Queen Village: Neighborhood Encourages the Preservation of Historic Homes

Workman Place, now a gated community of small homes once housed shipyard workers in the 19th Century.
Workman Place, now a gated community of small homes, once housed shipyard workers in the 19th century.

Queen Village is an area extraordinarily rich in history.  The development of the neighborhood can be traced all the way back to the early 17th century when Swedish immigrants settled in the area slightly south of Philadelphia and began expanding north.

Relatives of Öle and Andreas Swanson—the original owners of the 800-acre plot of land contributing to the area known today as Queen Village—were the ones who helped to develop the area in terms of residential space. These individuals often charged rent for the ground used to build homes on, thusly creating income and helping to develop the neighborhood.

Today, hundreds of these historic homes still stand. In fact, there are approximately 950 homes and buildings in the Queen Village area that are certified through the Register of Historic Places, according to the Philadelphia Historical Commission. A large number of the houses built early on were constructed with wooden-frames. However, due to fires and the natural deterioration of materials, only about seven still stand. These homes makes up a minuscule percentage of the approximate 700 historic houses that stand in Queen Village today, but what they lack in quantity they certainly make up for in the legacy.

So what makes a home historic? Well, it is easy to assume that because a house looks old, it is old. However, this is not necessarily the case. There is a series of criteria that the characteristics of a building must fit into, in order to be considered by the Philadelphia Historical Commission for review. There are 10 different elements that make up the criteria for designation, however a home or building does not need to match the characteristics of all 10 criteria in order to be considered for designation.

A few of the criteria include the following: The building has significant character pertinent to the history of the City Commonwealth; the building is associated with a person of historical significance; or the building displays architectural or design characteristics that reflect a person or era of importance or innovation.

The process for designation is not easy and it is not short either. There is an application process that must be carried out in order to have a building reviewed by the Philadelphia Historical Commission. If a building fits one or more of the criteria for designation it may be nominated for designation.

“The designation process is designed to make sure that frivolous designations are avoided and to provide the property owner time to understand the significance of designation, what responsibilities it entails and to object to the designation if they desire to do so,” explained the Philadelphia Historical Commission’s Designation Committee Chair Richardson Dilworth III.

It is crucial that attention is directed toward historic buildings and the preservation of these properties. What Cynthia Temple, co-chair of The Queen Village Historic Preservation Committee, preaches. “Preservation can’t be done without community involvement.”

Luckily, organizations like the Philadelphia Historical Commission, Queen Village Historic Preservation Committee and a handful of others have been created and continue to positively and willingly contribute to preservation efforts.  From noon to 4 p.m. on May 15, the the Queen Village House and Garden Tour will allow the public can take a look inside some of the historic homes in the neighborhood.

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