Francisville: North Philadelphia’s oldest neighborhood is the next big thing!

Francisville East southside

Francisville, as anyone who has been there knows, is a very confusing neighborhood.  It lies west of Broad between Fairmount and Girard Avenues in lower North Philadelphia. 

The streets intersect at 30 and 60 degree angles, creating numerous six point intersections and leading people in confusing directions.  One must often look for the city skyline, south, to regain their sense of direction!  The reason for this awkward street layout is because Francisville, once the site of a vineyard, is North Philadelphia’s oldest neighborhood, and the streets were originally laid out to be parallel and perpendicular to Ridge Avenue, which runs through the middle of the neighborhood heading towards the northwest.  The city’s Center City street grid was later extended north, creating a hodge podge of blocks that each feel like their own mini-neighborhood.

The neighborhood, as a result, feels extremely unique.  It has a very old-fashioned feel with some of the oldest buildings and sidewalks in the city.  Home prices range from below $100,000 to just below $300,000.  Historically a working class community for those working in nearby factories, Francisville had become rather worn in recent decades.  But one walk through the neighborhood today shows it is clearly revitalizing with a mix of affordable housing and upscale market-rate housing.  It is not as well known as other lower North Philly communities, probably because it’s main shopping street, Ridge Avenue, has seen little recent change and has few businesses.  However, there are many residential developments changing the area, and that will likely spill over onto Ridge, which will bring more attention to Francisville.

One series of developments is affordable housing adjacent to (and mostly west of) Ridge consisting of twins and townhouses built about ten years ago.  That was followed by market rate developments, such as townhouses on Cambridge Street (just below Girard) and The Exchange, a residential reuse of an old commercial building on 16th Street.  Two new developments that will break ground soon include the Vineyards, being developed by the Francisville Neighborhood Development Corporation and developer Anthony B. Miles, that will include 60 condo units and a market place on Ridge designed to resemble a small Reading Terminal Market, as well as an upscale, market-rate residential development, being developed by The Hankin Group at 19th & Wylie Streets (west of Ridge), that will consist of several dozen upscale townhouses and a five story apartment building.  I’ll have more to say about those developments in the future.

The most transformative developments, I believe, are the ones pictured above and below at the intersection of 15th & Poplar Streets.  This intersection is about a mile from City Hall and a half mile from the edge of Temple University’s campus.  Over the years, I’ve wandered through this particular area which, except for some criminal activity, had become a virtual ghost town of empty lots, abandoned buildings, and a junkyard.  The developments you see include Francisville East, an affordable development of 16 townhouses and 27 senior apartments being developed by not-for-profit Community Ventures and designed by KSK Architects, and several renovated apartment buildings that were almost all abandoned a couple of years ago.  Francisville East will include a courtyard and parking.  The townhouses have a traditional design and the three storey apartment building is being designed in a post modern theme with bay windows jutting out at skewed angles.  As if that isn’t enough, several modern, upscale market-rate apartment buildings are being built around the corner on 15th Street.  The effect of all these developments is to completely transform this strategic intersection from a blighted deterrent for visitors into a beautiful showplace that will tie together the surrounding areas.

These developments, along with cultural developments in the neighborhood such as the Performance Garage, and the eventual revitalization of Ridge Avenue, will make the oddly designed Francisville neighborhood one of the most unique communities in the city!

Francisville East southside

Francisville East senior building

Francisville East sign

Recently renovated building at northeast corner of 15th & Poplar

Market rate apartments on 15th Street around the corner

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About gabrielcgottlieb

I am a real estate agent at Long & Foster Real Estate Center City and someone who likes to write about development and urban planning in the City of Philadelphia. Contact me at Gabriel.gottlieb@LNF.com if you are interested in buying or selling a home or investment property in Philadelphia.
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11 Responses to Francisville: North Philadelphia’s oldest neighborhood is the next big thing!

  1. Gil Gilbert says:

    I keep reading this post and am finally compelled to respond and correct the mis-information. Francisville is not the site of the vineyard in question. This vineyard was established by William Penn on his Springettsbury Manor property at what became the sight of Lemon Hill, overlooking the Schuylkill River. Although the estate that included the vineyard did extend indeed to Ridge Avenue, the vineyard itself did not extend as far east as what eventually became known as “Francisville.” When the Springettsbury estate was dissolved and sold piecemeal, the area lying along the north of present Fairmount Avenue (then known as Coates Lane) to Ridge Avenue (then known as Wissahickon or Ridge Road) was purchased by Jonathan Dickinson, who named his “plantation” “The Vineyard” because his property included the original vineyard acreage. When Tench Francis purchased Dickinson’s property, he divided the over four hundred acres into smaller parcels and sold them at public auction. The area of Penn’s vineyard was included in this sale, being purchased, among other parcels, by Robert Morris, who established his “The Hills” estate, which later became Lemon Hill. Francis, however, continued to retain the Vineyard name, establishing his own “Vineyard House” estate complex on the roughly 75 acres of land fronting on Coates Lane (Fairmount Avenue) and Ridge Road (Ridge Avenue.) The Francis “Vineyard House” estate was one of the houses burned by the British on their march from Whitemarsh to Philadelphia in 1777. Unlike many of the other estates that were burned along Ridge Road, The Vineyard House was never rebuilt. Shortly prior to his death in 1799, Francis laid out a community development of approximately 38 acres of the Vineyard House property into 66 fifty-feet wide properties planned on a street grid oriented parallel and perpendicular to Ridge Road. (This explains the deviation from the Philadelphia street grid.) By this point in time all elements of the vineyard and its parent “plantation” or estate had completely disappeared, and within only a few years, Francis’s “Vineyardtown” development was more commonly referred to as Francisville. The Francis family retained ownership of several parcels of the Vineyard House property until 1826 when the courts, at the request of the Francis heirs, portioned these final parcels which were in turn sold for development that became the west Francisville area, reaching to the present Corinthian Avenue. It is notable that Girard Avenue did not exist in the early years of Francisville. Ginnodo Street was the northern most boundary of the original Vineyardtown/Francisville.

    Also notable is that the area along the east side of Ridge Avenue had absolutely no relationship to the Vineyard estate property. This area was, in fact, still a private country estate until the early 1840’s when the property was sold specifically for development, some years after Francisville was an established active community. This eastern estate actually holds at least as important a place in Philadelphia history as does the Vineyard estate, if for no other reason than the names of the owners of this estate, who hold esteemed positions in the history of both Philadelphia and the new United States of America. This area warrants in-depth research and archeological exploration. The Francisville boundaries as currently defined by the Philadelphia Zoning and Planning Commissions also includes the sites other important colonial/early federal country estates which need to be recognized on their own merits.

    I highly respect the efforts being put forth to revitalize this area. However, is important that the information being disseminated bear at least some modicum of truth. It is unfair to both the community and its residence that they are being mis-lead. The individuals and organizations involved in this revitalization need to do their homework, and get their facts straight and accurate.

    • David Maxey says:

      It would be very helpful to me in my research if the author of this excellent note could direct me to any published work or other source I might cite to pin down Tench Francis’s ownership of this property and its sacking during the British Occupation of Philadelphia. An old family legend has identified the property as the Townside Estate located in Moyamensing, but I am skeptical about the accuracy of that notation.

      • I mostly looked at the local community group’s website, Francisville Community Development Corporation. I don’t know a good source for the Colonial history of Francisville.

      • Gil Gilbert says:

        Encountered this site – again – today- 7/23/2016, rather after the fact. Townside was the Thomas Willing property, and, indeed, in Moyamensing Township. NO relationship to Francisville! I leave it to someone else to verify this information. It will require considerable in-depth research. Good luck! PS: I do know a good resource for the documented colonial history of Francisville.

  2. theDR says:

    How do you know so much about Francisville? Indeed, your entire post is fascinating, but I’ve always been of the impression that Francisville was a vineyard, but this new information is even more interesting. Is there a website where you found all of this info? Or did you just do the research old school?

  3. Jeffstroud says:

    Thank you for this information! Gil I am not a Philadelphian really but I understand your concern for honoring of history and the correct representation of the area.

    My question is where are the older buildings, what is being rehabbed or is the whole hood being torn down and rebuilt ?

    • Many older buildings in Francisville are being renovated, as well. The pictures I have, in this article, show new construction where there was an empty lot. But, one of my last photos shows a previously vacant building that was recently renovated into apartments.

  4. MY NAME IS PAUL GOLDSTON I ASKING HOW DID GINNODO STREET GOT ITS NAME?

  5. Robert Losick says:

    When are town meetings held and where?

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