Two hundred years ago, “Mount Airy” was the estate of William Allen, a well-known country gentleman of Ben Franklin’s time. Allen’s mansion was located close to “Main Street”, where the Lutheran Theological Seminary now stands, on Germantown Avenue at Allens Lane. The village that grew up around the mansion was also known as “Mount Airy”. As more and more houses replaced farmland, it became a residential community, eventually growing into the urban neighborhood it is today.
At one time, many people retreated to this area as a healthful summer resort, especially in the 1790’s, when yellow fever epidemics raged through nearby Philadelphia. The whole Germantown-Mount Airy region was inundated with visitors.
Throughout its history, Mount Airy has been diverse. First, the Lenni-Lenape Native Americans hunted, fished, and made their trails here. In 1683, the Dutch and Germans came, fleeing religious persecution and military conscription in their homelands. By the end of the colonial period, the tide of newcomers in the area included former Africans, English, French, Irish, Swedes and Swiss.
Rich in history, Mount Airy is also rich in places of unique historical interest. Two schoolhouses from early times, the Concord Schoolhouse and the Beggarstown School, are located here. The Chew family mansions at Cliveden, which is now a part of the National Trust, attract nationwide attention, as do other buildings that were standing along the main road at the time of the Battle of Germantown on October 4, 1777. (That battle is re-enacted on site annually.) One of these buildings was the vantage point from which George Washington directed the battle; another is the Germantown Church of the Brethren.
An official documentation of Mount Airy’s history, Mount Airy in Philadelphia, a Pioneering Community, can be found at Lovett Library. This illustrated booklet of articles by EMAN member Phyllis Knapp Thomas contains photographs and maps by member Dennis Johnson. The publication covers Mount Airy’s development from early Native American settlements to the diverse community of today.