‘A no-brainer’: Philly’s historical commission designates new district in Germantown

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Nearly 60 years ago, the National Park Service designated a district of Colonial-era buildings in Germantown a National Historic Landmark, the highest distinction a group of properties can receive from the federal government.

But the accolade doesn’t come with any local safeguards, meaning some of the buildings within the district, centered along Germantown Avenue, had never been protected against demolition.

Until now.

A group of properties on the avenue will now be preserved thanks to a newly minted historic district that partially overlaps with the one NPS established in the 1960s. Unanimously approved by the Philadelphia Historical Commission last week, the Germantown Urban Village Historic District also includes dozens of buildings and vacant lots located on dense cross streets, including Church Lane, School House Lane and Lena Street.

The boundary for the Germantown Urban Village Historic District is delineated above. (Source: Atlas, City
of Philadelphia)

Taken together, the district’s 65 properties represent more than 250 years of neighborhood history — from its colonial roots through its days as an industrial epicenter.

And while the district is much smaller than many historic districts around Philadelphia, backers say designating these buildings is a “no-brainer,” particularly as the neighborhood continues to draw appreciable interest from developers.

“The district really is, despite it only being 65 properties, a microcosm of the history of Germantown,” said historic preservationist Oscar Beisert, the Germantown resident who researched and wrote the nomination for the district.

The Germantown Urban Village District includes properties built before and after the neighborhood, once part of Germantown Township, was incorporated into Philadelphia in the mid-1850s. They illustrate a range of architectural styles popular between the 18th and 20th centuries, including Federal, Georgian and Colonial Revival.

Looking southwest, the Deshler-[Franks]-Morris House at 5442 Germantown Avenue; the Bringhurst House at 5448 Germantown Avenue; and the Thomas Armatt House at 5450 Germantown Avenue. (Source: Oscar Beisert, 2023)The buildings are situated in and around Market Square, formerly a “crude public space used for marketing, political activity, and gathering by colonists and, later citizens of a new nation,” according to Beisert’s nomination. Directly across the street sits the Deshler-Morris House, where President George Washington stayed in the summers of 1793 and 1794 to escape the Yellow Fever epidemic gripping Philadelphia. British General William Howe used the same home in 1777 during the Battle of Germantown, the only battle fought in Philadelphia during the Revolutionary War.

  • February 12, 2024
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