Head House Square

Head House Square

Proceed East down Stamper St towards 2nd Street.

Old 2nd St & Lombard Street
Philadelphia, PA 19147
United States

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New Market, as it was initially known, later also known as Head House (or Headhouse) Market or 2nd Street Market, is a historic street market on South 2nd Street between Pine and Lombard Streets in the Society Hill neighborhood of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. With a history dating to 1745, it is one of the oldest surviving market buildings of its type in the nation. This portion, which survives from a longer structure originally extending all the way to South Street, was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1966, and is the centerpiece of the Head House Square historic district.

The New Market was established in 1745 to serve the neighborhood of Society Hill in the southern section of the city. New Market gets its name for being the first neighborhood offshoot of the great High Street Market, which ran down the center of what is now called Market Street. 

In the beginning, the market extended only for about half a block on both sides of Lombard Street. By the 1760s, a series of brick pavilions had been constructed down the middle of the road, providing shelter for many stalls. Later, this was supplanted by a central brick arcade, similar to the one that is there now. About 1795, the market was enlarged to cover the entire two-block distance from Pine Street down to South Street. The line of market stalls also continued around the corner onto Pine Street.

Also, in 1795, a two-story brick “head house” (an enclosed building attached to an open-sided shed) was constructed at the South Street end of the market. The building’s arcaded ground floor held equipment for volunteer fire brigades, while the cupola contained a fire alarm bell which also rang on Sundays and to announce the opening of the market days. A twin building was constructed in 1805 at the Pine Street end of the shambles. Two sides of the Pine Street head house were adorned with a clock face; neighborhood residents raised money to purchase the clockworks. The second story contained a fireman's social club where political meetings were often held. On the ground floor, chambers on each side of the arches supplied storage space for the engines of three fire companies.

In the late 19th century, street markets began to decline in Philadelphia. Indoor shopping began to grow in popularity both for consumers and retailers due to the services and conveniences it could offer. Reading Terminal Market opened in 1893 and ushered in a new era for urban food marketing and distribution in Philadelphia and the region. Reading Terminal Market was known for its innovative basement cold storage, where a ceiling-mounted roller system allowed goods to be moved easily on hangers through the corridors and into the cold rooms. A pump system sent chilled brine to refrigerated counters in the stalls above. An on-site ice-making plant facilitated the provision of ice to dealers who required it to preserve perishables. Besides these innovations, business at Reading Terminal Market also benefited from a steady stream of commuter passengers.

With the decline of the street market, the Second Street Market gradually began to shrink. The southern engine house was removed by 1860. Despite the declining popularity, part of the market, the section between Pine and Lombard underwent a much-needed restoration in 1923, which replaced the roof and several brick piers. Nevertheless, it was not long until the market faced significant changes and threats to its very existence in the post-WW2 urban renewal era.

During the heady days of “urban renewal,” in the middle years of the 20th century, many 18th and early 19th-century buildings were torn down, displacing the residents and businesses that occupied them. The market shambles between Lombard and South, including what remained of the 1795 head house at South Street, were demolished to create street-surface parking. A number of old houses were also torn down along Second Street and on the adjacent Stamper Street and a parking garage was built in their place.

According to city plans of the 1960s, much more of Second Street was supposed to be demolished, with an interchange between the Delaware Expressway (I-95) and the proposed Crosstown Expressway, which would have destroyed South Street built in their place. Front Street and all its buildings below Pine Street were to be wiped off the map. However, strong neighborhood protests defeated the plans for the Crosstown Expressway. In the end, while many historic buildings were wantonly demolished in the area, a large number were saved and eventually restored.

Luckily, the head house at Pine Street still remains, and the shambles behind it are used for an outdoor food market on Saturdays and for special events. During the COVID crisis of 2020-2021, the shambles have been used as a sheltered eating spot for the customers of nearby restaurants. Historic buildings stand on either side of the market, notably the 1787 grand townhouse of the wealthy merchant John Ross (later the residence of the Spanish consul, the Marquis of Casa Irujo), on the corner of Second and Pine. Slightly further down the street is an old tavern from 1787 (once called The Plough), which used to serve farmers who sold their produce in the market. It still functions as a tavern, and by walking through its arched entryway, one can see a bakehouse dating from the 1750s.

The parking lot that occupied the space between Lombard and South after part of the market was demolished also got a redesign, which was completed in 2021. Residents were hoping for a new people-centered public space; however, the result was very disappointing. Despite years of planning and construction, the result was essentially an updated parking lot. The decades-old asphalt parking lot is now a bricked parking lot with an open area at its end and a brick pathway in the middle. It has minimal greenery and few basic amenities like benches. Another issue is the use of hostile architecture to deter unhoused people. The only places to sit in the new Headhouse Plaza are the two picnic tables and a few round cement pillars that stick out from the ground. These backless seating options are designed to keep people from relaxing too much or sticking around for too long. There was an opportunity to create a great public space, but instead, we got a car-centric space that disappointed residents and local business owners.

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