Native American tribes of Lenape were the first known occupants in the area that became Philadelphia County. The first European settlers were Swedes and Finns who arrived during 1638. The Netherlands seized the area during 1655, but lost control to England during 1674. William Penn received his charter for Pennsylvania from Charles II of England during 1681, and November 1682 he divided Pennsylvania into three counties. During the same year, Philadelphia was planned and was made the county seat and the capital of the Province of Pennsylvania.
Penn wanted Philadelphia, meaning “love brotherly”, to be a place where religious tolerance and the freedom to worship were ensured. Philadelphia’s name is shared with an ancient city in Asia Minor mentioned by the Bible’s Book of Revelation. It was William Penn’s desire, as a Quaker, that his “Holy Experiment” would be found blameless at the Last Judgment.
When established, Philadelphia County consisted mainly of the area from the Delaware River west between the Schuylkill River to the south and the border with Bucks County to the north; the western boundary was undefined. Two counties would be formed out of Philadelphia County, Berks County which was formed during 1752 (from parts of Chester, Lancaster, and Philadelphia counties), and Montgomery County established during 1784. From these separations, as well as other border changes, was created the present-day boundaries of the county.
The City of Philadelphia, as planned by Penn, comprised only that portion of the present day city situated between South and Vine Streets and the Delaware and Schuylkill Rivers. Other settlements were made beyond the boundaries of the city, and in the course of time they became incorporated separately and had separate governments.
Several of these settlements were situated immediately contiguous to the “city proper” of Philadelphia, such as Southwark and Moyamensing in the south, the Northern Liberties District, Kensington, Spring Garden and Penn District to the north, and West Philadelphia and Blockley to the west — which combined with the City of Philadelphia formed practically one continuously urban area, the whole group being known abroad simply as Philadelphia.
Besides these, there were a number of other outlying townships, villages and settlements throughout the county. Over time, as the population expanded out from the City of Philadelphia, those closer to the City of Philadelphia became absorbed into Philadelphia.
During this period, the city government of Philadelphia and the county government of Philadelphia acted separately. By the mid-19th century, a more structured government bureaucracy was needed. A reform charter, on February 2, 1854, defined all the boroughs, townships and districts of the County of Philadelphia as being within the City of Philadelphia, thus abolishing the patchwork of cities, boroughs, and townships that had comprised Philadelphia County since its founding.
The city-county consolidation was a result of the inability of a colonial-type government by committees to adapt to the needs of a growing city for new public services, for example, better streets, police, transportation, sanitation and schools.
The newly integrated districts had marked characteristics between them, but over time, after the consolidation, these characteristics were generally integrated into the City of Philadelphia. Presently, the names of some of these old districts survive as the names of neighborhoods in the city, with their boundaries roughly matching their historic boundaries.
During 1951, a new law known as the Home Rule Charter merged city and county offices completely. This new charter provided the city with a common structure and outlined the “strong mayor” form of government that is still used.
The county offices were merged with the city government during 1952, effectively eliminating the county as a government. Even though the county no longer has a government structure by law, in both the Unconsolidated Pennsylvania Statutes and The Philadelphia Code and Charter, the County of Philadelphia is still an entity within th