The Germantown neighborhood of Philadelphia is a very old and historic section. Famous for its cobblestone streets and colonial era architecture, Germantown still maintains its historic appearance despite its recent urbanization. The neighborhood was originally settled in 1683 by German-speaking Mennonite and Quaker immigrants from Germany, Holland and Switzerland. It stretches for about two miles along both sides of Germantown Avenue from the Tioga/Nicetown sections of Philadelphia, at Windrim Avenue and SEPTA's Wayne Junction northwest, to Upsal Street and the Mt. Airy neighborhood of Philadelphia. The Westside of Germantown Ave. was once considered Germantown, while the Eastside was known as East Germantown. Today it is all one neighborhood.
Germantown played a major role in the Revolutionary War and the Battle of Germantown took place here. Though the Continental Army lost the battle, it was a major victory nonetheless because it led France to officially recognize America as an independent nation, becoming our ally. The neighborhood was also important during the early years of our nation. While Philadelphia was our national capital, President George Washington rented the Deshler-Morris House in Germantown to escape the central city and the yellow fever epidemic of 1793. The first bank of the United States was also located in Germantown during his administration. Other famous historical landmarks include Rittenhouse Town, the nation’s first paper mill; the Johnson House, a stop on the Underground Railroad; and Upsala, a mansion built on the site of the Continental Army encampment during the Battle of Germantown.
Starting in as early as the 1930s, Germantown began to see a change in demographics when poorer African Americans from the south moved into the neighborhood in search of employment. Today, the neighborhood remains predominantly African American and its residents show little sign of the neighborhood’s former German immigrant population. However, residents still remain dedicated to the preservation of its historic landmarks, many of which are now open to the public.
Writing by Peter Adonizio and Barbara Cushing
Editing by Bree Deibler
Photo Credits: Carmen Emmi and Taylor Duscha
Fischer, John. (n.d.). Germantown neighborhood of Philadelphia. Retrieved November 2, 2009. Retrieved from http://philadelphia.about.com/od/neighborhoods/p/germantown.htm
(1995, July 4). Historic germantown: philadelphia, pa. Retrieved November 3, 2009. Retrieved from http://www.ushistory.org/germantown/index.htm
Seeley, Robert A. (n.d.). Discover germantown. Retrieved on November 3, 2009. Retrieved from http://www.givewings.com/germantown/index.html