Bridesburg - Yesterday, Today

History of the Consolidation of Boroughs

Brief history of the watershed development

Betsy Ross bridge

45th Ward Polling places

NIS for Bridesburg

Future of Bridesburg 

The Beginning

Before the arrival of European settlers, the Lenni Lenape Indians inhabited the Delaware Valley region. The explorer Henry Hudson, in 1609, was the first European to set foot in this region, and based on his findings these Indians were considered to be the first inhabitants of the area. The Delaware Indians also lived in this area and received their name by the English, after the Delaware River.

In 1683 land was bought west of the Delaware River from the Indians and named New Sweden by the Swedes. These people lived with the Indians on very friendly terms. By 1645 the Swedes had expanded to the Northeast section of Philadelphia and in 1647 the Dutch came. It was not until the 1680's when the English came with William Penn that the area was actually developed. After 1750, Germans then settled in the area, particularly in Bridesburg and Frankford.

The Holme's Map of the Province of Pennsylvania (1681) identifiies the names of the original purchasers of land from William Penn. There were four principle landowners of the area that would become know as Bridesburg. They were Messers. Erik Cock, William Sabray, George Forman and Mouns Cock.

Bridesburg and Oxford (Frankford) was the site of a number of Indian Villages. In what would someday become the Northeast section of Philadelphia, the Indians used the area mainly for hunting and agricultural purposes. They lived in an advanced Stone Age culture, making pottery and growing corn and tobacco. They lived in bark shelters, grouped together in villages, which housed all the members of their large families. Numerous arrowheads and bones have been discovered in the hills of Frankford, providing evidence of the Indian Village that once flourished there.

The Village of Bridesburg was originally called Point No Point. The name being given in consequence of the changes in the appearance of the point by the approaches on the Delaware River. When first seen going northward it appeared to be a point, boldly jutting out into the stream and upon coming nearer, it lost its character and seemed to be an ordinary portion of the right bank; on further approach it seemed to again jut out into a point.

 

The village name was shortened to The Point and at the close of the Revolution was again changed to Kirkbridesburg, named for Joseph Kirkbride, for many years the largest landowner here. About one hundred and forty years ago the people of the village decided the name was too long, so Bridesburg was adopted.

The first road was known as Point No Point Road, listed on Scull and Heap's Map­1750, showing all roads, ferries and taverns around Philadelphia. It began at Second and Vine, continuing very nearly the same direction as Richmond Street of today. The terminus was at Parr's Tavern, at the junction of the Frankford Creek and the Delaware River, a distance of six miles.

As the settlement spread along the Delaware it did not extend far inland and the river was the great and only thoroughfare for a number of years. The first steamboat ever seen on the Delaware, or in world, was built by John Fitch and first tried July 20, 1786. The first regular steamboat service for passengers was inaugurated June 14, 1790, from Arch Street ferry every Monday, Wednesday and Friday, price 2 shilling, 6 pence.

The original name of Frankford Creek was "Tankanny" and was given by the Indians. Tacony was derived from this word. The first bridge in this section was erected in 1701 near Frankford over the Frankford Creek. Shortly afterwards a bridge was built over Gunners Run near the Delaware over which the Point Road passed to Point No Point. The name the Indians gave to this run was Tumanaranaming. This creek, located south of Bridesburg is now sewered and gone forever.

 

The Revolutionary War period

With the coming of the Revolutionary War in 1776 and the eventual capture by General Howe, his staff lost no opportunity in locating the best country places, to be entertained to their satisfaction. They visited Frankford and used the Port Royal House located at what is now Frankford Avenue and Orthodox St.

 

From there they came to Bridesburg, then a peaceful little village on the Delaware. During the winter of 1777 and spring of 1778 they used Holly Hall, a mansion located at Richmond and Orthodox Streets, as their headquarters. Holly Hall was quite famous and was built about 1767. The old mansion was torn down eventually in 1906 and the ground was turned into a park, named Neugent Park, which was enjoyed by Bridesburg residents of that time.

Perhaps the most historic association with our community and the Revolution was the home of General Daniel Morgan, the famous rifleman of Washington's army. His home was just south of Buckius Street, facing on Richmond Street, known as "Giltback Grove." In 1664, the Bridesburg Orphan Asylum was established there by the German Reformed Church.

The oldest house in Bridesburg located on the corner of Richmond Street and Wheatsheaf Lane, the old Wheatsheaf Tavern of 1747, is among the historic inns of early colonial fame. The tavern was the most famous on the old Point Road and hundreds of weary travelers were kindly received to its fireplaces.

 

In 1943, the building was bought by its present occupants from a Mr. Smith. Before that, the old Wheatsheaf Tavern was used at various times as an inn, a dancehall, and a candy store. In 1944 it became a grocery store and the venerable old edifice served in that capacity until 1975, when it became a residential home.

 

About 1800 Joseph Kirkbride became the proprietor of a ferry over the Frankford Creek. On March 20, 1811 the Legislature gave him the right to build a bridge and receive toll for passage. On April 1, 1833 the County of Philadelphia bought the Kirkbride bridge and two and a half acres of land annexed for $5500.

The Industrial Community

The Bridesburg Manufacturing Co

In 1810 Alfred Jenks, having learned from Mr. Samuel Slater all that was then known of Cotton machinery, established at Holmesburg the first regular manufacture of cotton machinery. Mr. Jenks in 1819­20 moved to Bridesburg and commenced the manufacture of woolen machinery. In 1630 Mr. Jenks invented the power loom for weaving checks and introduced it into the Kempton mill at Manayunk. With his son Barton H. Jenks one of the most ingenious of American inventors, he established the Bridesburg Manufacturing Co., the most outstanding manufacturing concern here for three generations. In its best days four to five hundred men were employed. During the Civil War muskets were manufactured and newspapers list Mr. Jenks as a contributor of thousands to war distressed families.

The Lenning Chemical Works

 

Nicholas Lennig and Co. (begun in 1819) in 1831 established the Tacony Chemical Works at Richmond and Ann Streets in Port Richmond. The firm was Nicholas the father and Charles the son. Nicholas died in 1835 and Charles associated himself with Frederick Lennig, his cousin, the firm remaining Nicholas Lennig and Co. until 1859 when it changed to C.F. Lennig and so remained until 1863, when Frederick died and Charles Lennig became sole proprietor.

In 1842 Charles and Frederick Lennig purchased twenty­seven acres of ground at the junction of the Frankford Creek and the Delaware River for $8,000. In some of the deeds and titles, the Frankford Creek is referred to as'"Quassinneamink Creek". More land was added to the site in 1846, the moving of the manufacturing facilities from Port Richmond did not start until 1847. By 1851, the Port Richmond plant was abandoned.

 

The Lennig Company was awarded a medal at the Centennial Exposition in 1876 "for the products exhibited coming from the distillation of wood, for metallic salts and especially for the careful manufacture of sulphate of alumina and alum".

In 1864 Charles Lennig acquired the property on the northeast corner of Richmond and Bridge Streets and resided there until 1871. From that time, until 1913, the house was occupied by his son, John, who managed the factory. The Lennig mansion has since been torn down and now the site is used as an employee parking lot for Rohm and Haas Company.

Rohm and Haas Company

 

Just before the depression of 1921, Rohm and Haas Company purchased the stock from the estate of the late John B. Lennig, who had directed in his will that the stock be sold. Rohm and Haas Company added numerous parcels of property from time to time, the major acquisitions being the following:

In 1930 the plant was expanded to the south and west by the purchase of the former Moorhouse property along the Frankford Creek near Bridge Street. About 1940, the old Peter Cooper Glue Works on­the east side of Richmond Street, south of Kennedy Street, was purchased. The gatehouse was then moved from Kennedy Street south to Brill Street.

Development of the riverfront property progressed with the purchase of the Warner property from Bridge Street to Reynolds Street in 1958, the Smythe Mahogany tract between Reynolds Street and Jenks Street in 1962, and the Foerderer tract from Jenks Street to Buckius Street in 1964.

The main intersection at Bridge and Richmond Streets was formerly the site of many structures. A movie theater, The Elm, occupied the northwest corner was closed as a result of the 1929 depression. The property was purchased by Rohm and Haas and converted to a company gymnasium in 1942 and finally dismantled in 1967 A property on the southwest corner was purchased by the company in 1928 and used as a clubhouse until razed in 1964.

A portion of an old powerhouse now known as Building 5, a part of an old Muriatic Plant now a part of Building 3 and an old steam driven fire pump house known as Building 50 are the oldest known structures in the plant. The pumphouse dates back to 1882.

Construction over the past ten years has totaled approximately 50 million dollars. Employment just about doubled from 1938 to 1944 when it reached approximately 1200 people. The figure in 1960 was just under 2500 employees. For 1975 the figure was 1670 people, of which 185 employees live in the Bridesburg area.

 

In addition to contributions and programs, which are sponsored on a corporate basis through the Philadelphia headquarters, the Bridesburg Plant makes various contributions to the Bridesburg community groups and its members are active in local civic organizations.

 

 

Philadelphia / Coppers Coke Companies

 

 

(To be written)

 

 

Remmey Refractories

 

(To be written)

Interesting Locations

Bridesburg was the location of several important properties, some of which still exist today. For example:

 

The Reynolds estate, which was located where the Recreation Center now stands, was a part of the very flourishing farm of Herbert Reynolds, who owned much of the land here preceding the Civil War period. The old Reynolds farm house also must be included in these remarks concerning the old days. It was torn down in 1916, after which the land was used as a park.

 

The large single home at the head of Richmond and Jenks Streets was built during the Civil War. For many years it was the residence of the Devlin family and the office of Dr. Lawrence Devlin. and is now the home of Dr. Szabo who has resided there since 1966.

The William Jenks mansion was at the foot of Pratt Street. The house at 3958 Richmond Street, presently owned by the Hagendorfs, was built in 1807.

 

The Putts House at 4404 Salmon Street, attached to the rear of the current American Legion Hall, was built around 1800. Eighty years ago it was beautifully located in a famous grove of pine woods.

 

One of the most interesting spots in this old town was the Old Town Hall or sometimes called the Eight Cornered School House, which stood on Thompson Street, the present site of the Bridesburg Perpetual Association. The Old Town Hall was torn down in 1928 because of the condition of the building. The land and building were given to the people of Bridesburg within one mile for their use and to be theirs forever.

 

The Kirkbride family were the donors but made no provisions for upkeep, so the building became the worry of the community. The date of its building is unknown at this writing, but seldom has a building been so wrapped up in a life of a community as was the Old Town Hall. Before the consolidation of the city each district had its own town hall which were variously used.

 

It was first used as a place to administer the affairs of the village; then as a meeting place; in 1829 for the Presbyterian people; then in 1834 to 1850 a gathering place for the Methodists; in 1839 the first public school; in 1858 the meeting place of the German Reformed people, and the same time as the police station. About 1900 it was used as a Y.M.C.A. and in 1901 a memorial service was held in honor of President McKinley. Some few years after, the first moving pictures ever seen in Bridesburg were shown here. At that time it was called the Musee.

The old station house, which was located at the corner of Richmond and Kirkbride Streets, was built in 1883 under Mayor King by Sebastian Helm. The local fire company was established about 1888. That station house was located next to the police station that stood there until it was torn down in 1964 to make way for a new station house which was dedicated in 1965. The Bridesburg police station closed in 1940 and the building was used as a draft board and as the headquarters for the Bridesburg Ration Board during the years of World War II. In 1960, the Bridesburg area became part of the Fifteenth Police District.

The People

The character of Bridesburg was built on the mixture of nationalities and faiths of its citizens. Beginning with the Lenni Lenape Indians, followed by the Swedes, Dutch, English, Germans, Polish and a sprinkling of others. Each one bringing to the community traditions and beliefs that built the solid community that it is today.

Frequently referred to as the "Community of Churches". Geographically, Bridesburg is not as large as many of the neighborhoods of Philadelphia, yet it has, and continues till today, to have seven faiths represented with their churches - Bridesburg Presbyterian, Bridesburg Methodist, All Saints, Saint John Cansius, German Reform and Bridesburg Baptist.

Out of these people, there have been a number of notable citizens over the years. Individuals like Joseph Kirkbride, General Daniel Morgan, Alfred Jenks, Herbert Reynolds, W. Bruce Beaton.

Among its citizenry, Bridesburg has also had its share of interesting and unforgetable personalities.

Dickey Twells, a bachelor, who lived in a large home in the 4000 block of Richmond Street about 1834. Point Road was used as a racetrack in the early days. Twells resented this disturbance and in the dark of the night would fill the road with large stones and make racing past his place difficult as possible..

Mr. Behr was the stage driver for a number of years on Old Point Road, and he watched very closely if people rode both ways with him. If they went to the city by boat, and tried to return by way of his stage coach he said in no uncertain terms, "You come down by boat, you come home by boat." which meant a long wait­and perhaps another way had to be found to get home.

Bill Morrow, a local robber gang leader. During the early days of stage coach travel, this vicinity was particularly lonesome and a notorious gang of highwaymen. They were known to have held up and robbed many stages and with their unfortunate travelers.



From Village to Borough to Neighborhood

By an act of Legislature April 1, 1848 the village of Bridesburg was created a borough, with boundaries as follows:

 

Beginning at the junction of the Delaware River and the Frankford Creek along the creek southwest to a corner of the land belonging to Mr. Reynolds, thence by his line which was Buckius Street southeast to the Delaware River and along the latter to the place of beginning. The official title of the corporation was "The Commissioners and Inhabitants of Bridesburg in the County of Philadelphia".

 

In 1850, additional land was annexed to the borough south of the limits above named, extending to the north line of Mortimer Lewis land and along the latter to Point Road (now Richmond Street); then not by the road, but by a direct line (now Lefevre Street) through other properties west of the road until it struck the middle of Frankford Creek, then down the same until it reached the Delaware. Transportation of mails and passengers was unknown among the earliest settlers because perhaps, there were neither mails nor passengers: letters were carried by travelers or traders or by messengers especially entrusted with them.

As early as 1842 Bridesburg and Part Richmond was a mail route for which proposals were sought by advertising from the United States. Most likely, Lewis F. Emery was the first Postmaster. The next Postmaster was Andrew McMillan, who continued until the delivery system was adopted. The first letter carrier was Peter Gold. The former Post Office at Salmon and Bridge Streets (now the Post Office Cafe) was opened in 1909 with Mr. Charles Hangsterfer as Postmaster. In 1929, the Bridesburg Post Office moved to a building just north of the old firehouse­police station building on the corner of Richmond and Kirkbride Streets. The Post Office moved again in 1960 to its present location at Salmon and Orthodox Streets. The present Postmaster is John Steinberg. Like London in 1850, Philadelphia was about two square miles in area, comprising 28 districts.

Rowdyism was rampant and persons committing minor offenses, or minor crimes, merely had to run across a street to be out of the jurisdiction of the local police. Improvements could only be made in cooperation with the adjoining governments and progress was obviously handicapped. Soon after the riots of 1844 the attention of some influential citizens was directed towards a consolidation of these governments; a town meeting was held Nov. 16, 1849 and from that time onward until the object was achieved. The Act of Consolidation was passed Jan. 30, and signed by the Governor Feb. 2, 1854.

On April 13, 1859, the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania authorized the Second and Third Street Passenger Railway Company to extend their road from Allegheny Avenue along Point Road or Richmond Street as we now know it, to within 200 feet of the bridge over the Frankford Creek on Bridge Street in Bridesburg with a single track. Records of the company disclose that operation of horse cars started from Allegheny Avenue and Point Road to the bridge over the Frankford Creek on Bridge Street, in July of 1859, operating four one­horse cars over a single track approximately 2 and 3/4 miles long. Night service was inaugurated in October 1860.

The War Years

The Civil War

Through four years the local people followed with Mr. Lincoln the most horrible events in the history of our community, and when the telegraph brought the thrilling news on Sunday morning, April 9, 1865 that General Robert E. Lee had surrendered at Appomattox Court House, they went wild with joy. That morning the local churches offered special prayers of thanksgiving for the great victory.

 

On Saturday April 15, 1865, word was received of the death of Abraham Lincoln, by assassination. The funeral of Mr. Lincoln was held on Wednesday April 19, 1865, and all business was suspended. The horse­car system remained idle throughout this section from 2 until 4 o'clock. On Saturday April 22, Mr. Lincoln's remains were brought to the State House and 85,000 people viewed his remains. Many local people paid their respects to Mr. Lincoln by walking to and from Independence Hall.

On February 8, 1815 the Congress of the United States passed an act which provided for the establishment of depots for munitions in various parts of the country. Consequently, on May 27, 1816 a tract of ground, 20 acres and 34 perches, was acquired from Frederick Fraley and his wife Catherine, for $7680.75. This purchase date is the approved birthday of the Frankford Arsenal (then the U.S. Arsenal on Frankford Creek).

This year, 1976, is the 160th Anniversary. This territory was a portion of a tract of land which was transferred by patent from John Thomas and Richard Penn to Andrew Hamilton on May 19, 1742. The land fronted on Frankford Creek, then navigable, and provided access to the Delaware River.

General LaFayette, during his triumphal visit in 1824, stopped first at the Arsenal before going on to Philadelphia. "He was comfortably lodged for the night. Between seven and eight o'clock on Tuesday morning, the General set out for this city with an immense escort." as reported by the National Gazette and Literary Register, Philadelphia, Pa. October 2, 1824. During the intervening 15 years, considerable construction was accomplished. Atkinson's Saturday Evening Post, April 7, 1832, reported the Arsenal as completed in 1830.

The original Fraley tract was expanded by acquisition of the Kennedy tract in 1837, the Haines tract in 1849, the Lennig tract in 1917, and the Fitler tracts in 1943 and 1951. The six stone buildings and two small workshops mentioned in 1832, now have expanded to approximately 228, permanent, semi­permanent and temporary buildings and about 58 miscellaneous storage facilities, covering 110 acres.

During the Civil War, the Arsenal served as a depot, receiving, storing, inspecting, and distributing supplies of all kinds. Appreciable manufacturing, especially of percussion caps, bullets, cartridges, and other small arms ammunitions items, required a peak personnel of 1550. At the close of the Civil War only 580 were retained.

The World Wars

During World War I millions of rounds of artillery ammunition, including shrapnel and high explosives, were manufactured , loaded and shipped. However, as production mounted, recurring explosions of primers endangered the neighborhood residents. Areas surrounding the Arsenal, once sparsely settled, had become densely populated. Consequently, for safety, loading at the Arsenal was discontinued and moved to less populated areas.

World War II placed a great strain on the Arsenal to keep up with the ammunition demands of this conflict. The demand for ammunition in a war of this magnitude was such that the production quantities possible within Frankford Arsenal were becoming insignificant. The personnel compliment of Frankford Arsenal at the height of World War II was 22,000 people. This dropped at the end of World War II to approximately 6,850.

Since World War II the character of Frankford Arsenal has been changed and now places emphasis on research, development and engineering in its assigned mission areas. The manufacturing facilities remaining in Frankford Arsenal are now devoted to the support of Research, Development, Test and Evaluation.

The Bridesburg Civic Association

The Bridesburg Businessmen's Association began as a committee of the Bridesburg Civic Association in 1955 in order to combat the problems of local businessmen. The first meeting of the Bridesburg Businessmen's Association as a separate organization was held in January, 1956. Feelings expressed by early members of the association, indicated that the new group desired cordial relations with its competitors. The businessmen knew that the only way to gain business was to sell service and keep prices down.

The first newspaper published in 1881 lasted only one year. Five other papers followed through the years, the Bridesburg Herald, Bridesburg News Gleaner, the Bridesburg Tribune and the Bridesburg News, which became the Bridesburg Bulletin in 1960; the last two papers were sponsored by the Bridesburg Businessmen's Association.

 

In September 1956, the Businessmen's Association discussed the printing of a monthly businessmen's paper and in October of the same year the Bridesburg News was born, sponsored by the Businessmen's Association. The Association purchased a printing machine and it set up a fund for the operation of the paper.

The Bridesburg News was interrupted early in 1960 for reorganization; printing of the paper was given to a private company. In June 1960, the paper's name was changed to the present Bridesburg Bulletin, which was still run by the Bridesburg Businessmen's Association. Today, the Bridesburg Bulletin is still being published by the Businessmen's Association.

The Bridesburg Businessmen's Association was incorporated in 1961. Soon after, the Sunshine Club, an organization within the Association, was formed. The Sunshine Club brought good cheer to the sick and it helped out the unfortunate. The Businessmen's Association took part in Memorial Day and Easter parades in Bridesburg. In 1965 the Association joined the Northeast Chamber of Commerce.

From the start, the Businessmen's Association concerned itself with community affairs and minutes of the first meeting show discussions on the proposed Delair Bridge (Betsy Ross Bridge) and the Delaware Expressway. In recent years, the Bridesburg Businessmen's Association has concerned itself with the Betsy Ross Bridge, drug abuse, civic improvements, the Bridesburg Civic Association, the Bridesburg Ambulance Corps, widening of Bridge Street and neighborhood beautification, such as the Greenbelt Program whereby 500 trees were planted in the Bridesburg community, besides being involved in the common concerns of business.

 

 

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