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Mount Airy Named One of Best Old House Neighborhoods in 2010

February 26, 2010

The Mount Airy neighborhood of Philadelphia has received recognition for its finely constructed older homes as well as its natural and cultural amenities. The February issue of   This Old House named Mount Airy one of the best old house neighborhoods for 2010.     

Mount Airy is located in the Northwest section of Philadelphia. It is offers active neighborhood associations, up and coming commercial areas with restaurants and shops, and easy access to Center City Philadelphia via one of 2 train lines or by car via Lincoln Drive. On the West, Mount Airy borders the Wissahickon Park offering hiking, bicycling, and horseback riding within walking distance. Being near the park, the area is also known for its many trees valued by local residents in spite of the need for regular arboreal maintenance.   

Mt Airy is a part of the older, German Township, which was incorporated into Philadelphia in 1854. The homes in the area include some dating back to colonial times, most of them located along the main road, Germantown Ave.   

Cliveden during Battle of Germantown Re-inactment

Chew House damaged by cannon fire in 1777

Among those still surviving today are the Chew house at Cliveden, a National Historic Trust property, Upsala, located across Germantown Ave from the Chew house, Gorgas House , the present site of Weichert, Realtors® – McCarthy Associates, and Cresheim Cottage. The smaller, older part of Cresheim Cottage is believed to be the earliest permanent property built along Germantown Ave, the larger part of the building being added in 1748. Today Cresheim Cottage houses ‘Avenida’ an upscale Latin restaurant, warmly welcomed by Mount Airy residents.    

In the 19th century, 2 railroad lines were built that made it possible for residents to commute to work into Philadelphia. New housing developments grew up around the railroad stations. On the East side of Germantown Ave on the Reading Railroad (now the SEPTS R7 line) homes were built within the Gowen Estate beginning in the 1880’s.   

Gowen Ave House built by the Gowen Estate in the 1880's

Gowen Ave House built in the c. 1900 as a rental property

On the West side of Germantown Ave the homes of developers Wendell and Smith built Pelham, a late Victorian planned development, adjacent to the the Carpenter Lane and Upsal Stations of the Pennsylvania Railroad (SEPTA R8 line), beginning in 1893. Pelham offered ‘suburban living in the city.’   

Norman Style Pelham House c. 1894

Custom Pelham house of Norman Style built 1894

The homes of Pelham were designed by several well know architects of the day. The styles varying styles include Colonial, Tudor, Norman, and Italianate, and Dutch. There are large single homes as well as some smaller twin, or semi-detached homes.   

During the 1920’s another group of fine home were build near Allen’s Lane and the Wissahickon in a French castle style. During the 1920’s and 1930’s smaller homes mostly twins and town homes were build to accommodate the automobile.   

While the styles and sizes of Mt Airy homes vary, the neighborhood has a cohesive look due to the extensive use of local stone known as Wissahickon schist. This is is a stone with multiple tones of gray, tan and blue with flecks of mica running through it. Named for the Wissahickon Valley, it is the bedrock of the Philadelphia area. The stones for many buildings were quarried directly from the ground as the foundations were dug. The late Victorian architects often combined the Wissahickon schist stone with red or yellow brick, shingles, and/or stucco finishes.   

Flemish Bond Exterior Consturction

Winston Commons converted to Condos in 2007

All brick construction, custom in Philadelphia, was rare in Mount Airy, but was used in this Flemish Bond exterior from the 1890’s. Even into the 1950’s when red brick was the most common building material, the local stone was frequently used for the fronts of properties.   

Old House lovers will find single family homes in a range of price, size and condition. Some of these homes were built as single buildings, many other are semi-detached or twin homes sharing a common wall, and row or town homes which are attached to other properties on both sides. 

Elements of the American Four Square style can be seen in some homes built in the early 20th century including stone twins near the Allen’s Lane train station. With simple detail and a deep front porches, these 2 1/2 story homes were built with 4 bedrooms and 1 bathroom on the 2nd level with an unfinished 3rd level that afforded room for storage or more bedrooms. 

Early 20th Century Twin Home

A few blocks have properties that were built to house multiple units ranging from duplexes to quads.   

If you would like to learn more about this neighborhood and its homes you can contact me directly.   

Kathleen Sheridan, Realtor®, Weichert, Realtors® – McCarthy Associates, 6901 Germantown Ave. Philadelphia, PA 19119, ksheridanrealtor@gmail.com, Direct: 215-740-3320

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