Department of Records - City of Philadelphia
RECORDS : Archives

How Philly Works: Streets as Barometers of Urban Life

Exibition October 6, 2006 - September 2, 2007  at the Atwater Kent Museum of Philadelphia.


12th and Market Streets, 1914, photographer unknown, from Philadelphia Department of Records and Archives

Including paintings, photographs, prints, objects and documents, the exhibition uses William Penn’s vision for Philadelphia to explore street activity over 300 years. Drawn almost exclusively from the City Records Department, individual City Departments and the Atwater Kent Museum, the exhibition showcases the recent program of the Records Department to make its holdings available on the Internet. The exhibition continues through September 2007.


Featured in the exhibition are the Philadelphia City Charter drafted by William Penn to residents in 1701, the wampum belt believed to have been given to Penn by the Lenape tribe, a waywiser from 1750 used to measure consistent city blocks, historic regulatory measures from the Department of Licenses and Inspection, police paraphernalia from the late 1800s, a pushcart used on the streets by Freihofer’s Bread Company in 1900, torches from the 19th century used in parades, a banner from the 1840s opposing immigration, and parade puppets from Spiral Q.

Trolley model from the Philadelphia Transportation Company, c. 1950

Street cleaner, c. 1920, lantern slide, donated by the Philadelphia Streets Department, 1987

According to Viki Sand, Executive Director of the Atwater Kent Museum of Philadelphia, “Streets tell a lot about the vitality of a city. They provide evidence of public welfare, the economy, transportation systems, quality of life and democratic participation. William Penn was both an urban planner and a real estate developer. He defined Philadelphia by creating a grid of wide, straight streets to promote commerce and public safety and to enhance civic life.”

Sand continued, “Since 1682, Philadelphia’s streets have been central to the city’s identity as an urban center. While Penn’s vision often clashed with the expectations of Philadelphia residents, it has remained a touchstone, a barometer, for subsequent generations to measure their care of the city’s legacy.”


A special feature of How Philly Works is a resource center with computer terminals providing Internet access to databases of the City Records Department. With these terminals, visitors may search real estate records and photo archives of homes, public buildings and streetscapes as well as birth, marriage, death and naturalization records from 1915-1960. Also available is a database of city street maps beginning in 1856 and continuing until the mid-1880s.