Yesterday we shared a neighborhood post relaying the broad history of Queen Village. As was pointed out to us, we neglected to make explicit mention of the neighborhood's African-American legacies, in particular, the recent discovery of the Bethel Burying Ground between Catharine and Queen Streets. This was a welcome reminder of our need to be more intentionally inclusive and equitable in the work that we do. We are sharing an amended post today, with suggestions for further reading.
Queen Village
Bounded by the Delaware River, Lombard Street, 6th Street and Washington Avenue
Queen Village is a historic community along the Delaware River. As the oldest settled area of Philadelphia, Queen Village contains many of the city’s oldest houses. It comprises a significant portion of what was called “Southwark”, a community incorporated in 1762 by English settlers that originally extended from South Street down to Reed Street. The Consolidation Act of 1854 combined Southwark as well as other communities such as Northern Liberties and Kensington into the City of Philadelphia. The Southwark Historic District was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1972. Shortly thereafter it was renamed Queen Village, after Queen Christina of Sweden, to recognize the Swedish role in promoting the original settlements.

1600 – 1870
Originally the home of the Lenape Indians, it was called Wicaco, meaning “Pleasant Place.” A large area called “New Sweden” developed during the 1600s, with colonies established in the state of Delaware and along the Delaware and Schuylkill Rivers. In 1664, the family of Sven Gunnarson obtained a patent from the Dutch governor to establish a farm at Wicaco, covering all of Southwark, Passyunk and Moyamensing. In 1683, his sons sold 300 acres north of Wicaco to William Penn for the new city of Philadelphia. Old Swedes’ Church located at Christian Street and Columbus Boulevard was completed in 1700 and is a National Historic Site still in use today as an Episcopal church.

Multiple waves of immigrants settled in this area, including Irish and Jewish along with Scottish, German and Polish. During the 1700’s, there was an influx of German and Scottish and Irish immigrants in Philadelphia. Many of these immigrants arrived as indentured servants or “redemptioners,” who stayed in the city to work off the cost of the passage. The area developed during the late 18th century due to its proximity to the Delaware River. Many of the jobs listed in the city directory of 1800 include; sea captains, ship builders, mariners, pilots, seamen, sail, rope and mast makers, ship masters, and lumber merchants.

The area was composed mostly of small hills with streams and ponds. The marshy area called “the neck” just south of Washington Avenue was home to the first Navy Yard. It was in use during the Revolutionary War period and deemed the official United States Navy Yard in 1801. It remained active until the late 1800s when it moved further south. Another likely first was the Sparks Shot Tower located at Front and Carpenter Streets. The tower opened in 1808 to produce lead hunting shots and still stands as an icon of the community. This tower is considered a fine example of Philadelphia brick work, and was used as a model to build early lighthouses along the eastern seaboard because of its ability to withstand gale-force winds.
The Irish potato famine of the 1840s and wars in central Europe during the nineteenth century drove more people to seek sanctuary in America. The City of Philadelphia was a mercantile city of about 30,000 during the Revolutionary War but grew into a leading industrial metropolis of over 400,000 people by 1850. By this time three out of ten Philadelphians were foreign-born, the highest proportion ever recorded.

Lack of significant public transportation required most Philadelphians to live near their jobs, and thus immigrants were spread around the city. Nearly half of them worked in day labor, carting or handloom weaving, and less than a third in skilled trades. The construction laborers lived in alleys and side streets all over Philadelphia. Many of the immigrants worked in the nearby sweatshops or in the markets. Markets were located in the shambles (Headhouse Square) along South 2nd Street, the Washington Market along Bainbridge Street from 3rd to 5th Streets and in the 4th Street pushcart market.
1870 – 1920
By the 1870s, Philadelphia had grown by another 350,000, to about 750,000. From the 1870s through the 1920s the waterfront was a bustling place. This area was full of wharves, warehouses, sugar refineries, freight depots, and grain elevators. In 1873 a two story station for receiving immigrants opened at the foot of Washington Avenue, started by the modern steamship company the American Line with support of the Pennsylvania Railroad. A fifty-year period of active immigration in Philadelphia began during which roughly one million immigrants arrived. Philadelphia was the fourth largest immigrant port in the county. The building was torn down in 1915.
1920 – Present
A steady decline in population began after World War II. For the first time in 300 years the neighborhood’s population decreased as people moved to other parts of the city and nearby suburbs. Urban renewal became the focus of the nation. In Queen Village in the 1950s hundreds of 18th and 19th century homes were destroyed and families were displaced to allow the construction of I-95, which separated the community from the river. A cross-town expressway along South Street to connect I-76 to I-95 was proposed by city planners as well, and property values in the area plummeted. While I-95 could not be stopped, the expressway proposal was defeated. By this time, artists enjoyed the low rents and bohemian atmosphere of the area around South Street. Today a somewhat eclectic atmosphere remains in Queen Village, with its diversity of population and architecture.

In 1810, Mother Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church established a cemetery known as the Bethel Burying Ground, Philadelphia’s first private cemetery for Black people. During the span of 1810 to the end of the Civil War, when use of the cemetery was discontinued, an estimated 3,000 to 5,000 Black Philadelphians were laid to rest here. The burial ground land was sold to the City of Philadelphia in 1889, but the buried remains were never removed for reinterment in another cemetery. The land became part of a community park known as Weccacoe Playground, and the historic cemetery was largely forgotten. In 2010, the City announced a plan for renovations to Weccacoe Playground. A local historian engaged in research on Bethel Burying Ground and sprang into action to raise awareness of this historic site. Finally, after considerable civic debate, renovation plans for the playground were altered to avoid the area of the cemetery, while further public consultation took place on the appropriate way to memorialize this history. In 2019, a historical marker was installed to mark the site’s significance and to raise public recognition of this important buried history. Plans are now underway for a more robust memorial to those buried at Bethel Burying Ground.
Queen Village showcases over three centuries of American history and architecture, and every block has a story to tell. With its diverse architectural style, Queen Village is distinct from the carefully restored colonial character of Society Hill located just to the north. While the future looks bright, Queen Village has challenges ahead, including redevelopment pressures from those looking to profit from this desirable location or who may negatively impact the aesthetic and walkability of the community. To help mitigate these pressures, Queen Village was declared Philadelphia’s first Neighborhood Conservation District, a zoning overlay which helps guide sensitive development and new construction. 
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 Queen Village history:

Some additional reading on Bethel Burying Ground:

Watch from the safety and
comfort of your own home! 
Tuesday, June 16, 6:00 PM to 7:30 PM
Truth, Fire, and Frank Furness
Presented by Michael Lewis, author of Frank Furness: Architecture and the Violent Mind and Faison-Pierson-Stoddard Professor of Art History at Williams College.

Frank Furness never wrote a single word of theory and yet his buildings brim with ideas. Drawing on contemporary interviews with Furness, this talk reconstructs the architectural philosophy behind his aggressive banks, libraries, and train stations. It proposes that Philadelphia’s beloved rogue architect, notorious for his profanity and for shooting his revolver in the office, was actually a closet intellectual.
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.

Sally Elk - Eastern State Penitentiary
Tuesday, June 30, 6:00 PM to 7:30 PM