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Neighborhood Histories: Francisville

One of North Philly’s many tight-knit neighborhoods, Francisville started out as a vineyard. Situated east of Fairmount and north of the Spring Garden area, this rapidly growing community with families and young professionals seeking a neighborhood vibe within minutes of Center City. Read on to see why.

Francisville History

In the late 19th century, Francisville’s grape vineyards made way for factories. Unlike the street grid of the rest of the City, Francisville is not laid out north to south but perpendicular to Ridge Avenue which runs at an angle, creating triangles rather than square blocks.

1910 map showing parts of Fairmount, Francisville, and Poplar.

The aptly named Vineyard Street is all that remains of the neighborhood’s agrarian past, after which it became home to factory workers and factories. One of the largest was the Philadelphia Watch Case Company factory at 19th and Brown Street. Here, hundreds of men, women, and children (before child labor laws) produced 4,000 watch cases every day. Housing in the area consisted of mainly early 20th-century brick rowhouses, a contrast to the larger townhouses and opulent mansions of captains of industry located nearby in Fairmount and on North Broad Street.

When the watch case company’s Swiss-born owner moved the successful business to New Jersey, the site became the King Shoe Factory in 1915. The factory closed in the 1960s and was demolished in the 1970s. The closing of factories in Francisville and throughout Philadelphia when manufacturing moved abroad, created unemployment and many buildings fell into disrepair in the years that followed.  

However, a recent boom in development is turning Francisville into a popular neighborhood. The corner of 19th and Brown where the shoe factory once stood, had remained a barren field for decades. Now, it’s the site of a four-story, five-unit, condominium completed in 2020. This cycle of repurposing industrial sites and older homes into luxury dwellings has been repeated throughout Francisville, along with an influx of new coffee shops like Vineyards Cafe and neighborhood shops for residents to enjoy.

Community Activism

Back in 2009, a WHYY article described Francisville as having over “400 vacant lots and scores of vacant buildings.” Today, Francisville offers a mix of affordable and upscale housing, thanks, in large part, to neighborhood activism.

The Francisville Neighborhood Development Corporation (FNDC) is developing two projects, including 60 condo units and a marketplace designed to resemble a small Reading Terminal Market. Formerly known as the Concerned Residents of Francisville Community Development, the grassroots, non-profit organization was originally formed by residents in 2002 for the purpose of revitalizing the Girard Avenue corridor. The FNDC’s mission is to, “Improve the quality of life in the Francisville community through Equitable Commercial and Residential Development programs that preserve the indigenous people’s inclusion and cultures, to support indigenous-owned businesses, and preserve and promote our rich history.” One of FNDC’s newest projects is the creation of the Indigenous People’s Artisan Marketplace at 1608 Ridge Avenue, including craft and culinary vendors.

Francisville neighborhood badge designed by illustrator Greg Dyson.

A newer community organization, the United Francisville Civic Association, was founded to foster well-being, inclusiveness, and diversity throughout the community and guide redevelopment, new construction projects, and zoning enforcement in a manner that is sensitive to the neighborhood’s heritage and historic standards.

Another notable organization in the area is Cloud 9 Community Farms, a group that “fosters leadership, resilience, and environmental stewardship through youth and community-led food and garden programs.” Cloud 9 operates The Urbanstead Farm inside of Francisville Village, a 42-unit housing complex for low-income seniors. They have a passive solar greenhouse where they grow food for the community and operate a seasonal farm stand.

A group of volunteers during an MLK volunteer event at the Francisville Playground.
A group of volunteers during an MLK volunteer event at the Francisville Playground. Image: Volunteering Untapped PHL

Neighborhood Highlights

Families with children love the Francisville Recreation Center, Playground and Pool at 19th & Brown and the Francisville Playground at 1733 Francis Street. The pool is considered one of the cleanest in the City with an attentive staff and hosts numerous events for neighbors throughout the summer, like yoga at the pool.

A flyer advertising yoga at the Francisville Pool. Image: Yoga Habit

After dark, a new jazz venue has popped up at Small Seeds Cafe, 1628-32 Ridge, presents nationally acclaimed jazz musicians, including Stanley Turpentine and David Newman, in a nod to the former Blue Note Jazz Club on Ridge which had featured jazz legends Miles Davis and John Coltrane in the 1950s.

Francisville is a historic neighborhood that has a lot to offer. With residents who care deeply about their community, and plenty of amenities close by, Francisville is a great walkable and bikeable neighborhood in close proximity to Center City.

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