Historical Northeast Philadelphia
Stories and Memories ~1994
The history of Frankford was written by
Assistant Curator of the Frankford Historical Society.
The photographs are all from the archives of the Frankford Historical Society.
Millsdale - Powdermill Lane. Home of Stephen Decatur, Father of Commodore Stephen Decatur.
Port Royal Mansion—circa 1761, Tacony Street.
Waln Street Meeting - circa 1775, Waln and Unity Streets. The meeting was established in 1683. The present building dating from 1775 is the oldest meeting house in Philadelphia.
West side of Frankford Avenue at Sellers Street looking south - circa 1907. The church is St. Mark Church. Designed by Watson and Huckel.
Frankford Bath House - interior. Located on Hedge Street.
W.W. Foulkrod House, Leiper Street below Foulkrod Street. The adjoining house similar in design was the home of John Greenwood.
Trinity A.M.E. Zion Chapel - circa 1877, Willow Street.
Duffield Grist Mill - circa 1870, Frankford Avenue and Nicetown Lane. Replaced the Swedish Grist Mill built in the same vicinity in the 1660's.
Frankford Elevated reaches Oxford Pike.
Frankford Avenue and Orthodox Street looking west toward Central Methodist Church. Left, Fulton House.
Before the Europeans arrived, Frankford was home to the Taconick Indians, a tribe of the Lenni Lenape. They lived along the banks of the Quessionwonmick River, now known as the Frankford Creek. The stone they used to grind their corn is still evident in the creek as it flows through the grounds of Friends Hospital.
The Swedes and Dutch arrived in Frankford as trappers. By the 1660s the Swedes had established farms and a grist mill along the Frankford Creek. The Swedes made their settlement along creeks and traveled by water. There was a trail at Frankford Avenue before the English settlers arrived.
Frankford was sold by William Penn as a 20,000 acre parcel to the Society of Free Traders, a group of London businessmen. Penn purchased the Swedish grist mill tract of 200 acres from Lasse Cock and his brother for the Society of Free Traders. The land purchase was known as the Manor of Frank, from which Frankford derives it name.
The principal purchasers of land in the Manor of Frank were Thomas Fairman, Henry Waddy, Robert Adam, and Thomas Seary. Fairman was Penn’s lieutenant. He was living at Shaxamackson when Penn arrived. Penn requested that Fairman establish a meeting in Frankford. The first meeting was held at the home of Sarah Seary on July 3, 1683. It was decided that a log meeting house would be built on land donated by Fairman. The meeting was held at the homes of friends until the meeting house was completed. The first building was erected in 1684 on a site now bordered by Waln and Unity Streets. The brick and stone building now standing on the site dates from 1775 and is the oldest meeting house in the city.
Henry Waddy had been a milliner in London. He suffered persecution for his Quaker beliefs and left England after purchasing 750 acres from Penn in the Manor of Frank He arrived in Pennsylvania in June 1682. He sat on the Grand Jury that issued the order for the laying of the King’s Highway in 1683. Penn’s order to establish a post office was accepted by Waddy, and he was granted the authority to supply passengers with horses as they traveled along the Highway. He ran this business from his home on Frankford Avenue in 1683, which later became known as the Jolly Post Inn. Waddy’s son, John, died in 1683 and was the first person buried at the Friends Burial Ground at Waln Street. Henry Waddy died on September 20, 1864 less than a month after his wife. His land was purchased by Robert Adam in 1698. It was described at that time as “land with houses, barns, orchards, gardens, fence, enclosures, and improvements thereon.” It is a remarkable comment upon Waddy’s industry considering the area was wilderness just 18 years earlier.
The Jolly Post Inn on the Frankford Road remained an important stop on the road between Philadelphia and New York for 150 years. Members of the Continental Congress traveling from New England to Philadelphia conducted a secret meeting at the Inn to determine how to approach the idea of independence with their more conservative southern neighbors. Washington’s troops stopped there to rest in the orchards behind the inn. The inn was the stop for the stagecoaches running between Philadelphia and New York until the 1850s. The ballroom on the second floor was the scene of social and community events until its demolition in 1911.
Frankford was a thriving community by the 18th century. After the King’s Highway was laid out in 1683, orders were issued for a road to Bustleton in 1693 and Adams Road, later known as Asylum Pike, in 1696. There was daily coach service from Philadelphia to New York by 1756. Industry dotted the banks of the Frankford Creek. The grist mill, constructed by the Swedes, was still in operation. A tannery was established in 1701. The German farmers established a Church at Frankford and Church Streets in 1770. Gunpowder was manufactured by Oswald Eve in his mill at the Frankford Creek and Powdermill Lane. Eve later was found guilty of treason for trading with the British, however, and his land was confiscated.
Frankford’s location on a main road near the city attracted wealthy landowners who built fine plantations in the surrounding area. Thomas Chalkley, a Quaker gentleman and minister, settled in Frankford in 1743. He built a magnificent estate on Wheatsheaf Lane, known as Chalkley Hall. The hall was built in the 1760s by his son- 44 a Historical Northeast Philadelphia: Stories and Memories in-law, Abel James.
Port Royal Mansion on Tacony Street was built by Edward Stiles in 1761. The house had a fine Georgian facade with a Palladian window and was lavishly decorated. It was for many years the home of the Lukens family. The DuPont family later purchased the property for inclusion in their Winterthur Museum.
The Drinker Mansion, a stone and wood house called Violet or Elm Hill, was famous for its summer house where many famous people visited to escape the heat of the city.
The Decatur House, Milldale, located on Powdermill Lane was originally owned by Oswald Eve. It was purchased by Captain Steven Decatur, father of Commodore Steven Decatur, who lived there until his death. The simple Georgian house had a porch supported by delicate wrought iron covered with wisteria vine.
The Allengrove Mansion at Frankford Avenue and Dyre Street had a magnificent Federal doorway built in 1801 (which has been incorporated into the garden wing of the historical society of Frankford). The last remaining large home of this period is the John Ruan house. Dr. Ruan was a physician and a Burgess of Frankford. The federal style house built about 1796, now occupied by the Grand Army of the Republic Civil War Museum on Griscom Stand, is open to the public.
Frankford was disputed land during the British occupation of Philadelphia. Military companies were organized in Frankford to fight during the Revolutionary War. The first was a company of the Flying.Camp organized by Neff. The Militia of Oxford Township consisted of two companies in the Battalion of Captain Benjamin McVeash of Frankford. The Queen Rangers, camped in Kensington, tried to keep Frankford Avenue open so Tory farmers could bring provisions to the city. Revolutionary troops fought to cut the supply lines.
The most famous story of Frankford during the Revolutionary War concerns Lydia Darrah’s trip to the grist mill in Frankford to inform the American troops of a British plot to surprise and capture Washington’s Army. She walked from her home at Second and Dock Streets under the pretense of needing grain ground at the mill. She left the grain and traveled to the Rising Sun Tavern, headquarters of the American Military. She informed General Boudinot of the plot, walked back to Frankford, picked up her flour and continued home. Washington, so warned, prepared his troops for the assault and the British forces were repelled.
Frankford was incorporated as a borough of Philadelphia in 1800. The Board of Elected Burgesses consisted of two burgesses, five assistant burgesses, and a high constable. The board was empowered to improve streets, regulate wells, and care for the health, welfare, and safety of its people. It could also assess taxes for local improvements at a rate not to exceed one cent on a dollar. The first volunteer fire company was formed in 1793. By 1803 a second one was needed. The Frankford Arsenal was established in 1816 for the manufacture of small arms. Friends Hospital was founded by Quakers in 1813 for the care and comfort of the mentally ill.
Most of the businesses and residences in Frankford were located below Unity Street. Early in the 19th century, the town began to grow as textile men emigrating from England began to settle in Frankford, attracted by its site on a major road and the water power provided by the Frankford and Little Tacony Creeks. Textile mills began to appear along the Creek in 1809. The first was a woolen mill built by Samuel Martin. In 1820 Samuel Piling built one of the first mills for printing and finishing calico at Adams Avenue and Powdermill Lane. Jeremy Horrocks started one of the first dye houses in the U.S. in 1821 at Adams Avenue and Unity Street called the Frankford Dyeing, Bleaching and Finishing Works. He was the first to employ blacks in industry in Frankford. John Briggs and Harvey Quicksall established a Dyeing, Bleaching and Calico Printing House in 1830 at Tacony and Paul Streets. It was so successful they built a much larger mill in 1844, the Tackawanna Print and Dye Works.
Frankford was a leader in the manufacture of Umbrella sticks, parasol handles and walking sticks. Briggs and Quicksall formed a stick manufacture in 1830. Borie and Mackie followed suit. Silas Jones and Jeremiah Quicksall began making umbrella sticks and carved handles at Tacony Street near Orchard in 1840.
The new industrial development caused a surge in the population of Frankford demonstrated by an increase in housing stock for millworkers and the number of new churches started at that time. The Frankford Baptist Church was founded in 1806. Rehoboth Methodist Church was begun in the 1820’s. The Campbell African Methodist Episcopal Church, established in 1836, went on to establish the first black school in Frankford in 1837. The first Catholic church, St. Joachim’s, was established in 1844. St. Marks Protestant Episcopal was started in 1832.
The population of Frankford grew from 1233 in 1810 to 5346 in 1850. Several business and textile men were concerned with the workers ability to own their own homes. In 1831, the Oxford Provident Building Association was formed. This was the first savings and loan association in the United States. Comly Rich received the first loan of three hundred and seventy-five dollars to purchase a house at 4276 Orchard Street. Rich was the town lamplighter and worked in Walton’s Comb Factory. His house still stands on Orchard Street.
The Frankford Mutual Fire Insurance Company opened in 1843. Its offices were in the Frankford Lyceum building on Main Street (Frankford Avenue) near Sellers Street. The Lyceum was created in 1842 for the education and enlightenment of the 46 • Historical Northeast Philadelphia: Stories and Memories community. There was a library, lecture hall, and exhibition space. Offices on the ground and first floors were rented to local businessmen. The old Assembly Hall was used until this century for neighborhood meetings and events.
During the 1840s the Garsed Brothers came to Frankford and established a weaving mill. They were the first to use steam-powered machinery for the manufacture of textiles in Frankford. Richard Garsed, a man much admired in Frankford, invented labor-saving textile machinery and was very interested in improving the textile industry and life in the community. The Garseds owned Frogmore, Wingohocking, and Willobrook Mills. The Globe Dye and Bleachery was established by Richard Greenwood and William Bault in 1867 and is still run by the Greenwood family. Richard was the son of a hand loom operator. He apprenticed at the Pilling Dye Works, became foreman of the Frogmore Mill, and ultimately owned several mills.
Frankford was incorporated into the City of Philadelphia in 1854. The first horse car between Philadelphia and Frankford ran on March 15, 1858. The cars were built by Thomas Castor at Frankford Avenue and Overington Street. The first bank in Northeast Philadelphia, the Second National Bank, was established in Frankford in 1864. Steam powered dummy cars replaced the horse cars in 1863.
At the beginning of the Civil War, many of Frankford’s young men volunteered — 1500 in all. Frankford was the site of several Civil War encampments. Soldiers drilled and trained here before marching south. The period following the war was a period of great growth for Frankford. More and larger mills grew up. The Tackawanna Print Works cost $1,000,000 to build. Before it burned down in 1866, the Print Works was producing 100 miles of calico a day and employed 400 hands. Immigrants came to Frankford to work in the mills — first from England, then Ireland, France, Belgium, Italy and Poland. New churches were formed and more schools were built to accommodate the new residents.
Mill owners began developing the West side of Frankford Avenue for housing. The Garsed family built their beautiful Second Empire Mansion, now the Frankford YMCA, at Leiper and Arrott Streets in 1864. Later the Baults, Greenwoods, Comlys, and Waltons would follow suit, building their magnificent Queen Anne and Romanesque mansions on Leiper Street in the 1880s and 1890s.
Landowners began to develop the vacant farmland into Victorian twin homes for the growing middle class and rows of smaller homes for the millworkers. William Overington made a fortune developing the area around his home, Oaklands. Penn Street west of Oxford Avenue was opened for development in 1890. In 1893 trolley cars replaced the steam powered dummy cars. The Frankford Reading Railroad opened on July 2, 1894Y~The main stop was at Frankford and Unity Street, while a suburban stop was placed at Arrott and Large Streets. The Frankford Country Club was established at the Wistar Farm with a nine hole golf course and a cricket field.
Frankford Elevated Railway construction began in 1905. The railway was completed in 1922 and traveled to Bridge Street. The El structure is unique in Frankford because of its single supports. This design allowed more light onto the street. A huge five day celebration was held for the opening of the El. Now inexorably linked to the City by steel and electricity, Frankford lost some of its village charm.
The last building boom in Frankford took place in the 1920s and 1930s in the Northwood section. Originally known as Large’s Wood, or to the more cynical Frankford resident, as Mortgage Hill, Northwood was advertised as suburban with tree lined streets and quaint mission cottages and Tudor revival twins. Wealthy residents moved into the large Georgian and Tudor revival single homes. Building had begun in Northwood in 1905 but did not catch on until after World War I and the building of Frankford High Schools. Frankford Avenue remained a thriving commercial area well after World War II. The theatres buijt in the thirty’s and the many shops and restaurants still drew the local resident on a Friday evening.
Frankford has a long history of commitment and perseverance. Every section maintains a community group, church, parents association, block organization, recre- ation group, preservation group, or historical society committed to the quality of life in Frankford. Recently, 60 of these groups gathered together to develop a five year plan for the improvement of Frankford. A new post office was built and a housing project for senior citizens has been funded. The residents and the business people are working with SEPTA on the El renovation and the new station being planned at Bridge-Pratt. Such projects can only enhance the quality of life of residents of the community, now and in the future. Interviews... Nancy Thornton and Jack Hohenstein coordinated the interviews and essays. They were greatly assisted by Hilary Slobotkin and Joan Hughes. General thanks are extended to Jerome Ruderm an, Royal Black, James Smith and Margaret Labm an. Not to be forgotten, special thanks to the parents of the students. Interview with Mrs. Rena Black by T~ffany Spinelli, Harding Middle School
Mrs. Rena Black was born in 1897. She started school in 1903 when she was six years old. She attended Wilmot School which at that time was the school for minorities. 48 o Historical Northeast Philadelphia: Stories and Memories Wilmot School, she recalls, had four rooms. It went from the first grade to the eighth grade. Her first grade teacher’s name was Miss Campton who later became Mrs. Webb. She taught from the first to the third grades. As the students progressed they were promoted upstairs. Mrs. Black completed the eighth grade at Wilmot School, graduated and went on to Northeast High School for Girls. After two years, she went to William Penn High School which was an annex for Northeast. She went to William Penn for three years and then she dropped out. Later on she went back and completed the twelfth grade.
Mrs. Black was nineteen when she started working domestic jobs. Her first real employment was with N.A.S.D. up on Oxford Avenue.
Mrs. Black was born at 1805 Wilmot Street. She also remembers a lot of other things that have changed, especially streets. Griscom Street used to be Franldin Street; Rutland Street used to be called Willow Street; Darrah Street was Cedar Street. There were many more street names that have been changed but one in particular was Valley Street. Valley Street was the Frankford Creek. It had a bridge at Margaret and Ditman Streets that took people across if they wanted to go any further than that. There was another foot-bridge at Foulkrod Street. The one at Foulkrod was just a small wooden bridge, but the bridge at Margaret and Ditman Streets was made of concrete and iron. Frankford Avenue itself was formerly Main Street. -
Mrs. Black had two sisters who died in infancy. Her mother did some domestic work, but mosfly she took in wash for other people. At that time, teenagers carried wash for people who lived across Frankford Avenue. There are a number of people who are thought of as original Frankford people such as the Shellcrosses and the Casters. One of the Castors would come around delivering coffee from door to door with a horse and wagon. Sometimes he would sell cookies and crackers. The Horrockses had a coal yard. The Overingtons, she recalls, had the most beautiful mansion in the whole neighbor- hood. It was located on Overington and Orthodox Streets. Now it is a park. The Baldwins were the milk people. There was also a smaller milk company. The man who delivered the milk was named Mr. Holt. The smaller milk company delivered milk in a big metal can, and they gave you as much as you wanted (they had to measure). They delivered from door to door. Another family was the Rowlands, they owned a mill of some sort. Evan’s Mill was at Meadow and Paul Streets. Evan’s mill was a big umbrella mill (just recently torn down). Thinking of this mill reminds Mrs. Black of a man who used to come around and collect broken umbrellas. He would then repair them on the spot. A tablecloth mill was at Ditman and Margaret Streets. S.S. White’s Dental manufac- tured all different dental parts. Mrs. Black had an unde who was a custodian there. The medical doctors she remembers are Dr. Hanna and Dr. Sterner at Worth and Orthodox Streets. Also there was a Dr. Alfred Grey who had his offices on Orthodox Street above Tackawanna.
Mrs. Black lived on Herbert Street as a child until her mother passed away. Then she moved in with a very close cousin whom she referred to as aunt. They lived at 4682 Tackawanna Street. She lived there while she attended Northeast High School, then she moved back to Wilmot Street. She received employment from a family by the name of the Scrolls. One of the Scrolls taught at Frankford High School.
The first lighting her family had was coal oil lamps. It was the child’s duty to keep the lamp chimneys clean so they could be lit at night. Then they had gas lights. You had to buy a mantle to put over the light to make the light spread all over the room. If the mantle burnt too long it would get powdery and if you didn’t have an extra one, you were left in the dark. Many years later electric lights were made.
There weren’t many places to go food shopping back then, but there were some stores. There was one store owned by an elderly Irish woman where Rena’s family would do all their shopping. There were different stores people could go to; it really depended on what they needed. A fresh fruit and vegetable store, Sheberts, was down at Meadow and Frankford Avenue.
As a child Mrs. Black belonged to St. Thomas’s Church. Later, her husband was very active in church business and that’s how she was able to be a member of many different churches. They had a very good Sunday School at St. Thomas’s Church. The pasture was Rev. Herbert Thomas. St. Thomas was not the brick building it is now, it was a little wooden one on Margaret Street, which is now part of the housing projects. They used to hold services by night just for young people. Another church was the Second Baptist Church which is now at the corner of Mulberry and Meadow. It used to be in the middle of the block on Mulberry Street. It was also a small wooden church.
For entertainment children used to play games. Rena recalls herself and two friends who would take their dolls out for a walk and for a picnic. They would go down to the embankments of the Frankford Creek. Rena also remembers going to Jack Nutters, a little corner store. Jack was the originator of “snowballs.” Snowballs back then cost only one or two pennies a piece. The earliest thing Mrs. Black can remember is Mrs. Nutter’s vegetable soup.
As for recreation Mrs. Black remembers a community football team that developed into the Yellow Jackets. However, before it became the Yellow Jackets it was the Frankford Giants. Their practices and most of their games were held at the high school stadium. There was also a community baseball team (mostly minorities). Everybody in town came whenever they had a game. The baseball team was called the Northeast Giants. They use to play a famous team called the Hilldale Baseball Team. They were 50 • Historical Northeast Philadelphia: Stories and Memories centered in West Philadelphia. A lot of the players on the Hilldale Baseball Team went on to become professional baseball players. People came from all over Frankford to see the games. The games were held practically every week. People that came from the other side of Frankford usually brought their own make-shift stool or box of some kind. The baseball field was on the left side of Harding Middle School. It was called Bates’ Lot.
The thing that Mrs. Black feels has changed the most in Frankford are the people, streets and buildings. Back then most of the streets were dirt roads. Later they became cobblestone streets and now they are paved, cemented streets. The police system has changed also. She says that there used to be an officer she knew named Charlie Baxter. He had to go into a patrol box and report that he was on duty. That was right around the time that the telephone came into service.
Mrs. Black enjoyed living in Frankford very much. She now lives in Germantown, and returns to Frankford whenever possible. Interview with Butch Ballard by Brett McKenzie, H.R. Edmunds School
In the year 1918, a man by the name of George E. Ballard, better known as Butch Ballard, was born. The first five months of his life were spent in Camden, New Jersey. His parents, Asbury, and Mrs. Ada Ballard, both decided to move to Frankford. Most of his childhood and teen-age years he lived at 4016 Hawthorne Street in Frankford.
As Butch grew up in Frankford, he went to many different schools in the area. First he went to Wilmot Elementary School located at Mulberry and Meadow Streets. He then went to Henry S. Disston Elementary School. Then Butch went on to Harding Junior High School. In ninth grade, he went to Northeast High School. “All of the schools, back then, were pretty much segregated,” explains Butch. In eleventh grade he quit school to play drums in a local jazz band.
When Butch was twelve and thirteen years old, after school he would follow all the big parades, held on holidays, as they marched down Orthodox Street and Frankford Avenue. The one thing young Butch was fascinated by was the drummer. He didn’t want to see or hear anything else but the drummer furiously beating the drums and clashing the symbols. When Butch later returned to his parents’ home, Mr. and Mrs. Ballard would be mighty angry with young Butch because he was supposed to come right home after school. When Butch was sixteen and seventeen, he and a couple of friends would play hooky from school and go listen to friends play in their jazz bands. Shadow Wilson, one of the boys Butch knew, played the drums in one of the bands. Butch was fascinated with the way Shadow played the drums. So Butch just kept practicing playing the drums and finally, after a while, caught on.
Another pastime of his was going to the different motion picture shows. The big day for the movies was Saturday. The reason children would go on Saturday was they received their allowances, of a dollar, on Friday. The price of admission was only thirty- five cents or a quarter. The food and candy was also inexpensive an ice cream cone was a nickel, a Tasty Cake was a dime.
There were four major motion picture theaters. There was, down at Pratt Street and Frankford Avenue, the Forum Theater. There also was the Roosevelt Theater right up Frankford Avenue and Meadow Street. The Circle Theater was located by the PSFS bank. The Circle Theater was the biggest theater on Frankford Avenue. Finally there was the Windsor Theater on Church Street and Frankford Avenue.
Butch, as a young adult, often went to the four big theaters. Butch said, “When I went to the theaters, I always sat in the peanut gallery or the balcony with all the other blacks because of segregation.” Butch then laughed and said, “But the balcony was the best seats in the house.~~
Then Butch said, “The biggest change has to be the breaking down of the color barrier. I have been alive for more than half a century and back when I was younger, Frankford Avenue was the boundary line between blacks and whites but now blacks and whites are starting to buy land, houses and apartments on the other side of the Avenue. And also,” Butch continued, “Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and John F. Kennedy were a big help with breaking down the color barrier.”
Butch always bought his suits, for his jazz playing, down town at South Street. Butch would ride the elevated trains, or the El, downtown to get his suits handmade at the stores and then come home on the El.
To this day Butch is still very active in Frankford and he still plays jazz all over the world. He was chosen Grand Marshall for the first annual Frankford Pride Parade on May 8, 1993. I hope that he and the memories that he holds will never be forgotten. Interview with Aunt Margaret Quinn by Brian Hanssens, H.R. Edmunds School
Aunt Margaret Quinn was 87 years old in July of 1993. She was born in her parents’ bedroom, in their house on the 4200 block of Griscom Street in the year of 1897. She attended St. Joachum’s Elementary School from the first to the eighth grade. She stayed close to home, only playing on her street. She played jacks and jump rope, and she liked to rollerskate. Her mother never cared much for cooking and sewing, so she never learned those things. She remembers that most of the people in the neighborhood were Irish and Italian and attended St. Joachim ‘s.
There were six movie theaters on Frankford Avenue in those days. She took dance 52 a Historical Northeast Philadelphia: Stories and Memories lessons at Scheldnect’s Dance School on Frankford Avenue for a year and a half.
Aunt Margaret remembers that in those days Frankford Avenue and the rest of Frankford was “very, very clean.” Also, there was a lot of shopping on the Avenue. She remembers a department store called “Buttons” on the corner of Frankford and Sellers. The little corner store on the corner of Church and Leiper was called Currans Grocery Store when she was young. For fun outside of the neighborhood, she took the trolley to Willow Grove Amusement Park. The trolley stop was at Frankford above Unity.
After eighth grade Aunt Margaret graduated from St. Joachim’s. She did not attend high school. In those days it was legal to leave school at the end of eighth grade. She took the trolley downtown to attend business school. The Frankford Elevated, of course, had not been built yet. Her first job was a clerical job at Mulford Company. She worked for another company after Mulford for about twenty years. Then she got a government job. For forty years, working until she retired, Aunt Margaret worked for the Draft Board at Broad and Cherry. She retired in the early 70s to take care of my great-grandfather who died in the late 70s.
After interviewing Aunt Margaret there was one thing that stood out. She is a person who lived her whole life on one street: Griscom Street. How many people can claim that anymore? Not very many. Just for that, I think that Aunt Margaret’s quiet life is unique. Interview with Dorsha Mason by Stephen Robinson, Harding Middle School
Hi, my name is Stephen Robinson. I am listening to my Aunt Dorsha talk about Frankford when she was a young girl, in the 1930s. My Great-Aunt Dorsha was born in 1918 on Mulberry Street in Frankford. Frankford was a community where blacks and whites lived together in harmony and peace. The black and working class whites lived in houses in East Frankford. Many of these worked for the rich white families who lived across Frankford Avenue on the west side.
In East Frankford during that time there were many old black families who resided there. Some of the old families were the Epps, the Smiths, the Blacks, the Brooks, the Grays, the Barretts, the Fletchers, the Millers, the Turpins, the Stewarts, and many more. Many of the families came from North Carolina, Virginia, Maryland, South Carolina and West Virginia.
During that time, there were several black-owned businesses. There was also an all-black school were children were taught by excellent teachers. There was also three Afro-American doctors as my aunt was growing up — Doctor Levy, Tollivar and Pressley.
During those years Frankford was a very safe place to live. People left their doors unlocked and opened all night. There was very little crime. The people had a great deal of fun.
My Aunt Dorsha enjoyed her childhood and youth in Frankford. Interview with Dr. Leon Johnston by Cassie Avington, Frankford High School
Dr. Leon Johnston was born in South Philadelphia. He moved to Frankford in 1925. He was the only African-American graduate, out of a class of 276, of Frankford High School in February 1929.
Dr. Johnston attended Virginia State University, graduating in 1933. There he met Mary Boothe. They were married in 1941.
During World War II, Dr. Johnston worked at the old Yale and Towne plant on Tacony Street and at Sun Ship Company. After the war, he was a teacher and administrator in several Philadelphia schools, retiring in 1980.
Dr. Johnston is very proud of his association with the Campbell A.M.E. Church on Kinsey Street, the second oldest A.M.E. Church in the country. He has been active with the Frankford Optimists and was a founder of the Frankford Human Relations Coalition.
In his interview, Dr. Johnston described a place, many years ago, where people of all ages came to shop, eat or spend their evenings. This place, Frankford Avenue, still exists today although it has been through many changes. The Frankford community was lucky to have such a delightful and attractive place just around their corner. Frankford Avenue was full of wonderful stores and its movie theaters attracted people from all neighborhoods. Some enjoyed just walking up and down the Avenue.
The neighborhood offered an opportunity for people to get involved in sports. High school sports teams were popular for teenagers and semi-pro baseball teams were put together for athletes who were out of school. These baseball games were very popular and many people spent their evenings watching them.
Jobs were abundant in the Frankford neighborhood. Factories were open along the Delaware River and workers were needed. Workers were especially needed during wartime. The Frankford Arsenal employed many people in the neighborhood. Interview with Annamae Hohenstein by Brian Huetgen, St. Joachim School
Annamae Hohenstein was born July 27, 1903. Annamae went to St. Joachim School. She didn’t go to high school because “money was tight.”
Annamae went to work as a weaver at the age of 14. She worked at several 54 a Historical Northeast Philadelphia: Stories and Memories factories in Kensington and Frankford. To this day, she still thanks President Roosevelt for bringing the eight hour day. In 1940, she lost her finger in a cogwheel accident. From the ages 14 to 65 she worked with Catherine, her sister. Catherine didn’t retire when she was 65 because she didn’t want Annamae to go to work by herself.
When Annamae decided to retire, her boss asked her to stay and said, “You still have many good years left.” “Yes,” Annamae answered, “but you’re not going to get them.”
Annamae was one of eight children. They used to sit around the table and sing songs together. She remembers getting a model coach in 1928. She still has it now. She also remembers playing games with her friends when she was younger. She always went to the library on Frankford Avenue near Unity Street. She would go to the library for her neighbor who couldn’t get out. In those days, it was common that when people got sick the community would throw a block party to help them pay for medicine.
Annamae also loved dancing, bowling and crocheting. During World War I, she went to dances at the Navy Yard, but “when you met them, they get shipped out.”
Her sister Catherine died in 1990 at the age of 90, leaving Annamae the last of eight. Many of Catherine’s paintings are on her wall.
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