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  1. #1
    Eastcoast is offline Senior Member
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    Default What is the oldest building in Philadelphia?

    My 5 year old stumped me with that one as we were walking over to see the Liberty Bell this afternoon.

    I'm sure I could google this but I'd rather get the info from more reliable sources here.

    Thanks

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    guzzijason's Avatar
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    Interesting question. Within the city, I would guess that Elfreth's Alley may hold some of the oldest houses, like this one - which is around 290 years old: 120 Elfreth's Alley | Elfreth's Alley : a national historic site

    I'm just guessing that might be the oldest though... there may be others out there. We'll see what others come up with.

    __Jason

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    ZARK's Avatar
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    Well, being that the Swedes were in the area before the English I would think that buildings that they had put up and survived would be pretty old, such as Old Swedes Church at Delaware ave and Christian sts.

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    Also with thanks to nanyika. from the thread http://www.philadelphiaspeaks.com/fo...all-house.html

    Rittenhouse homestead on Lincoln Drive, cc. 1690
    Boelson Cottage on West River Drive, thought to be about 1684
    Wyck in Germantown, oldest portion cc. 1690
    Wynnestay, 52nd & Woodbine, 1689
    Bel Aire, FDR Park, cc. 1714, possibly incorporating a 17th century house
    Belmont mansion, Fairmount Park, oldest section might date to 17th century

    That's all I can think of at the moment. A few other buildings might have portions from earlier buildings that go back to the 17th century. Maybe the John Bartram house, for example.

    Other 17th century houses on Wissahickon Creek:

    Glen Fern (Livezey house), oldest section cc. 1683-85
    Johannes Kelpius's "cave", 1695
    PhilaNet.com dates the rear portion of a house on Northwestern Ave. to 1690

    Boelson (Boelsen) Cottage, on West River Drive, is thought by some to date to 1660. In any case, it appears to be the oldest recognized building still standing in Philadelphia. Curiously, some internet sources (like Wickipedia) assert that Old Swedes Church is the oldest building in the city, instead of being simply the oldest church.

    John Bartram house was built by Swedes in about 1689

    Wynnestay, at 52nd and Woodbine, Wynnestay is thought to be the oldest stone building in Pennsylvania. The earliest wing of the building is thought to have been begun in 1689, probably by Dr. Thomas Wynne, on the site of an even older log house.
    Last edited by CHIOSSO; 08-09-2011 at 06:02 PM.
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    Pitboss is offline Banned
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    Quote Originally Posted by Eastcoast View Post
    My 5 year old stumped me with that one as we were walking over to see the Liberty Bell this afternoon.

    I'm sure I could google this but I'd rather get the info from more reliable sources here.

    Thanks
    They took all of the oldest when they ran I-95 and many were Swedish built as mentioned, but I'd say no one
    has any idea what the oldest is. I'd guess in Germantown.

  6. #6
    Wylie is offline Member
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    The building housing the Hop Angel Brauhaus in Fox Chase is listed as built in 1683. It's located at the intersection of Oxford Ave, Pine Rd, Rhawn St, and Huntingdon Pike.

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    nanyika is offline Senior Member
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    Quote Originally Posted by Wylie View Post
    The building housing the Hop Angel Brauhaus in Fox Chase is listed as built in 1683. It's located at the intersection of Oxford Ave, Pine Rd, Rhawn St, and Huntingdon Pike.
    That's very interesting. I did not know about the building you mention. Boelson Cottage (cc. 1684 or maybe earlier) is usually credited as being the oldest within the city limits, but the one that Wylie mentions might even be a year or so older. In regard to urban townhouses, however, I think that guzzijason might be correct: one of the buildings on Elfreth's Alley supposedly goes back to around 1722. There is a sign pointing to one of the houses on Arch St., just east of Front, that claims it is the oldest building in Philadelphia -- but I haven't seen any verification. In my neighborhood, Queen Village, there might be as many as 10 buildings that still remain from the 1740s, but I have not yet found any that are older than that, except for Old Swedes' Church (1698-1700). I'm not even certain that any houses that were demolished for I-95 pre-dated 1740, though it's possible.

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    kyrmyt is offline Senior Member
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    My house in East Germantown was built before 1832, and my friends here think that's OLD with a capital 'O'. Not old by any of the standards in this thread... And my European friends just shrug: many of the houses over there are considerably older.

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    This sounds like a job for Inga Saffron. I'll Facebook her. There's multiple categories:

    - Oldest surviving structure (including exterior additions/alterations)
    - Oldest occupied residential property
    - Oldest unaltered structure

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    Quote Originally Posted by ZARK View Post
    Well, being that the Swedes were in the area before the English I would think that buildings that they had put up and survived would be pretty old, such as Old Swedes Church at Delaware ave and Christian sts.
    Old Swedes had a fire and was reconstructed at some point in the past -- forgot when it was. There's definitely homes that are mega-old that may fit the bill as far north as Kensington and as far south as Southwark.

    The original settlement of the city began along the Delaware side which also faced the brunt of the Industrial Revolution, so lots of stuff that was in the 1600s vanished. Elfreth's Alley is definitely the "oldest residential street in America", but are the current structures older than anything in Philadelphia County? Not so sure of that.

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    desolate's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by ArcticSplash View Post
    This sounds like a job for Inga Saffron. I'll Facebook her. There's multiple categories:

    - Oldest surviving structure (including exterior additions/alterations)
    - Oldest occupied residential property
    - Oldest unaltered structure
    You should facebook someone's who's actually knowledgeable. Like an architect, engineer, or historian.

    Here's one that's old.

    Oldest Bridge in North America

    The Frankford Avenue Bridge, also known as the Pennypack Creek Bridge, the Holmesburg Bridge, and the King's Highway Bridge, erected in 1697 or 1698 in the Holmesburg section of Northeast Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, is the oldest surviving roadway bridge in the United States. The three-span, 73-foot-long (22 m) twin stone arch bridge carries Frankford Avenue (U.S. Route 13), just north of Solly Avenue, over Pennypack Creek in Pennypack Park.
    I'm not seeing all these supposed bikes in all these million dollar bike lanes.

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    Quote Originally Posted by nanyika View Post
    I'm not even certain that any houses that were demolished for I-95 pre-dated 1740, though it's possible.
    No, it's just "cool" to blame everything on 95.
    I'm not seeing all these supposed bikes in all these million dollar bike lanes.

  13. #13
    nanyika is offline Senior Member
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    Quote Originally Posted by desolate View Post
    No, it's just "cool" to blame everything on 95.
    Blame "everything" on I-95? No, but we can acknowledge the fact that in Philadelphia's oldest neighborhoods HUNDREDS of 18th and early 19th century houses were torn down for I-95 construction. In Queen Village, where I live, most of the houses that were condemned had been occupied, and the lives of a great many families were disrupted. (And a lot of the demolitions were completely unnecessary -- blindly and bureaucratically forced through.) The point I made earlier was simply to say that by the time the land was cleared for I-95, the very earliest buildings that had been in the vicinity might already have been knocked down. I said this having looked at the demolished buildings that were listed in the Historic American Buildings Survey; I could find none that were pre-1740. Unfortunately, however, the HABS listing is very incomplete.

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    Quote Originally Posted by desolate View Post
    No, it's just "cool" to blame everything on 95.
    Quote Originally Posted by nanyika View Post
    Blame "everything" on I-95? No, but we can acknowledge the fact that in Philadelphia's oldest neighborhoods HUNDREDS of 18th and early 19th century houses were torn down for I-95 construction. In Queen Village, where I live, most of the houses that were condemned had been occupied, and the lives of a great many families were disrupted.
    Nanyika, you should know by now that people don't count when there's money to be made through highway construction or redevelopment... This is from another thread:

    Quote Originally Posted by desolate View Post
    It's the people, not the structures.

    You have to remove the current population for any chance of renewal. Hence people buying large enough plots (or attempting to in the past) to force out enough to get a foothold.
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    Quote Originally Posted by nanyika View Post
    No, but we can acknowledge the fact that in Philadelphia's oldest neighborhoods HUNDREDS of 18th and early 19th century houses were torn down for I-95 construction.
    So I guess we should just never build anything new, because we have to demolish something old to do it.

  16. #16
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    Quote Originally Posted by radiocolin View Post
    So I guess we should just never build anything new, because we have to demolish something old to do it.
    You've got to love the Japanese then--they have no qualms whatsoever about tearing down old and putting up new and modern--particularly in Tokyo.
    I am not the Jackass Whisperer.

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    Mr Morley is offline Banned
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    Quote Originally Posted by Hospitalitygirl View Post
    You've got to love the Japanese then--they have no qualms whatsoever about tearing down old and putting up new and modern--particularly in Tokyo.
    To be fair to the Japanese, Tokyo was destroyed by an earthquake in 1923 and fire-bombed during WWII (And attacked by Godzilla in the 50s...) so little that pre-dates the 20s survived into the modern era.

    When they decided to demolish Frank Lloyd Wright's imperial Hotel in the 60s, they moved the central portion -the lobby and restaurant- to a rural architectural park.

    There's currently a lot of discussion going on over the Nakagin Capsule Tower, whether it should be demolished, retored or possibily relocated. I can't imagine that happening over a Brutalist building here in the States.

  18. #18
    ArcticSplash's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by nanyika View Post
    Blame "everything" on I-95? No, but we can acknowledge the fact that in Philadelphia's oldest neighborhoods HUNDREDS of 18th and early 19th century houses were torn down for I-95 construction. In Queen Village, where I live, most of the houses that were condemned had been occupied, and the lives of a great many families were disrupted. (And a lot of the demolitions were completely unnecessary -- blindly and bureaucratically forced through.) The point I made earlier was simply to say that by the time the land was cleared for I-95, the very earliest buildings that had been in the vicinity might already have been knocked down. I said this having looked at the demolished buildings that were listed in the Historic American Buildings Survey; I could find none that were pre-1740. Unfortunately, however, the HABS listing is very incomplete.

    You know what's really depressing... the cost to build tunnels was a lot lower than they are now (no environmental impact studies)... and they could have buried the thing fairly deep, demolished about half the houses necessary to put in a retaining wall to keep the river out, and covered the entire thing over.

    Lost the same chance to do that when the Vine Street Expy was built, too.

  19. #19
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    Quote Originally Posted by Wylie View Post
    The building housing the Hop Angel Brauhaus in Fox Chase is listed as built in 1683. It's located at the intersection of Oxford Ave, Pine Rd, Rhawn St, and Huntingdon Pike.
    I think it's even older.
    I believe the sign says, "Sold in 1683 for ___pounds to ___ .

  20. #20
    Pitboss is offline Banned
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    Quote Originally Posted by ArcticSplash View Post
    You know what's really depressing... the cost to build tunnels was a lot lower than they are now (no environmental impact studies)... and they could have buried the thing fairly deep, demolished about half the houses necessary to put in a retaining wall to keep the river out, and covered the entire thing over.

    Lost the same chance to do that when the Vine Street Expy was built, too.
    You were spot on mentioning Southwark being it was an early Swedish settlement that's now within the city limits, that
    area would be the first to rule out but I'm afraid there's probably nothing left. Here's a couple of quotes from a 1925 book
    I have called "Byways and Boulevards in and about Historic Philadelphia", and a poor scan of some early Swedish homes:
    "Crossing Catherine St named for Catherine Swanson, and passing through Queen St on the way to Christian St, names
    commemorative of Queen Christina of Sweden, we recall that these names are Swedish landmarks."
    " cellars once underground being now the first stories"

    " On Swanson St west side between Queen St and Beck's alley is the site of the log home of the Swansons, original
    owners of the bigger part of Southwark." " Prof Peter Kalm, the Swedish traveller, who visited here in 1748, saw the house
    and has left a striking description of the home where "was heard the sound of the spinning wheel before the city was ever
    thought of." The house was taken down when the British occupied Philadelphia, and the property itself descended to Paul
    Beck, well known in the later annals of the city."

    " Turning the corner at Christian St note the antique house at Nos. 5 and 7 Christian St, long thought the only log house
    in Phila, now concealed by it's board front, and curious as having been framed and floated to it's present spot in earliest
    times from Chester County."


 

 

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