Nestled in the Northwest corner of Philadelphia, Germantown was originally settled in 1683 by German-speaking immigrants. These settlers developed their community around an established Native American footpath. The original footpath was eventually paved, and is now known as Germantown Avenue.
Throughout the history of this neighborhood, Germantown Avenue has had many other names. Prior to its present name, Germantown Avenue was called The Great Road, Germantown Road, and was even known as Main Street for a time.
Street names aside, Germantown Avenue now features an extraordinary collection of significant historic architecture, with nearly 400 years of different architectural styles.
These early German-speaking immigrants brought many skills with them from Germany, including law, medicine, linen weaving, farming, and paper-making. In fact, William Rittenhouse built America’s first paper mill here in 1690.
During the Revolutionary War, a significant battle was fought on Germantown Avenue. On October 4th, 1777, The Battle of Germantown occurred in front of, and on the grounds of Cliveden (The Chew Mansion) and Upsala. George Washington marched his troops down the Avenue and met the British troops in front of Cliveden.
Benjamin Chew, then owner of Cliveden, was a British sympathizer, and allowed the British troops to use the mansion as a home base during the battle.
Washington’s troops fired everything they had at the British in the house (there are still scars from the cannon balls on the façade!) but they were ultimately unsuccessful.
After the war ended, George Washington spent some more time in Germantown during the Philadelphia Yellow Fever epidemic of 1793. Washington spent the summer of 1793 in what is now known as the Deshler-Morris House (5442 Germantown Avenue).
The epidemic spurred many wealthy citizens of Philadelphia to build “country” homes in Germantown. This trend continued through the 19th century as early railroads made the “country” more accessible.
The development of railroads, and the Industrial Revolution in general, created thousands of accessible jobs. Steam-power allowed for larger factories, and more immigrants moved to the area to fill the jobs.
Germantown remained independent until 1854 when it was incorporated into the city of Philadelphia.
In 1977, Germantown Avenue was added to the National Register of Historic Places. The official “Colonial Germantown Historic District” included all buildings along the Avenue from Loudoun Mansion (4650 Germantown Avenue) to the southwest corner of Upsal Street (6460 Germantown Avenue).
The nomination states, “the numerous houses within the district illustrate the Germanic character of the early town, the diversity of occupations of its citizens and the Americanization of the community.”
In the 1980s, the Colonial Germantown Historic District was extended up the Avenue to Cresheim Valley Drive, which marks the southern boundary of the Chestnut Hill Historic District.
Today, Germantown is filled with stunning historic buildings! While purchasing a historic home is not for the faint-of-heart, it is a tremendously rewarding experience for the intrepid homebuyer.
Check out these historic homes for sale in Germantown
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