Philadelphia: Walking in Southwark


I’VE JUST SPENT three days in Philadelphia, where I camped out in a vacant apartment on an air mattress in a building I own in Queen Village, a made-up 1970s name for the neighborhood along the Delaware River, just south of South Street.

Before real estate folks came up with Queen Village, it was called Southwark by English settlers. It’s the oldest neighborhood in Philadelphia (and surely one of the oldest in the country, come to that), settled originally by Swedes in the late 17th century.

In the 18th and 19th, the riverfront — access to which is now compromised by I-95 and the multi-lane Columbus Boulevard — was all piers and warehouses, and the small row houses were occupied mostly by the families of people employed in the shipping trades.

I walked the atmospheric streets, narrow and cobbled, observing the 200+-year-old row houses, enjoying their individual quirks and how their owners have restored them.

Colorful paint jobs and sidewalk greenery characterize the properties, and there’s no shortage of seasonal décor like chrysanthemums, pumpkins and corn stalks. People even put café tables and chairs out on their 24 inches of sidewalk (secured with discreet chains).

I took special note of dormer and fanlight windows, each of which I hope to restore in my own 1810 building nearby (which will be the subject of other blog posts as I move forward with the project).

Note shutters, dormer windows, fanlights over doors, all typical of the area’s architecture.

These photos were taken mostly on Front Street, Second Street and the narrow lanes and alleys in between. I took no notes and couldn’t easily find these particular buildings again, but I’ve captioned what I can identify.

If you want to read more about Southwark’s history and architecture, go here.

Top, a glimpse through an iron gate into a cobbled courtyard on Second Street.


Don’t know quite what to make of this clapboard house, above. Looks like the left half may have been removed somewhere along the line.


Above, along with a few photos of clapboard houses below, is the particularly charming South Hancock Street, between Christian and Catherine Streets.


Back on Second Street, above, an intact vintage storefront of the early 20th century.


Above, the c. 1762 William Spafford House at the corner of Front and Bainbridge, a Georgian gem apparently still on the market after several years.


A fine and famous Front Street row, above: Workman Place, which has another group of small rental properties in a courtyard behind it. The dates give in my guidebook are “1748, 1812.” I honestly don’t know whether the facades above are the former or the latter. Any illuminating thoughts?

Below, the reason for the development of Southwark in the first place: the Delaware River, spanned by the Benjamin Franklin bridge, which opened in 1926.

The tall four-masted ship, built in Scotland in 1904, houses a restaurant called Moshulu. According to its website, it’s “the oldest and largest square rigged sailing vessel still afloat” and “the one and only restaurant venue on a tall ship today in the world.”


About cara

I blog (for fun) here at casaCARA, and write (for money) about architecture, interiors, gardens and travel for many national magazines and websites.
This entry was posted in HISTORIC PRESERVATION, PHILADELPHIA and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to Philadelphia: Walking in Southwark

  1. debsgarden says:

    What a charming area! I wonder what the original residents would think if they could see it now. How exciting that you can be a part of it. I look forward to reading about your restoration as it progresses. You must visit the restaurant and give us a report!

  2. Stacie Sinder says:

    Wow! Love these house vignettes. The paint colors are beautful!

  3. DONNA HODAX says:

    I haven’t been to Phili in years, but these charming houses and areas make me think about
    a stop there on my next New York trip !

  4. Jenny M says:

    Thanks for sharing the photos of all those beautiful houses…I could have walked for miles just looking at the different colour shutters & front doors and loved the special effort many house owners took with their little front gardens or gardens in a pot.

Got something to say? Please say it!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s