Historical Northeast Philadelphia
Stories and Memories ~1994
The history was prepared by Jeanne Downing, secretary of the Historical Society of Tacony.
Merz Brothers Hotel, State Road and Longshore Street, later the Tacony Atheltic Association Club. Demolished for I-95.
6600 Block Torresdale Avenue. Picture taken in 1926.
St. Vincent's Orphan Asylum, Milnor Street and Princeton Avenue. Still standing.
Disston Memorial Presbyterian Church and Parsonage. Tyson Avenue and Glenloch Street.
Disston Park - viewed from intersection of Disston and Keystone Streets.
Original Tacony Trust Building. Tulip Street and Longshore Avenue. Still standing.
St. Petri's German Lutheran Church, Jackson Street between Longshore Avenue and Knorr Street. Still standing.
Spring flower garden in Disston Park.
Tyson Avenue looking west from Torresdale Avenue.
The name “Tacony” has been the subject of dispute for many years. Although the local tradition suggests it was the name of a Native American Chieftain, most historians agree that the confusion was a result in the misuse of Indian words.
The distinguished Governor-General of the territory, soon after his treaty with the Indians, must have sailed up the stream and looked with favor upon the site of our town, for it is a matter of historical record that very shortly after his arrival on November 8, 1682, he directed Thomas Fairman, who was his assistant surveyor of the first plan of the city, to take up his residence here on the banks of the broad Delaware. On reaching this spot, the surveyor must have found it still the forest primeval, for on the first map, which he published next year in 1683, the new settlement is called Taconick, which signifies “a woods.”
Although Tacony from that date had a local habitation and a name, it continued for a long time to be a city of magnificent distances. What is now called Lardner’s Point was probably the first place of settlement. It was settled by Lynford Lardner, brother- in-law of Richard Penn, and was called Tacony Place. The next settlement was probably on the site of the Tacony Iron Company’s large machine works, which stood below Unruh Street, until it was burned down about 1915. This was called Camp Cove, Tacony.
As late as 1840, the area was principally farmland. By 1850, cottages of well-known Philadelphians were situated on the river bank. On the east side of the railroad was a settlement of railroad laborers and on the west side was farmland. The stretch of Glenloch Avenue from Unruh Street toward Cottman was called Tacony Hill. This hill and the surrounding stretches of territory, at first thickly wooded, were afterwards cleared and reclaimed as fertile farm land. It is of interest to note that here in Tacony, William Penn established the first Post Office in the State of Pennsylvania and called it the Taconic Post Office.
Toward the middle of the last century several farms in the vicinity of Old Buttermilk Lane (now Disston Street) from the Delaware River to State Road and stretching out through the meadows towards what is now Torresdale Avenue, lots were laid out and sold by the Tacony Land Association. At about this time, a charter was secured for the Philadelphia and Trenton Railroad to run from Morrisville to 3rd and Willow Streets in Philadelphia. For 20 years, Tacony continued to be the southern terminus of the road and passengers from New York took a boat for the rest of the trip to Philadelphia. This gave some measure of prominence to Tacony, for during the bloody years of the war of the Rebellion, all the troops from New York and New England going to Washington by the Pennsylvania Railroad detrained here for embarkation to Walnut Street Waif.
Several farms were purchased in 1856 by a German Catholic Society on the land close to the Delaware River, which erected St. Vincent’s Orphan Asylum, which still stands and cares for children. The growth of Tacony progressed slowly for many years. A new era opened for the area in 1872, however, when Henry Disston, needing more room for his fast growing factory, purchased six acres of land from Christopher Eastburn on which stood a saw mill and lumber yard. He adapted the mill to test the various saws he made. This led to many improvements, which benefited his manufacturing process. Disston was to purchase a total of 390 acres as his company expanded, laying out portions of it into building lots, streets, and parks, reserving 40 acres for strictly manufacturing purposes. Tacony then began to throb with life and activity; over the surface of the green hills and fertile farms, streets were laid, neat residences built and trade sprung up, as if by magic.
Tacony’s Disston Saw Works became famous all over the world and the forerun- ner of many other industries. The Erben Harding Worsted Mills opened in 1891, the Lamp Black Company in 1893, the Philadelphia Forge Company in 1899 and Gillinders Glass Works in 1902. The Tacony Iron Company (most recently Dodge Steel) was the site upon which the structural iron work for the dome of City Hall and the statue of William Penn was performed in 1893.
The Tacony Music Hall, listed on the National Register of Historic Places is a three-story brick building located at Longshore Avenue and Edmund Street. It was built in 1885 by Frank W. Jordan, a local entrepreneur and druggist, whose store adjoined the lot. The second story comprised an assembly hall for musical performances, lodge meetings and lectures. The Keystone Scientific and Literary Association occupied the third floor of the building and maintained a small public library, with a reading room in the rear. Acknowledging the financial support of the Disston family, the name of the association was changed to the Disston Library and Free reading room.
Longshore Avenue, featuring the Music Hall and Tacony Trust Fund Building, was the main commercial strip at the turn of the century. However, the installation of trolley tracks along Torresdale Avenue eventually gave way to the changing of the main business district from Longshore to Torresdale Avenue.
Above is a short synopsis of how Tacony evolved. An objective history of an area can only tell so much about the community. In the following paragraphs, therefore, I would like to share with you the Old Tacony I knew as a child growing up in the 30s and 30s
The Tacony of my childhood brings back memories of the Torresdale Avenue of old such as the “56” trolley which ran from Cottman and Torresdale Avenue to 23rd and Venango Streets. Often on Sunday, our family would ride to the end of the line (we had no car), eat ice cream cones and return home. Another special treat was to take a ride on the Frankford El to the end of the line in West Philadelphia, turn around and come home again.
The stores on “The Avenue” were many and varied: the “5 & 10,” The American Store (now occupied by Foodarama), the Liberty Movie Theater, Lucille’s Ice Cream Parlor, Them’s Homemade Candies, Guggenheims Dress Store, Kessler’s, Rappaports Store for Men, Curson’s Shoe Store, Appel’s Clothing Store, OK Dress Shop, Beeches Cards and Gifts, Nevins Drug Store, Jean’s Dress Shop, Rudolph’s Bakery and Frank Clarke Real Estate. All of these are gone now, but their memories linger on in the minds of those of us who were born and raised in Tacony. Someone once asked me about “old Mayfair.” I told them that we had no knowledge of Mayfair when I was young, as we never went there. There was no need to go anywhere else as we had everything we wanted or needed, here in Tacony.
As a child, I can remember scrubbing the kitchen and bathroom floors of a neighbor to earn the 11 cents needed for an afternoon at the Liberty Movie. My mother gave me a nickel for candy and I was set for a grand time. What a treat! The ushers would roam up and down the aisles with their flashlights and if anyone was noisy or “out of line,” you were warned once and then — out!! I am sure many of us can remember the Travelogues, previews, serials, cartoons and finally the feature! All for 11 cents!
At Longshore Street and State Road, the 27th District Police Station was located (the Fire House next door housed “38” pumper). The officer in charge at the Police Station would let “the kids” in to see the cells in the back. What a deterrent that was to committing a crime! Farther down State Road (at Unruh Street) was the Disston Ball Park, where the Industrial League Sports were played.
The children today ask what we did for fun. As kids always do, we rode bikes, jumped rope, played games. We loved to go to “the Woods” (where what is now Vogt playground and the surrounding homes are located). Those who grew up in my time will surely recall the “Seven Hills” which ran from Cottage Street to just east of Frankford Avenue. Just playing in the area was an adventure to the children of my day. We had scavenger hunts, played “war”, went sledding and who can forget skating on the Pond in Magnolia Cemetery? Or, swimming at “The Bathy” at Levick Street and State Road.
Boy Scout Troop #24 (one of the oldest in the nation, founded at Tacony Methodist Church) had their own Scout cabin in the area where Knorr and Walker Streets now meet. At that time you were someone special” if you were elected to become a Boy or Girl Scout! I am sure the scouts of Troop #24 have some very fond memories of the time they spent in that cabin.
Also gone, but never forgotten, is the Oxley Post Memorial Day Parade. What a terrific day that always was. The homes were decorated with flags and everyone in Tacony was on “the Avenue” to greet and cheer the participants of the parade. Doesn’t everyone remember the short gentleman from the Post who carried the bugle and played taps so beautifully at the memorial service in Disston Park? We never knew his name, but we always looked for him each Memorial Day. The kids of Tacony followed the parade, either on foot (the girls wearing blue capes) and carrying flags, or on bicycles. It certainly was a joyous occasion and the hearts of Tacony were in full view as the flag went up Torresdale Avenue!
A few things are still with us — Disston Park, Smith’s Hardware on Longshore Street, Vanity Villa Hairdressers (who will be celebrating 60 years in that location in October, 1993) and Woolworths 5 & 10. Most churches are also still here: Tacony Baptist, Tacony Methodist, St. Leo’s, Holy Innocents, Disston Presbyterian, St. Petri’s and Our Lady of Consolation.
Mr. and Mrs. George Hepp graciously shared a monthly calendar from St. Leo’s Church dated January 1906 and a Flag Day presentation at St. Leo’s Church from June 16, 1917. In 1906, the average Christmas contribution was $1.00! Various names jumped out at me from these two periodicals, which said “Old Tacony” — Seeds, Brophy, Dorsey, Swain, Hansbury, Gercke, Kelly, Newman, and Cosgrove. I am sure those too will ring a bell with you, even if you were not a member of St. Leo’s Church. Other old Tacony names that come to mind are the Achull’s, Merz and Darofl’s.
The interviews were done by Mrs. Rita Santina’s 5th grade class at Our Lady of Consolation School.
Interview with Mrs. Joan Hoban
by Anthony Heisler
Q: Mrs. Hoban, how long did you live in Tacony?
A: I have lived in Tacony for 55 years.
Q: What school did you attend?
A: I attended St. Leo’s first kindergarten class in 1942 and continued through St. Hubert’s High School.
Q: What are some of your fondest memories?
A: My friends and I would go to the Liberty Theater on Torresdale Avenue, on Saturday and Sundays for matinees. On Friday nights they had penny silent movies at the Baptist Church on Hegerman and Disston Streets. We would stop for an ice cream soda at Dull’s on Torresdale Avenue.
Q: Did any stores close?
A: Yes quite a few, like the shoe store and Beeches. We had a very nice Avenue back in the 1940s.
Q: So you remember any ponds, creeks or forests?
A: Yes, I remember wooded areas from Glenloch Street to Frankford Avenue. They are homes today. I also remember a field with a creek running through it at the 6500 block of Ditman Street, which is part of Magnolia Cemetery.
Q: Did you have a street sweeper and a milk man?
A: We had a water truck with men following the trucks with the brooms. We had a milkman, glass bottles delivered to your door. A clothes prop man would come down the alley selling his props.
Q: What kinds of stores were on Torresdale Avenue at that time?
A: We had a family shoe store called Economy Shoes. Chapel Bell was a religious store at Torresdale Avenue and Unruh Streets. We also had a doll hospital at 6800 Torresdale Avenue and a children’s clothes store called “Apples.” There was a small A&P Food Market on Unruh and Torresdale. There also was a stationary store called “Beeches.”
Q: Are there any stores still operating from your childhood days?
A: Yes, it is Northeast Hardware on 6500 Torresdale Avenue. She has been operating in the same store for over 40 years. The owners name is Helen.
Q: What was it like in the winters of the 40s?
A: A lot more snow.
Q: Were there any exciting events in your neighborhood that you can remember?
A: The memorial day parade and the “Pride of the Marines” movies being filmed on the 6500 block of Tulip Street. It was the true story of Al Schmidt.
Interview with Francis Scornaienchi
by Elizabeth Downing
Q: Were you born in Tacony?
A: Yes, I was born in my home at 7144 Tulip Street on July 19, 1934 in the living room, delivered by a midwife.
Q: What grade school did you attend?
A: I attended Our Lady of Consolation School for 8 years ending with my graduation from 9th grade in 1947.
Q: Were you an altar boy?
A: Yes, I was an altar boy from 3rd grade until I was a freshman at North Catholic High School. I was trained to be an alter boy by Father Rosica and by Father Mahoney who taught me Latin.
Q: As a boy, did you have any jobs in Tacony?
A: I was a paperboy for The Evening and Sunday Bulletin serving over 300 customers in Tacony. The drop off point for the paper was located at Wellington and Glenloch Streets. I made a whopping 3/4 of a cent on each paper delivered.
Q: What entertainment did Tacony offer to you when you were a boy?
A: As a young boy the main source of entertainment was the Liberty Theater. We would go there each Saturday for their matinee. The Liberty Theater was located on the Southwest corner of Torresdale Avenue and Knorr Street. The Lady of Consolation Dance held every Wednesday and Sunday night was the main attraction to young men and women. The original cost of the dance was 25 cents for girls and 35 cents for boys.
Q: As a boy, were there any organized sports in Tacony?
A: As a boy in Our Lady of Consolation School, I belonged to the CYO Basketball team. Though we did not have a basketball court at OLC, our home court was then at St. Leo’s. There was also the Tacony Boys Club. This club offered baseball teams for boys aging from 13 to 22 years of age. We also enjoyed many hours of free play at the Disston Recreation Center at Disston and Glenloch Streets.
Q: Would you say the neighborhood has gone through drastic changes in the years?
A: Yes, I believe the largest physical change to Tacony was the additions of the super highway, 1-95. The off-ramp at Cottman Street and the on-ramp at Princeton Avenue changed our little community into a bustling neighborhood.
Another drastic change to Tacony was the closing of Henry Disston and Son Saw Company, Dodge Steel Company and the Lace Mill. Tacony residents made up 80% of the workers in these factories. The lace Mill employed 98% women, age 12 and up. The main reason in closing these factories was that the equipment was never upgraded, so eventually the machinery became obsolete and they could not compete with new advances in technology.
Q: What celebrations were held in Tacony through the years?
A: The two main celebrations held each year in Tacony were Our Lady of Consolation’s Feast Day Parade and the Memorial Day Parade. As a boy, I remember the statues of the saints being paraded through the streets each July. This was a very happy day for all as the people honored their favorite saints. The Memorial Day parade was sponsored by the Tacony American Legion and the Oxley Post. This was a proud celebration honoring the men and boys killed in World War II. This parade would begin at Frankford Avenue and Magee Street, it would continue north on Torresdale Avenue ending at Russo Park, Cottman and Torresdale Avenue with a celebration for all.
Q: Name a favorite store of yours that is no longer there.
A: One favorite of all people in Tacony was Stumpo’s Pizzeria located at 7100 Torresdale Avenue. This was the first pizza shop in Tacony and they also were the first to bottle and sell their own tomato sauce.
Q: What is your fondest memory of Tacony?
A: Of course it would have to be meeting my wife, Nancy, at one of Consolation’s famous dances!
Interview with Ms. Dorothy McQueen
by Julie Peightal
Q: How long have you been a resident of Tacony?
A: I’ve been a resident of Tacony for 90 years.
Q: What is your previous address?
A: 7031 Torresdale Avenue.
Q: Can you remember any stores that were here while you were a child?
A: Yes Rubin’s, which was a double store.
Q: What was your first memory of Tacony?
A: It was a lovely place to live. Also, one of my neighbors inherited a large amount of money. So he bought the first Ford. They didn’t have garages back then so they didn’t have a place to put their cars in because they rode in carriages and horses.
Q: Did any stores close that you wish didn’t? Why didn’t you want it to close?
A: Shoe stores. Because they were far away to travel to.
Q: Did you have a street cleaner or a milkman?
A: Yes, a matter of fact, I had a street cleaner, milkman, breadman and an iceman.
Q: Did anything exciting happen while you were a child?
A: Yes, while she was in 3rd grade, her school was let out early to see the first plane pass over Henry Disston School.
Q: Did you participate in any sports activities?
A: Yes, I played basketball for eight years and coached a basketball team for six years.
Q: What grade school did you attend?
A: Henry Disston for grades 1-4 and Mary Disston for grades 5-8.
Q: What high school did you attend?
A: Philadelphia High School for Girls.
Q: Did you attend college?
A: Yes, Temple University for years 1926-1930.
Q: What did you major in?
A: Physical Education.
Q: What about the sports in the area of Tacony?
A: They had a soccer team that represented the Disston Saw Works. The Saw Works came from England and England is famous for it’s soccer teams.
Q: What about the community, were you in touch with people in your community?
A: Yes, I was. We had church meetings every Wednesday night. They carried lanterns to and from.
Interview with Joseph Collins
by Danielle DeLuca
Q: What is your date of birth?
A: My date of birth is November 25, 1908.
Q: What is your present address?
A: 4621 Princeton Avenue.
Q: What were your previous addresses?
A: I lived at 7023 Hegerman Street, 6822 Hegerman Street and 6308 Marsden Street.
Q: What schools in Tacony have you attended?
A: I have attended St. Leo’s.
Q: What is your first memory of Tacony?
A: I came to Tacony on the El with my father. He said he had something to show me. This was when he purchased the house on 7023 Hegerman Street in 1921. Ill never forget it, there was a peach tree in the yard. There was so much open space I felt like I was in the country.
Q: Did any historical things happen in Tacony while you lived there?
A: The only thing I can think of is World War I and II. There were eight trees planted in Disston Park for eight soldiers that were killed in World War I. They were all from Tacony. Later a monument was built in honor of them, it had a plaque with their names on it. The monument is no longer there, but I believe the eight trees are still there.
Q: Are there any important buildings in the area in which something important may have happened there?
A: The most important building I can think of is The Music Hall at Edmund Street and Longshore Street. It has just been refurbished. Long ago it was used as the library. Many organizations used it as a meeting place. I believe it was also used as a meeting place for the community.
There is another building — it was across from St. Josephat’s — now there are garages there. A man named Frank Schuman invented safety glass. Built in 1896, Schuman’s workshop laboratory was used as a classroom in the 1930s. when Mary Disston School became overcrowded and needed space.
Q: Do you remember any ponds or creeks that may have been here long ago?
A: There was a creek that started near Charles Street. It ran down Torresdale Avenue across Levick Street and to the river. I can’t remember the name of it. There was a hill right near it all, Hellerman and Levick. We called it Skeleton hill. We use to sled down it when we were kids.
Q: What do you like about living in Tacony?
A: Tacony was a great place to live. There were a lot of places for kids to play. When I bought this home, there were not many homes here. It was open space.
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