About Powelton Village

            The Powelton Village neighborhood in West Philadelphia sits on the west side of the Schuylkill River across from downtown Philadelphia.  It is the northeastern part of University City.  It was developed on the property of two large estates: the Powell estate and the Bingham-Baring estate.  Both estates were sold off in the mid-1850s just as the area was being absorbed into the City of Philadelphia as part of the 1854 consolidation.  It developed as a predominantly residential neighborhood with easy trolley-car access to the central business district.  The northern border of Powelton was Bridge St. (now named Spring Garden St.) which fed into the earliest wire cable bridge in the U.S.  The south eastern corner of the neighborhood at 32nd St. and Market St. was very close to the Market St. bridge, the other major point of access to the central city from the west.
            Powelton is triangular in shape with its western edge defined by Lancaster Ave. which runs diagonally from 38th and Spring Garden to 32nd and Market.  The Lancaster Pike was the first private toll road in the U.S. and was a major transportation route for commerce between Philadelphia and areas to the west.  The central east-west street is Powelton Ave.  Between there and Spring Garden St. are Baring St. and Hamilton St.  Below Powelton Ave. there are Race St. and Arch St.  Most of the area below Race St. and the area below Powelton east of 34th St. belongs to Drexel University.
A Map of Powelton Village from the 1927 Bromley Atlas
            In 1985, Powelton Village received historic designation from the National Trust for Historic Preservation largely on the basis of its architecture.  The buildings in Powelton were built between about 1860 and 1910 and thus span the full range of Victorian styles from early Italianates to Queen Ann and into Colonial Revival.  There are a number of house that are of architectural interest in their own right such as the Henry Cochran house designed by Wilson Eyre (3511 Baring St.).  However, it is the wide range of Victorian styles that makes it unique.  Powelton also includes small two-story each Victorian workers houses as well as the Shedwick Development houses (3433-3439Lancaster Ave.) which were recognized by the National Register of Historic Places as a fine early example of dense row house built by a speculative developer.  Many of the houses in Powelton are modest three-story singles and doubles that often belie the wealth and prominence of their early residents.
            The 1984 architectural survey of Powelton that led to the 1985 certification was not accompanied by a thorough social history.  A major project has recently collected extensive information about the residents of Powelton Village between the late 1850s and 1930.  It has focused largely on the parts of Powelton that are still residential.  Thus far, the project has document information on the residents of over 500 houses.  Information about the most thoroughly studied houses has been organized using an interactive digital map.  It includes information on over 400 houses.  The basic information comes from the censuses of 1860-1930 with each house documented for an average of over 3.5 censuses.  This core information has been supplemented using city directories, deed transfer records, numerous sources of biographical information, and genealogical records.  The digital map provides information about the movement of residents into, out of and within Powelton.  It also notes numerous known familial relationships across households.
            The accumulated information on Powelton has become a “collective biography” of a Victorian urban community.  Although the project was initially designed to document the residents of each house, it led to the discovery of a network of social, economic and genealogical ties among families and individuals.  More than half of the houses are linked to at least one other house either through family ties, movements of individuals or families or ownership of properties by “absentee landlords” who lived in the neighborhood.  In addition there are numerous business and commercial ties most of which are not yet noted on the digital map.
            The Powelton Village History Blog tells some of the hundreds of stories that have emerged from these studies.