Philadelphia's Lost Waterfront
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The wharves and docks of William Penn's city that helped build a nation are gone lost to the onslaught of over 300 years of development. Yet the bygone streets and piers of Philadelphia's central waterfront were once part of the greatest trade center in the American colonies. Local historian Harry Kyriakodis chronicles the history of the city's original port district from Quaker settlers who first lived in caves along the Delaware and the devastating yellow fever epidemic of 1793 to its heyday as a maritime center and then the twentieth century that saw much of the historic riverfront razed. Join Kyriakodis as he strolls Front Street, Delaware Avenue, and Penn's Landing to rediscover the story of Philadelphia's lost waterfront.
but it, too, undulates, particularly as it approaches where Dock Creek used to be. Since 2000, several new or rehabbed apartment and condominium complexes have cropped up on the west side of Front Street between Arch and Walnut. The modern high-rises near Walnut Street are out of scale and style with the older buildings of Old City and Society Hill Philadelphia, but they offer terrific views of the Delaware and exemplify the renewed allure of Front Street as a residential address. 7 VINE
courtyard was intimately connected to the lore of William Penn. He reserved the whole city block for his personal use and then gave it to his daughter, Letitia, who later sold it off piecemeal. One parcel became home to the London Coffee House. The full story of Letitia Court is part of a larger tale too involved to convey here. THE CROOKED BILLET—TAVERN AND STEPS The other embankment staircase on this block was the Crooked Billet Steps, as it led to a tavern by that name on the Crooked Billet
MARINES Wynne Street, the first name of Chestnut Street, was taken from Thomas Wynne, William Penn’s personal physician and a first purchaser of Philadelphia. Wynne’s lot was at Front and Chestnut. SAMUEL CARPENTER’S WHARF Samuel Carpenter (1649–1714) was an English Quaker from Barbados, a friend of William Penn and a first purchaser. He had bought a small lot along the Delaware between Chestnut and Walnut Streets before coming to Penn’s settlement. After his arrival in 1683, he constructed
part of the city to have been settled by Europeans. In 1669, fur-trading Swedes established a hamlet in this area, which the Lenni-Lenape called “Wicaco” (pleasant or peaceful place). Wicaco (Wicacco/Weccacoe/etc.) was an outpost of the New Sweden colony on the lower Delaware River. Land by the river was occupied by the Swedish family of Sven, whose log cabin stood on a knoll at what is now the northeast corner of Beck and Swanson Streets. The structure stood for more than a century until
time after, and this became a matter of public alarm. Some of the stairs were annexed by adjacent property owners, as the writer had foreseen. But what the writer could not have foreseen was the heavy-handed threading of Interstate 95 through the city’s waterfront. The Delaware Expressway has forever deprived citizens of the “beautiful esplanade and fine prospect, which William Penn contemplated in the original plan of Philadelphia”—more than the construction of wharves and whatnot on the east