Holmesburg is home to America’s oldest continuously used roadway bridge, built in 1697 along with Box Grove mansion (c. 1750). Holmesburg’s history is vast and various historic buildings still stand to this day including The Greentree Hotel, the Peale House, and many others. Holmesburg is also home to the Insectarium and Butterfly Pavilion.
Thomas Holme, William Penn’s Surveyor-General, who pretty much had his pick of available land, chose this area for his 1646 acre Well Spring Plantation. It would have been bounded roughly by today’s Cottman Ave to Grant Ave and Frankford Ave to Roosevelt Blvd. Holmesburg acquired its name in 1801 when John Holme (no relation to Thomas Holme) changed the name of his Washington Lumberyard to the Holmes-Burg Lumberyard.
For a brief period following the Revolutionary War the village, centered at Welsh Road and the Bristol Pike (now Frankford Ave) had been called Washingtonville. European settlement goes back to the mid-late 1600’s with Swedes living near the mouth of Pennypack Creek and journeying up the creek to the fall or tidal line where the bridge at Frankford Ave was built in 1697. This had been a crossing point of the creek on the Lenape trail to and from their northern hunting grounds.
The Pennypack Mill was built at the same time, but there are indications that an earlier mill may have predated Penn’s arrival in 1682. The Pennypack Mill was one of the busiest in Philadelphia and with the completion of the Pennypack Bridge, the King’s Highway (Bristol Pike/Frankford Ave) became one of the busiest roads. This was a natural stopping place and a fledgling community began early in the 1700’s, simply referred to as Pennypack.