NEIGHBORHOOD HISTORY

1740 – 1800
When ships first came to Philadelphia they landed in Dock Creek, a natural inlet south of Walnut Street. The original commercial center of the city began here, but quickly moved north to Market Street. Residential development west of the inlet began early, but the area did not become well developed until the 1740s when more affluent families wanted larger houses, free from the mix of commercial uses found in Old City. As one of the principal residential areas of colonial Philadelphia, the neighborhood included homes of the wealthy and poor, prominent churches, markets and taverns. Today Society Hill contains the largest concentration of original 18th-century architecture of any place in the United States.

1800 – 1900
As the city grew westward in the 19th century, the affluent population followed and Society Hill became a neighborhood of immigrants, many of whom worked in businesses along the waterfront. Proximity to the port encouraged the same type of commercial development that occurred in Old City. By the end of the 19th century Dock Creek had vanished and the area was dominated by wholesale food distribution businesses serving the Philadelphia region. By the early 20th century Society Hill was thought to be a slum and in need of restoration.

1900 – 2000
Plans for the revival of the area were first put forward in 1929 but nothing happened until the 1950s when the wholesale food market that dominated the area was relocated and the Federal urban renewal program provided the funds required to acquire deteriorated properties. Society Hill became the centerpiece of Center City’s revival and the first urban renewal project in the nation to incorporate historic preservation. Eighteenth-century buildings were restored and 19th-century buildings demolished to be replaced by new residential construction of the best modern design. The neighborhood was named Society Hill after the 18th-century Society of Free Traders, which had its offices on the hill above Dock Creek.

2000 – Present
Today Society Hill is one of Philadelphia’s most distinctive and affluent neighborhoods. Society Hill is listed as an historic district on the Philadelphia Register of Historic Places and the National Register of Historic Places.

Resources

Society Hill Civic Association
Center City District

The Society Hill neighborhood is bounded by the Delaware River to 7th Street, Walnut Street to Lombard Street