Philadelphia County is a county located in the U.S. State of Pennsylvania. Since 1856, the county has been coterminous with the city of Philadelphia, which also serves as its seat. The 2010 census showed the population had grown to 1,526,006, making it the most populous county in the state, despite being the second smallest county in the state by land area. Philadelphia County is one of the three original counties, along with Chester and Bucks counties, created by William Penn in November 1682. This county is part of the Delaware Valley area and is one of the flagships of the Greater Philadelphia MSA.
According to the United States Census Bureau, the county has a total area of 142.6 square miles (369.4 km²), of which 135.1 square miles (349.9 km²) is land and 7.6 square miles (19.6 km²) is water. The total area is 5.29% water. Bodies of water include the Delaware River, Schuylkill River, Cobbs Creek, Wissahickon Creek, and Pennypack Creek.
The lowest point in the county lies 10 feet above sea level near Fort Mifflin in Southwest Philadelphia at the convergence of the Delaware and Schuylkill Rivers. The highest point is in Chestnut Hill, at 432 feet above sea level, near Evergreen Place, just north and west of Evergreen Avenue.
Tribes of Lenape were the first known occupants in the area which became Philadelphia County. The first European settlers were Swedes and Finns who arrived in 1638. The Netherlands seized the area in 1655, but permanently lost control to England in 1674. William Penn received his charter for Pennsylvania from Charles II of England in 1681, and in November 1682 divided Pennsylvania into three counties. In the same year Philadelphia was laid out and was made the county seat and the capital of the Province of Pennsylvania.
Penn wanted Philadelphia, meaning “brotherly love”, to be a place where religious tolerance and the freedom to worship were ensured. Philadelphia’s name is shared with the ancient Asia Minor city spared in the Book of Revelation in the Bible. It was William Penn’s prayer, 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 in 1752 (from parts of Chester, Lancaster, and Philadelphia counties), and Montgomery County established in 1784. From these separations, as well as other border moves, come the present day boundaries of the county.
The City of Philadelphia, as laid out 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 separately incorporated 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 built up town, 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 in the congeries of towns of which greater Philadelphia was composed, while those further away from the city often joined with other townships, villages and settlements to form the newer counties of Berks and Montgomery.
During this period, the city government of Philadelphia and the county government of Philadelphia acted separately. By the mid-19th century, it was clear that a more structured government bureaucracy was needed. A reform charter, on February 2, 1854, brought all the boroughs, townships and districts of the County of Philadelphia within the City of Philadelphia, thus abolishing the patchwork of cities, boroughs, and townships that had made up 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 generally integrated into the City of Philadelphia known today. Today, the names of some of these districts are synonymous with neighborhoods in the city, with their boundaries roughly matching their historic boundaries.
In 1951, a new initiative called the Home Rule Charter fully merged city and county offices. This new charter provided the city with a common structure and outlined the “strong mayor” form of government that is still used today.
The county offices were merged with the city government in 1952, effectively eliminating the county as a governmental structure in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. 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 the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. It is thus subject to the provisions and laws of the Commonwealth concerning counties. Exceptions include restrictions stated in the Home Rule Charter of Philadelphia, Act of Consolidation, 1854, and subsequent legislation. The county also is the only First Class County, meaning it had a population of 1.5 million or above at the last census, in the Commonwealth.
Philadelphia has become racially and ethnically diverse over the years, and this process continues. Since 1990, (the year that immigration began increasing), thousands of immigrants from Latin America, Asia and Europe have arrived in the county. Today, the city has some of the largest Puerto Rican, Italian, Korean, Vietnamese, Russian, Ukrainian, Jamaican, Chinese, Arab, Irish, Thai and Cambodian populations in America. The county has the fourth largest concentration of African Americans in North America, including large representations of Liberians, Nigerians, and Sudanese. The Northeast section of the city, and more significantly the suburbs of Philadelphia, contain vast numbers of Indian Americans and Mexicans.
As of the 2010 US Census, the city was 41.0% White, 43.4% Black or African American, 0.5% American Indian or Alaskan Native, 6.3% Asian, 0.0% Native Hawaiian, 2.8% two or more race, and 5.9% were some other race. 12.3% of the population were Hispanic or Latino.