South Philadelphia: Territory of Dreams, a Walking Tour Guide
by Nathaniel Popkin for PhilaPlace
For four centuries, they have come and still are coming. From Scandinavia, from Holland, from Africa, England and Scotland, from Ireland, from Russia and Poland, from Italy, China, Lebanon, Cambodia, Vietnam, Laos, and Mexico, they have come to hoist their dreams on this place: South Philadelphia. It wasn't ever virgin territory, of course, but for some 10,000 years, it was part of a vast and evolving world of Algonquian and pre-Algonquian people, and finally the Lenape, farmers and fisherman, who lived until late in the 18th century along the Lenapewihittuck — the Delaware River.
From the perspective of history, we see South Philly — one of the most historically diverse places in urban America — for its layers of people and civilizations, ideas and ways of life. This tour will illuminate the layers, for we can see them in the present urban landscape. With such perspective we will provide a kind of panoramic view across time.
That's the simple version. The more complex reality is that people have always been forced in South Philly to negotiate over the control of space. It hasn't always gone so smoothly and sometimes differences among struggling working class people have been exploited by the powerful for political gain. There are stories of hatred and violence and also cross-cultural harmony and shared lives.
In this tour, we will encounter the places and people who have sought to make this the territory of their dreams. The tour will make five stops: each stop is an intersection of time and place. One after the other, the layers will gather and overlap, forming a single complicated narrative, the collision of dreams.
On the Tour:
April 8, 1638, Coquahanock We trust them still less: New Sweden and the "Fast Flowing Water of the Lenape." Tour begins: Christian Street and Delaware Avenue, in front of Shank's.
Sometime in 1787 or 1792, Seventh Ward We were filled with fresh vigor: Richard Allen and the largest free black community in America. Tour begins NE corner 6th and Lombard, Mother Bethel Church.
October 10, 1871, Moyamensing A great deal of disorder and turbulence": One corner, two men, and the fight for equality. Tour begins: SE corner of 7th and Bainbridge, Bean Exchange Coffeehouse.
October 5, 1889, Yom Kippur, Washington Market The worthy prayers: Peddler Louis Moscovitz defies the pious, exposing the soul of the immigrant.Tour begins: 322 Bainbridge.
January 1, 1900, South Philadelphia Now we must make them Italians: Father Antonio Isoleri forges a new people in America. Tour begins: St. Mary Magdalen de Pazzi Church/Mario Lanza Museum, 700 block Montrose St.