Germantown, Philadelphia facts for kids

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Germantown
neighborhood, former borough
Cliveden, one of many historic houses in Germantown
Cliveden, one of many historic houses in Germantown
Country United States of America
Commonwealth Pennsylvania
County Philadelphia
City Philadelphia
Founded October 6, 1683
Incorporated August 12, 1689
Consolidated February 2, 1854
Founded by Francis Daniel Pastorius
Area
 • Total 3.327 sq mi (8.62 km2)
Elevation 240 ft (70 m)
Population (2010)
 • Total 75,935
 • Density 22,824/sq mi (8,812.3/km2)
Demonym(s) Germantowner
Time zone EST (UTC-5)
ZIP code 19144, 19138
Area code(s) 215

Germantown is an area in Northwest Philadelphia. Founded by German Quaker and Mennonite families in 1683 as an independent borough, it was absorbed into Philadelphia in 1854. The area, which is about six miles northwest from the city center, now consists of two neighborhoods: 'Germantown' and 'East Germantown'.

GermantownBor1854
Map of Philadelphia County, Pennsylvania highlighting Germantown Borough prior to the Act of Consolidation, 1854

Germantown has played a significant role in American history; it was the birthplace of the American antislavery movement, the site of a Revolutionary War battle, the temporary residence of George Washington, the location of the first bank of the United States, and the residence of many notable politicians, scholars, artists, and social activists.

Today the area remains rich in historic sites and buildings from the colonial era, some of which are open to the public.

Boundaries

Germantown map 1689
Plan of lots in Germantown, Pennsylvania in 1689, showing lot owners in 1689 and 1714.

Germantown stretches for about two miles along Germantown Avenue northwest from Windrim and Roberts Avenues. Germantown has been consistently bounded on the southwest by Wissahickon Avenue, on the southeast by Roberts Avenue, and on the east by Wister Street and Stenton Avenue, but its northwest border has expanded and contracted over the years. When first incorporated as a borough in 1689, Germantown was separated from the rural Germantown Township by Washington Lane; later, the border was expanded to Carpenter and East Gorgas Lanes; it was then rolled back to Washington Lane in 1846, and remained there until the borough was absorbed into the city of Philadelphia in 1854.

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Modern borders of Germantown and East Germantown, Philadelphia

Today, the western part of the former borough is the neighborhood known simply as 'Germantown' (though is sometimes called 'West Germantown') and the eastern part is the neighborhood of 'East Germantown'. While the boundary between the two neighborhoods is not well-defined and has varied over time, these days 'Germantown' usually refers to the part of the former borough that lies west of Germantown Avenue, up through West Johnson Street, and 'East Germantown' to the part that lies east of Germantown Avenue, up through East Upsal Street.

The neighborhood of Mount Airy lies to the northwest, Ogontz and West Oak Lane to the northeast, Logan to the east, Nicetown–Tioga to the south, and East Falls to the southwest.

The majority of Germantown is covered by the 19144 zip code, but the area north of Chew Avenue falls in the 19138 zip code.

History and demographics

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Pictures from Old Germantown: the Pastorius family residences are shown on the upper left (ca. 1683) and upper right (ca. 1715), the center structure is the house and printing business of the Caurs family (ca. 1735), and the bottom structure is the market place (ca. 1820).

Germantown was founded on October 6, 1683, by German settlers: thirteen Quaker and Mennonite families from Krefeld. Today the founding day of Germantown is remembered as German-American Day, a holiday in the United States, observed annually on October 6. On August 12, 1689, William Penn at London signed a charter constituting some of the inhabitants a corporation by the name of "the bailiff, burgesses and commonalty of Germantown, in the county of Philadelphia, in the province of Pennsylvania." Francis Daniel Pastorius was the first bailiff. Jacob Telner, Derick Isacks op den Graeff and his brother Abraham Isacks op den Graeff, Reynier Tyson, and Tennis Coender were burgesses, besides six committeemen. They had authority to hold "the general court of the corporation of Germantowne", to make laws for the government of the settlement, and to hold a court of record. This court went into operation in 1690, and continued its services for sixteen years. Sometimes, to distinguish Germantown from the upper portion of German township, outside the borough, the township portion was called Upper Germantown.

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Seal of Germantown, 1691

In 1688, five years after its founding, Germantown became the birthplace of the anti-slavery movement in America. Pastorius, Gerret Hendericks, Derick Updegraeff and Abraham Updengraef gathered at Thones Kunders's house and wrote a two-page condemnation of slavery and sent it to the governing bodies of their Quaker church, the Society of Friends. The petition was mainly based upon the Bible's Golden Rule, "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you." Though the Quaker establishment took no immediate action, the 1688 Germantown Quaker Petition Against Slavery was a clear and forceful argument against slavery and initiated the process of banning slavery in the Society of Friends (1776) and Pennsylvania (1780).

In 1723, Germantown became the site of the first Church of the Brethren congregation in the New World.

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The Battle of Germantown, 1777

When Philadelphia was occupied by the British during the American Revolutionary War, British units were housed in Germantown. In the Battle of Germantown, on October 4, 1777, the Continental Army attacked this garrison. During the battle, a party of citizens fired on the British troops, as they marched up the avenue, and mortally wounded British Brigadier General Agnew. The Americans withdrew after firing on one another in the confusion of the battle, leading to the determination that the battle resulted in a defeat of the Americans. However, the battle is sometimes considered a victory by Americans. The American loss was 673 and the British loss was 575, but along with the Army's success under Brigadier General Horatio Gates at Saratoga on October 17 when John Burgoyne surrendered, the battle led to the official recognition of the Americans by France, which formed an alliance with the Americans afterward.

During his presidency, George Washington and his family lodged at the Deshler-Morris House in Germantown to escape the city and the yellow fever epidemic of 1793. The first bank of the United States was also located here during his administration.

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5442 Germantown Avenue, The Deshler-Morris House (1773)

Germantown proper, and the adjacent German Township, were incorporated into the City of Philadelphia in 1854 by the Act of Consolidation.

Italians began settling Germantown in 1880, and comprised an active and vibrant part of the community.

The significant changes that occurred in Philadelphia's demographics at the start of the 20th century caused major shifts in Germantown's ethnic makeup as well. When the first wave of the Great Migration brought more than 140,000 African Americans to the city from the South, long-established Philadelphians started to move to the outskirts. During this time, many German, Scots-Irish, and Irish families moved to Germantown.

During the 1940s, a second mass migration of African Americans from the south to Philadelphia occurred. While the majority of middle-class African American newcomers first settled in North Philadelphia, the housing shortages in this area that followed the end of World War II caused later arrivals to move instead to the Northwest. This led to a wave of new housing construction. To meet the housing needs of the growing numbers of African American families moving into southern Germantown, the Philadelphia Redevelopment Authority allocated $10.6 million for the creation of public housing.

Between 1954 and 1956 Germantown experienced an influx of lower-income African Americans, resulting in a decline in property values and triggering a "white flight" of the majority of white residents to the suburbs. The demographic shift caused a slow but steady decline in central Germantown's upscale shopping district, with the last department store, a J. C. Penney branch, closing in the early 1980s.

The current demographics of Germantown reflects this shift. As of the 2010 US Census, Germantown proper is 77% black, 15% white, 3% non-white Hispanic, and 2% Asian, and East Germantown is 92% black, 3% white, 2% non-white Hispanic, and 2% Asian.

Eugene Stackhouse, a retired former president of the Germantown Historical Society says that the demographic transition of Germantown into a predominantly black neighborhood was the result of the now illegal practice of blockbusting. "It was a great disgrace. Cheap houses would be sold to a black family, then the realtors would go around and tell the neighbors that the blacks are invading", said Stackhouse. The practice was used to trigger panic selling.

Transportation

Old-Irosides-1832
"Old Ironsides", 1832

The first railroad in Philadelphia was the Philadelphia, Germantown and Norristown Railroad, which linked Germantown to a station at 9th and Green Streets in Center City. It opened in 1832, and was initially powered by horses. The inventor Matthias W. Baldwin built his first commissioned steam locomotive for the new railroad. Nicknamed Old Ironsides, it eventually reached a peak speed of 28 mph.

2093 Germantown ave april 85 - Flickr - drewj1946
Route 23 trolley on Germantown Avenue, 1985

Today two SEPTA Regional Rail lines connect the neighborhood to Center City: the Chestnut Hill West Line with stops at Queen Lane, Chelten Avenue, and Tulpehocken stations; and the Chestnut Hill East Line with stops at Wister, Germantown, and Washington Lane stations.

The neighborhood is also served by bus routes 18, 23 (formerly a trolley line), 26, 53 (formerly a trolley line), 65, H and XH, J, and K.

Parks and recreation areas

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Francis Cope House, offices of the Awbury Arboretum

Germantown has numerous parks and recreation areas. These include:

  • Awbury Arboretum, a historic 55 acre arboretum and estate
  • Carpenter Park
  • Clifford Park
  • Cliveden Park
  • Cloverly Park
  • East Germantown Recreation Center
  • Fernhill Park
  • Germantown Cricket Club (private)
  • Hansberry Garden and Nature Center
  • Happy Hollow Playground
  • Kelly Playground
  • Loudoun Park
  • Vernon Park
  • Waterview Recreation Center
  • Wissahickon Valley Park (bordering), a 1400-acre park that is part of the Fairmount Park system.
  • Wister's Woods Park (bordering)

Historic sites

National Historic Landmark Districts

  • Colonial Germantown Historic District
  • Rittenhousetown Historic District

National Historic Districts

  • Awbury Historic District
  • Tulpehocken Station Historic District

National Historic Landmarks

  • Cliveden, the estate of Benjamin Chew, an important site during the Battle of Germantown, open to the public
  • Germantown Cricket Club
  • John Johnson House, a site on the Underground Railroad, open to the public
  • Charles Willson Peale House
  • Wyck House, open to the public

National Register of Historic Places

Other sites listed separately on the NRHP:

  • Alden Park Manor
  • Beggarstown School
  • Conyngham-Hacker House
  • Delmar Apartments
  • Deshler-Morris House
  • Fitler School
  • Germantown Grammar School
  • Grumblethorpe
  • Howell House
  • Loudoun Mansion
  • Ebenezer Maxwell House
  • Mayfair House
  • Thomas Meehan School
  • Mennonite Meetinghouse
  • Charles Schaeffer School
  • Upsala
  • Grumblethorpe Tenant House
  • St. Peter's Episcopal Church of Germantown
  • William C. Sharpless House
  • Smyser and English Pharmacy
  • Sally Watson House
  • Wyck House
  • YMCA of Germantown

Gallery of historic houses and architecture

For a more complete gallery of contributing properties in the Colonial Germantown Historic District see here

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The Concord School (1775), 6308 Germantown Avenue
  • Barron House
  • Concord School House
  • Gilbert Stuart Studio
  • Green Tree Tavern (Germantown)
  • Lower Burial Ground (Hood Cemetery)
  • The Connie Mack House
  • The Upper Burial Ground
  • Vernon Park

In popular culture

The 1946 book, Bright April, written and illustrated by Marguerite de Angeli, features scenes of 1940s Germantown while addressing the divisive issue of racial prejudice experienced by African Americans. The 2015 novel Loving Day is set in Germantown.

Images for kids


Germantown, Philadelphia Facts for Kids. Kiddle Encyclopedia.