The Callowhill Neighborhood

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Located north of Center City, the Callowhill neighborhood is bordered roughly by the Vine Street Expressway to the south, Spring Garden Street to the north, 8th Street to the east, and Broad Street to the west. The neighborhood takes its name from Callowhill Street, which runs east-west through the center of the neighborhood. Originally designated by William Penn as New Street, Callowhill was later renamed to honor Hannah Callowhill, Penn’s second wife.

Much of Callowhill was farmland until the 1840s. When the gigantic Baldwin Locomotive Company built its plant near Buttonwood Street west of Broad Street in the 1830s, men and families seeking employment began to settle in the neighborhood. Boarding houses and restaurants provided rooms and meals for single men who sought work in the coal yards, factories, and Locomotive Company, and families found housing in the many row houses. Additional factories, workshops, and machine shops moved to the area, and by the late 1800s, Callowhill served as both a residential and industrial neighborhood where workers could live near their workplaces. The 1895 Atlas of Philadelphia created by George and Walter Bromley shows small homes and residences as well as a number of businesses including the Hoopes & Townsend Nut and Bolt Works, the Knickerbocker Ice Company, a creamery, a brewery, a carriage factory, and an iron foundry.

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In 1897, the landscape of the Callowhill neighborhood changed dramatically with construction along the City Branch line of the Reading Railroad. With the creation of a new passenger station at 12th and Market, Reading Railroad was required to remove its tracks from street level. The railroad decided to place the tracks, which ran just north of Callowhill Street from 20th Street to 13th Street, below street grade level in an open subway. Lowering the tracks required the excavation of tons of earth, the construction of temporary bridges, and the rerouting of sewer lines. Despite the immensity of the project, work was completed by 1900 and the new railroad lines provided manufacturers and businesses in Callowhill with improved access to transportation routes. The Reading Railroad also contributed another major feature to Callowhill in the form of the Reading Viaduct, a rail line that ran from Reading Terminal at 12th and Market all the way to Reading, Pennsylvania and was in use until 1984. Although portions of the line were destroyed for the construction of Septa lines and the Vine Street Expressway, two branches of the Viaduct still run through Callowhill and neighboring Chinatown.

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Both the 1942 and 1962 Philadelphia Land Use Maps depict the same mixture of residential and industrial space. In 1942, buildings and yards belonging to the Reading Company dominated the space along Callowhill Road while the blocks between Noble and Spring Garden Streets contained more homes and small businesses. Twenty years later, the 1962 map shows that some older businesses have disappeared while newer companies have moved to the neighborhood. A few buildings remain the same. In both 1895 and 1962, Esslinger’s Brewery sits at the northeast intersection of 10th and Callowhill Streets and the United States Armory remains at the southeast intersection of Broad and Callowhill.

Beginning in the 1960s, the population of Callowhill declined as residents and businesses moved to the suburbs or other parts of Philadelphia. In the 1980s, the construction of the Vine Street Expressway and the Pennsylvania Convention Center in the Chinatown neighborhood just south of Callowhill caused further changes as homes and businesses that were previously cited in Chinatown became part of the Callowhill neighborhood. For this reason, Callowhill is sometimes also referred to as Chinatown North. The connection between the two neighborhoods has led to much discussion over the past decades as various individuals and organizations attempt to encourage urban growth and renewal while still meeting the needs of members of several communities.

Construction in the neighborhood began to increase again in the late 1990s and 2000s as developers renovated former factories and warehouses into new loft-style housing. In 2000, the Callowhill Neighborhood Association formed to assist with neighborhood development through community watches, clean-ups, and other activities.


[1] Alotta, Robert I. Mermaids, Monasteries, Cherokees and Custer: The Stories Behind Philadelphia Street Names. Chicago: Bonus Books Inc., 1990.

[2] Atlas of the City of Philadelphia, 1895. George W. & Walter S. Bromley, Civil Engineers.

[3] Callowhill Neighborhood Association.

[4] Hoess, Ron. “The Reading Railroad’s Turn of the Century Big Dig, Part One.” Blog. May 7, 2009.

[5] Hoess, Ron. “The Reading Railroad’s Turn of the Century Big Dig, Part Two.” Blog. June 10, 2009.

[6] Miller, Fredric M., Morris J. Vogel, Allen F. Davis. Still Philadelphia: A Photographic History, 1890-1940. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1983.

[7] Philadelphia Land Use Map, 1942. Plans & Registry Division, Bureau of Engineering Surveys & Zoning, Department of Public Works, Federal Works Progress Administration for Pennsylvania.

[8] Philadelphia Land Use Map, 1962. Plans & Registry Division, Bureau of Engineering Surveys & Zoning, Department of Public Works, Federal Works Progress Administration for Pennsylvania.

[9] Sloe, Phoebee. “Lemon Ridge: A Tree Story.” Callowhill News Fall/Winter 2006, Vol. 2, Quarter 4.