Clapboard, frame, or “stick” houses, which used wood for exterior siding, were built in abundance by early colonial settlers. However, due to their flammable nature, the city of Philadelphia outlawed the construction of wood buildings in 1796. The Southwark District, located south of the city, acted as a separate municipality. Despite the elevated risk of fire, frame houses continued to be built in Southwark until the district was merged with the city in 1854. Perhaps this difference in zoning laws accounts for the many historic and reconstructed wooden gems present in South Philadelphia today. Here are stories behind a few of these wonderful homes.
128 Bainbridge Street
Expanded and remodeled several times, the original wood structure was built before the Revolutionary War. Joseph Hunter, a biscuit baker, purchased the property in 1772. Hunter switched from biscuits to booze and opened a tavern that may have been located on the premises. All we know is that Hunter died unexpectedly ten years later, leaving behind a young daughter named Ann.
802 S. Hancock Street
Another baker, William Riddle, built this house along with four other similar investment properties sometime between 1808 and 1814. Riddle and his family resided above his bakery located nearby on the East side of Front Street. The rents and profits generated by the Hancock Street properties may have provided necessary income for Riddle’s family after his untimely death.
809 and 811 S. Hancock Street
Built sometime after 1802, these homes were probably built by David Flickwer and Jesse Williamson, members of the Carpenters’ Company. Flickwer and Williamson appear to have been distant relatives through marriage. They purchased and developed a number of properties in Southwark including two adjacent three-story brick homes on the 200 block of Fitzwater Street, where their respective families continued to reside long after their deaths.
126 and 128 League Street
The three-story “frame” facades at this address are merely an homage to the historic homes that once occupied this site. Richloff Alberson, a lumber merchant based on Swanson Street, built twin two-story clapboard houses on this property sometime between 1806 and 1816. Although Alberson died before writing a will, his heirs honored his wish to dedicate his estate toward providing health care for a “lunatic” named Martha Linton.
123 Queen Street
Believe it or not, this home is a facsimile of a historic house that once stood on this property. The original home had been illegally demolished in 1987 by a developer who was forced to rebuild an exact replica two years later. 204 Christian Street, another historic frame house, was reconstructed for similar reasons.