1682 - 1799

William Penn and his surveyor Thomas Holme were visionary city planners. Although it took several decades for the city to grow into their plan, we have them to thank for our downtown streets laid out in a grid system with strategically located public squares. The early settlers along the Delaware River promptly ignored Penn's 1682 plan for a "greene Country Towne" full of large lots for gentleman's estates. Instead, most colonists chose to build rows of narrow two-story brick houses along congested streets. Little did they realize they were establishing the predominant pattern of housing in the area for centuries to come. Gloria Dei Church or Old Swedes', built in 1698-1700 by carpenters John Smart and John Buett in the standard English style of the time, is one of the few buildings left standing as a reminder of those early days.

William Penn had high expectations for his outpost, and in 1701 issued a charter that raised Philadelphia's status to a "city." Indeed, throughout the century Philadelphia grew both in population and importance in the colonies. Life continued to revolve around the dozens of wharves along the Delaware River. Most construction and design was done by master builders, many of whom belonged to the Carpenter's Company. Formed in 1724, the Company not only established prices, but set rules for the styles and building techniques its members were to use. Most of the colonists lived in simple two- or three-story brick houses nearby, like those found on Elfreth's Alley in Old City (site of some of the city's oldest houses, some dating back to 1724). Georgian homes for the wealthy, churches and civic buildings sprung up all over the city. Decor on colonial building exteriors in Philadelphia tended to be muted due to the strong Quaker preference for simplicity. Georgian examples abound, including Christ Church near Second and Market Streets and Benjamin Chew's Cliveden in Germantown. Independence Hall, designed by lawyer Andrew Hamilton and master carpenter Edmund Wooley to be Pennsylvania's State House, is exemplary of the buildings of the time.

After the American Revolution, the city took on the role of the nation's capital for ten years beginning in 1790, and its citizens turned toward refurbishing buildings ravaged by war. Federal buildings employed the same red brick as Georgian structures, but they are more elegant and finely detailed. Windows are narrower and defined by slender mullions. This style was used to build town houses, country estates along the Schuylkill and some civic buildings. It is magnificently represented in the Central Pavilion of Pennsylvania Hospital, which was designed in 1794 by master builder Samuel Rhoads, a Philadelphia-born Quaker.