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.


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


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


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


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


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.


The Navy Yard opens.

1832, 1834, 1842

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


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).


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


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.


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


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


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


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


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


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


First official, city-sponsored Mummers Parade.


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.


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


Brothers Giuseppe and Gaetano Termini open their bakery.


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


The Italian Market has 159 stores and 131 stalls.


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

south philly timeline

Angelo Bruno. Photograph by Jack Tinney/Getty Images


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


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


Frank Rizzo is elected mayor.

south philly timeline

The Odunde Festival. Photograph by Tom Morton


The first Odunde Festival is held in Grays Ferry.


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


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


The Naval Base closes.


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


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.


Ori Feibush begins developing houses in Point Breeze.


Fond opens; the East Passyunk restaurant boom is on.


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

south philly timeline

Photograph by Alamy


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


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.