City

A Brief Timeline of South Philly Through the Ages

From roaming buffalo and Dutch settlers through the first Odunde Festival and our restaurant boom.


south philly timeline

The opening of Pat’s King of Steaks makes our South Philly timeline. Photograph by cCaudia Gavin

40,000 BCE– 10,000 BCE

Paleolithic peoples enter North America. The Lenape settle territory along the Delaware Watershed. Buffalo roam.

1631

Dutch settlers establish a foothold in Delaware. Within a decade, Swedes begin to settle at Wicaco, now in Queen Village.

1682

William Penn buys land from the Lenape and subsequently lays out the City of Philadelphia, with South Street as its lower boundary.

George Gray’s inn. Photograph by Robert Newell/Library Company of Philadelphia

1747

George Gray establishes an inn and ferry business on the west bank of the Schuylkill.

1762

Southwark, from 5th to the waterfront between Washington and Lombard, is the first municipality outside the city.

1790

There are more free blacks than slaves in the city. By 1840, 70 percent of Philly immigrants are Irish. Most find work on the waterfront.

1801

The Navy Yard opens.

1832, 1834, 1842

Race riots between Irish and black residents competing for menial jobs.

1840s

First two Catholic churches in South Philly open: St. Philip de Neri at 2nd and Queen (1841) and St. Paul’s at 9th and Christian (1847).

1850

There are 300 Italians in South Philly. In 1865, it takes newly arrived Lorenzo Nardi two days to find a fellow Italian.

1854

South Philly is finally included in the city proper. From 4th to 9th streets between Lombard and Fitzwater is known as the “infected area,” for the unsanitary conditions.

1858

A horse-drawn streetcar — the city’s first — operates on 5th and 6th streets starting from Morris.

1870–1910

South Philly’s population more than doubles, to 336,000.

1871

On Election Day, black educator/activist Octavius Catto is killed at 814 South Street.

1881

Black Philadelphians become policemen and postal workers for the first time; city schools are desegregated.

1882

225 Russian Jewish refugees arrive, fleeing the Czar. By 1910, Russians, mostly Jews, make up South Philly’s largest demographic, with 45,000, followed by Italians at 33,000.

W.E.B. Du Bois. Photograph by Universal History Archive/Getty Images

1899

W.E.B. Du Bois publishes The Philadelphia Negro, his social study of the 7th Ward.

1901

First official, city-sponsored Mummers Parade.

1910

Blacks make up 8 percent of South Philly’s population. By 1920, they’re 11 percent — the largest growth in that decade of any group. Thirty-five percent of South Philly is foreign-born.

1915

Agata Quintieri elopes with James Francis Mullen. Her brother runs into Federal Street screaming, “My sister married an Irishman!”

1921

Brothers Giuseppe and Gaetano Termini open their bakery.

1930

Pat and Harry Olivieri open Pat’s King of Steaks at 9th and Passyunk.

1940

The Italian Market has 159 stores and 131 stalls.

1954

Wilson Park housing project opens at 25th and Jackson despite objections of neighbors.

south philly timeline

Angelo Bruno. Photograph by Jack Tinney/Getty Images

1959

Angelo Bruno takes over the South Philly mob after Guiseppe Ida moves back to Italy.

1970s

The first Vietnamese immigrants arrive in South Philly. By 1996, they make up 4 percent of its population.

1971

Frank Rizzo is elected mayor.

south philly timeline

The Odunde Festival. Photograph by Tom Morton

1975

The first Odunde Festival is held in Grays Ferry.

1980

Mob boss Angelo Bruno is shot to death outside his home at 10th and Snyder, setting off a bloody succession war.

1990

In the Census, South Philadelphia’s 171,000 residents list their heritage; there are 53,758 African Americans; 53,392 Italians, 17,281 Irish, 8,925 Germans, 6,948 Asians and 4,758 Hispanics; 11,518 residents were born abroad.

south philly timeline

The Naval Base. Photograph by Charles L. Howell/City of Philadelphia Department of Records

1995

The Naval Base closes.

2003

John Kerry orders a cheesesteak with Swiss at Pat’s and promptly loses any chance of becoming president.

2004

Lynn Rinaldi opens Paradiso on East Passyunk. Veterans Stadium is imploded. After protracted debate over where the new Citizens Bank Park should be placed, it opens in … South Philly.

2008

Ori Feibush begins developing houses in Point Breeze.

2009

Fond opens; the East Passyunk restaurant boom is on.

2016

The Democratic National Convention is held at the Wells Fargo Center.

south philly timeline

Photograph by Alamy

2018

After 125 years in business, Fiorella’s sausage shop in the Italian Market permanently closes.

2019

Marc Vetri announces plans to open a pasta bar on the site of Fiorella’s.

Published as “Becoming South Philly” in the July 2019 issue of Philadelphia magazine.