What’s in a Name?

By Amy Grant, Board Member

Several of Philadelphia’s neighborhoods are named after early landowners, prominent landmarks, or geographical features.  “Nicetown” honors 17th century Dutch settlers Hans and Jan de Neus.  “Fox Chase” takes its name from an 18th century inn.  “Overbrook” salutes a 19th century rail station built above a stream.

“Queen Village” is a relatively new name for Philadelphia’s oldest neighborhood.  In 1638, Swedish immigrants settled in a “pleasant place” the Lenape tribe called “Wicacco.”  Over the next forty years, Wiccaco grew and developed into a thriving farming community.  When William Penn arrived in 1682, he christened the village “Southwark” after a similarly situated neighborhood in London.

By the 20th century, Southwark had flourished into a large, diverse community with ties to the waterfront.  Sadly, the neighborhood began to decline in the 1950s when a highway was constructed on the Front Street corridor.  Hundreds of buildings were demolished, families and businesses were displaced, and property values plummeted.

In 1962, concerned residents, businesses, and organizations — including Gloria Dei Church — began working together to revitalize the northeast section of Southwark.  Since this “new” neighborhood would need a new name, a task force was formed to evaluate branding ideas.

The task force began looking into the history of the area.  They were delighted to discover that several east-west streets —  Queen, Christian, and Catharine — appeared on early 18th century maps of Philadelphia.  These street names were probably chosen to honor Queen Christina of Sweden (1626-1689) who reigned when her subjects arrived here in 1638.   In all likelihood, the first streets in the area were built by these early Swedish settlers or their descendants.  The neighborhood was renamed “Queen Village” in celebration of these early pioneers and their enduring legacy.

Many of these early “Queen Village” settlers are interred in the Gloria Dei (Old Swedes’) Churchyard.  After over three hundred years of natural wear and tear, some their gravestones are in need of repair and restoration.  Please consider lending your support toward preserving the New Sweden legacy in Queen Village.

Written by Amy Grant

Amy Grant is a graphic designer and web developer. She is the founder of the Southwark Historical Society, a volunteer based group that studies the Southwark Historical District located in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.