Fishtown, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Fishtown, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Fishtown is a neighborhood in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, United States.

Located immediately northeast of Center City, its borders are somewhat disputed today due to many factors, but are roughly defined by the triangle created by the Delaware River, Frankford Avenue, and York Street. Newer residents of the area consider it to go all the way up to Lehigh Avenue, while some older residents maintain the upper border to be Norris Street.



The area was originally inhabited by members of the Turtle Clan of the Lenni Lenape Indian tribe (who the Europeans named the Delaware Indian Tribe). The first European settlers were a group of 6 Swedish farming families, later replaced by British landed gentry, then British shipbuilders and German fishermen.


Within a few generations there was another influx of German immigrants, then still later in the late 19th century Polish and Irish Catholic immigrants. The two Roman Catholic Churches, St. Laurentius and Holy Name of Jesus, were built by these immigrants. Saint Laurentius, built by the Polish immigrants, and Holy Name, built by predominantly Irish and German immigrants, continue to serve the community.

Modern History

The neighborhood has been working class for centuries. While poverty grew after jobs left in the de-industrialization which afflicted many "rust belt" cities, Fishtown's workers continued to maintain a stable working-class community. Most long-time residents trace their ancestry to Irish, German, and Polish Catholic immigrants.

In recent years Fishtown has experienced moderate gentrification characterized by significant rises in housing prices and the opening or upscaling of art, entertainment, and dining establishments. An influx of artists and professionals has joined the ranks of police officers, fire fighters, carpenters, electricians, stone masons, plumbers, sheet-metal workers, and teamsters.

The neighborhood has been chosen by the state of Pennsylvania to be the site of the SugarHouse gaming complex, leading to controversy within the neighborhood.

Borders Disputed

Fishtown is actually the eastern most triangle of the larger surrounding Kensington District, created out of Northern Liberties Township in 1820. The Kensington District, when created, had a Northern border of Norris Street, an Eastern border of the Delaware River, a Southern border of the Cohocksink Creek, and a Western border of 6th Street. The Kensington District is not to be confused with the Kensington neighborhood of today.

There has never been an official designation of this area as "Fishtown." Locals who lived in the eastern part of the Kensington district, namely those in Philadelphia’s 18th Political Ward, referred to it as Lower Kensington, as seen in early buildings and churches, until the late 1800's. Fishtown stuck as the nickname because of the shipping and fishing industries along the Delaware River. By the 2nd and 3rd quarter of the 20th century, the area was no longer being called Kensington or Lower Kensington.

With the Eastern border locked as the Delaware River, the Southern border has become where Laurel Street, Frankford Avenue and Delaware Avenue meet. The Western border follows Laurel Street west to Front Street, then north on Front Street to Norris Street. The northern border is disputed by different peoples as either Norris Street, York Street, or Lehigh Avenue. There are three main reasons for this dispute:

* Political Border (Norris Street)
** The northern border of the Kensington District, founded in 1820, was Norris Street.
** The northern border of Philadelphia's 18th Ward, drawn in 1854, is Norris Street.
** Norris Street is actually the only street that cuts straight through the neighborhood.

* Religious Border and Industrial Border (York Street)
** With a large influx of Roman Catholic immigrants to the area, a new Roman Catholic parish, Holy Name of Jesus, was created in 1905. Its northern border was designated, and remains, York Street. Meaning that any children attending Catholic schooling who lived south of York Street must go to Holy Name school, in the center of Fishtown. Children born north of York Street must go to St. Ann’s School in Port Richmond. The neighborhood identity of thousands of people, families and children, have been molded by this 102 year old “border.”
** York Street is a wide multiple lane avenue, once the home of an industrial metal-stamping company, a larger printing company, and numerous food distributors. It was common to see dozens of 18-wheeled trucks blocking traffic and neighborhood flow. For this reason, York Street became a psychological northern border.

* Current Gentrification and Real Estate Market Border (Lehigh Avenue)
** With a recent development boom in the area created in the triangle south of York Street, developers and realtors have made it fashionable to “extend” the name of Fishtown to any surrounding area, even though there is no historical basis.
** Newer residents of the area, who may not know the historical basis for “neighborhood identity” frequently “expand” the boundaries also.

The Name

The name "Fishtown" is derived from the area's former role as the center of the shad fishing industry on the Delaware River. The name comes from the fact that a number of 18th and early 19th century German & German-American families bought up the fishing rights on both sides of the Delaware River from Trenton Falls down to Cape May, NJ. Also, in the early 18th century, an English colonist was fabled to have caught the largest Shad in the world in the Delaware River.

The apocryphal local legend traces the name of Fishtown to Charles Dickens who purportedly visited the neighborhood in March 1842, but records show this to be false, as it was named Fishtown prior to his visiting.

External links

* [ A neighborhood forum for Fishtowners and those who love Fishtown]
* [ Fishtown life (sponsored by the Fishtown Neighbors Association (FNA). It's the source for neighborhood information as well as FNA meetings schedule.]
* [ New Kensington Community Development Corporation (NKCDC) providing neighborhood services within the Fishtown community.]
* [ Articles about Fishtown & Kensington history published by the Historical Society of Pennsylvania]
* [ History of Fishtown & Kensington, provided by local geneaologist and historian Ken Milano]
* [ Photo History of Philadelphia, Sort by Neighborhood]
* [ 19th Century Maps of Philadelphia]
* [ Phillyblog - Fishtown section.]

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