Bridesburg

Bustleton/Byberry/Somerton

Frankford

Holmesburg

Mayfair

Pennypack

Tacony

Torresdale

Vereeville/Fox Chase

Wissinoming

Historical Northeast Philadelphia

Stories and Memories ~1994

The Bridesburg Historical Society sponsored this project.
The history was written by Teresa Pyott.
The photographs were compiled by Mary Ann Frazier and Thomas Pomager.



The Steamboat Columbia at the Bridge Street Wharf on the Delaware River, 1923.

 

Skating on the Delaware River at Buskius Street, January, 1918.

 

The Delaware Riverfront between Reynolds Street and Bridge Street. 1923.

 

Bridge Street looking west from the Delaware River, showing the White House Hotel.

 

The Isaac Hunter Farmhouse, home of Viola Chalfont's uncle.  Richmond and Berkshire Streets, 1896.

 

From the site of the Reynolds Mansion looking to Richmond Street, block now occupied by the Bridesburg Recreation Center.

 

Houses that once stood at 4472-76 Richmond Street.

 

Pratt Street looking west from Richmond Street showing the Presbyterian Church with steeple.  Standing on the corner is Theodore Fuss, boy on step is Charles Harris.

 

July 4th celebration, Thompson Street looking north to Bridge Street.

   

    Long before Joseph Kirkbride gave his name to the settlement that sprang up along the Delaware just south of where the Frankford Creek emptied into the river, the Lenni-Lenape called the area home. They built bark shelters to house their families, and raised crops to augment the hunting and fishing.  This had been a regular gathering place for the tribes, a place which became known as Point-No-Point. Approaching this area by boat, a point of land appears to jut out into the river. Once reached, however, the point disappears, only to appear again once the site has been passed. From this came the name Point-No-Point, later shortened to the Point.
     The first European landowners were Mounes and Erick Cock, Swedes, who purchased about eight hundred acres from William Penn in 1664. This parcel of land reached from the point of the Frankford Creek and the Delaware River to what is now Kirkbride Street. In 1721, Thomas Chalkley purchased a land plantation which extended the southern limits of the settlement. A long standing mansion named for Chalkley became a landmark in the area.
     A map by Scull and Heap, dated 1750, shows Point Road stretching directly from Second and Vine Streets in the city of Philadelphia to the Point, a distance of about six miles. This followed very nearly the same route as Richmond Street does today, and led to Parr’s Tavern, noted for “the best in eating, drinking, and fellow ship.” Another famous stop along Point Road was the Wheatsheaf Tavern, built in 1747. This building still stands, having served as an inn, a dance hall, a candy store, a grocery store, and currently, a private residence.

    During the American Revolution, when Philadelphia was in the hands of the British under Lord Howe, his staff looked for pleasant country places where they could stay. One such choice was Holly Hall which had been built in 1767 and named for the many kinds of holly trees which grew around the house. The estate stood between Richmond Street (Point Road) and the Frankford Creek just south of Orthodox Street. During the fall and winter of 1777 and 1778, the British used Holly Hall as their war headquarters. Bridesburg’s own Revolutionary War hero was General Daniel Morgan, a famous rifleman in Washington’s army. His home was at Giltback Grove, a property which reached from Richmond Street to the river, south of Buckius Street.      

    The river and the creek served well, not only as natural boundaries, but as the very life’s blood of the settlement. These waterways provided a thoroughfare for travelers and freight between Philadelphia and the towns and mills which grew along the creek and its tributaries. In 1790, regular steamboat service was established between the city and the village, a much easier trip than the tedious stagecoach ride over a poorly constructed and often dangerous Point Road. By 1795, Joseph Kirkbride ran a ferry across the Frankford Creek making travel inland easier, and consequently adding to the importance of the town. Kirkbride, a prominent landowner, was a man of vision, so influential that the town became known as Kirkbridesburg. He planned and planted a beautiful walk along the Delaware River north of Bridge Street, Cedar Walk, which was lined on both sides with cedar trees. It stood for more than fifty years as a landmark for passing vessels. In his will, Kirkbride asked that it remain undisturbed forever, but this was not to be. South of Lefevre Street stood a magnificent pine forest, broken only by clearings for the few estates that were built there. In 1811, Kirkbride completed a toll bridge to replace the feriy. He also operated a ferry to New Jersey. It is clear that the village had become a cross roads for trade and travelers.

    The United States Arsenal on the Frankford Creek was opened on the west bank in 1816, a landmark year for the settlement. President James Madison was entertained at Holly Hall when he came to lay the cornerstone for one of the early arsenal buildings.

     After ten years of manufacturing cotton machinery in Holmesburg, Mfred Jenks moved his old frame building on rollers to Bridesburg in 1819-20, where he began expansion of his business. He met the demand for woolen processing  machinery and furnished the first woolen mill erected in the state, by Bethel Moore in Conshohocken, with all machinery necessary for its manufacture. In 1830 Jenks invented a power loom for weaving checks, which together with his other improved machinery, gained him an extended reputation. With his son, Barton H. Jenks, he established the Bridesburg Manufacturing Company, which for three generations provided employment for as many as five hundred men.
     The little village boasted twenty-five homes by 1827. In the Old Town hall, built on land donated by the Kirkbride family, a group of Presbyterians held their first services in 1829, and built their first church in 1837. After many meetings in the home of Mark Packard, the First Methodist Society was formed in 1834. They, too, held services in the Old Town Hall before building a church in 1851. The Town Hall was used as a public school for younger children as early as 1839, while older students were taught in what is now the Alfred Rose Funeral Home. The Irving Consolidated Grammar School opened in 1848, bringing all students together in one building. This building still stands and is now the home of the Crean String Band.
     The purchase of land at the junction of the creek and the river by Charles and Frederick Lennig in 1842 precipitated a change in the village population. When this flourishing chemical company was moved to Bridesburg, many German immigrants settled there to work at the plant. On April 1, 1848, the village of Bridesburg became a borough, and by the following year, the town was graced with eighty homes. In a letter to the Public Ledger dated December 5, 1850, a resident described the appearance of the town by stating that “while we have a few quite large and handsome residences, the dwellings are generally of medium size, though very neat and comfortable. Shade trees are in abundance, which of course add materially to the beauty of the place when in bloom.” Despite its growth, the area was rural and law enforcement often proved ineffective against highwaymen and criminals who could escape jurisdiction by crossing township lines. This concern for safety was among the concerns which led the citizens of Bridesburg to meet on November 16, 1849, to promote city-county consolidation. This goal was achieved with the passage of the Act of Consolidation in 1854.
     The German population continued to grow and in 1859 the first religious services for German Protestants were held in the Old Town Hall. This led to the formation of the German Reformed Church. Meanwhile, German speaking Roman Catholic founded All Saints Church in 1860.
     When the Civil War erupted, Bridesburg rallied to the call. Among the first to volunteer were twenty-nine boys from the Irving School. The Arsenal served as a depot, receiving, storing, inspecting, and distributing supplies for the war effort. Manufacturing of percussion caps, bullets, cartridges, and other small arms ammunition items required a peak personnel of over fifteen hundred. The Bridesburg
Manufacturing Company produced muskets, and Alfred Jenks was noted for his generosity to war distressed families. When Lincoln’s body was brought to Philadelphia for viewing, many Bridesburg residents paid their respects by walking to and from the State House.
     Following the Civil War, industry in Bridesburg continued to grow and flourish. The Lennig Company prospered, earning a medal at the Centennial Exposition in 1876 for the products they exhibited. Many of the Germans who came to work for Lennig took up residence in a group of houses known as “Dutch Row.” These twelve small homes had slate roofs and green shuttered windows with white-washed fences enclosing well-tended flower gardens.
     Soon another group of immigrants came to join the Germans and the Irish who had settled in Bridesburg earlier. Migrating from Poland, the first families arrived about 1885. They soon petitioned for their own parish and in 1892 St. John Cantius Church was formed to serve the fifty Polish families in Frankford and the forty families in Bridesburg. The Polish population grew rapidly, as did their church.
They brought a new cultural identity to Bridesburg, one which they never lost, maintaining the language, the folkways, and the culinary traditions of their homeland.
     The twentieth century found a neighborhood of neat row homes, most with gardens, streets where children played, a river front lined with boathouses, a creek with boats ready in their slips for a day’s fishing. Industry was expanding, and most of the large mansions were torn down as company owners and their families moved out of this working-class neighborhood.
     Throughout two World Wars and the Great Depression, the community remained remarkably stable. Many families living in the town can trace their roots to immigrant grandparents. Staunchly patriotic, Bridesburg was famous for its Fourth of July celebrations, resplendent with fireworks, and its Memorial Day Parade, still an annual event.
     The neighborhood did pay a price for the growth of the city and the increase in jobs stemming from nearby industry. It wasn’t until 1945 that the Bridesburg Civic Association was successful in having the city dump at the south end of town closed. A heavy layer of smoke from burning trash hung over the area for many years. The creek and the river became polluted from all the industry along the river and the creek emitted a stench which, combined with fumes from the chemical plants and the glue works, became a trademark of the neighborhood.
     Since that time, environmental efforts have cleared the air and the river. The creek, however, is no more and the area next to the river is still somewhat of an environmental risk. The Frankford Arsenal, with its many jobs, has closed and been replaced by a light industrial park and office complex. Small businesses in the neighborhood still provide employment locally. As for the two chemical giants, long known for their civic-minded generosity, only Allied/Signal maintains full production. Rohm and Haas, the firm which purchased the Charles Lennig Company in 1921 and greatly expanded it over the years, plans a major downsizing of its workforce in Bridesburg, relocating many of its operations.
     So the neighborhood stands in the closing years of the twentieth century, no longer a crossroads, still held together by the creek and the river. The creek, diverted some years ago in a flood control plan, no longer flows through the community. What is left of the creek from Bridge Street to the river will never again see oyster men from the Chesapeake bringing their boats from the river to sell their wares. The people of Bridesburg can no longer stroll along Kirkbride’s Cedar Walk or take their children to the Bridge Street pier to see the river. Once the reason for the existence of the village, and always dear to the hearts of the community, it now flows by out of sight and out of reach.

Interviews...

    The interviews for Bridesburg were conducted by the 1992-93 eighth gradestudents of All Saints School, whose average age is thirteen. Frances Procopio was the teacher directing the project. The senior citizens interviewed are all long-time residents on the community. Coordinating the project for the Bridesburg Historical Society were Mary Ann Frazier and Teresa Pyott.

Interview with Viola Chalfont
by John J. Skimp

    A new addition to the Bridesburg community was born at home to a family of Irish and German descent. On December 2, 1917, the only child of Mae and F. Russell Conley was born. She was named Viola Elise and during the next seventy-five years she would continue to contribute and experience many events in her Bridesburg neighborhood.
     Living all her life in Bridesburg, Viola attended Bridesburg Elementary School, Harding Junior High and Frankford High School until the eleventh grade. Viola quit high school to work at a department store. As a young girl she was a Girl Scout and an active member of her church youth group. Viola is still an active  member of the United Church of Christ on Filmore Street. She says the church and community have changed little over the years. Sundays were always a full day of church and fun. She recalls that the youth group was known as Christian Endeavor which is much like the C.Y.O. of today. One particular social event the church held
was a get together every few weeks. The children would visit different homes and would enjoy a special portion of the meal. Each house offered only one thing, such as soup, sandwiches, or dessert. Finally in the evening the children met back at the church where they sang songs, had tea or punch, and cookies. It was a chance to socialize together as kids. Games such as hop-scotch, red light green light, and 1-2-3 as well as swimming and stick ball kept them busy.
     Viola has a clear memory of the Bridesburg tradition of people helping people. During the depression, many of the needy families received food and help with rent as well as a basement of coal delivered to supply heat. This was made possible by the many merchants in the community and the caring, more fortunate citizens.
Life during World War II was quiet in Bridesburg. There were blackouts where all the curtains and blinds or shades were kept closed and candlelight was used. There were rations on many items and air raid wardens were a visible part of life.
     Viola recalls that the Delaware River was a clean water refuge for the children of the neighborhood. She remembers swimming at the end of Kirkbride Street as a young child. Also, at the end of the Bridge Street was a two story wharf. It was here that the piano played and dancing was held. Music concerts and picnics were a part of weekend fun, as well as watching the boats come up and down the river.
     In 1945, Viola Elise Conley married a man from Media, Joseph Roger Chalfont. They too settled in Bridesburg as he liked the community and they raised two sons here, Roger and Robert. They purchased the house she lives in today from her family. Viola is widowed but still resides here with her son on Richmond Street.
    Viola talks about the changes in merchants that have come and gone over the years. She says that Rohm and Haas has always been a very active part of the community in the past and continues to help out even today. Mr. Haas was a visible part of the company and personally saw to it that no one would be laid off because of lack of work. He found jobs for his workers to do, creating clean up and painting crews. This avoided any financial hardships to families.
     Viola remembers the Arsenal always being here and watched the building of a new Bridesburg School, recreation center, fire house, and post office as well as a Boys Club. She also stated that for progress, with the building of 1-95, homes for some four thousand in our commuinity were lost.
     Tradition and community pride were always a part of Bridesburg history and remain that way today. Bridesburg has hosted many events in the past and some still exist today such as decorating houses for holidays, (in the past there were prizes and judging for this), Fourth of July celebration at the park with fireworks, Memorial Day Parade, and Community Pride Day, and Benefits for good causes.

Interview with Mr. Andrew O’Hanlon
by Alicia Quirk and Star Sherry

     Mr. O’Hanlon moved to Bridesburg in 1925 from Scotland. He attended All Saints Elementary School from the second through eighth grades. During this time he served as an altar boy. He believes that All Saints Parish Community has grown profoundly smaller throughout the years.
     When asked what he feels were the most memorable events in Bridesburg, he listed the dedication of the Saint Teresa statue in All Saints Church to a young third grader who drowned in the river while playing after school.
     The fourth of July celebrations were also another memorable moment in his life. These celebrations included a picnic in the park (now the Recreation Center), games for the children and an evening full of fireworks and family fun.
     Halloween, another fond memory, was a time for the neighborhood kids to get out and have fun. During Halloween, some children thought it was fun to put potatoes in stockings and hit other kids in the head. If you were lucky and didn’t get hit with the stocking, you could bring home one to two pillowcases full of candy!
     We were told that the Bridesburg Recreation Center was not like it is today. It was an uneven, deserted field, which was later converted into a baseball, soccer and football field. It has a smaller playground and the same fence that it had back then. 
     To be a teenager in Bridesburg in Mr. O’Hanlon’s time meant fishing, sports and playing in the fields. Many people who owned farms in the 1920s and 1930s allowed children to play in their fields. Some of these stretched from Richmond Street to the Delaware River and others from LeFevre Street to the Frankford Creek, so there was plenty of room to play. People from all over came to Bridesburg to fish in our swamps and the river.
     Most children in Bridesburg were known for their athletic skills and this still holds true today. One example was Billy Gimble of Salmon Street. Billy Gimble beat Jesse Owens in the 100 yard dash at Franklin Field during the Department of Recreation’s Track Meet.
     Mr. O’Hanlon feels the two greatest things that ever happened to Bridesburg were the opening of the Bride sburg Recreation Center and the Bride sburg Boys and Girls Club. The Rec and the Club give children a chance to get off the streets and make something of their lives.
     Bridesburg has contributed to the growth of Philadelphia through its industry and supply of jobs. It’s three most notable companies, Rohm and Haas, Allied Chemical and the Frankford Arsenal, have not only supplied employment and products, but have helped Bridesburg to grow as a community.

Interview with John Whittle
by Mary Rooney, Keith Averswald and Ziggy Krajewski

John Whittle has been in Bridesburg for sixty-five years. His fondest
memories of this are centered around sports.

     He played all sports. Mr. Whittle loved to play baseball, soccer, and football. He also liked to box. He began playing football in the fifth grade at All Saints School. Mr. George Bellos, his coach, taught him everything he knew. After football in eighth grade, he went to Champlin Park, now called Bridesburg Park, and on to the Allen Recreation Center. The Allen Recreation Center was started by a group of men around Allen and Overington Streets. At that time, there were baseball fields everywhere.
     Later, a gentleman named Harry Ward formed a football team and called it Ward AA. It was known as the greatest team in the Warner Conference. In fact, Whittle was named the most outstanding player in the Warner Conference in the 1930’s and the 1940’s. If you’re wondering what the Warner Conference is, it was and still is a football league. Teams joined and played other teams in the league.
     Another sport that Whittle participated in was baseball. He told us when they played baseball the ball didn’t have a white cover they used old baseballs because they couldn’t afford new ones. When baseball first began in Bridesburg, some of the players went to Coppers Coke Company to ask for hats and shirts. They obtained them and called themselves the Copper’s Cubs. Ward AA also started a baseball team of which Whittle was a member. Whittle was nicknamed “Hack” because his middle name is Stanley and his favorite third baseman was Stanley Hack of the Chicago Cubs. To this day that is what people call him.
     When I asked about his memorable time in Bridesburg, he said, ‘When Ward AA baseball team were the champions of the world.” He explained that the policemen had a baseball team of all professional players and they were to play the St. Louis Cardinals, who won the World Series. When Mr. Whittle’s team played the policemen, his team won. The next day the policemen beat St. Louis, so that meant they were better than the world champions, which meant Ward AA was better than both teams.

Interview with Florence Green
by Brian Smith, Daniel Devine and Anne Marie Camac

     Florence Green was born on January 30, 1902. When she was young she went to All Saints Convent for Schooling. There were eight nuns in all who taught the children. At the time she attended All Saints there were no uniforms. When the girls would make their Holy Communion they had to wear a white dress, white veil, black stockings and black shoes. The procedure of Confirmation was the same as now.
     Florence father owned a store called Herman Heims. It was located on Ash and Salmon Streets and was connected to the house in which she lived. There once were farms in Bridesburg and once in a while you would see an escaped cow walking down the street.
 When Florence was little there were no televisions, phones, radios, washing machines or dryers. She had to make her own entertainment and fun. Some games she really enjoyed playing were marbles, jacks, old maid and hide and go seek.
     Also when she was very young there weren’t any cars. Her family’s source of transportation was a horse and carriage. When she was around twelve years old the Ford car was manufactured and a short time later her family purchased one.
     Florence remembers All Saints’ beautiful May Processions. All of the children dressed up in their nicest clothes. The Procession was partly inside and partly outside. Holidays were always special too. At Christmas the church would have a decked out ceremony and the children would get candy from All Saints. The church would also make Easter a fun and prayerful holiday.
     When Florence was a teenager the girls would wear shirts or dresses below their knees. The shirts were fancy and some had raffles on them. The girls would never wear pants. The boys would often wear suits. For entertainment the girls would go to dance classes; then when a dance came around, a girl would know what to do.
     She remembers the parties she and her friends went to when they were teenagers. They were usually cake and ice cream parties. They would also have Halloween parties. Everyone would get dressed in costumes and have fun.
     When Florence was younger the cost of milk was about ten cents a quart. A loaf of bread cost fifteen cents. A good pair of sneakers cost one dollar and you could buy a nice dress for ten dollars. A really big Christmas tree cost just five dollars.
     She recalls when the Bridesburg Park and Recreation Center was at one time Reynold’s mansion. It was given to the state, which turned it into a park and  recreation center. It was never there when she was a child, but her children used it. We had asked Florence Green what was her most memorable time in Bridesburg. She had told us when she was married, at All Saints.
     When the Depression began, it was terrible. People had to use Food Stamps. At Easter there couldn’t be Easter eggs because of a shortage of sugar. You were only allowed a certain amount of Food Stamps a year, a lot of people were losing their homes and starving. Cars would come around collecting donations of canned goods
for people who needed it badly.
     Florence Green is now 91 years old. She had nine children. She is very happy, and is still living in Bridesburg.

 

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