By Bob Josuweit
The land around Old Swedes is not what the Swedes saw in the late 1600s. Let’s step back in time and take a look.
The southern part of Philadelphia that included the Swedes’ Church was owned by the Swedish family Swanson. In May, 1664 the land began at the area known as Moyamensing and stretched “upwards in breadth 400 rods, [about 1 1/4 mile wide] and in length into the woods 600 rods, [nearly 2 miles]” In all it was about 800 acres.
The first Swedes’ Church at Wiccaco was consecrated on the present site in 1677, five years before William Penn came to the area. The church was made of logs, and had loop-holes instead of window lights, which might serve for fire-arms in case of need. The congregation was accustomed to bringing fire-arms to church with them in case of attack. However they primarily used the weapons to take care of any wild game that got in their way as they traveled to Church. In 1700, the present brick church was erected, and it was then deemed a great edifice. Out of the 800 acres, 27 acres of land belonged to the Church.
The original Swanson log-house was standing till the time the British occupied Philadelphia (1777-78) when it was taken down and converted into fuel. It stood on a hill on the Northwest corner of Swanson Street and Beck’s Alley. (The hill no longer exists.) In 1748, Professor Kalm said “The wretched old wooden building is still preserved as a memorial of the once poor state of that place. Its antiquity gives it a kind of superiority over all the other buildings in the town, although in itself it is the worst of all. It showed how they dwelt, when stags, elk, deer and beavers ranged in broad daylight in the future streets and public places of Philadelphia. In that house was heard the sound of the spinning wheel before the city was ever thought of!” He described a great number of very large sized water-beech or buttonwood trees on the riverside.
William Penn’s son, Thomas, made the area his favorite area to walk when he was in Philadelphia. Secretary Peters, in writing to him in 1743, complained of its changes — saying, “Southwark is getting greatly disfigured by erecting irregular and mean houses; thereby so marring its beauty that, when he shall return, he will lose his usual pretty walk to Wiccaco.”