Particular Sights to See:Center City
Taxi drivers tell tourists that Center City is a "shining city on a hill". During the Industrial Era, the city almost urbanized out to the county line, and then retreated. Right now, the urban center is surrounded by a semi-deserted ring of former factories.
The central keel of the city, Market Street, must be considered in three quite different sections, East and West of City Hall, and West of the Schuylkill River. The street was once called High Street, and the name was slow to change. It will be enough, for now, to consider only the oldest section of fourteen blocks from City Hall to the Delaware River, which is almost a lesson in archeology. Start at Victorian City Hall and face East to Penn's landing on the Delaware.
William Penn had laid out the city plan like a cross, with Market and Broad Streets intersecting at the green central park which now holds the massive building with his statue on top of the tower. The market was originally called High Street. It's doubtful that Penn intended his statue to be there, since the early Quakers were so scornful of vainglorious display that they prohibited the naming of streets after persons, declined to have their portraits painted, and the strictest ones would not even consent to their names on their tombstones. The cult of personality in dictatorships like the Soviet Union, Maoist China, and Baptist Iraq more recently illustrate the sort of thing they probably had in mind, and it wasn't just a quaint idea to discourage the portraits of leaders in public places.
For a tour of the area mentioned in this Reflection, visit Seven Tours Through Historic Philadelphia
Originally published: Friday, June 23, 2006; most-recently modified: Thursday, May 23, 2019