Southwark Meets the World

From Harry K’s Philadelphia Encyclopedia

Cross section of the Southwark Group piers. Most early 20th century piers in Philadelphia were built like this. Southwark Group, 1915 | Philadelphia City Archives.

Two huge warehouse piers, 38 and 40 South, jut 551 feet into the Delaware River at the bottom of Christian Street. Jointly known as the “Southwark Group,” the brightly painted piers date from 1915 and are each 357,000 square feet in size. They were once the city’s busiest docks. For instance, international shipper Norton, Lilly & Company operated an around-the-world cargo service from Pier 40 in the 1920s. Vessels would travel twenty-seven thousand miles between visits to homeport Philadelphia.

In the 1950s, the space between Piers 38 and 40 was filled in and paved to accommodate tractor-trailers. The buildings are used for warehousing these days, including a self-storage business. Few boats ever tie up to the Southwark Group Piers anymore.

How ships docked at the Southwark Group. Philadelphia City Archives

About the author

Harry Kyriakodis, author of Philadelphia's Lost Waterfront (2011), Northern Liberties: The Story of a Philadelphia River Ward (2012), and The Benjamin Franklin Parkway (2014), regularly gives walking tours and presentations on unique yet unappreciated parts of the city. A founding/certified member of the Association of Philadelphia Tour Guides, he is a graduate of La Salle University and Temple University School of Law, and was once an officer in the U.S. Army Field Artillery. He has collected what is likely the largest private collection of books about the City of Brotherly Love: over 2700 titles new and old.

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