Washington Square, situated at the southwest corner of what is known as “the most historic square mile in America”, is full of history. Originally a potter’s field, it contains the bones of hundreds of soldiers who died in skirmishes during the Revolutionary War which led to the erection in the mid-1950s of the “Tomb of the Unknown Soldier of the American Revolution”. A little history also took place at the site where the historic building at 220 W Washington Square overlooks the Revolutionary War graveyard. However, the up-to-date design of the spectacular apartments in this old building leaves the past well behind.
A Guide to Visiting Washington Square
Situated a few steps from Independence Hall, this leafy, tree-shaded retreat was founded by William Penn who envisioned Philadelphia as a green, orderly, and busy town. He established 5 squares of green public spaces, including Washington Square, as a key part of the civic architecture of the city.
Today visitors to Washington Square can stroll down its tree-lined paths, stop to pay homage to the unknown soldiers of the American Revolution, and observe a clone of the only Moon Tree in Philadelphia. This green and lively park is a popular gathering spot that attracts residents of the city looking for some respite from the bustling city. At any given day you will find families, picnickers, history buffs, and sunbathers enjoying the beautiful park setting in Washington Square.
A Short History of Washington Square
During its early years the site was claimed as a pasture and burial ground. However, by 1815, a tree-planting program including more than 60 species of trees and the installation of public paths initiated the development of modern-day scenic Southeast Square. In 1825 it was renamed “Washington Square” which forms part of the Independence National Historical Park with neighboring sites that include Liberty Bell Center and Independence Hall.
Later the stately buildings surrounding the square became the site of many well-respected publishing houses including W.B. Saunders Publishing House and the oldest farm publication in the country, The Farm Journal.
How to get the most out of visiting Washington Square
This historic city center neighborhood which once marked the city’s edge includes enclaves like Gayborhood that serves as the hub of cultural life in Philadelphia and Midtown village, a busy stretch of modern shops, restaurants, and bars. Modern residences in buildings like 220 W Washington Square surrounds the park with neighborhoods like Society Hill and Old City, Market East, Avenue of the Arts, and South Street. Don’t leave without visiting the 150 odd jewelry merchants in Jeweler’s Row and the tree-lined blocks of shops that sell art, collectibles, and furnishing on Antique Row.
How to Get There
Washington Square is accessible via the SEPTA Regional Rail hub from Jefferson Station situated on Market Street between 10th and 12th Streets. Various New Jersey Transit and SEPTA buses traverse the streets between Broad and 8th and along Chestnut and Market streets.
Tips for Eating Out
Restaurants and eateries for quick bites include:
•The Alpen Rose steakhouse in Midtown Village
•Barbuzzo, a rustic, yet modern restaurant in 13th Street well-known for its European wine list, Mediterranean food, and its open kitchen design that allows patrons to watch their meals being prepared.
•Bud & Marilyn’s retro restaurant with American classics like meatloaf and cheese curds.
•The Caribou Café, a traditional Parisian brasserie with vintage French décor and a seasonal French menu that includes all-time favorites like French Onion Soup topped with Gruyere cheese and Mussels Frites.
The Bridgette Mayer Gallery is housed in an 18th-century brownstone house with displays of contemporary art, photography, and sculptures by emerging artists and solo-group showings by mid-career artists.
Open House is a popular spot for tourists looking for coveted Philadelphia souvenirs.
Theatre lovers can enjoy live entertainment at some of the city’s premier venues including:
-Lantern Theatre Company
-Walnut Street Theatre
Once referred to as “Congo Square” by early African-Americans, today Washington Square is a popular venue for leisure activities that includes a statue of George Washington and a monument featuring an eternal flame in remembrance of the unknown soldiers who died there.