Historical Northeast Philadelphia
Stories and Memories ~1994
The history of Verreeville and Fox Chase
was written by the students of
Mrs. Joan Arno’s Advanced Placement American History class at George Washington
High School and Leon Sharlip of the Verreeville Historical Society
Klein House, Last of some 25 houses for workers at Verreeville.
Verree House, before road cut across terrace. Built in 1767, it is now a Park House. Photo 1910.
The Undertaker, John W. Dean, founded the company on Oxford Avenue in 1881. The above location at 7900 Oxford Avenue was built in 1898.
Same Dean Funeral Directors today.
Rhawn-Green "Knowlton Mansion", 1883. Frank Furness - Architect.
Ryers' Burholme Mansion and Library, 1859.
Fox Chase Octagonal Schoolhouse, 1805. Rhawn St. Same site as St. Cecillia Church parking lot today.
Circa 1910 - Oldest known existing building in Fox Chase, built 1683. Originally an Inn, later Overpeck's & Wright General Merchandise.
Same view today - Rehabilitated - Old Brauhaus Restaurant. 7982 Oxford Avenue, at Rhawn Street & Pine Road.
Van Sant Farm, now the site of the Baldi Middle School.
Old Fox Chase Inn. Heart of Fox Chase. Now Dunkin' Donuts.
Photo 1915 - 8403 Pine Road, Historic Ury House. The original structure was built by early settlers before William Penn arrived in 1682. Additions made a total of 23 rooms, razed in 1973. Many notables visited here. Crawford Family 1814-1945.
Verree Mills were built on what today would be the west side of Verree Road between Susquehanna and Bloomfield Roads. The estate was owned by the Verree family during the 18th and 19th centuries. The Verree family is of French descent, the original name being Verrier.
The grist mill of Verree Mills was located on the north side of the Pennypack Creek near to the south wall of the Verree House. This grist mill replaced Gwin’s Mill, the second oldest mill in Pennsylvania. The oldest mill was Swedish Governor Printz’s Mill built on Cobbs Creek in Southwest Philadelphia in 1645. Welsh settlers, who settled North Wales, used to bring their grain to Gwin and Verree Mills to be ground into flour. They brought it by way of the path that became “Welsh Road.” Gwin’s Mill then fell into disrepair before the site was bought by Robert Verree, who then rebuilt the mill. In 1814, a bridge over the Pennypack Creek at Verree Road connected the grist mill on one side of the creek to the tool factory on the other side.
When the British occupied Philadelphia in 1777, they sent out foraging troops which raided and destroyed the Verree grist mill. The British forces were led by Major Simcoe’s Queen’s Rangers. They passed over Welsh Road on their way to the Crooked Billet which is now Hatboro. The Rangers met and defeated the Pennsylvania militia under General John Lacey. The British were interested in Verree mill because the mill had been supplying flour to Continental soldiers at Valley Forge. Ironically, Lacey was actually engaged in preventing supplies from reaching the British who were then in Philadelphia.
John Paul Verree was born in 1816. He inherited the entire mill complex from his father, James Verree, son of Robert Verree. John Paul Verree also inherited the Verree House, which was the center of the farming land and mills. Houses were built to provide shelter for workers. The Klein House, next to the Verree House, is a surviving example of workers homes. The owner of the building constructed a “spring” house 20 feet below ground to provide a means of refrigeration.
Early in his life, John Paul Verree entered business as a manufacturer of iron and steel. He was successful in his career and for years was the senior partner in the firm of John P. Verree & Co., and of the firm of Verree & Mitchell (iron and steel). In politics, Verree was a Whig, but he later became active in the new Republican Party. For six years he was a member of Select Council, and for four years he was president of the Council. From 1858 to 1862 Mr.Verree was a U.S. Congressman. He was a friend of Abraham Lincoln, and was quite active in the abolitionist movement. In 1873, Verree was appointed by the Constitutional Convention of Pennsylvania as a member of the Commission to supervise the vote on the new Constitution. In 1880, Verree resigned from all of his work and spent the rest of his life at the Verree House.
Olde Pennepack Church
By the edge of Pennypack Park, on Krewstown Road, stands the oldest existing Baptist church in the state of Pennsylvania. Three hundred years ago, the small Baptist congregation held services in the homes of congregants. These first members were European immigrants from Wales, England, and Ireland. They sought the freedom to practice their Baptist faith in the New World. The congregation’s earliest meetings were solemn and quiet. As the population expanded, new members were baptized and gladly welcomed into the congregation. The growing number of worshipers, however, made it increasingly difficult to continue holding services in the small homes of the congregants.
It was decided that a separate church was needed and so the Pennepack Church was created in 1707. The first pastor was a man named Elias Keech. The church lacked an indoor baptistery, so a cold, hard rock in the frigid Pennypack Creek had to suffice. Often times those gathered for a baptism in the winter would have to break the ice of the stream first before beginning a service. The natural baptistery became known as “Baptismal Rock.”
Pennepack Church was not actually the earliest Baptist church to be founded in Pennsylvania. Another church had been started by Reverend Thomas Dungan at Cold Springs in 1864, four years before the birth of the Pennepack Church. This church, however, is no longer in existence, thus Pennepack Church has taken on the role as “mother” to all the Baptist churches in Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, and New Jersey.
The escalating population of Pennypack forced the 25 square foot church to expand its walls in 1774, and then again in 1805, adding another story. The final result was a two-story stone edifice that can be seen today, though the landscape around the building has changed drastically. Once surrounded by meadows filled with deer, the church now lies between several housing developments and busy city streets.
A small Pennepack Church congregation of 85 people remains in existence today; however, the original church building has not been used to hold regular services since 1886. The Church is open for special events, and on every first Sunday in June for Pennypack Day. Pennypack Day celebrates the history and beauty of the park and brings old and new friends and congregants to the church for morning and afternoon services. The exterior of the building has recently been repainted, and the rotted joints have been changed, but the church maintains a weather-beaten appearance. The actual structure remains in strong condition.
Another interesting aspect of the church is its architectural design. The low height of the pulpit and the doorways provide evidence that people were shorter hundreds of years ago. Its plain and simple design demonstrates the lack of funding and the desire of the congregation to avoid the ornateness of other Philadelphia churches. The inside of the church is much larger than one would expect from looking at it from the outside. The lower level of the church is made up of family pews. These were used by the wealthier members of the congregation. Other members would worship from the second level of the church.
Although only a small community, Fox Chase was progressive enough to build its own schoolhouse in 1805, long before public schools became mandatory. The school was located on the east side of Jeanes Street just north of Rhawn Street. The building had a distinctive octagonal shape, so it became known as the “Octagonal School.” It became the center for community civic activities, for services by Presbyterians and Episcopalians, for revival meetings, for town meetings and for entertainment until 1888, when it was torn down.
The Knowlton House was built in 1881 and is located on the corner of Verree Road and Rhawn Street. Mr. William Rhawn, the original owner, was the president of the National Bank of the Republic in Philadelphia, and the American Banker’s Association. The house was named after John Knowles who was the great grandfather of Mrs. Rhawn, the original owner. The house stands surrounded by 12 acres of lawn and trees.
The architect’s name was Frank Furness. He was one of the most prominent architects of American buildings in the 19th century. The Knowlton House is con- structed and designed in Frank Furness’s personal style. The vestibule and hall are finished in oak with mosaic floors and stained glass windows. All of the other woodwork in the house is of white pine with a shellac finish. The wide hall displays a grandfather clock more than 250 years old. The house is carpeted with oriental carpet, and was decorated with glazed brick and brick tile.
The Ury House was once a great edifice surrounded by trees. It stood upon gently rolling land in the vicinity of Pine Road. It was always referred to as one of the famous colonial mansions of Philadelphia. During its existence, the house sheltered many famous visitors within its walls.
This ancient house was constructed by Swedish settlers who sailed up the Delaware River around 1645. Arrival at the Fox Chase area was said to be an accident, because the settlers were sailing during the evening and mistook the inlet for their intended landing at Christiana, Delaware. Upon arriving, they constructed a block- house of massive stone as protection from the Lenni-Lenape Indians. Although, the Swedes quite frequently maintained friendly relations with the Indians. The block- house became the heart, and foundation of the Ury house. The fort was used as the keystone of their colony. Settlers in surrounding cabins came to the fort to use the cellar forge to weld their farm tools, mold their lead bullets, and shoe their horses. It also provided a refuge from hostile Indians, or interloping Dutchmen from the Hudson Valley.
English colonists later took over the settlement and blockhouse. It was then named “Urie” House after the country home of the Scottish Quaker, Barclay, who was writer and author of “The Apology.” In 1728, the Taylors, who were the new owners, added a second portion to the house. Miers Fisher, the next owner, was a lawyer during revolutionary days. He went on to make subsequent additions after 1795. He built parlors on the west side of the house and put the bedrooms above them. Miers Fisher added an elaborate row of sham windows west of what is now the entrance hall. He and his spouse were known to entertain lavishly in the old house which was by then extensively refurbished. Among the guests entertained by Miers Fisher and his wife were John Adams, Benjamin Franklin and George Washington. Thomas Jefferson was another guest of the young couple. Miers Fisher also befriended James Audubon, who began his famous paintings of birds in the Pennypack Valley. Fisher planted a pecan tree given to him by Thomas Jefferson on the lawn. The tree lasted until 1928, when it was blown down in a winter storm. A famous “six-square” garden featuring boxwoods was planted to the southeast of the house.
A Mr. Miller purchased Ury House in 1800, Captain James West become the owner in 1808, and Dr. Thompson Holmes purchased the house in 1835.
In 1842, the Ury House was purchased by Stephen Rowan Crawford. He and his wife made further changes and additions to the mansions. However, prior to the Civil War, Crawford found himself in financial difficulties and feared that he would lose his home. His wife, Jane, contributed by heading a money raising project, which was one of the few things acceptable for lady of that day to do. She opened a boarding school in 1860. It became a popular educational facility for young boys from all parts of Europe, Cuba, and South America. Jane Crawford remained the head of this large and prosperous school for the entire twenty-one years of its existence. When she retired in 1881 the school moved to Bustleton becoming St. Luke’s Academy and eventually to Wayne becoming Valley Forge Military Academy.
Following Mrs. Crawford’s death, Ury house was inherited by her son, Joseph U. Crawford, who had served as an official of the Pennsylvania Railroad. He also was one of the pioneers to build railroads in Japan. Joseph lived in the mansion with his four sisters and four brothers.
Before the Civil War, a tunnel linked the Ury House to the Pennypack Creek. The tunnel facilitated the escape of slaves fleeing by way of the Underground Railroad. This tunnel has since collapsed.
Even though visitors brought life to the Ury House, the sixty acre estate was becoming too difficult for the Crawfords to maintain. The expense for heating the large drafty house was held to a minimum, but was still very costly.
In 1945, the Crawfords decided to sell the house. Real estate promoters and developers wanted to buy the property. However, Miss Jean Crawford, eldest sister of Joseph, said, “We prefer to sell to one who knows how to live in this house, graciously, as it should be lived in.”
The Medical Mission Sisters purchased the property from the Crawfords in that same year. This marked the end of an era for the Ury House which had been occupied for one hundred and four years by the Crawford family.
The sisters developed the Ury House into what became a training school for nuns serving as medical missionaries all over the world. It remained actively used for approximately a quarter of a century. However the house and grounds became a chore to maintain, and the sisters found it necessary to sell off the southern forty acres of the estate facing Verree Road. On that property four hundred twin homes were constructed by a developer.
As the years progressed, the old mansion needed constant plumbing and house- hold repairs. Upkeep proved too troublesome for the Medical Mission Sisters. In 1970, the remaining 24.8 acres of the Ury estate were vacated and put up for sale. Despite efforts to protect this historical mansion, it became the target of vandalism while awaiting its new fate. Finally, the mansion was torn down in 1973 in favor of another new housing development, the Montclair rental community.
The interviews were done by Mrs. Joan Arno’s Advanced Placement American History Class at George Washington High School.
Interview with the Medical Mission Sisters about the Ury House
by Jennifer Fallen and Laurie Schall
Sister Jane Burns is a Medical Mission Sister who was originally from New York City. She was a novice in the late 1940s. Sister remembers that the land around the Ury House at 8400 Pine Road was still a farm The sisters picked corn and strawberries. They had pigs and chickens and lived in what is today called a “sustainable living” style - 120 acres of it! Sister Jane always enjoyed walks in the beautiful Lorimer and Pennypack Parks, as well as occasional visits to Butler’s Farm (now Fox Chase Farm).
Sister Jean Lorenz, as a young Medical Mission Sister, lived in the Ury House from 1956 to 1967. She has worked primarily in Africa with the mentally ill. Sister Mary Conahan lived in the Ury House as a novice. She has worked mainly in the United States and in India as an administrator. They remember that in 1946, many young women were interested in entering religious communities. The Medical Mission Sisters headquarters was not large enough to house all of these young women, so the Ury House was purchased.
The Ury House was approached through a wonderful winding road. As one approached the house, on the right were enormous tulip trees and on the left was a great field. Ury House itself needed a lot of painting and scrubbing. It had not been inhabited for a long time, but the sisters were happy to work hard to restore the house.
The house was made up of different sections. The middle section was the original Swedish blockhouse. It had fireplaces that went up three stories. During the early history of the Ury House the cooking was done in the basement in a fireplace. The old iron hobs were still there when the Sisters acquired Ury House. Hobs were metal rods which held kettles over the fire.
In another section of the house were gracious bay windows made up of little diamond shaped panes of glass. The sisters recalled finding the initials “H. C.” on one of the panes of glass. They were told those were the initials of Henry Clay, the Great Peace Maker, made by him with his diamond ring.
In the same section of the house there were beautiful parquet floors and a colonial fireplace. It was here, the sisters were told, that George Washington had been served, and the maid who waited on him was so nervous that she put salt in the sugar bowl.
The other section of the house had more of the diamond shaped windows. The sisters used this as their chapel. Down below was the basement which the sisters used as their dining room. Previously it was a station of the Underground Railroad, where slaves hid after escaping up the Pennypack Creek The sisters spent a great deal of time looking for a tunnel. They eventually found a little doorway, but could not explore the area behind it because it was unsafe.
The sisters sold the property in 1973 and the Ury House was razed. Interview with Robert W. Tuckey
Robert W. Tuckey was born in England where his father, Sidney Tuckey and his mother’s father, Robert Nichols, were farmers. However, he has lived most of his life in Bustleton.
Mr. Tuckey attended Bustleton Elementary School, Frankford High School and the Evening School of the University of Pennsylvania. He worked with Provident Mutual Life Insurance Company for 47 years. Now retired, Mr. Tuckey remembers living on Verree Road when it was all farms. His family home was built by his father There was an acre of ground around it. He and his father grew vegetables and flowers. They were members of the Trevose Horticultural Society and the Burholme Horticultural Society. The family sold gladiolas and chrysanthemums from their house. If no one were home, people could help themselves to the flowers and leave the money. They never lost any money. Mr. Tuckey even carried flowers to work in West Philadelphia.
Interview with Maude Argo Manogue Farran
edited by Jeffrey Savett
Editor’s Note: Maude Farran was a long time resident of Fox Chase. She co- founded the Verreeville Historical Society and delivered a talk on growing up in Fox Chase to the Society three days before her death of cancer on December 8, 1992. The following is a summary of the account of Maude Farran’s memories of Fox Chase.
I am Maude Argo Manogue Farran. I was born 1915, in a little village west of Fox Chase (also a village). My parents were John Brown West Manogue, and Carolina Bessie Forbes. I attended Rockledge School from first grade through high school. Fox Chase was so named because they had fox chases, or fox hunts and illegal cock fights.
I was named Maude Argo for Maude Argo, wife of the minister of the Memorial Church of the Holy Nativity, Reverend Fordgee Hubband Argo. The church at Jarrett Avenue, and Huntingdon Pike in Rockledge was built with money obtained from the Ryerss family.
My father was the boy reader and superintendent of the Sunday School of the Holy Nativity Church. I sang my first solo there at age 12 and later became a Sunday School teacher.
There was always a parade on Memorial Day and Fourth of July, going through Fox Chase and Rockledge. There was a large American flag carried by eight girls from Fox Chase School one year and the following year by girls from Rockledge School. When the authorities forgot who carried the flag the year before, there was a great argument.
My father was the Grand Marshall of the parade. He would go to the police stable to get a horse that could prance to music. I was always busy the night before, polishing boots and making rosettes for the horses’ heads. After the parade the children would go to the Shriner Club at Huntingdon Pike and Church Road for ice cream.
I married William Benner Farran and we lived at 8217 Jeanes Street for 38 years. A lamp lighter would bring his little ladder and light the gas jets each night. Police on foot would use the call box on the telephone pole to make reports.
J. W. Dean, the undertaker, had a horse drawn vehicle to take mourners to the Lawnview Cemetery in Rockledge. The carriage later became a school vehicle. When the horses had a hard time pulling up the hill on Pine Road they went via Rockledge on Shady Lane and around onto Pine Road again.
Nelson Herst was a philatelist. President Franldin Rooselvelt visited Nelson and checked stamps with him. Nelson and Sam Herst owned the mansion at Bustleton and Oxford Avenue. They had the only electrical business in Fox Chase. They were known for their beautiful prize dahlias. Their father used to dress as Santa Claus and go out in a horse drawn sleigh with sleigh bells ringing to give gifts to the children. Nelson told me that his mother’s hat was in a certain closet. It was made for the first Easter parade in Atlantic City. After he died, I took the hat and gave it to the Ryers Museum.
The Jeanes Family:
The Jeanes family was against the railroad going through their property and when they heard it was going to happen they left the dinner table in the middle of a meal, and departed the residence. We, as children, used to go and peep in the windows and see the cobwebs on the food. Anna Jeanes donated the original building for use as a hospital. It is still part of Jeanes Hospital today. People of that day thought it was only for cancer patients. Jeanes is a general hospital, but the Fox Chase Cancer Center is next door.
The Vansant Farm:
The site of the Huntingdon Valley Shopping Center was once the Vans ant farm, owned by Dr. Joseph and Malisa Vansant. My brother, Harry learned to be a veterinarian there.
I was a friend of the Vansants’ daughter, Doris. We rode horseback before going to high school on the bridle path behind the Lafayette house. I sang at Doris’s wedding in the garden, with her aunt pumping an old pump organ. Later Doris and her husband came to the meadow on horseback, and Doris threw her bouquet for the visitors to catch. They went on a canoe trip for a honeymoon. The Vansants’ old homestead is today the Valley Inn on Huntingdon Pike.
As you see we live on very interesting ground. I loved reminiscing over old days and sharing them with you.
Interview with Chester Alburger
By Missy Korsin, Jeffery Savett, Libby Paskin and Jordan Nicgorski
When Chester Alburger was young, his family owned a large farm in the area, and today Alburger Avenue is named after them. What was farm land along Alburger Avenue is now mostly built up into substantial single homes with large yards.
Chester Alburger noted that, “For my part in the history of Verreeville, I had the farm with my family - my mother and father and sister and brother, who were older than me. Our farm was on Red Lion Road, west of Verree and of course that was all dirt at that time. It consisted of 120 acres. Most of the land was in Montgomery County, and it was private property, but the house and buildings were in Philadelphia County. The spring house was set some distance down in Montgomery County.
“To go to school in Bustleton, at the old Bustleton School, was between 4 and 5 miles away. There weren’t any school buses, and no one could take you back and forth to school every day so we walked to Huntingdon Valley School, which is now Lower Moreland School. It was a good two mile walk.
“High school then was only three years. I was getting older, and I was needed on the farm. We were very busy. We raised a lot of potatoes, hay, grain, and that sort of thing. With school starting in September, I usually had to miss 4 to 5 weeks every year, and I had to do the best I could. I caught up pretty good, and I graduated with my class.
“Up and down Verree it was all dirt roads. In the winter time it was almost impossible to go up and down, but you had to get used to it. Eventually, I got a bike and I remember going down to the Pennypack Creek.
The Second World War began in 1939. “The Government took over all the land from Red Lion Road to Pine Road, all the way back to Tomlinson and out as far as Bustleton and Verree.” The Government put up a building to produce airplanes for the war. Ford Motor company operated it. The government just took over the farm and they offered you a certain amount of money and gave you 30 days, which wasn’t much time, to move out. If you didn’t like the price, you could contest it in court, but you couldn’t do much in the courts against the government, especially during the war, so we had to give up the farm.
“Eventually, of course, I had to find another place to live. I lived down in the Mayfair section which wasn’t built up too much, mostly private homes. I worked in Standard Pressed Steel Company over in Jenkintown and I would go back and forth every day. So, I stayed there until it was time to retire. I was about 63 years old when the company moved, and I had to either move up there or retire. I was close to retirement age, and I just decided to retire.”
“It is remarkable, once a person has lived here for so many years, to see how it is all built up. Sometimes I wonder whether they can’t do anything more. It seems if there is an open plot of land, they have some business or a mall to put in there.”
Interview with Elizabeth (Elsie) Gardner
By Margaret Drubetsky and Nippa Shah
Born in Germany in 1902, Elsie came to America when she was three. Her family came by boat because there were no airplanes at that time. Elsie could read, write, and speak German. She had a teacher at her church who held classes on Saturday morning and she would teach any of eight languages you might want to learn.
When she was eight, her family returned to Germany for a visit. Elsie remembers that she and her brother were playing in a courtyard. One of the German children thought they could not speak German and said, “listen to those pig-dumb Americans” in German. Elsie and her brother proceeded to “beat them up.” She notes, “they never called us that again.”
As Elsie’s family prepared for their return voyage to America they heard that the Titanic had just sunk. Their boat was to take the same route as the Titanic. Some people would not get on the boat because they were afraid. Elsie’s family went on board anyway, her mother thought that whatever was going to happen would happen. Fortunately, they arrived home safely.
During World War I, the United States was at war with Germany. Elsie’s father had only his first set of U.S. citizenship papers and two papers were necessary in order to be a citizen. Because he was still a German citizen, the family had to register with the police station and notify them if they moved. They also had to go to the station to get permission to do anything special.
Elsie Gardner and her husband, George, worked for the Railway Express. They moved to Krewstown Road in 1935 and Elsie quit work. The road was dirt all the way to Verree Road and the region was all farm land. They purchased a house and seven acres of ground in what was Philadelphia County, but was not yet a part of the City of Philadelphia. The nearest family was a block away. The house was two stories with no heat or water, so the Gardners had to put in central heat and running water.
George Gardner had been born a farmer. When he wasn’t working for the railway, he gardened. They had rows and rows of fruit and vegetables. After she finished her morning chores, Elsie would go into the fields and spend the day hoeing the weeds. In late summer, she would can the produce and entertain at dinner with freshly picked fruits and vegetables. Neighbors would be invited to take as much from the garden and fruit trees as they wanted. A creek ran through the land and there was a barn in which the Gardners’ son, George, Jr., would play with his friends.
Elsie did not drive. When she went shopping she would go by public transporta- tion. Then she would phone her husband and ask him to pick her up from the grocery store on his way home from work Sometimes he would forget and go straight home. He would have to turn around and go back to the store. Elsie would ask the store clerks to keep the frozen products in the freezer until he came. Then she would take her time fixing dinner because she was annoyed.
The Gardners were happy on the farm. They were not affected by the Great Depression because Mr. Gardner had a job. Nor were they seriously affected by World War II. The area around Krewstown Road began to develop in the 1960s when the area was incorporated into the city. Besides her trip to Germany, Elsie has done little traveling outside of Philadelphia. She is happy to consider this city her home.
Interview with William Hansell
By Jennifer Chernoff and Suzanne Gllckstein
Bill Hansell’s father was born in Wales. His father, a carriage and wagon builder, came to Philadelphia and settled in West Philadelphia with Bill and his seven brothers. He remembers that, “West Philadelphia was called Hestonville then. One of our residents here [at the Lafayette House] was a principal at the Heston School, where I went. I went until eighth grade, then I worked.”
“I worked in a drug store since I was a kid, right after the First World War, delivering prescriptions for the epidemic. They closed the door and did nothing but ffll the prescriptions, it was so bad there.” The influenza epidemic of 1918 was called the Spanish Flu from its alleged origin. The influenza was particularly devastating to seemingly healthy people between the ages of twenty and forty. It caused 20 million deaths world wide, easily making it the equal to the Black Death of the Middle Ages. Bill delivered orders for the drug store and received tips of a nickel or dime, which was a lot of money at the time. He stayed at the pharmacy until he was seventeen.
In the 1920s, Bill Hansell played banjo in the Hegerman String Band. It was the only club to win first prize three consecutive years in a row.
Married in 1929, at the start of the Depresson, Bill Hansell and his wife had a daughter in 1932. In 1945, his daughter was striken with polio, at the height of the polio epidemic. She is now 60 and lives at the Inglis House.
Bill Hansell built a home for his daughter in 1948 on the 900 block of Arnold Street which is next to Strahle Street. It was all “wilderness” when he moved to Fox Chase from West Philadelphia. The Medical Mission Sisters farmed the land below his home. There was a little farm on the other side of Verree Road and a barn on top of the hill at what is now Tustin Street. The barn also belonged to the Medical Mission Sisters, it was the home of their shepherd. Kids were fooling around there and set the barn on fire, it was never rebuilt. Bill remembers that overall the crime rate was very low.
Bill wanted to be a doctor at a time when doctors still made house calls. Although, he never became a doctor, Mr. Hansell always found work in a medical related field. Even today, at the age of 87, he is a volunteer at a local hospital. He prides himself on his active life and his family’s longevity. His father and brothers lived well into their nineties.
Interview with Frank Neumann
By Jefferey Savett
Mr. Neumann moved here in 1923, when he was seven years old. Upon arriving, his father opened a general store which sold everything from motor oil to blackjacks. His father’s store was the only one in the area to have a telephone. They used these phones to get the local news from the police station.
A part of Mr. Neumann’s past which still influences his life today was the Depression. “When the Depression came about, people lost their houses because they couldn’t pay the bills for the newly installed streets. I was, at the time, at the Wharton Evening School for Accounting but left in 1937 to take over the family general store.
“While going to evening school, I went to work for Philco in 1935 and made $12.00 a week. We were given a dollar for taking inventory all day Sunday. I worked my way up to $17.00 a week in 1937 but then I quit.” His boss would wear spats on his shoes in the summer. If the boss didn’t like you he sent you to “Siberia”, which was an isolated area of the factory between buildings.” Philco used to make the radios for Ford’s cars. In addition, they sold self powered radios with windmills on them for use in Argentina. Ford Motor Company later bought out Philco.
Frank Neumann then took over his father’s grocery store and added a meat market to it. His store in Rockledge had the first deli and meat box with electric refrigeration. His store was also the first to have frozen food in Rockledge. “I remember, that my father assembled our first car out of two 1920 model T cars that didn’t work. During the depression we sold butter for l9ce a pound, and steak was 33~z a pound. My father carried many families, who were out of work, ‘on the book’ [on credit]”
Frank married Therese Kearney in 1940. They were blessed with three sons, William, Frank and Joseph. With the entrance of the United States into World War II, Frank was inducted into the navy in 1943. He closed the store and left behind his wife and first child. He served on the USS Quincy and saw action in the northern and southern invasions of France. The ship then saw action in the Pacific Theater at Okinawa and in the assault on the Japanese mainland.
The Quincy was honored to carry President Roosevelt to the Yalta Conference. Ramps and elevators were installed for the president’s wheelchair. The ship left New York harbor in secrecy, but the enemy knew anyway. Submarines were kept at bay by air cover. Among the many dignitaries to visit Roosevelt on the Quincy were Roosevelt’s daughter, Anna, Winston Churchill and his daughter, Sarah, King Farouk of Egypt, Haile Selassie of Ethiopia and the king of Saudi Arabia. The ship was the first U.S. warship to go through the Suez Canal since 1927, and then within three weeks, go through the Panama Canal to the Pacific.
Frank Neumann returned home, in 1946, to open a more modern market. He was a charter member and commander of Rockledge Veterans of Foreign Wars, Post 6001. Frank is also an official birdbander. He conducted live wild bird programs in the Pennypack area from 1962 to1977. He has published a Pictorial History of Fox Chase for the benefit of the Ryerss Museum. Interview with Henrietta Yolk
By Evonne Srnitt, Suzanne crumbock, and Margaret Drubetsky
Growing up during the Depression, Henrietta remembers attending Kensington High School, which was a girl’s school at the time. She and neighbors enjoyed going to Northeast High School for Boys to see their spring review. It was a big event and important entertainment for the working class people of the area.
Kensington High School was well run by the principal, Beulah Fenemore. She was not quite five feet tall, but she ruled with an iron hand. Ms Fenemore wore pince- nez eyeglasses and “when she was on stage you kept quiet because she wouldn’t stand for any foolishness at all.”
Henrietta Volk has fond memories of the beautiful Kensington high School balcony around the first floor area and the marble entry with marble stairs. The girls had to wear “awful” black bloomers, white blouses and black sneakers for gym. Henrietta claims she was usually the last one to sit down on the floor, her shoelaces untied. She would be tying the laces as the teacher was calling role.
If students had to travel a distance to school, they could buy transportation tokens. Two tokens cost fifteen cents. Parents would give a student a dollar at the beginning of the week to cover expenses including the cost of tokens. If there were several children in school at the same time, the parents might not be able to afford even that.
On Friday night, anybody who was “anybody” walked on Front Street to meet friends. There were several nice movie houses. One theater, the Palm, even had vaudeville. The vaudeville theater cost twenty-five cents for a regular seat. At ten cents, the peanut gallery was the cheapest seat in the house. One would enter the gallery by a set of back wooden stairs and sit right under the movie projector. Patrons could see a movie along with the vaudeville performance. One of the first movies Henrietta saw was the 1921 film, The Sheik, featuring matinee idol, Rudolf Valentino.
“We didn’t know any differently, we enjoyed everything. Every place we went to was within walking distance - ice cream parlors, and all kinds of little individually owned stores, like shoe stores and dry goods stores, drug stores... There were no chains, there was always a chicken store somewhere around. But there was one drug store, it was on the corner, it had windows on the two street fronts, and one time I remember going to Front Street on a Friday night, and at the side window, I think it was Dr. Scholl’s was trying to drum up business for their corn [removers] and this beautiful woman was sitting all alone on a chair in this big window with all the [advertized] goods shown, and displaying the most perfectly formed feet, corn-free - there was not one corn or callous on her foot, and every Friday night I stood and I looked at her feet, and then I would move on.”
The Depression was every bit as bad as people say it was. “My father was out of work, he had a trade, he couldn’t find a job, it was terrible... He worked as a committee- man in the neighborhood, and would be lucky enough to get a fruit basket every now and then, and we were darn glad to have it. I worked at Snellenbergs’ for such a little pay, because there was nothing, nothing - you couldn’t get anything. The mills were closing.. .they called the women who worked in the mills, ‘mill-dollies’...”
“Franldin Roosevelt put all the young fellows to work digging.. .doing everything possible to get those boys work, and were glad to get it. There were trainload after trainload of hobos in boxcars. They had nowhere to live, nowhere to work, always getting arrested.... They were real live people that had to leave their families and try to make it on their own in some form or another.”
After she graduated from Kensington High School, Henrietta Volk worked at Snellenbergs’ department store at Eleventh and Market Streets. Around noon time, she would take a trolley and the elevated train to the store. The people at Snellenbergs’ worked along with the schools to help needy children. Children who needed a little money would help with the stock or wrap packages. Henrietta worked from 12 o’clock noon until the store closed, which might be nine at night. All of this was for one dollar a day during the week and two dollars on Saturday. If the store were open at night, employees were given supper. At first it was free, then the employees were given fifty cents for dinner.
Her social life centered on the Presbyterian Church, “We would go on hikes in the Wissahickon. . .the church would give a picnic at Woodside Park.... They had picnic grounds, they had all kinds of amusements, and my favorite one was ‘Chase the Duck.’ You would sit there, and it was like a large barge or rowboat, you sat there, and it was dark.. .it ran on tape, of course. And you would go around, and they had nice music and I loved that ride. But they had scary rides also. The church provided free tickets for all the rides, they would serve milk and ice cream... And of course, there were baseball games and so on, but that no longer exists.” Beautiful homes and the Playhouse in the Park now occupy that site.
In 1937, Henrietta married an electrical engineer from Penn State. He went to the University of Pennsylvania to study piano in 1931 because he could not get a job. Eventually, he found a job with American District Telegraph where he serviced equipment in department stores until he could get into an engineering department. During World War II, he was instrumental in the San Francisco Bay Submarine Net.
In 1957, Henrietta Volk and her husband moved to Fox Chase. The house the Volks lived in was “countrified” with a barn in the back yard. It was ironic that the house had been used by people from Kensington as a summer home. Henrietta was amazed that the side streets did not have sewers. The city kept promising to put in sewers. After a few years, the women got up in arms and marched on city hall for sewers. They finally banded together and formed the Sewer Club. They fought and got sewers. The women continued to meet after that because they had become such good friends.
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