantown and Chelten Avenues has suffered but many retailers remain. Germantown became a majority African American community whose narratives were often not included in the prevailing themes of local history. As historian David Young, author of “The Battles of Germantown, Effective Public History in America” writes, new social history methods began to change Germantown’s “memory infrastructure” during this period. 
Residents and historians of the community have worked to present a more inclusive narrative. The Johnson House (1768) was long revered as a witness to the Battle of Germantown and home of a prominent Quaker pacifist family, but was discovered to be a station on the Underground Railroad and a center of abolitionist activity. In the 1980s the site was reinterpreted to highlight its important African American history. 
Germantown’s African American history has increasingly received more focused interpretation and community engagement, especially at Cliveden, where staff have sought to understand the Chew family’s slaveholding history. In addition, an obscure 1913 publication entitled, “Souvenir of Germantown,” written by J. Gorden Baugh, illuminates an alternate history of Germantown from an African American point of view. Produced to mark the fiftieth anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation, the booklet showcased the churches, schools, homes, and businesses established throughout Germantown by “our people.” Among them, Baugh identified Bethel A.M.E. Church (now Mount Vernon Baptist Church), founded in 1859 on East Rittenhouse Street, as an early and important site. Baugh also included the catering business of John S. Trower, which he described as the “oldest established [black] business . . . providing employment to many men and women.”
2000 – Present
Germantown is characterized by rich architectural styles and wide tree lined streets, and also tightly packed rowhouse blocks built during its industrial heydey. Many homes are set back from tree-lined streets, with both front and back yards, and are often adorned with wrought iron and stone fences. A large number of 18th and early 19th century houses remain intact with some of the largest converted into multi-family properties. The multitude of housing types contribute to Germantown’s continued affordability, and robust transit service provides connections to other parts of the region. Germantowners take pride in the community’s diverse racial and socio-economic population base. With continued reinvestment by mission-driven developers, convenient transit options, nearby access to Fairmount and Wissahickon parks, and a variety of small businesses--Germantown is being rediscovered by many who long ignored it.
Celebrate Juneteenth in Germantown!

Inspired by stories found in the Chew Family Papers and based on a script written by Philadelphia Young Playwrights, Liberty to Go to See takes audiences on an intimate journey through the lives of Chew family members and the men and women—black, white, enslaved, and free—who worked for the family from the 1760s to the 1860s. The title of the play comes from a letter written by Joseph, an enslaved man, to Benjamin Chew, Sr., his master, requesting employment closer to his wife. Narrated by James Smith, a free African-American servant, Liberty to Go to See contrasts the ideals of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness by showing the paradoxes of racial discrimination, class divisions, gender roles, and the struggle for freedom.

This year’s presentation will feature an introduction from Cliveden’s Education Director, Carolyn Wallace and local facilitator Patricia Scott-Hobbs, followed by a video adaptation of Liberty to Go to See and ending with a question-and-answer session with director Johnnie Hobbs, Jr., writer Gail Leslie and actors that brought the stories to life. We encourage you to stay and share your thoughts about the play.

Registration is open now through June 19th. The event is free and open to all. For those who are able, a donation of $10 per person suggested. Visit  Eventbrite  to sign up. After completing the registration, you will receive a link for the event.
Saturday, June 20th, 12pm - 5pm

Juneteenth is the oldest nationally celebrated day to commemorate the end of slavery in the United States. 2020 also represents the 155th Anniversary of Juneteenth celebrated in the United States.

2020 represents the 401st anniversary – 1619 – of when enslaved Africans arrived in Point Comfort, Virginia aboard a Dutch ship. They were the first Africans on record to be forcibly settled as involuntary laborers in the North American British Colonies.

For the last 13 years Johnson House celebrated Juneteenth by having a street festival on the 6300 block of Germantown Avenue. This year is different. Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the celebration will be held virtually from 12:00 pm to 5:00 pm.  
These neighborhood descriptions are not meant to represent the comprehensive story of these neighborhoods and places. They are more so vignettes, intended to highlight and recognize the varied places across Philadelphia that contribute to our shared built environment. The places which have been intentionally or unintentionally preserved in the past and which deserve further preservation today.

Some additional sources of Germantown history:

The historical narrative above was supplemented by the research and writing of Nancy Holst, in her contribution to the Vernacular Architecture Forum's 2019 Philadelphia guidebook.
Watch from the safety and
comfort of your own home! 
Tuesday, June 23, 6:00 PM to 7:30 PM
The part and the whole: Wilson Eyre and a quiet architectural revolution in 1880s Philadelphia
Presented by Jeffrey Cohen, Professor of the History of Architecture and the Urban Form in the Growth & Structure of Cities at Bryn Mawr College.

The heroically inventive work of the 1870s, led in Philadelphia by Frank Furness and George Hewitt, Henry Sims, and Willis Hale, ran headlong into a different regime of design values toward that decade’s close. Virtues suddenly became vices, and the expressed material and spatial truths of the part yielded to a stronger emphasis on visual harmony in the whole. This was especially evident in buildings by a younger generation of architects working in what was nominally a wide array of styles. Notable among this group were Wilson Eyre, Frank Miles Day, the firm of Cope & Stewardson, and others who followed their lead into the mid-1890s. Join us for an exploration of their work.
Tuesday, June 30, 6:00 PM to 7:30 PM
Eastern State Penitentiary - Behind Walls!
Presented by Sally Elk, President and CEO of Eastern State Penitentiary.

Have you been to Eastern State Penitentiary since 2014? Sally Elk will take you there via her illustrated talk about her tenure as President and CEO of Eastern State Penitentiary. After 20 years of abandonment, Eastern State reopened for tours in 1994. Sally's challenge has been the stewardship of this National Historic Landmark and ensuring its future. Hear about contemporary programming and why people pay money to be scared in the dark. You won't want to miss a virtual tour of this amazing site, learn about its amazing success, and hear how it is poised for the future.  

Inga Saffron discusses her new book
"Becoming Philadelphia"
Tuesday, July 7, 6:00 PM to 7:30 PM