Philadelphia's Lost Waterfront
Callowhill Street 1 (Gallow's Hill)
The neighborhood in front of us and to our left was originally part of the District of Northern Liberties, since the city's northernmost boundary was Vine Street until 1854.
This became a center for revelers from Philadelphia and Northern Liberties looking for adventure away from the eyes of authorities. The neighborhood was not fully represented by a municipal government or regularly patrolled by constables until it became part of Philadelphia.
Into the 1800s, prostitutes frequented hostels and boardinghouses in this neighborhood, and drinkers gathered at any number of seedy taverns. There were also ramshackle shops and street vendors who sold exotic goods taken to them by sailors from ships arriving from all over the world. This commotion attracted a diverse group of people—common laborers, privateers, sailors, gamblers and swindlers of all types.
I discuss the history of lawlessness in this area, Philadelphia’s first red-light district, in my 2012 book, Northern Liberties: The Story of a Philadelphia River Ward.
One example of this anarchy was recounted by Philadelphia historian John Watson. He wrote that in his youth, Callowhill street was often called 'Gallows-hill street' because this area was the site of a number of public hangings in the late 1700s.
Incidentally, Callowhill Street was first called “the new street” since it was the first road opened north of Philadelphia’s original northern limit. This was in 1690. William Penn later renamed the street after his second wife, Hannah Callowhill, apparently during his second stay in America around 1701.