Wynnefield is named for Thomas Wynne (1627-1692), who immigrated from Caerwys, North Wales and became the personal physician to William Penn and the first Speaker of the Pennsylvania Assembly. Thomas Wynne was one of a large group of Quakers who settled Philadelphia. The Wynne homestead, Wynnestay, was built in 1690 and remains standing near 52nd Street and Woodbine Avenue. Some say it was the first stone-built house in the state of Pennsylvania.
A century later, in the 1790s, major roads including the Lancaster Pike (now Lancaster Avenue), Old Lancaster Road (today’s 54th Street) and County Line Road (now City Avenue) were constructed, making the area a favorable location that soon attracted a number of wealthy landowners.
1850 – 1920
In 1854, attracted by city amenities such as professional police and fire departments, Wynnefield agreed to become part of the City of Philadelphia. Shortly thereafter in 1867, Fairmount Park, the largest city park in America, was formed partly from the breakup of some of large Wynnefield estates. In 1876, Fairmount Park was the site of the Centennial celebration of the country’s founding.
By 1856 the settlement of the area also led to the movement of institutions into the community. Institutions included hospitals, a home for elderly women and for the destitute.
Rapid growth in the area occurred as early as 1896 when the Pennslyvania Railroad built a train station at Wynnefield and Bryn Mawr Avenues and decided to build a neighborhood around it by promoting the construction of homes for the affluent, from the breakup of the older landed estates. This is when the community was first called “Wynnefield.”
1920 – 2000
After World War I the history of Wynnefield fundamentally changed. Population growth in the 1920s was accompanied by the founding of schools and churches, and a number of synagogues. The prosperity of this time brought the greatest growth ever in population, homes, and institutions. Developers built large numbers of row and twin houses in the southern section of Wynnefield. The make-up of the population also changed, reflecting the large-scale waves of immigration in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. t was during this time that a large number of upwardly mobile Jewish residents moved into Wynnefield.
World War II brought about another fundamental change in Wynnefield. Opportunities in the war industries in northern states attracted large numbers of African Americans from the rural South. The demographics of West Philadelphia began to shift and become predominantly African American. To avoid panic selling and provide an orderly transition to an integrated community and to oppose the scare tactics of some unethical realtors, the Wynnefield Residents Assocation (WRA) was formed in 1957.
During the 1960s and 1970s the population of Wynnefield shifted from one which was overwhelmingly Jewish to one that today is predominantly African American, with a wide diversity of cultures remaining. As before, the change brought about the establishment of new institutions, including churches and schools.
2000 – Present
Today the neighborhood is known for its many beautiful single family homes, its active community organization, and its racial diversity. A portion of St. Joseph’s University is located within the boundaries of this neighborhood, and commercial development exists along on City Avenue, along 54th Street, and near the intersection of Bryn Mawr and Wynnefield Avenues.
Residential row homes exist in the vicinity of 54th & Berks. Large detached houses were built mainly between City Avenue and Gainor Road, and between 54th Street and Bryn Mawr Avenue. Wynnefield is a highly desirable place to live in Philadelphia.
Wynnefield is defined by City Avenue and Fairmount Park, and the Bala Golf Club and Cardinal Avenue.