University City Historical Society

John Shedwick Development Houses

3433–3439 Lancaster Avenue

Placed on the National Register of Historic Places March 10, 1982


The Shedwick Houses are key representatives of the intensification of Powelton's development from the antebellum suburb of country villas to becoming part of the post-Civil War city. They are remarkably well-preserved examples of speculatively built houses of this transitional era.

John Shedwick Development Houses in 1982
John Shedwick Development Houses in 1982
John Shedwick Development Houses in 1998
John Shedwick Development Houses in 1998

Historical research on these houses connects them with a major transition in the development of this area. In the l8th century, Samuel Powel, Philadelphia's mayor in the 1760's, had his country home here among relatively unpopulated surroundings and ownership of the land remained in this family until well into the 19th century. A trustee of the Powel estate sold the block between Lancaster and Race from 34th to 36th Streets to John Shedwick in July, 1870. In subsequent deeds for the four properties, all from 1876, each was sold by Shedwick to a different individual who now appeared to be resident on it: 3433 Lancaster to George B, Duncan, 3435 to Mary S. Wetherill, 3437 to William D. Bones, and 3439 Lancaster to Elizabeth and Henry Wilson. In three of the four cases, the property remained in the hands of this original family for 30 years or more. It seems clear that the properties were developed speculatively by John Shedwick and the houses built immediately before their individual sale in 1876.

John Shedwick Development Houses in 1982
John Shedwick Development Houses in 1982
John Shedwick Development Houses in 1998
John Shedwick Development Houses in 1998

This process of development was mirrored almost precisely in Powelton's sister area in West Philadelphia, that south of Market Street which was owned and preserved as a dispersed country estate by the Hamilton Family until the late 1850's, when more intense development immediately began. Early development in both of these new suburbs was of detached and semidetached larger houses in picturesque styles, usually in an Italianate or more medievalizing mode, of which the most prominent proponent was Samuel Sloan. Sloan, in fact, designed a great many of the "villas" and "cottages" of this period in both areas. The natural inertia of this process was towards denser and denser development, especially after the Civil War, when full-fledged urban architectural forms of row housing began to fill in the area.

These houses on Lancaster Avenue are prime and early examples of this, the final developmental stage in the area's history that establishes its ultimate character as part of the city, rather than a suburb. They are the best preserved representatives of the start of this more intense development which was in evidence principally on the southern boundaries of this area, especially on Lancaster Avenue, the prime thoroughfare to Powelton Village from Market Street and downtown Philadelphia. By the end of the next decade a fully urban row housing type was in evidence here, much of it now destroyed by nearby institutional and commercial development. The Shedwick Houses are the most intact group remaining in Powelton Village to mark this transition, retaining the porches and rustic stonework of the country, yet invoking the cosmopolitan vocabulary and attached, repetitive nature of the city.

The Shedwick Development National Register nomination was researched and prepared by Jeffrey Cohen.

top ↑ orig