The neighborhood known as Society Hill was named for the Society of Free Traders in the early 1700s. Influential merchants, the group engineered the commercial interests of the newly formed colony.
Although perceived as an elite area due to its many prominent residents (including future president, James Madison), by 1776 Society Hill was a diverse neighborhood and home to various social classes.
As lovely as Society Hill is today, that wasn't always the case. Despite its impressive initial days, the area had slipped into despair by the early 20th century. Given that many of the historical buildings remained standing, in the late 1950s Edmund Bacon, (actor Kevin Bacon's dad), a member of the Philadelphia City Planning Commission, stepped in with a plan to bring Society Hill back to its original prominence.
Now a mixture of residential, historic, and commercial sites, Society Hill was one of my recent Walking Tour Strolls sponsored by The Preservation Alliance for Great Philadelphia.
With her impressive research notes, our awesome Tour Guide was eager to share her knowledge. Our tour group consisted not only of Philadelphians, who like me enjoy learning more about our city, but visitors from California and Canada! Our brochure listed over twenty stops. Here are a few of my favorites.
Built in 1775, and used as a fire house back in the city's early days. The houses surrounding the square are from the 18th and 19th century and are a mixture of commercial businesses and private residences. Head House Square is popular during the Spring and Summer for holding a variety of Flea and Farmers Markets. The blocks, which I always thought were cobblestone, I learned are actually "Belgian Blocks."
Man Full of Trouble Tavern
Built in 1759, this is the last surviving Pre-Revolutionary War tavern in the city. A short stroll from the river, the tavern was generally patronized by mariners and dockhands. In the 18th century, taverns were more than just the place to meet, drink, and eat. They were also the "go to" place for the latest news.
The cellar of the building was used as the kitchen, storage, and quarters for the maids and hired hands. Rooms for sailors, who were away from their ships, were on the second floor.
Society Hill Synogogue
This building has a wonderful history with a heritage of religious freedom (William Penn's goal for the city). Built in 1829, this building originally was home to the Spruce Street First Baptist Church. In 1916 a Roumanian American Congregation purchased the site. The Yiddish words for "Great Roumanian Shul" can still be seen above the synagogue's main entrance.
In 1967 a Conservative congregation acquired the building which was entered in the National Register of Historic Places in 1971.
Built in 1786 by Henry Hill (who was also the executor of Benjamin Franklin's will) and purchased by Dr. Phillip Physick in 1790, this is the last freestanding mansion in Society Hill. A respected physician, Dr. Physick is also remembered for inventing "soda pop." The lovely garden, complimenting the house, includes plants common in the 19th century.
As with almost all businesses of the day, Dr. Physick's medical office was in the house where he treated famous patients such as Dolly Madison and Chief Justice John Marshall.
Samuel Powel House
The house was built in 1765. Samuel Powel, one of the colonies' wealthiest men, purchased the home in 1768. Along with being the first mayor of Philadelphia after the Revolution, Powel and his wife, Elizabeth, were respected for their party planning expertise. George and Martha Washington, friends of the Powels, visited the house on many occasions.
The lush narration of the Powel House can be chronicled in its decorative arts assortment, detailed portraits, and lavish garden. Powel died in 1793 during the Yellow Fever epidemic.
The Preservation Alliance for Greater Philadelphia is a nonprofit organization whose goal is safeguarding historic properties through education and activism. To find out more about their mission, events, and activities, check out Preservation Alliance's website, http://www.preservationalliance.com/
Thanks for stopping by, Everyone, and, have a great week!
(photo, Society Hill neighborhood c/o facebook.com/visitphilly;
photo, Head House Square c/o southstreet.com/about;
photo, Man Full of Trouble Tavern c/o ushistory.org/tour/man-full-of-trouble;
photo, Society Hill Synogogue c/o facebook.com/Society-Hill-Synagogue-315447885193300;
photo, Hill-Physick-Keith House c/o facebook.com/ThePhysickHouse/
photo, Powel House c/o facebook.com/PhilaLandmarks1931/;
photo, Preservation Alliance c/o facebook.com/preservationalliance)