Logan Circle looking north, 1939

(Image from Historic Photos of Philadelphia)

Springettsbury, detail. From Gilbert Fox and John Joseph Holland,

 "View of the City of Philadelphia," c1795

Image courtesy of The Library Company of Philadelphia

Neighborhood History

 

Neighborhood boundaries:  North to Spring Garden Street, South to Vine Street, East to Broad, West to Schuylkill River. 

Imagine this urban neighborhood as a wilderness that catches the eye of William Penn, the founder of Pennsylvania and Philadelphia. He travels from the docks of the Delaware River west toward the Schuylkill River on the rough newly hewed road that he calls Callowhill, the maiden name of his second wife. It is the late 1600's.  He makes his way through the forest to what is now 21st and Hamilton Streets and declares 300 acres to be his family estate. And then he leaves, summoned back to England on legal matters.  He never returns.

 

It falls upon his son Thomas Penn, detested by Philadelphians, to build the family Manor House calling it Springettsbury, Springett being the maiden name of William Penn's first wife. The year is 1737, the site the current location of City View Condominiums (20th and Hamilton Streets).  While the Manor House is modest, its fame rests on its formal gardens and deer park, which probably extended into the Matthias Baldwin Park (19th and Hamilton Streets).

 

Before building his Manor, Thomas Penn settles accounts with the family lawyer Andrew Hamilton who has labored many years without pay for the Penn Family. Short on cash and rich in land, Thomas Penn pays this debt with a land grant known as Bush Hill. Andrew Hamilton builds his grand house, larger than his patron's Manor house, facing south toward the growing City of Philadelphia, location 17th & Spring Garden where stands Philadelphia Community College. 

The wilderness of William Penn has been tamed into a bucolic countryside of rolling hills, woods and bubbling brooks. In turn, these gentlemen's estates will transform again in the 1800's into an urban industrial zone when Matthias Baldwin in 1835 moves his steam locomotive works to Broad and Spring Garden Streets. Other heavy industries follow. Workers' row houses stand cheek by jowl next to large factories. The woods are cut, streets laid and the bubbling brooks run underground into large conduits that empty into the Schuylkill River.

 

By the 1930's manufacturing comes to an end. The area is underused and forgotten, its status as an industrial dynamo gone. In the 1970's private investors partner with the City Redevelopment Authority to create Franklin Town, an urban development which existed mainly on paper. Bad financial times lead to its failure but not before the venture had torn down factories and worker row houses. Today the only vestige left of Franklin Town is Franklin Town Blvd, which runs for two blocks.

 

In the early to mid 2000, the rediscovery of cities as great places to live saw our neighborhood in a prime location. It has prospered. High rise apartment buildings and condominiums have been built on the empty plots left vacant by urban renewal. Restaurants, stores and art museums are part of the street scene.

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authored by Sandra Owens 2/2018

Matthias Baldwin Park 

423 N 19th St 

Philadelphia, PA 19130

Friends of Matthias Baldwin Park is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that works to preserve the Matthias Baldwin Park

© 2018 Friends of Matthias Baldwin Park