Powelton Village History

Powelton Village

The Powelton Village neighborhood in West Philadelphia sits on the west side of the Schuylkill River, across from downtown Philadelphia. It was developed on the property of two large estates: the Powel estate and the Bingham-Baring estate. Both estates were sold off as the area was absorbed into the City of Philadelphia as part of its 1854 consolidation. It developed as a predominantly residential neighborhood with easy trolley-car access to the central business district. The northern border of Powelton Village was Bridge Street (now called Spring Garden Street) which fed into the earliest wire cable bridge in the United States. The southwestern edge of Powelton village is defined by Lancaster Avenue, which runs diagonally from 32nd and Market up to 38th and Spring Garden. This was part of the Lancaster Pike, the first private toll road in the U.S. and a major transportation route for commerce between Philadelphia and points west.

In 1985, Powelton Village received historic designation from the National Trust for Historic Preservation, largely on the basis of its architecture. The majority of buildings in Powelton Village were built between about 1860 and 1910 and thus span the full range of Victorian styles from early Italianates to Queen Anne and into Colonial Revival. There are a number of houses that are of architectural interest in their own right, such as the Henry Cochran house designed by Wilson Eyre (3511 Baring Street). However, it is the wide range of Victorian styles that makes the neighborhood unique.  Powelton also includes small two-story Victorian workers houses as well as the Shedwick Development houses (3433-3439 Lancaster Avenue) which were recognized by the National Register of Historic Places as an early example of dense row house built by a speculative developer.

Powelton resident and historian Doug Ewbank has collected extensive information about the residents of Powelton Village between the late 1850s and 1930, focusing on the parts of Powelton that are still residential. Information about the most thoroughly studied houses has been organized using into an Interactive History Map. Click on a property on the map to bring up its history. The basic information comes from the census’s 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. There is also an Inventory of Buildings indexed by street and address.

After WW II, Powelton Village began to make history more for its socially progressive residents and activities than for its architecture. A strong Quaker presence in the neighborhood supported experimental living cooperatives and welcoming homes for biracial families. During the 1960s and 1970s Powelton Village became a center for counterculture and resistance to the Vietnam War. It also became a site of urban renewal and reinvestment, offering a recovering Philadelphia a very livable residential enclave just outside of Center City.

Read more about the history of Powelton Village and its residents at Doug Ewbank’s Powelton Village History Blog.