Help with historic addresses in 18th century Philadelphia

Vivian Conger's picture

I apologize for what seems like a simple--even simplistic--question--but I am puzzled.  When an address reads "2 doors below Indian King Tavern" or "2nd 5 doors above Race" what do terms below and above indicate?

Vivian Bruce Conger

Ithaca College

I always assumed that down and up referred to the direction from the Delaware River. Since most of the maps of downtown Philadelphia in the eighteenth century put the Delaware River at the bottom of the map, I assume that houses down from a street are towards Delaware River, and up are towards the Schuylkill. I've looked at tax records, and they are often organized by someone walking the streets (so up and down depends on what street they were last on).

Marie Basile McDaniel

Southern Connecticut State University

There is another way to look at it. If you stand on Market Street and
look north you look down hill. If you look south you look up hill.
This is quite pronounced at Second Street because as you look south
you look up toward Society Hill, which was not much of a hill but
pleased the better sort. This north-south incline is more pronounced
than the east-west incline once you climb the slope from Front Street
to First Street.

Bob Arnebeck

I was curious about this myself, so I referred the question to my colleague, John Hepp, an urban historian who lives in and studies Philadelphia. His reply is below:

"I think in Philadelphia-speak "above" and "below" have two distinct meanings. First, in a north-south sense, "above" means north and "below" means south. Thus above would be north of Race  (which is an east-west street). The Indian King (also Queen) Tavern was on Chestnut street (around fourth), so the east-west sense of below is toward the Delaware and above toward the Schuylkill."

Diane Wenger
Wilkes University