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Washington Square and Its Neighborhood

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Penn's original South-East Square was renamed for the nation's first president in the early nineteenth century. After serving as a potters’ field and burial ground for Revolutionary soldiers, it became a fashionable residential square in the early nineteenth century. The present configuration of the square with its surrounding stone-trimmed wall of handmade brick was designed by G. Edwin Brumbaugh in 1956, taking its cues from the nearby Independence Square (PH12.6). At the northwest corner at 7th and Walnut streets stood Charles L’Enfant's spectacular French-styled mansion for Robert Morris, left unfinished and then demolished when the financier of the Revolution went bankrupt. Its site quickly gave way to the handsome Sansom Row (1799), long attributed to Benjamin Henry Latrobe, but now given to master builder Thomas Carstairs. On the south side of the square is a group of early-nineteenth-century town houses that show the most gracious housing that the city could offer. In the nineteenth century the square served the residential community, with its chief ornament being John Haviland's massive Ionicporticoed First Presbyterian Church (1820–1822; 1939 demolished; 1962 replaced by Oscar Stonorov's Hopkinson House). Various social organizations, including the Athenaeum (PH35), found their way to the square before the elite moved to Rittenhouse Square (PH81) after the Civil War. Mayor Richardson Dilworth, part of the Democratic reform team of the 1950s that led the restoration of Society Hill, commissioned G. Edwin Brumbaugh in 1957 to restore a pair of houses adjacent to the Athenaeum. Brumbaugh had little interest in the nineteenth century and soon returned with the opinion that the 120-year-old buildings were not worth restoring, leading to the decision to design a Colonial Revival house ostensibly modeled on the Morris house on 8th Street but actually more like a Chester County farmhouse. It is the chief anomaly of a square that better than any other expresses the architectural evolution of the city.

Writing Credits

George E. Thomas

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