For Release: Immediately
Department of External Affairs
Free Library of Philadelphia
1901 Vine Street
Philadelphia, PA 19103-1189
(215) 567-7710
FAX (215) 567-7850
Contact: Communications and Development
For Release: Immediately
Contact: Communications and Development

Philadelphia: The Changing City/Philadelphia's Growth Illustrated and Analyzed in An Exhibition of Prints, Photographs, Maps, and More from the Library's Special Collections


PHILADELPHIA, October 4, 2018—From river to skyline and stoop to stoop, Philadelphia has been re-formed and re-shaped continuously since its founding in 1682. Its transformations—from bustling 18th-century port to 19th-century “workshop of the world” to 21st-century World Heritage City and hub for education and medicine—have had a profound impact on both its built and natural environments and the lives of those who call it home. Philadelphia: The Changing City—an exhibition organized by the Free Library’s Rare Book Department drawing primarily from the Library’s Map, Print and Picture, and Theatre collections—reveals  the planned and unplanned changes that have affected Philadelphia's landscape, its buildings, and its inhabitants. Presenting more than 80 rare and revelatory prints, photographs, documents, and maps, The Changing City will be on view in the Parkway Central Library’s third-floor William B. Dietrich Gallery through April 13, 2019.

The exhibition was organized by Alina Josan, reference librarian in the Art and Literature departments, and Free Library curators Laura Stroffolino, Megan MacCall, and Karin Suni. According to Josan, "Given the rapid pace of change in Philadelphia today, the time is right to examine and learn from its history. The research collections of the Parkway Central Library are rich with materials that help any reader reconstruct this past. We hope this exhibition will empower visitors to use the Library to continue to learn about forces of change and be active in their communities.”

The Changing City will illustrate and discuss Philadelphia’s origin as a carefully laid-out grid of streets and squares set between the broad Delaware and Schuylkill rivers; its distinctions as “ a city of homes” and “a city of neighborhoods”; its role as a living laboratory for city-planning, urban-renewal, and historic preservation; and its recent history as a once-declining city experiencing a dramatic renaissance marked by an influx of new residents and businesses, booming tourism, and growing educational, health, and cultural institutions while struggling with persisting poverty, new tensions around gentrification, and an aging infrastructure.

The title and theme of this exhibition were inspired by Changing City, a 1934 lithograph by Philadelphia artist Benton Spruance depicting a city in flux, with City Hall’s iconic tower surrounded by an array of architectural styles, evoking a sense of history as well as possibility. Other highlights include:

  • Thomas Holme's 1683 plan—a landmark example of urban design— for Philadelphia, which William Penn envisioned as a “greene countrie towne” between two rivers. Holme was William Penn’s Surveyor General. Copies of this plan were included in a pamphlet in order to entice people to purchase lots in the new city.

  • Philadelphia painter and printmaker Augustus Kollner’s 1841 watercolor showing a peaceful view of the Delaware River looking north to the busy port and an island to the east of the city that was later removed to deepen the channel for larger merchant ships.

  • An 1897 cycling map printed by the League of American Wheelmen to assist bicyclists competing for road space with horses, wagons, and streetcars while trying to avoid streets paved with Belgian block. As this map shows, enthusiasm for the bicycle is far from a new fad in Philadelphia.

  • A 1918 cartoon by Charles D. Mitchell captures the seemingly capricious changes made in the name of progress—showing a theater replacing an office building and an office building replacing a theater, it asks “Why do they do it?”

The Rare Book Department galleries, including the Dietrich Gallery showcasing Philadelphia: The Changing City, are open to the public from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., Monday through Saturday. A guided tour of the department’s general collections and the William McIntire Elkins Library is available at 11:00 a.m. every day. For more information about the Rare Book Department, please visit or email To learn more about the Library’s Special Collections, visit

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About the Free Library of Philadelphia

The Free Library of Philadelphia system, with 54 locations and The Rosenbach, advances literacy, guides learning, and inspires curiosity with millions of digital and physical materials; 28,000 yearly programs and workshops; free public computers and extensive Wi-Fi, including neighborhood Hotspots; and rich special collections, including those at the Parkway Central Library and at The Rosenbach. With more than 10 million visits annually—5 million in-person, 5 million online—the Free Library and The Rosenbach are among the most widely used educational and cultural institutions in Philadelphia and boast a worldwide impact.


Department of External Affairs, Free Library of Philadelphia, 1901 Vine Street, Philadelphia, PA 19103-1189
(215) 567-7710, FAX (215) 567-7850