Timeline of Events

1680 – “The Plantation at Wicaco”

The wood cabin at Fort Christina in Wilmington, Delaware. The Gunnarsson family likely built similar structures for housing when they settled in Wicaco.

The wood cabin at Fort Christina in Wilmington, Delaware. The Gunnarsson family likely built similar structures for housing when they settled in Wicaco.

Sven Gunnarsson from Sweden was an early inhabitant of “New Sweden” in 1639 who relocated to the former Indian settlement, a 1125-acre plantation at “Wicaco.” Gunnarsson’s log house stood on a knoll overlooking the river at what is now the northwest corner of Beck and Swanson Streets. The one and a half story wooden structure had a large garden with various fruit trees.  The Dutch rule for a short period.

1682 – The Birth of Pennsylvania

William Penn, holding paper, standing and facing King Charles II, in the King's breakfast chamber at Whitehall. "The Birth of Pennsylvania" by Jean Leon Gerome Ferris (1680).

William Penn, holding paper, standing and facing King Charles II, in the King’s breakfast chamber at Whitehall. “The Birth of Pennsylvania” by Jean Leon Gerome Ferris (1680).

William Penn petitions the King of England for “Pennsylvania” as the Dutch, who ruled the land, were in England’s debt. Sven Gunnarsson’s sons, Anders, Olle and Sven, agree to provide the northern part of Wicaco for William Penn’s new city. William Penn lays out a plan for the City of Philadelphia, between the two rivers.

1699 – The New Swedish Church

Reverend Jehu Curtis Clay in front of Gloria Dei (Old Swedes') Church in Philadelphia, the oldest church in Pennsylvania.

Reverend Jehu Curtis Clay in front of Gloria Dei (Old Swedes’) Church in Philadelphia, the oldest church in Pennsylvania.

Gloria Dei (Old Swedes’) Church is built out of brick to replace the wooden church previously used for worship. It is the oldest church in Pennsylvania and the second oldest church in the county.

1748 – The “Associators” Volunteer Militia

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“Franklin’s Return to Philadelphia” by Jean Leon Gerome Ferris (1785). Courtesy of WikiCommons.

A fort is built by Ben Franklin’s “Associators” volunteer militia on the river south of Washington Avenue. Ultimately holding 50 cannons, it was a defense against French and Spanish privateers built after 15 merchant vessels were seized within two years. Another fort was placed between Lombard & Pine Streets.

1762 – The District of Southwark

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On March 26, 1762, the “Southwark District” is created out of the township of Moyamensing in order to standardize the configuration of city streets in the area.

1763 – The Mason Dixon Line

561205_377975235578602_1004017739_nTo settle a land dispute, Charles Mason and Jeremiah Dixon create the “Mason Dixon” line. They mark the southern border of Pennsylvania, upon which all future measurements are based, from the rooftop of a home at 30 South Street.

1766 – The Southwark Theater

414531_456136537762471_1921049329_oThe Southwark Theater, located on South and Leithgow, opens in 1766. President Washington is a frequent visitor. The theater burned down in 1823.

1776 – Declaration of Independence

533392_378132882229504_1268420846_nIn 1776, the Continental Congress adopts the Declaration of Independence. Docks are leased along Front Street to support a fledging Navy.

1777 – The British Occupy Philadelphia

581485_378170518892407_1065584236_nThe British occupy Philadelphia under Sir William Howe. In 1778, before General Howe returns to England to explain why the rebellion in America was not crushed, the infamous “Mischianza”, or “medley” of revelry was held as a good-bye party for the General. Americans reclaimed the city one month later.

1787 – The Free African Society

Richard Allen, along with Absalom Jones, form the “Free African Society” in 1787, leading to the creation of “the greatest negro organization in the world” per W.E.B. Dubois, the Mother Bethel A.M.E. Church located just north of Lombard on 6th Street.

1788 – The “Grand Federal Procession”

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This image depicts the inauguration of George Washington, an event which was likely celebrated as part of the procession. Artist unknown.

The “Grand Federal Procession” was a giant 3 mile parade. The route started at 3rd & South St. moved north and west then down 4th Street, to mark the anniversary of the ratification of the Constitution. 44 trade groups participated in the parade.

1793 – The Yellow Fever Epidemic

581977_378173215558804_2103592557_nYellow fever epidemic causes the city to be evacuated and results in 5,000 deaths in Philadelphia. Benjamin Rush mistakenly believes people of African descent are immune and asks them to mobilize and serve the community.

1797 – U.S. Frigate United States

303437_378174875558638_967157028_nThe U.S. Frigate United States, the first American warship under the naval provisions of the Constitution, is launched in Southwark. Many thousands witness the event, including George Washington.

1800 – The Weccacoe Fire Company


In 1800, the Wecaccoe Fire Company is organized by residents of Southwark. The next year, the U.S. Navy (formally established in 1798) purchases Joshua Humphrey’s shipyard located just south of Washington Avenue to establish the first Navy Yard. It is later moved south to League Island In 1876.

1808 – The Shot Tower

404596_456139257762199_915547846_nThe Shot Tower at Front and Carpenter Streets was completed in 1800 and begins selling lead hunting shot, and later supplies shot to supports the ware of 1812.

1837 – The Riots of 1837

479914_456140441095414_102166159_nBrute force and violence are on the increase and race and religion based riots occur during the next decades. A “Flying Horses” Carousel on South St. above 7th was the flashpoint that led to race rioting and terror in the black community throughout Southwark and Moyamensing. Mayor Swift brought in the cavalry, and while some lives were saved, 37 homes were destroyed.

1840 – The Lombard Street Riot

527842_456151257760999_1450759599_nIn the 1840s, the Irish potato famine and wars in central Europe drove more immigrants to America. Race riots continued during these years. In 1842, Lombard Street between 5th and 8th saw 3 days of race rioting when a parade celebrating the end of slavery in the British West Indies is violently attacked by white mobs.

1844 – The Riot at St. Philip Neri

664517_456151731094285_1046562121_oThe most violent of Nativist riots in Philadelphia occurred in Southwark on Queen Street with St. Philip Neri Church at its epicenter. Behind these riots was anti-Catholic sentiment from the growing volume of Irish immigrants.

1861 – The Refreshment Saloon

56202_456155247760600_1219967155_oMany thousands of soldiers travel through the ports at Washington Avenue as ships land, either going to, or, returning from the Civil War. They marched on or were ferried in trains to the railroad station at Broad Street. “Refreshment saloons” existed to help them on their way. Cannons would ring out to announce the ships arriving in port bringing soldiers, and volunteers would stop what they were doing and rush to their aid.

1871 – The Murder of Octavius V. Catto

National Equal Rights League Leader Octavius V. Catto was murdered at age 32 on South & 8th Streets by a man trying to discourage black voting in an upcoming election. Catto was an intellectual, educator, soldier, captain of the first all black baseball team, leader and political organizer. Catto’s funeral is the largest public funeral in Philadelphia since Lincoln’s, and his death is mourned in black communities throughout the country.

1873 – The Washington Avenue Immigration Station

615563_456159154426876_926138629_oAfter the first steamships began docking at Washington Avenue immigration station was built at Pier 53. Over 1 million immigrants came to Philadelphia over the next 50 years, many through this site. Many industries bloomed throughout Southwark during this period, including iron foundries, chemical manufacturers, sugar refineries, and more, taking advantage of the access to Washington Ave. railroads and wharves along the Delaware River.

1890 – Fabric Row

522322_456176271091831_626612430_nThe 1890s saw heavy Jewish immigration to fulfill dreams of prosperity and freedom but for some, to escape the horrors occurring in Russia and Eastern Europe. Many stayed in the area, and 4th Street, known as ‘Der Ferder” (the fourth) in Yiddish, was dubbed “Fabric Row” because of the predominance of fabric and garment-related merchandise along the corridor.

1896 – “The Philadelphia Negro”

W.E.B. Dubois, African American sociologist and founder of the N.A.A.C.P., lived at the College Settlement, 617 Carver St. (now Rodman) for one year while he researched his groundbreaking study, “The Philadelphia Negro.” Today it is Starr Playground.

1908 – Settlement Music School

247612_456164584426333_524906803_nIn 1886, NYC opens the first settlement house in the U.S. providing immigrant social services. About 400 houses would develop over the next 20 years. The Settlement Music School in Southwark opened in 1908 and offered a music program to support the College Settlement in Southwark. The current building at 5th and Queen Streets was built in 1917. It served as the “nucleus” of the Curtis Institute of Music, established in 1924.