East Falls Past - Columns from the Fallser
January 2014: Trees
February 2014: Judge Michael Arnold
March 2014: Teresa Altomare Corcoran
April 2014: William Grattan Tyrone Power
May 2014: Shronk Family
June 2014: Hohenadel House
July 2014: July 4th
August 2014: Woodside Park
September 2014: Falls Bridge
October 2014: Ferry on the Schuylkill
November 2014: James Buchanan's Laurel Hill Connection
December 2014: Joe Petrone Interview Highlights
January 2015: Henry Avenue Bridge
February 2015: Gustine Lake
March 2015: World War II Memories
April 2015: Daniel Furman
May 2015: Grace Kelly Anecdotes
June 2015: Joe Petrone
July 2015: Joe Petrone – Stores of East Falls
August 2015: Swimming Holes of Past Years Are Remembered
September 2015: Sandwiches
October 2015: Interview with Joan Specter
The Fallser, January 2014, by Wendy Moody
This month, instead of focusing on the history of people in East Falls, our subject is the history of local trees. In 1936, Alexander Chadwick wrote an article in the Suburban Press about nature in East Falls - especially the trees of botanical interest.
Let’s picture our neighborhood back then, as we listen to Mr. Chadwick describe it:
“At the time, 1936, Mifflin School was being erected and, whenever possible, the workmen were careful not to injure the trees that skirted the property.
Years before, this area was a beautiful woodland, extending from the Reading Railroad towards Wissahickon Avenue. Young people of the Falls had delightful times tramping through these woods. Shrubbery and wild flowers were found in profusion. Rabbits and squirrels were plentiful and birds made the woods ring with their song.
In the autumn we spent many a day chestnutting in the woods along Midvale Avenue. However, the chestnut tree blight, beginning around 1900 destroyed this fine species of wood, and the development of Queen Lane Manor made it necessary to remove most of the other varieties of timber.
The beautiful estates along School House Lane were places of study for botanists. True lovers can still find many interesting specimen trees along this thoroughfare.
The maple-lined road leading into Alden Park, once the home of Frederic Strawbridge, was one of the most striking to be seen.
At the original “Carlton” estate, there once stood a dogwood. It was located between the Queen Lane reservoir and Midvale Avenue, near Fox Street. The great plant was a notable one of its kind, measuring 5’ in circumference and 20’ high. Close by were two sassafrastrees, each 2’ in diameter and 40’ high.
Outstanding examples of white pines, which are in many respects our most impressive trees, could also be seen at “Carlton” and at most School House Lane estates, from the Homewood School at Wissahickon to Ravenhill Academy.
John Wagner (near Timber Lane) boasted of a tulip poplar that was 5’ across and 60’ high.
On the Moses Brown estate (near Netherfield) stood a magnificent specimen of the Japanese shinko tree, (almost 10’ in circumference and reaching 80’ into the heavens!), a rare Japanese cedar and an even rarer “varnish” tree.
John Tucker’s “plantation” on Wissahickon Avenue extending from McKean’s Hill south to the Reading Railroad at Port Richmond, became Old Oaks Cemetery, and then much of the site of the Atwater Kent Radio plant. On this tract were three of the largest oak trees we have ever seen and several large chestnuts from which we picked many a cap-full of meaty nuts.
Cedars of Lebanon, which are considered to be the oldest of living things, were to be found in north Laurel Hill Cemetery (strangely enough in the City of the Dead).”
Please let this columnist know if you still see any of these trees!
The Fallser, February 2014, by Wendy Moody
Judge Michael Arnold (1840 – 1903) was the first person from East Falls to serve on the bench of the Common Please Courts of Philadelphia.
Back in 1884, Judge Arnold, whose father owned the Falls Hotel, shared his recollections of East Falls in a Philadelphia Star article. How lucky we are to have this very early narrative description of East Falls:
“My residence in the Falls commenced in 1853, when I was 13. The houses were built of stone, wood, or brick, roughcast. I think the first pressed brick home was occupied by Louis Naher, on Ridge Road above the lane leading to the Reading Railroad bridge.
Spencer Street – now Calumet – and all the streets on the hill near the Norristown Railroad were not yet laid out. James Street – now Stanton – was built up slowly. Ridge road was a turnpike.
There were no street railways, brick pavements or boardwalks – consequently muddy walking was quite frequent.
People traveled to the city by stage, and in the summer by steamboats on the Schuylkill – even the daily papers were brought out by steamer. The daily mail was about a dozen letters.
Shaw’s Mill, consisting of one old square building on Scott’s Lane, stood where Dobson’s Mills later were.
Fire companies came out from the city. Water was pumped into the engines as there were no fire plugs and, in a short time, the pumps got choked with gravel.
Nugent’s Mill was an old mill and dye house on the Ridge road near the entrance to the public school house.
The part of Laurel Hill above Clearfield Street was called Kelly’s Hill. There was a tavern on it, which was a great resort on the Fourth of July.
The Baptist Church (on Indian Queen) had been built and so had several small houses between it and Ridge road. There were no houses above the church. All that land was wild growth - blackberry bushes and chestnut trees. I have been told that rabbits and woodcock ventured there.
The old school house (Old Academy) was used for school on weekdays and church on Sundays. It was dedicated in 1816, on trust as a church and school for all denominations. Public exhibitions and concerts were given there. Among those who dedicated it were William Smith, Provost of Penn, Godfrey Shronk, and Charles Hagner,
Samuel Garrett lived further up in the woods (Vaux and Ainslie). The country around him was wild indeed. It was said that his house was once occupied by Count Von Donop, one of the commanders of the Hessian contingent to the British Army during their occupancy of Philadelphia prior to the Battle of Germantown.
Garrett’s land had been in his family since before the time of Penn, making it the oldest house in Falls. It is said that some of his ancestors were murdered there by robbers.
The Fallser, March 2014, by Wendy Moody
In 2009, Louise McShane interviewed her mother, Theresa (Altomare) Corcoran, who was born and raised in East Falls. Some interesting highlights:
Theresa, where were you born?
I was born in 1923 on the 3600 block of Stanton Street, in one of the 13 houses that was demolished for the school construction. I went to school at St. Bridget’s, got married there, and my eight children were schooled there. Some people laugh when I tell them that my children attended class in the same space where I was born by a midwife.
When did your family come here?
My father came to East Falls in 1912 from Italy. Later he returned there so that he could bring my mother and brothers to Stanton Street to live.
Tell me about the immigrants on Stanton and Calumet Streets.
It didn’t seem the Irish and Italians got along too well. I remember them quarreling. I witnessed a man shot to death where the old church was on Stanton Street.
The Irish lived closer to the river, and the Italians lived up from them. The Italians made their own community and spoke Italian.
Do you remember the Kellys?
John B. Kelly had influence at city hall and helped reduce taxes for some of the poorer people in East Falls. My Dad and I went to Mr. Kelly’s house and he helped a great deal with our taxes for the Stanton Streethouse purchase.
I remember playing with the Kelly girls. Grace was six years younger than me.
How did Prohibition affect the way people lived?
Our house was directly across from one where they used to do bootlegging. There was a hollowed tree in front with a huge hole in the bark. They used to make whiskey and hide it there when the police came. Unfortunately, the bootleggers bought a parrot who observed, and repeated, everything illegal that was going on.
One day the parrot heard Louie the bootlegger’s wife say “Louie, the cops are coming, hide the liquor in the tree!” When the police arrived they asked Louie if he had moonshine, and he said “No.” All of a sudden the parrot repeated “Louie, the cops are coming, hide the liquor in the tree!”
What was it like during The Depression?
Our family didn’t feel The Depression too much because my father had a good job. But he lost his money at the bank at Ridge and Midvale. I remember him going there for his money, but the doors shut. That was a bad memory.
People had to find a way to live. We, and other Italians, planted vegetable gardens in what is now called The New Homes on upper Cresson.
Many of my friends’ parents were unemployed and went to the bread line on Ridge across from the bathing house. I went with them to get them extra bread.
Why do you think living here was special?
I think The Falls is one huge family. The neighbors help if you need them. It’s a beautiful neighborhood. I’ve met many good people, especially the parishioners at Saint Bridget’s.