In the late 1600s, modern Germany was a group of warring states. When William Penn traveled
throughout this region several times, he found many residents sympathetic to the Quaker ideals of
living at peace with your neighbors and religious freedom. Immigrants began coming, particularly
members of persecuted religious sects such as the Mennonites, seeking a better and freer life for
themselves. One of the earliest groups, led by Francis Daniel Pastorius, settled in an area along the
Wissahickon creek, northwest of Philadelphia's central core.
Unlike Philadelphia's early settlement which was oriented to the Delaware River, the Germantown
settlement was strung along the Wissahickon and the parallel Germantown pike, a major highway
leading from central Philadelphia to beyond the northwest outskirts of the city. There it joined another
major highway leading to a more remote German settlement in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania.
The land along Germantown Avenue has a different character than the flat river basin of central
Philadelphia. The avenue begins to rise near the junction with Wayne Avenue and Germantown has
a significantly different microclimate compared to the area along the Delaware River. With fewer low
lying areas, there was less humidity and fewer mosquitoes. Many people sought refuge in
Germantown during the regular epidemics like the yellow fever epidemic of 1787. After early railroad
was built to Germantown in the 1840s, it became a popular residential area for people wanting to
escape the rapidly industrializing Philadelphia.
Architecturally, Germantown is an interesting mix of vernacular, Georgian, Federal, Greek revival
and Victorian buildings. The early settlers of Germantown often built homes which stylistically owed
more to central European precedent than the Georgian style that English immigrants were interested
in. Another feature of Germantown architecture from the beginning is the widespread use of stone
instead of brick. Stone was a more traditional building material for many residents and several good
building stone deposits could be found locally, particularly of a highly prized local stone called
Along Germantown Pike
Pictures from Old-Germantown. The top two
houses are that of the Pastorius family, the one
on the left around 1683 on the right around 1715.
The center structure is that of the house and
printing business of the Caurs family, shown
around 1735. The bottom structure is the market
place shown around 1820. From Wikipedia