History of Society Hill

Society Hill is where America’s past meets the future, where in one square mile a great experiment in liberty was launched. This part of William Penn’s 17th-century “greene Country Towne” was owned by the Free Society of Traders, a London development company. Because the company’s flag flew on the high ground above Dock Creek, the surrounding area became known as “the Society’s Hill.”

Society Hill occupies an extraordinary place in the history of urban planning, architecture, development, society, culture, commerce, and religion. The streets and blocks reveal the perseverance and practicality of Penn’s plan of a grid and square for the city – a plan already modified by events before 1700, yet still adaptable to mid-20th century planning concepts and goals. Within this context stands a broad spectrum of architectural styles, ranging from modest Colonial dwellings through elegant Georgian, Federal, and Greek Revival houses to modern high-rises.

At the time of the American Revolution, Society Hill was one of the most desirable residential sections of the prosperous city, however, the neighborhood began to decline. By the mid-20th century it had become a mix of neglected 18th- and 19th-century houses interspersed with factories and warehouses. The rebirth of Society Hill began in the 1950s and became a national model for neighborhood renewal. Many Philadelphians, including elected officials, public administrators, and private citizens, contributed to the restoration of historic buildings that tell the story of an earlier society while adapting to contemporary needs.

 
   

History of the Society Hill Civic Association

The Society Hill Civic Association was established in 1965 as the result of a merger of two pre-existing civic associations, the Society Hill Area Residents Association (SHARA) and the Home Owners and Residents Association (HORA). On April 22, 1965, a joint general meeting of the members of the two organizations was held and the Society Hill Civic Association (SHCA) was born. Articles of incorporation were filed with the Philadelphia Common Pleas Court and the decree granting the requested charter was issued on January 10, 1967.

In 1971, the Society Hill Historic District was listed on the National Register of Historic Places; however, that designation offered no protection to prevent inappropriate exterior alterations or unnecessary demolitions. Under the leadership of the SHCA, Society Hill was designated a historic district by the Philadelphia Historical Commission in 1999. This designation helps guard the district’s historic character by requiring review of projects according to zoning and historic preservation standards.

For nearly sixty years, the SHCA has responded to challenges facing our community with a commitment to enhance the quality of life enjoyed by those who live and work here.

Are you interested in the history of our neighborhood?

In 2015, the online Encyclopedia of Greater Philadelphia published a useful history of Society Hill from 1682 to present, complete with photographs, a map, related readings, and suggestions for places to visit. https://philadelphiaencyclopedia.org/essays/society-hill/

Guide to Historic Society Hill

In 2014, the SHCA published the 20th anniversary edition of the Guide to Historic Society Hill. This beautifully produced, 68-page spiral-bound booklet, with fold-out map and color photos, takes residents and visitors on a walking tour of Society Hill, highlighting many historic properties that often are overlooked in the typical visitors’ guides to the city.

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