Northwestern Philadelphia Travel Guide
  • Photo: Smallbones [Public Domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Northwestern Philadelphia

Chestnut Hill and Mount Airy are very pleasant, predominantly residential neighborhoods. Travel to downtown Philadelphia is easy by car or train. Restaurants and shops run all along Germantown Avenue in Chestnut Hill. Mount Airy is a little more sprawling, but there are a number of good restaurants and bars there as well. Manayunk has little of its history on display, unless you follow the tow path up the Schuylkill to see the last remnants of decaying mills. This predominantly Polish and Irish neighborhood renovated its Main Street in the 1980s into a quaint avenue with restaurants, funky shops, and a few good bars, perfect for a pleasant afternoon.

In 1683, at the founding of Germantown by German settlers, the county encompassed present-day Germantown, Mount Airy, and Chestnut Hill. It played an important role in the nation's founding: during the American Revolution, it was the sight of the Battle of Germantown, which marked the first attack by American armed forces on the British. Originally intended as a farming community, the land turned out to be too rocky for anything but subsistence farming. Instead the Germans turned to making textiles, milling, and printing.

Germantown became fashionable for wealthy Philadelphians wanting to escape the city's heat in the mid-1700s. There are more than 70 homes dating from the 1700s here, as well as some of the oldest mills in the country. Germantown was also the seat of government for two summers during Washington's presidency, when yellow fever epidemics raged in the city.

Mount Airy and Chestnut Hill came into their own in the 19th century, when they became desirable as the location for summer homes for Philadelphia business owners drawn to Germantown's booming textile industry. Indeed, Philadelphia University had been the Philadelphia College of Textiles from the late 1800s to 1999. Germantown township was incorporated into Philadelphia in 1854, by which point local trains were already servicing the area, making travel to the city convenient.

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