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. Southwark was placed on the National Historic Register in the 1970s. 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 Moymensing. 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 light houses 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 in to 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 hundreds of 18th and 19th century homes were destroyed and families were displaced in the 1950s 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.
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.
Interactive Map and Boundaries of Queen Village
Queen Village is bounded by the Delaware River, Lombard Street, 6th Street and Washington Ave.