Philadelphia's Lost Waterfront
The Wood Street Steps
Look to your left. There's a blue Pennsylvania Historical Marker in front of a gap in the houses. Between the houses lies a narrow stairwell. Make your way over there and stop for a second.
Here we come upon a highlight of this tour: the last remaining of 10 or so public stairways built about three centuries ago along the Delaware River at the direction of William Penn himself. Each one of these Penn stairs once lay on the Delaware’s western embankment, providing access to the water from the high ground of the city above. That this one has managed to survive is nothing short of incredible.
These stone steps are usually referred to as the Wood Street Steps, as the stairwell was once an extension of an alley between Callowhill and Vine called Wood Street. The stairwell was built between 1702 and 1737, but there’s some evidence that these granite treads may actually date from the late 1600s.
The 10 or so Penn stairs were built at the change of elevation between the upper and lower levels of Philadelphia. In other words, here, along this narrow strip of land between Front and Water streets, was originally the western bank of the Delaware River.
Incidentally, I wrote the application to have this historical marker placed here, in 2013.
When you're ready, make your way down the steps to Water Street.