April 4, 2011 – Germantown.


You don’t have to walk the streets of Germantown in northwest Philadelphia for long before you realize that you’ve stepped into those pages of American History that maybe you should have read more closely in high school or college.  

 Now if you are a serious student of American history and have in-depth knowledge about how and why Philadelphia became the birthplace of American democracy this may not move you very much.   

However, for me, despite the fact that I’m not as much of a history buff like I used to be in my younger days, I still remain fascinated by living history…and love being able to see and experience, up close and personal, sites that actually served as backdrops to some of this country’s most pivotal historical events, stages on which many of this country’s greatest figures acted out their scripts, and bringing to life one of world’s most fascinating (and imperfect) social experiments ever known by mankind.  Consider this excerpt from my favorite online encyclopedia, Wikipedia:

“Germantown is a neighborhood in the northwest section of the city of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, United States, about 7–8 miles northwest from the center of the city. The neighborhood is rich in historic sites and buildings from the colonial era, a few of which are open to the public.

“Germantown was founded by German settlers, thirteen Quaker and Mennonite families from Krefeld (Germany),[1][2] in 1681. Today the founding day of Germantown on October 6, 1683, is remembered as German-American Day, a holiday in the United States, observed annually on October 6.

“On August 12, 1689, William Penn at London signed a charter constituting some of the inhabitants a corporation by the name of “the bailiff, burgesses and commonalty of Germantown, in the county of Philadelphia, in the province of Pennsylvania.” Francis Daniel Pastorius was the first bailiff. Jacob Telner, Derick Isacks op den Graeff and his brother Abraham Isacks op den Graeff, Reynier Tyson, and Tennis Coender were burgesses, besides six committeemen. They had authority to hold “the general court of the corporation of Germantowne,” to make laws for the government of the settlement, and to hold a court of record. This court went into operation in 1690, and continued its services for sixteen years. Sometimes, to distinguish Germantown from the upper portion of German township, outside the borough, the township portion was called Upper Germantown.

In 1688, five years after its founding, Germantown became the birthplace of the anti-slavery movement in America. Pastorius, Gerret Hendericks, Derick Updegraeff and Abraham Updengraef gathered at Thones Kunders’s house and wrote a two-page condemnation of slavery and sent it to the governing bodies of their Quaker church, the Society of Friends. The petition was mainly based upon the Bible’s Golden Rule, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” Though the Quaker establishment took no immediate action, the The 1688 Germantown Quaker Petition Against Slavery, was an unusually early, clear and forceful argument against slavery and initiated the process of banning slavery in the Society of Friends (1776) and Pennsylvania (1780).

“When Philadelphia was occupied by the British during the American Revolutionary War, several units were housed in Germantown. In the Battle of Germantown, in 1777, the Continental Army attacked this garrison. During the battle, a party of citizens fired on the British troops, as they marched up the Avenue, and mortally wounded British Brigadier General Agnew. The Americans withdrew after firing on one another in the confusion of the battle, leading to the determination that the battle resulted in a defeat of the Americans. However, the inspirational battle was considered an important victory by the feisty Americans. The American loss was 673; the British loss was 575. The battle is called a victory by the Americans because along with the Army’s success under Brigadier General Horatio Gates at Saratoga on October 17 when John Burgoyne surrendered, it led to the official recognition of the Americans by France, which formed an alliance with the Americans afterward.

“During his presidency, George Washington and his family lodged at the Deshler-Morris House in Germantown to escape the city and the yellow fever epidemic of 1793. The first bank of the United States was also located here during his administration.

“Louisa May Alcott, author of the novel Little Women, was born in Germantown in 1832. Germantown proper, and the adjacent German Township, were incorporated into the City of Philadelphia in 1854 by the Act of Consolidation.

Bright April, a 1946 book written and illustrated by Marguerite de Angeli, features scenes of Germantown of the 1940s while addressing the divisive issue of racial prejudice experienced by African Americans, a daring topic for a children’s book of that time.

What I didn’t know, and what’s coming into sharp focus for me, is how diverse and eclectic Germantown is. It reminds me of Hyde Park in Chicago in a lot of ways, with its tree lined streets, charming architecture and mix of people coexisting regarding of many of the differences that tend to create divisions of al kinds in other communities.  I’ve always asked myself, why is it that communities like Germantown and Hyde Park (Chicago) thrive and diversity is allowed to flourish and fuel the energy of the neighborhood?  There’s a magic of sorts that binds people together and makes it easier to live together in relative harmony.

At any rate, I enjoy the fact that I can find all kinds of faces and spaces to photograph without having to go out of my way.  As you know I seek to explore in my photography how everyday people interact with their immediate evironment. With that said, I’m pleased to present several of my favorite captures during a photowalk around Germantown in early April.  Click on each image below to view the full-sized version of each photo and an accompanying description.

 And as always, I welcome your comments and feedback. 

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