Philadelphia is recognized as many things—the birthplace of the Declaration of Independence, the home of the First Continental Congress, and a popular tourist destination filled with culture, nightlife, and sporting events. But what you may not know is that Philly is also one of the world’s first planned cities.
In 1681, when England’s King Charles II granted William Penn the parcel of land on which Philadelphia now rests, Penn envisioned not the crowded circuitous streets of an English river town, but rather a country town of broad roads and well-kept estates arranged in an easily navigable grid—a place where people of all faiths could live and work in harmony. Penn first mapped out his design in 1683, which included five squares arranged as dots on a domino.
Each of these squares survives in some capacity today, each offering visitors to the city a unique glimpse of Philadelphia history.
Centre Square (now City Hall)
Located at the heart of the city where Broad and Market streets come together is Centre Square—once home to the city’s waterworks, an elegant domed structure that endured from 1800 to 1829. In 1871 an ambitious construction project was begun that would a decade later yield Philadelphia’s modern City Hall, an ornate structure of Second Empire design that continues to house the Mayor’s Office, City Council Chambers, and municipal courts. Atop City Hall Towers stands the famous 38-foot- bronze statue of William Penn, created by Alexander Milne Calder in 1894. Tours of City Hall (including the observation deck) can be arranged by calling (215) 686-2840.
Southwest of City Hall, at the corner of 18th and Walnut Streets, is fashionable Rittenhouse Square—named for David Rittenhouse, astronomer and first director of the U.S. Mint. Rittenhouse Square rests in what is today one of the most lively and diverse areas of the city.
A variety of people tend to gather here—including office workers, families, and street performers—to soak up the sun, admire the finely manicured flowerbeds, or relax by the fountain. The park is home to several notable sculptures, perhaps most famous being the bronze “Lion Crushing a Serpent” by Antoine-Louis Barye. The Rittenhouse Square district offers some of the most elite boutiques and restaurants in the city.
Logan Square (now Logan Circle)
Northwest of City Hall is Logan Circle, bordered by several noted cultural institutions (including the Academy of Natural Sciences, Moore College of Art, the Franklin Institute) gateway to the city’s Benjamin Franklin Parkway, crowned by the Philadelphia Museum of Art in the distance.
The Circle’s central fountain is highlighted by three bronze statues representing each of Philadelphia’s main waterways—the Delaware River, the Schuylkill River, and Wissahickon Creek. In summer the fountain offers weary travelers a chance to dip their feet and cool off.
To the southeast, at 7th and Walnut Streets is Washington Square. Leafy and serene, the Square offers many opportunities to relax in the shade or around the central circular fountain.
Near the fountain rests the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, guarded by a statue of George Washington and the “Eternal Flame”—a gas-lit torch that is never extinguished. Beneath the Square it is said that many bodies rest—many from the Revolutionary War, others from a yellow fever epidemic that struck the city in the 1790s.
Franklin Square has undergone a renaissance in recent years. Located at 7th and Race Streets, at the foot of the Ben Franklin Bridge, Franklin Square has been transformed into a family- friendly wonderland—complete with a working vintage carousel, playgrounds for both younger and older children, miniature golf course, a fountain, and a full snack bar. A great place to spend a relaxing afternoon.
Penn’s design ensured that no visitor to Center City would be more than a short walk from a park, so come see what Philly’s five historic squares have to offer!
Franklin Square reopens tomorrow for its 10th birthday season with fun family entertainment including Philly Mini Golf, the Franklin Square fountain, playgrounds, the Parx Liberty Carousel, and the tasty SquareBurger. We're expecting it to be a beautiful day! See you in the park! #FranklinSquare #Philadelphia #HistoricPhilly #OpenInPHL
This post was written by Cecily Kellogg, a non-native who has lived in Philadelphia for thirty years and adores her adopted hometown. Her favorite spot in the city is the fountain at Logan Square in spring. She’s a writer and content marketer happy to be living in South Philadelphia’s Point Breeze.