North of Market
The term once referred to the Quaker district along Arch Street, and then to a larger district that had its heyday after the Civil War, industrialized, declined, and is now our worst urban problem area.
Quakers: The Society of Friends
According to an old Quaker joke, the Holy Trinity consists of the fatherhood of God, the brotherhood of man, and the neighborhood of Philadelphia.
Arch Street: from Sixth to Second
When the large meeting house at Fourth and Arch was built, many Quakers moved their houses to the area. At that time, "North of Market" implied the Quaker region of town.
|The Foot of Arch St.|
What we now call Arch Street in Philadelphia was originally named Mulberry Street. Just when that change officially occurred could be argued about, but it took its new name from the fact that a road was cut through the high river bank for easier access to riverside shipping, and an overhead arch connected the two cut ends of Front Street at the point of crossing. A model which is still on display in the Friends Meetinghouse at 4th and Arch depicts this arch in place in 1684. The model displays Thomas Holme, Penn's surveyor, and map-maker, pointing up at the arch. It is a matter of record that Thos. Holme owned the property at the corner of Front and Mulberry, so presumably, the red brick house stranded by the newly excavated street was Holmes. By the time of the Revolution, the Arch Street wharf had become the center of Delaware River commerce. The model depicts that even in 1684, Arch Street led straight to the Schuylkill.
|The Free Quaker Meetinghouse|
The cemetery at 4th and Arch, set aside as early as 1684 as a burying yard, is known to contain at least 40,000 unmarked graves, many of them from the yellow fever epidemics of the late 18th Century. The meetinghouse was built right on top of them, a fact which may now offend some visitors. But it was in keeping with the ancient tradition of burying the dead in the consecrated ground of a churchyard, more or less as a sanitation measure. It is also in keeping with the tradition of early Quakers not to allow their pictures to be displayed, or even their names to be placed on tombstones.
When disputes arose about warfare in the Revolutionary War, and many non-Quakers who had been expelled for one reason or another joined with non-Quakers to form the Free Quaker Meeting, it ended up where it is now, at 5th and Arch. The Friends Center, home to the administrative focus of Quakerdom, is at 15th and Cherry, just a partial block from Arch Street. At the time of the construction of the 4th and Arch Meeting, many Quakers moved into the area to be within walking distance, giving rise to the original meaning of the term "North of Market".
By the time of the Revolution, the Arch Street dock was the commercial heart of town, and the London Coffee House at Front and Market was the thriving center of international gossip. Tradition has it that it was Bradford, the owner of the London Coffee House, who first got the news of the Stamp Act, and started the agitation which famously resulted. The construction of the elevated "Chinese Wall" of the Pennsylvania Railroad along what is now John Kennedy Boulevard, sliced off the Northern side of town as a quiet fashionable place to live for nearly a century. And while the Benjamin Franklin Parkway was intended to correct this situation, it actually finished "North of Market" as even inhabitable. Things are gradually improving, particularly with infusions of public money, but it takes a long time for such urban scars to heal.
Originally published: Friday, April 02, 2010; most-recently modified: Friday, May 17, 2019