Named for the Free Society of Traders who owned land in the area in 1682, the residential neighborhood became the city’s main produce market in the nineteenth century. By the 1950s the outdated market was relocated, allowing the city’s planning commission to begin the Washington Square East Urban Renewal Project in 1957 under commission director Edmund Bacon.
Bacon’s vision preserved and restored significant historic fabric in tandem with removing blighted or incompatible structures and replacing them with modern buildings and parkland that integrated with the neighborhood’s historic context. High-rise towers were sited to respond to the adjacent Delaware Expressway and the river, while modern three-story townhouses fit compatibly with old row houses nearby. Bacon hired John Collins of Adleman, Collins & DuTot to design the landscape, including Delancey Park (now Three Bears Park) and numerous other small-scale greenway parks and pedestrian connections woven between the buildings. Collins’ details - richly patterned brick sidewalks and walls, granite curbs and backless benches, alleys, street trees, site-specific light standards and bollards - combined with small courtyards and pocket parks peppered throughout the 120-acre neighborhood, unite the unique blend of historic and modern buildings and landscape features.
Although the project was funded in part by Title I of the Housing Act of 1949, seminal private projects include Society Hill Towers designed by I.M. Pei in 1964 and the NewMarket at Head House Square designed by Louis Sauer Associates and Adolf DeRoy Mark in 1965. The neighborhood was listed in the National Register of Historic Places in 1971.