Penn on the Move

Author: Colin Hennessy

Have you ever wondered what Penn looked like 100 years ago or even 200 years ago? When you work at or attend one of the oldest institutions in the country, you can’t help but image what campus was like in the days of our founder, Benjamin Franklin.

Historical Drawing of Campus at Fourth and Arch in Old City

Fortunately, this Penn staffer had the opportunity to spend some time with the University archivist to get the inside story on Penn’s campus and its remarkable transformation over the years. As a non-native Philadelphian, I did not know that Penn’s history starts not in West Philadelphia, but rather at Fourth and Arch in Old City. A campus comprised of the Academy /College Building, built in 1740, with the dormitory following in 1762.

College Hall

It wasn’t until the 1870’s that Penn made the move to West Philadelphia. Thanks to some forward-thinking land acquisitions, Penn’s trustees began to build the iconic structures that represent Penn today. Beginning with College Hall in 1871, Cohen Hall, and buildings of the now medical complex, Penn’s infrastructure quickly took root.

Over the next 100 years, roads through campus would be closed, trolleys would go underground, and Penn would continue to reach to the West and North. The history of Penn’s physical plant illustrates a fascinating story of land use and resource stewardship as this campus rests on what was once “the poor house” of Philadelphia.

Campus Map, 1878

For more information about the history of Penn’s campus, complete with photos and commentary, visit the website of the University Archives.

For now, as you walk through campus, take a moment to ponder how much has changed and reflect on what Penn may look like 100 years from now as Penn continues to be on the move.

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Filed under Colin H., Historical, Library

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