Neighborhood Histories: Pennsport
One of the oldest parts of Philly, Pennsport, is also one of the least understood, but that’s about to change. Major investment in its waterfront, revitalization of its neighborhoods, and an influx of new small businesses, eateries, and bars are shining a new light on this section of the City. Read this guide to learn its history and discover what makes Pennsport a great place for renters, homeowners, and a night on the town.
Pennsport was originally Lenape land known as Moyamensing which means “place of judgment” or “place of pigeon droppings,” depending on your intonation. Today, it is bordered by the Delaware River to the east, 4th Street to the west, Washington Avenue to the north, and Snyder Avenue to the south. In 1684, the Dutch turned the area over to the British, but it wasn’t incorporated into the City of Philadelphia until 1854. Its access to the River made it a natural center of shipbuilding and trade, as well as a location for troops during the Revolution. In 1801 the country’s first naval yard opened on the Delaware River at the end of Federal Street.
Pennsport is also home to Old Swedes Church (Gloria Dei), 929 South Water Street. Founded in 1700, it is the oldest brick building in Philadelphia, the oldest church in Pennsylvania, and the oldest congregation in continuous existence in the United States. In the adjacent cemetery are sea captains and Revolutionary War soldiers.
If your ancestors were immigrants, chances are they arrived in Philadelphia via the Washington Avenue Immigration Station, now Pier 53. This was where over one and a half million Eastern European Jews, Italians, and Irish first set foot on American soil from 1873-1915.
In 1901, a thriving Irish community started the annual New Year’s Parade that is now known as the Mummers. Previously, a blue-collar neighborhood, Pennsport became known as “Two Street” to its predominantly Irish residents. Today, South 2nd Street is still the place to catch the Mummers strut their stuff following the Parade on New Year’s Day. South 2nd St. is also where you’ll find many Mummers Clubs and the Mummers Museum, 1100 S. 2nd St. Visit the Museum to learn how to do the Mummers strut and view their elaborate costumes.
If you think Eastern State Penitentiary is scary, you’ve never seen Pennsport’s most notorious landmark, Moyamensing Prison. Built in the Gothic fortress style at Passyunk and Reed in 1832, one of its most famous overnight guests was Edgar Allan Poe who was detained there for insobriety. The prison was demolished in 1968 to make way for the Acme Market Shopping Center. Moyamensing was renamed Pennsport in the early 1970s when the former working-class neighborhood transitioned into a middle-class community.
In 2014 Pier 52 at Washington Ave and Columbus Blvd reopened as Washington Avenue Pier after a $2.15 million renovation. This public space protects the surrounding wetlands with eco-friendly plantings and an elevated boardwalk from which to capture panoramic views. Adults and children will enjoy climbing the 55-foot spiral staircase Land Buoy by artist Jody Pinto which honors the immigrants who arrived via this Pier.
A mile and a half from Washington Avenue Pier you can also find Pier 68 which has been transformed into a waterfront oasis ideal for fishing, lounging, and embracing nature. Serving as the southern terminus of the Delaware River Trail, this is a great picnic space with trees and greenery in addition to river views.
Jefferson Square Park
300 Washington Avenue, was originally constructed in the early 19th century when the area was part of the Village of Southwark. During the Civil War, the park was used by the Union Army as an encampment site. Thanks to urban revitalization in 2002 which replaced decaying homes surrounding the park with new homes, a renovation of the park began in 2007. Today, the community hosts a monthly clean-up of the park on the second Saturday of the month.
Dickinson Square Park
1600 E. Moyamensing Avenue, features a playground, chess tables, basketball, and shade trees with three acres of classic turn-of-the-century park design, dating back to 1900.
Food & Drink
Here are a few of our favorite restaurants and bars in Pennsport today:
- Ginza Sushi & Ramen, 1100 S. Front St. is is the hot spot for Sashimi, “Lobster Cha Cha Roll,” Poke Bowls, Ramen and Noodles.
- Pho Saigon, 1100 S. Christopher Columbus Blvd., Vietnamese food and drink featuring Pho, Buns, Rice Noodle Soups, Bubble Tea, and Vietnamese Coffee.
- Grindcore House, 1515 S 4th St, is an all-vegan heavy metal-themed coffee house serving delicious coffee, beer, and pastries.
- Pennsport Beer Boutique, 242 Wharton, offers 500 varieties of beer plus a year-round, heated, outdoor beer garden.
While adjacent neighborhoods are awash with construction, hip eateries, and new bars, Pennsport remains a quiet family neighborhood where you can still find great rental and homeownership values, along with that most desired commodity in South Philly – a parking space! If you would like to know more about purchasing a home or investing in Pennsport, drop us a note.
This blog post is part of a series titled Neighborhood Histories where we discuss the history of our beloved Philadelphia neighborhoods, their architecture, and communities. We’ve written about Francisville, Fitler Square, Rittenhouse, Northern Liberties, and more. Have a favorite Philly neighborhood you’d like us to write about next? Let us know!