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La Salle Local History

Overview

La Salle University's campus occupies a grassy stretch of land at the northwest edge of Philadelphia's Logan neighborhood. To the south are lightly wooded areas, now part of the Fairmount Park system.  This land was originally inhabited by the Lenni Lenape and later by Quakers and other religious minorities that came to Pennsylvania in the late 17th and 18th centuries. 

Around the perimeter of La Salle campus, street names provide a trace of the land's history of ownership by white families: Wister Street, Kemble Avenue, Logan Street, Lindley Avenue, Fisher Avenue. At the bottom of 20th Street, which cuts through the center of campus, is Belfield Avenue; and as you drive north on 20th you'll pass the existing structures associated with the Belfield Estate. These structures, some dating back to the 18th century, were once home to well-known Philadelphia families. The main residence or "Peale House" (also called Belfield) was home to American portrait painter Charles Willson Peale and was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1965.  After Peale sold the property, the estate was home to the Wister family.

A second estate occupied territory on what is now La Salle's South Campus. A few homes were built on that property including, "Wakefield" mansion house  (which no longer stands) and a home originally known as "Little Wakefield" which is today St. Mutien's Hall.  During the Civil War, this building served as a farmhouse and, later, during World War I, it was home to a demonstration center managed by the National League of Women's Service. Visitors to campus can walk the grounds to see these historic buildings, but many of their associated structures are long gone. Delving into the history of these places provides a launchpad to explore the history of Germantown and its role in abolitionism, women's suffrage, the early public health movement, and civic reform. 

This guide was developed to direct researchers to the abundance of resources related to our local history at La Salle. Over the years many La Salle students have studied the people and places associated with these grounds, and some of that research has been incorporated into websites and exhibitions, which you will discover in this guide. The Connelly Library's Department of Special Collections houses a number of historic collections related to these properties. Additional collections are maintained at other cultural institutions in the Greater Philadelphia area, including the Historical Society of Pennsylvania, the American Philosophical Society, the Germantown Historical Society, and the Winterthur Library. 

 

Connections

William Logan Fisher, descendant of James Logan (builder of Stenton) was raised at Wakefield property. In 1807 his father Thomas Fisher granted him the Wakefield house. In 1826, he purchased the Belfield Estate from Charles Willson Peale. His daughter, Sarah Logan Fisher, wed William Wister, who was raised at Vernon. William Wister's Great-Grandfather John Wister built Grumblethorpe. Sarah and William would raise six sons at Belfield, all of whom would serve in the Civil War. Their granddaughter, Mary Channing Wister married her second cousin Owen Wister, who was raised at Butler Place.

Biographies

The Wister family history is well documented in memoirs, journals and biographies. The following works are available to read in La Salle University's Department of Special Collections in the Connelly Library: