The neighborhood of Mount Airy, Philadelphia finds its origins in the history of Germantown. Most of Northwest Philadelphia was initially called Germantown. The early settlers distinguished Germantown Village (or Borough) from Germantown Township.
Germantown Village is the area which we still know as Germantown. The land above Washington Lane along Germantown Avenue, all the way up to Northwestern Avenue is referred to as Germantown Township. Germantown Township evolved into the neighborhoods we now know as Mount Airy and Chestnut Hill.
Shortly after the initial settlement in the late 1600s, residents of Germantown Village were given land in Germantown Township. This was to ensure that everyone owned equal amounts of land.
These lots in Germantown Township were referred to as “Sidelands.” Because this land was less accessible, and not immediately adjacent to Germantown Village, most of Germantown Township remained fairly rural until the 19th century.
In 1750, the chief justice of Pennsylvania, William Allen (Allens Lane), built a majestic country home on 47 acres in Germantown Township. It is said he named his estate “Mount Airy” because of the fresh air and constant breezes he experienced on the property.
The name of Allen’s estate was eventually appropriated as the name of the neighborhood we now know as Mount Airy.
In 1854, Mount Airy became much more accessible when the railroad companies extended the line from Germantown to Chestnut Hill. This resulted in the development of much commercial space along Germantown Avenue. Also, in 1854, both Germantown Village and Germantown Township became part of the City of Philadelphia.
Germantown Avenue was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1977. In the 1980s, the Colonial Germantown Historic District was extended up the Avenue to include Mount Airy. The historic district was extended to Cresheim Valley Drive, which marks the southern boundary of the Chestnut Hill Historic District.
In the words of Elizabeth Farmer Jarvis in Images of America: Mount Airy, “Today, [Mount Airy] is a diverse mixture of residences, businesses, and institutions. The people of Mount Airy celebrate its legacy of tolerance, diversity, activism, and history.”
Today, Mt. Airy 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.