Holme, A Portraiture of the City of Philadelphia (1683)

Thomas Holme’s  “Portraiture of the City of Philadelphia” was prepared in 1683 for William Penn in order to promote the new colony of Pennsylvania. Although Holme drew on centuries of European urban mapping tradition, the purpose of his map was relatively new--namely the depiction of a city that did not yet exist. In instructing Holme, Penn may have been inspired in part by the various proposals to rebuild London after the Great Fire of 1666. Those called for the creation of a city with an orderly pattern of streets and broad avenues connecting large public squares and monuments. This same approach appeared more than a century later in the plan Pierre L’Enfant developed for Washington, D.C.

Penn’s idea for Philadelphia exemplified his Quaker values by showing a preference for simplicity over imposing scale. The Philadelphia plan proposed a grid of rectangular blocks extending over two square miles between the Delaware River to the east and the Schuylkill River to the west. Penn’s preferences were also reflected in the plan’s unusually large residential lots with capacious gardens, several public squares, wide major streets, and a surrounding greenbelt. Though Philadelphia itself would grow in ways that departed from its original design, the plan nevertheless fostered American taste for spaciousness in urban design.



Avery, Ron. A Concise History of Philadelphia. Philadelphia: Otis Books, 1999.

Bronner, Edwin B. William Penn's "Holy Experiment": The Founding of Pennsylvania 1681-1701. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1962.

Corcoran, Irma B.V.M. Thomas Holme, 1624-1695: Surveyor General of Pennsylvania. Philadelphia: American Philosophical Society, 1992.

Dunn, Richard S. and Mary Maples Dunn, eds. The World of William Penn. Philadelphia: University of Philadelphia Press, 1986.

Klinefelter, Walter. “Surveyor General Thomas Holme’s ‘Map of the Improved Part of the Province of Pennsylvania,’” Winterthur Portfolio6 (1970): pp. 41-74. http://www.jstor.org/stable/1180523

Kostof, Spiro. The City Shaped: Urban Patterns and Meanings through History. Boston: Bullfinch, 1993.

Lewis, Pierce F. “The Northeast and the Making of American Geographical Habits.” In The Making of the American Landscape, edited by Michael Conzen, 80-103. London: Unwin Hyman Ltd, 1990.

Malone, Dumas, ed. “William Penn.” In Dictionary of American Biography. New York: Charles Scribner’s Son, 1935.

Nash, Gary B. First City: Philadelphia and the Forging of Historical Memory. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2002.

Reps, John. The Making of Urban America: A History of City Planning in the United States. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1992.

Reps, John W. Views and Viewmakers of Urban America: Lithographs of Towns and Cities in the United States and Canada, Notes on the Artists and Publishers, and a Union Catalog of Their Work, 1825-1925. Columbia, MO: University of Missouri Press, 1984.

Weigley, Russell F., ed. Philadelphia: A 300-Year History. New York: W.W. Norton & Co., 1982.



Holme, Thomas. A Mapp of Ye Improved Part of Pensilvania in America [map].  (1687). “The Lower Merion Historical Society.” http://www.lowermerionhistory.org/atlas/1687.html

Holme, Thomas. “Map of the Improved Part of the Province of Pennsilvania in America [map].” (circa 1705?). 80 x 141 cm. “Library of Congress Geography and Map Division.” http://hdl.loc.gov/loc.gmd/g3820.ct001815

Penn, William and Thomas Holme. “Dutch edition of the first plan for Philadelphia [map]. (1684). “Free Library of Philadelphia.” http://libwww.freelibrary.org/diglib/SearchItem.cfm?ItemID=75A0158

Forrest, Tuomi J. “William Penn Plans the City.” http://xroads.virginia.edu/~cap/penn/pnplan.html

Ellicott, Andrew. “Plan of the city of Washington in the territory of Columbia [map].” (1792). 42 x 50 cm. “Library of Congress Geography and Map Division Library of Congress.” http://hdl.loc.gov/loc.gmd/g3850.ct000299

Ellicott, Andrew. “Territory of Columbia [map].” (1793). 56 x 56 cm. “Library of Congress Geography and Map Division Library of Congress.” http://hdl.loc.gov/loc.gmd/g3850.ct003597

Thomas Holme, “A Portraiture of the City of Philadelphia in the Province of Pennsylvania in America,” in William Penn, A Letter from William Penn, proprietary and governour of Pennsylvania in America, to the committee of the Free society of traders of that province, residing in London (London: A. Sowle, 1683). The Newberry Library, VAULT Ayer 150.5 P4 1683