Brewerytown: One-time ‘beer capital of America’ decimated by Prohibition, now in flux

It’s all about the neighborhoods here in Philadelphia, and Billy Penn will take a deep dive into many of them with these “postcards” throughout the year. We’ll go over their history, their demographics, community centers and their neighborhood legends — and the most Instagrammable spots. Love Brewerytown? Buy the stuff

Welcome to Brewerytown, the neighborhood wedged between Fairmount and North Philly that’s in the process of experiencing a resurgence of sorts. This place was once known as the beer capital of America, but after the breweries bolted post-Prohibition, the neighborhood saw crime and blight increase dramatically. Now, it’s changing again as young professionals push north.

Boundaries

Brewerytown is roughly bounded by Cecil B. Moore Avenue to the north, Parrish Street to the south, 25th Street to the east and the Schuylkill River to the west.

Population

6,220

Population 18-to-34

2,128 or 34.2 percent

Racial Composition

Rent vs. Own

50.8 percent of occupied homes are rented while 49.2 percent are owned.

Name Origin

Brewerytown was named because a number of — you guessed it — breweries lined the area surrounding the Schuylkill River in the 19th century. According to the Greater Brewerytown Community Development Corporation, there were at one time more than 700 breweries operating across the city, with some of them in a single ten-block area of Brewerytown. It was known a century ago as “The Beer Capital of America.”

History

The area flourished in the 1800s because more than a dozen breweries stimulated the economy in the area and the neighborhood was close in proximity to farmland. But Prohibition had a devastating affect on the industry and, in turn, the neighborhood.

After the brewing industry collapse, it took decades before it was able to regain the popularity it once had, and lots of the nation’s beer production moved to the Midwest. By the mid-1980s, every brewery had left the neighborhood. Though those breweries that were once there are no longer in Brewerytown, the name still remains.

Following the collapse of the beer production in the neighborhood, it quickly took a downturn. Crime skyrocketed and the area was declared blighted by the city. Dozens of homicides happened in the area each year in the early 90s, and the open-air drug trade became crippling. Then, in the early 1990s, Brewerytown was certified by the National Register of Historic Places as a historical district.

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Brewerytown residents talk on their stoop in 1975. Photo courtesy of the Philadelphia Evening Bulletin via Temple University Archives

Now, Brewerytown is a neighborhood in flux. Much of the drug trade and violence has subsided. Situated between Fairmount and North Philadelphia, the neighborhood has seen an influx of young people that have brought with them new development projects. But, as is true with many areas in this city, some people who have lived there all their lives aren’t happy about it.

Gentrification

While some say Brewerytown is experiencing a revitalization of sorts, other simply say it’s gentrifying, and young, white people professionals are moving into the once predominately black neighborhood. In fact, neighbors tell Newsworks that they never even called it Brewerytown — that name started to be used by developers to attract young people. Neighborhood folks just call it North Philly.

The neighborhood hasn’t fully developed at the pace of Fishtown or Northern Liberties. But there’s definitely been changes: New stores, added amenities, coffee bars, bike shops, even a coworking space. There’s also modern apartment buildings in the works.

However, not all longtime residents are against the new development. Some older members of the community voted overwhelmingly in favor of a new apartment complex and, according to Hidden City, developers have at least said that they’re trying to avoid being labeled gentrifiers.

Meanwhile, development isn’t slowing. The Philadelphia Business Journal reports that MM Partners, the major developers in Brewerytown, have invested $45 million in the neighborhood in the last decade. Over the next two years, they plan to invest $60 million more.

Backdrop

A Brewerytown Romance

Oliver Hardy, of Laurel & Hardy, (and Scooby Doo) starred in “A Brewerytown Romance,” a 1914 short film about a woman who’s dancing causes a tango champion and her boyfriend to fight with each other over her.

What to check out

The budding business district

Girard Avenue has become a central commercial corridor in Brewerytown, especially as developers over the last decade have brought in storefronts lining the streets ranging from coffee houses to bars to pet grooming shops. According to Hidden City, a stretch of Girard in between Girard College and the Schuylkill was at one time “the place to be” when breweries were still around the neighborhood. Now, the commercial area is returning to the vibrance it once held.

Legendary event

The Brewerytown Spring Festival

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Brewerytown Spring Festival, via Uwishunu

This annual spring festival held at the end of May takes place along Girard Avenue, and allows people to experience Brewerytown through food, drinks and music. More information here.

Community gathering places

Greater Brewerytown CDC – 3000 Master Street

Brewerytown Athletic Recreational Center – 1401-55 N. 26th St.

Controversy

This one goddamn mural.

No seriously, the word “goddam” was on a mural, and caused a whole bunch of ruckus in the community this year. When an artists painted the words “This goddam phenomenal world” on the side of a wall at 29th and Flora streets, some saw it as symbolizing the disconnect between newer residents and older ones who wanted to keep profanity off their walls. Newsworks has more photos and all the details. 

Instagram This

Lemon Hill Mansion

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Lemon Hill Mansion

This historic mansion once belonged to founding father Robert Morris and offers views of the Philadelphia skyline. Find it west of Brewerytown in Fairmount Park.

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