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The Downtown of the Eighteenth-Century City

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The Court House stands in the middle of Market Street to the west of the market. It is a fine building with a small tower and a bell. Below and around this building the market is held every week.—PEHR KALM, Travels in North America (1750)

Little remains of the seventeenth-century city but the squares and streets of Thomas Holme's plan. Philadelphia's first downtown was established here with the city hall at 2nd Street in front of the market shambles. On the south side of the street stood the frame Great Quaker Meetinghouse, constructed in 1696. It was replaced in 1754 by the Greater Meetinghouse, elements of which were moved first to 12th and Market streets and then to the grounds of George School in Bucks County (BU25.1).

The meetinghouse was whitewashed inside and had a gallery almost all the way around. The tin candle holders on the pillars supporting the gallery constituted the only ornaments of the church. There was no pulpit, altar, baptismal font, or bridal pew, no prie dieu, or collection bag, nor clergyman, cantor or church beadle, and no announcements were read after the sermon, nor were any prayers said for the sick. Quakers in this town attend meeting three times on Sunday, from ten to twelve in the morning, at two, and finally at six in the evening. Besides, they attend services twice during the week. (Pehr Kalm, Travels in North America [1750])

Benjamin Franklin's house and newspaper offices were located across the street from the market in the heart of the city. Though the markets are gone, something of the bustle and urban mix of the old city is apparent in the variety of stores that line lower Market Street. Between Walnut Street on the south and Vine Street to the north and east of 5th Street, bits of the nineteenth-century urban fabric are evident in the four- and five-story brick warehouses and commercial buildings that once served the old port.

Writing Credits

George E. Thomas

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