Union Volunteer Refreshment Saloon

By Cynthia Temple

This was not a “saloon” as you know it today, instead it provided support services to soldiers on their way to or returning from the Civil War. Located at the foot of Washington Avenue, this organization was located along with the Cooper Volunteer Refreshment Saloon just south of Washington Avenue.   When ships were spotted nearing the wharf along Front Street, a cannon shot would announce to all the volunteers that assistance was soon required.  Imagine people dropping what they were doing to run to the “saloon” to assist the new soldiers.   Food, beverage, rest, an ear, whatever was required, was provided there.  The establishment served about 900,000 soldiers.

History of Queen Village

By Steve Sitarski

Long before William Penn and the founding of Philadelphia, Swedish settlers arrived in 1638 at a place the local Lenni Lenape Indian tribe called Wiccaco, which means “pleasant place.”

The early Swedes established Fort Christina (now Wilmington, Delaware) and settled along the river as far north as present day Trenton, New Jersey. Their leader, Governor Johan Pritz, declared the area New Sweden. These early colonists maintained good relations with the Indians, showing exceptional friendliness and respect to their neighbors.

The local river front was lined with an impressive grove of large beech, elm and buttonwood trees. Nearby meadows were populated with elk, deer and beaver, providing pelts for the fur trade. The area now known as Queen Village was originally owned by the Swedish family of Sven, whose log house stood on a knoll overlooking the river at what is now the NW corner of Beck & Swanson Streets. The one and a half story wooden structure had a large garden with various fruit trees. An inlet of water from the Delaware River allowed small boats to dock in front. The British Army used the wood from the house as fuel during the Revolutionary War.

The Dutch briefly claimed control, but the land was quickly ceded to the British. The King of England granted a land charter for what is now Pennsylvania to William Penn, who founded the city of Philadelphia in 1682 (just north of present day Queen Village).

Wiccaco changed little during the 17th century. The original Swedish settlement had few homes and much of their land remained a wilderness, except for a couple of small farms. One notable exception was Gloria Dei (Old Swedes’) Church. Completed in 1700, the impressive brick church between Christian Street and Washington Avenue is constructed in the Flemish bond style with alternating red and black header bricks. After serving as the Swedish Lutheran Church for more than 150 years, it has been a part of the Episcopal Church since 1845 and is the oldest church in Pennsylvania.

William Penn decided to change the name of “Wiccaco” to Southwark, after a similarly situated neighborhood on the south bank of the Thames in London.

In the late 1970’s, Southwark was renamed Queen Village after Queen Christina of Sweden, to recognize her role in promoting the original settlements.

The principal development of the area occurred in the 18th century and was heavily tied to commercial activity along the Delaware River. Ship builders, rope and sail makers, sailors, dock workers, carpenters, and craftsmen were among the early residents of the neighborhood.

Southwark did not officially become part of Philadelphia until 1854, when the Consolidation Act was passed.


18th Century Southwark – the English Rename Philadelphia’s First Suburb

William Penn renamed Wiccaco (as the American Indians and Swedes referred to it) after a neighborhood in London, England called Southwark. Penn’s new city of Philadelphia quickly grew along the Delaware River waterfront and spilled over its original southern boundary of South Street by the early 18th century. The Southwark District (now south Philadelphia) was then divided into two townships but retained their original American Indian names, Moyamensing (pigeon droppings) and Passyunk (in the valley).

By the mid-eighteenth century, a building boom transformed Southwark from a village into a residential and commercial neighborhood, especially along the waterfront. Several mid-18th century homes survive along Front Street between South and Christian Streets. Two notable examples are the Nathanial Irish House at 704 South Front Street and the George Mifflin House on the 100 block of Pemberton Street. Mifflin’s initials and the 1748 house construction date can still be seen on the brick wall facing that street. Dramatic changes in Southwark’s appearance were noted as early as 1743, when Secretary Peters wrote about then Governor Thomas Penn;

Southwark is getting greatly disfigured by erecting irregular and mean houses; thereby so marring it’s beauty that when he (Thomas Penn) shall return he will lose his usual pretty walk to Wicacco.

As the result of several large fires, Philadelphia outlawed the construction of wood frame buildings within the city limits by 1796, but they were already common throughout Southwark. Only a few wood plank front homes survive in Queen Village, and some good examples can still be seen along the blocks of 800 South Hancock Street, 200 Christian Street, and the 100 League Street. Philadelphia Quakers frowned on the performing arts and tried to ban theaters within the city limits so entertainment venues, including the famous Southwark Theater, popped up along South Street near 4th Street.


Southwark Becomes South Philadelphia

While the new U.S. Naval Ship Yard grew rapidly along the Delaware River just below Washington Avenue, the local skyline added a prominent new landmark with the construction of Spark’s Shot Tower in 1808. Now the oldest facility of its kind in America, the Shot Tower was originally used as a munitions plant during the War of 1812.

Beginning in the mid-nineteenth century, thousands of mostly Irish immigrates arrived in Philadelphia and the District of Southwark. Fierce competition for low wage jobs, coupled with religious prejudice and severe overcrowding caused social upheaval. The Nativist or “anti-catholic” riots swept the region in 1844 and Saint Philip Neri Roman Catholic Church experienced three days of riots, resulting in many deaths and injuries. Local volunteer fire companies, including the impressive Wiccaco Firehouse on the 100 block of Queen Street, protected the church from destruction.

Commissioner’s Hall was the political center of the District of Southwark and once stood at the intersection of Beck & Second Streets. After Southwark was consolidated into the City of Philadelphia in 1856, Commissioner’s Hall became the 2nd District Police Headquarters until it was demolished in the 20th century. The 100 block of Beck Street (formally known as Beck Place) is an early example of entire block row house development, now common throughout the city. In an effort to preserve them, the Philadelphia Historical Commission designated the 1840s brick row houses as historic.

Philadelphia was a northern stronghold during the Civil War. Washington Avenue hosted tens of thousands of Union soldiers at “Welcome Centers” staffed by neighborhood volunteers who provided soldiers with a warm meal and the thanks of a grateful nation. A constant parade of blue uniforms marched through Southwark on their way to battlefields throughout the south. After the Civil War, the Pennsylvania Railroad opened an emigration depot at the Washington Avenue wharves to help process the ongoing flood of new arrivals. Once immigrants passed through U.S. Customs, they choose to either stay in the city or boarded trains on route to jobs and home elsewhere in the state.

In addition to a flood of European immigrants, African-Americans migrated here in large numbers from the war torn southern states and settled along either side of South Street, primarily west of 6th Street. By the 1890s, an influx of mostly Eastern Europeans attracted a large Jewish population along the 4th Street commercial corridor and a significant number of Poles settled along the waterfront as dockworkers. Severe overcrowding resulted in poor local housing conditions, filthy streets & alleys, rampant crime, and even more social unrest. The nineteenth century witnessed dramatic changes to the once semi-rural District of Southwark became South Philadelphia.


From South Philadelphia to Queen Village

By the 20th century, Philadelphia had become one of the world’s largest industrial centers but pollution, disease, and inadequate housing alarmed city officials. Local government was slow to react, so philanthropic groups like the Octavia Hill Association provided the poor with clean and affordable housing. The Association still maintains rental properties throughout Queen Village including Workman Place (Front Street between Fitzwater & Pemberton), and several homes on the 200 block of Beck Street and Queen Street. An influx of mostly Russian Jews firmly established both South Street and Fourth Street as busy commercial districts by the early 1900s.

For more than a century, historic Fabric Row (along south 4th Street) has offered a wide range of textiles for fine clothing, drapery, upholsters, and interior designers. Generations of Philadelphians purchased their new suits and wedding gowns here. After World War II, the neighborhood began a long and steady decline as the children of new immigrants left south Philadelphia for other parts of the city and nearby suburbs.

For the first time in the area’s 300 years history, the local population actually began to shrink after 1950. Two major urban development projects dramatically altered the historic fabric of the neighborhood in the 1960s. In an ambitious effort to provide the city’s growing poor population with decent housing, the government built thousands of new housing units throughout Philadelphia. Locally, several blocks between Christian Street and Washington Avenue (3rd to 5th Streets) were cleared to create the Southwark public housing project. Initially a model for urban renewal, the three large apartment towers quickly fell into disrepair and became a haven for drugs and crime. Within just 40 years, the Southwark project was demolished, rebuilt and renamed Riverview Plaza.

Meanwhile, planning for the construction of a new interstate highway along the Delaware River continued. Countless homes and businesses in the path of I-95 were condemned. Many of the city’s oldest homes, including more than 300 18th century homes, were torn down to create it. Neighborhoods that always relied on the river were now cut off from it. Fortunately, plans for the South Street cross town expressway were successfully challenged in court by local residents and never built.

The abandoned South Street commercial strip soon attracted young artist and new business including boutique shops, restaurants and bars. Despite major changes, many old buildings remained. The nationally successful restoration of the historic Society Hill neighborhood encouraged urban pioneers to buy south of South Street. Rows of restored historic homes, coupled with new residential construction along Monroe, Fitzwater and Catharine Streets, generated renewed interest in Philadelphia’s oldest neighborhood by the 1980s.

Local real estate agents renamed this part of south Philadelphia as Queen Village (Lombard Street to Washington Avenue, Columbus Boulevard to 6th Street), in honor of its original Swedish settlers and their Queen Christina. As the 20th century began, an influx of new residents transformed the old neighborhood once again.


Queen Village Becomes Center City in the 21st Century

In 2002, the Central Philadelphia Development Corporation redefined the official boundaries of center city to include most of Queen Village. After more than three centuries, downtown Philadelphia has expanded to include Northern Liberties, Fairmount and Bella Vista. Queen Village has experienced more rebuilding since 2000 than has occurred here for decades, and has changed from a traditional working class enclave to become one of the city’s most affluent neighborhoods. What does the future hold for Philadelphia’s first neighborhood? The past actually holds some important clues to the 21st century. Two unique advantages will determine the future development of Queen Village; proximity to center city and history. The golden rule of real estate certainly applies here – location, location, location!

Queen Village is ideally situated adjacent to internationally famous historic sites (Independence Hall) , the region’s business center, and sits along the Delaware River. Neighborhood development has always been tied to the river and it figures prominently in the future of Queen Village. Demand for residential riverfront development will accelerate during the 21st century as new high-rise residential towers, townhouses, boat marinas, and landscaped public walkways transform the waterfront. Local commercial districts, including South Street and historic Fabric Row, will continue to evolve into more fashionable shopping and fine dining destinations.

Queen Village showcases over three centuries of American history and architecture. The 100 block of Fitzwater Street is a wonderful example of local home building styles from the 18th – 21st centuries. Every block in Queen Village has a story to tell. Local homes, public buildings and houses of worship have witnessed dramatic chapters in our city’s long history. Unlike the carefully restored colonial character of Society Hill, Queen Village has a more diverse and eclectic architectural style. Charming 18th century homes, fancy 19th century Victorians, distinctive 20th century bay window facades, and sleek 21st century architecture are evident in the urban streetscape. With the expected designation of Queen Village as a Neighborhood Conservation District by City Council, new guidelines will help to carefully preserve past.

While the future looks bright, Queen Village has many important issues to resolve. Intense redevelopment threatens the unique historic residential character that attracts many new residents to this neighborhood. Addressing quality of life issues, including safe streets and clean parks, requires constant vigilance. Economic class and racial distinctions continue to segregate the River View public housing community from the rest of Queen Village, creating two distinct neighborhoods. The dedicated volunteers of the Queen Village Neighbors Association work tirelessly to address these and many other urban problems. Philadelphia’s first neighborhood offers us a glimpse into our history’s rich past and provides a vision for a promising future.


Emanuel German Evangelical Lutheran Church

By Al Dorof


Few people in Queen Village could tell you where the Emanuel German Evangelical Lutheran Church is located. But almost everyone knows the church for its stunningly beautiful spire at South 4th and Carpenter Streets, the tallest 19th-century structure in the neighborhood.

When Emanuel Evangelical Lutheran Church opened at South 4th and Carpenter Streets in 1869, its graceful 187-foot-tall steeple became an instant and enduring landmark in Philadelphia. It guided ships coming up the Delaware River, and the bells of its clock tolled time for neighborhood residents.

In 1997, Michael Stern, then director of the historic religious properties program at the Preservation Alliance of Greater Philadelphia, described Emanuel as “an extraordinarily beautiful lace, a work of art in its own right.” But the beloved old landmark was shuttered in fall 2008, a victim of a declining congregation, dwindling funds to sustain the institution, and changing demographics in the neighborhood.


Emanuel Lutheran Church, Nameplate (detail) QVNA, 2009. Photograph by Al Dorof.
Emanuel Lutheran Church, Nameplate (detail)
QVNA, 2009. Photograph by Al Dorof.


The German community in Philadelphia dates back to the late 1600s. They worshipped at Swedish churches until their community grew large enough to establish its own church at North 5th and Cherry Streets in 1748. Greater numbers of German emigrants began arriving at the turn of the 19th century, and many settled in what is now South Philadelphia.

The Emanuel German Evangelical Lutheran Church was founded to serve German and German-speaking congregants in Queen Village, which was then part of the Southwark district. The church grew out of a parochial school founded in 1864 at South 6th and Montrose Streets, the former Robert Rilkes School, which boasted 25 teachers and 365 students soon after opening. Religious services were also held at the school, the first was conducted on January 14, 1866.

The Lutheran Church decided to establish a church in Southwark in 1866, provided it could sell a graveyard on 8th Street above Race. The city approved the sale in 1868 and a plot of land at 4th and Carpenter Streets was bought for $14,000. Emanuel’s cornerstone was laid on July 29, 1868, and the church was consecrated on July 4, 1869. The new church had 500 congregant families. The cost to build the church was $97,859.28—$1.6 million in current dollars.

Emanuel Lutheran Church, Cornerstone (detail) QVNA, 2009. Photograph by Al Dorof.
Emanuel Lutheran Church, Cornerstone (detail)
QVNA, 2009. Photograph by Al Dorof.

The steeple’s clocks were made by the Von Christian Möllinger firm of Berlin for $1,160 ($18,765 current value). The Möllinger firm, founded by Jacob Möllinger (1695-1763), was renowned in Europe for the artistry of its terrestrial and astronomical clockworks. Its clients included the kings of Prussia, and its works today are in churches, museums, and private collections.

The steeple’s three bells were cast locally by the Joseph Bernhard foundry at 120 North 6th Street for $1,686 ($27,274 current value). They weigh 600, 1100, and 1600 pounds. Bernhard’s foundry was one of two that claim the honor to have drilled out the small crack in the Liberty Bell in 1846, so it could be rung on Washington’s birthday. The result was the crack visible today.


Emanuel Lutheran Church, Interior QVNA, 2009. Photograph by Al Dorof.
Emanuel Lutheran Church, Interior
QVNA, 2009. Photograph by Al Dorof.

Growth and Decline

Emanuel’s congregation grew and prospered for 40 years. By 1906, more than half of its German congregants moved to west and north Philadelphia, and to the suburbs. They were replaced by African American, Polish, Irish, Italian, and other newcomers to Queen Village.

In 1940, Emanuel adapted to the changing demographics of its community. It offered its first English-language church services and organized social programs and charities to benefit the poor of its Southwark neighborhood—widows and orphans, children and old folks, the working poor and middle class.

But the congregation continued to dwindle in the post-war years, numbering fewer than 200 by the mid-1950s, half of whom lived outside the neighborhood. Emanuel’s church fell into disrepair; its steeple clock stopped, and its bells were silenced. The city announced plans to build Southwark Plaza, a low-income housing development, on the four blocks surrounding the church. Emanuel’s parsonage and 419 row houses, many of which were the homes of congregants, would be razed.

By 1959, the church was at a crossroads—whether to follow the exodus of its congregants to the suburbs or remain in Queen Village and rebuild its congregation. Emanuel chose to stay and renew its commitment to active participation in the community as an urban ministry under the leadership of Reverend Carl A. Werner, a former welfare case worker.

In the early 1960s, Emanuel launched a $90,000 renovation project that would restore the church for its expanded role in community leadership. The sanctuary was rebuilt, part of the ground floor was reconfigured as a small chapel, copper louvers were installed in the steeple, and the interior and exterior were repainted and repaired. The pipe organ was restored by the church organist, who also brought the steeple clock back to life.

The new building was rededicated on May 2, 1965.

Emanuel Lutheran Church, Bell QVNA, 2009. Photograph by Al Dorof.
Emanuel Lutheran Church, Bell
QVNA, 2009. Photograph by Al Dorof.

Community Service

Emanuel recognized the many different needs within the changing community and resolved to meet them. With support from the Lutheran Board of American Missions and Lutheran Children and Family Services, Emanuel established a wide range of social programs and community services.

Since the late 1960s, Emanuel’s many contributions to the betterment of the Queen Village community have included a community center, settlement house, hospitality kitchen, school and kindergarten, after-school care for middle-school students, a family and community life center, sport and recreation programs, summer camps, social support and advisory offices, and meeting spaces for neighborhood organization. It also continued the charity programs for the poor that were established at its founding in 1868.

Emanuel also provided support and leadership to the community’s effort to stop the construction of I-95 through the heart of Queen Village along Front Street. And it joined other Queen Village churches and activists to establish Queen Village, Inc., a nonprofit group dedicated to restoring abandoned homes as low-cost housing for single families.

Emanuel Lutheran Church, Choir QVNA, 2009. Photograph by Al Dorof.
Emanuel Lutheran Church, Choir
QVNA, 2009. Photograph by Al Dorof.


In the late 1980s, government and Lutheran Church funding for Emanuel’s community services was cut back to the point that many programs were discontinued. As the congregation withered to fewer than 15 members in the last decade, Emanuel found it difficult to remain open for religious services, much less to maintain the large—and largely vacant—building or even a few social services.

Emanuel was shuttered in fall 2008 and has merged with the St. John the Evangelist Church at 1332 South 3rd Street. Since then, its congregation has rebounded to more than 65 members at its new location.

By January 2010, the Lutheran Synod had stripped the clockworks from the steeple, leaving gaping holes in the tower; removed the organ; tore up the floor and pews and supporting posts of the main church; and let the building’s windows, roof, and masonry of the abandoned yet historically “protected” building deteriorate. The Philadelphia Historic Commission filed a petition in the Court of Common Pleas to order the Synod to maintain the structure and the Department of Licensing and Inspection declared the building unsafe.



Emanuel’s savior is the Phat Quang Temple, a Buddhist congregation serving the growing Vietnamese community in the neighborhood—and beyond. Dr. Anh Ly, a local dentist leading the effort, notes that the Temple hopes to build a vibrant congregation of members from South Philadelphia, the suburbs, Reading, New York, and Maryland. Two Vietnamese monks and a nun from Pittsburgh now guide the Temple.

Cheerful Buddhist flags and a sign now decorate the exterior of the building, and incense and music suffuse the arched ground floor spiritual space, decorated with statues, and shrines. Dr. Ly hopes eventually to restore the main floor sanctuary to its past glory with the help of congregants who volunteer their time to clean, paint, and rebuild this hallowed landmark. She welcomes all neighborhood residents to donate whatever skills and funds they can offer in this community effort to restore the landmark building. Meditation classes and other activities will be offered to the public.