Powelton Village takes its name from the Powel Family, seventeenth- and eighteenth-century Welsh colonialists who held extensive estates in the area. As in other parts of West Philadelphia, in the late 1800s trolley lines opened the area up to urbanization. Powelton soon became a choice residential spot for Philadelphia industrial tycoons. Powelton's luster began to wane by the 1920s, and by the 1940s the neighborhood was populated by low-income families and infested with "bottom" gangs, whose members lived in a stretch paralleling Market St. known as the "Bottom." In the 1960s the Village was home to many members of the counterculture movement, and Powelton today enjoys a strong political activism and anarchist tradition, as well as a healthy multiethnic pluralism.
Commercial activity in Powelton is concentrated on Lancaster Avenue, particularly between 35th Street and 37th Street. The avenue is lined with shops, restaurants, and various other retail establishments. Many local businesses benefit from both Powelton residents and college students. Mad Greeks, Powelton Pizza, Village Pizza, California Pizza, and Ed's are all popular eating places. Lancaster Avenue near 36th Street has also become home to upscale Mexican and Thai restaurants. On the avenue near 37th are the newer Stan' Deli and Green Line Café.