For many years, until 2015, the Fallser served East Falls with its monthly publication.
East Falls Community Council currently publishes East Falls NOW monthly.
This page has a selection from East Falls NOW
Click here for Page 1 and Table of Contents.
East Falls Now, January 2021, by Patty Cheek
Everyone loves a good mystery. How about a little history with your mystery? This is the story of a very special quilt which was donated to the East Falls Historical Society by the Clayton family who were former residents of East Falls. It was in early spring that Tom Clayton contacted Ellen Sheehan regarding an old quilt which was found in an attic. At first it seemed like a plain old quilt, 6 ½ foot square, white with red embroidery. The center rectangle had the embroidered outline of a church, surrounded by 32 squares, each with a red daisy and names stitched within.
As we looked closer, it became clear that there was a mystery about this old blanket. The church on the quilt was an image of the Methodist Episcopal Church of East Falls. The pastor’s name, Reverend R.A. McIlwain and the words “Pearls of Price” were stitched around the outline of the church. “Pearls” appears to refer to the bible parable which describes the great value the Kingdom of Heaven places on believers. According to Wikipedia, The Methodist Episcopal Church became the Methodist Church in 1939. In 1968 it was renamed again as the United Methodist Church. At that time the building became the Falls United Methodist Church, which is located on Indian Queen Lane and Krail Street. It currently houses office space and boasts organ pipes as decoration.
When Ellen Sheehan and I began to examine the quilt, we saw that there were hundreds of family names embroidered within the daisy petals on the quilt, along with the dates 1894 to 1897. We began the fascinating task of transcribing the names as best we could decipher them onto paper. We could imagine the families that had lived and worshipped here in East Falls in the late 1890’s. As we compiled our lists, we noticed some interesting names in the center of each daisy. Sometimes it was a family name but other times it was a title such as “Royal Cadets”, “Willing Workers”, “Sunbeams”, “Earnest Workers”, or “ 8 Jewels”. What could these names represent? Then, longtime member of the EFHS reference committee, Joe Terry unearthed the information: these were the names of Sunday School classes. Curiouser and curiouser. Why did the church members create a quilt with names of Sunday School classes on it?
At last, we came upon the one square that gave us the key clue to the quilt’s existence. On one particular flower were embroidered the words, “Nearly three years was the quilt in making - by it, $200 was raised for the Church.” AHA! This quilt was lovingly stitched and put together as a fund raiser for the church. There are so many interesting aspects to it. It’s clear that the embroidery is not the hand of one stitcher. Therefore, each square was probably taken home by a church member as they worked on it, before the quilt assembly. Not only that, but the quilt reaches across state lines, as one square bears family sur-names from other states including Florida and California. Finally, the understanding of the words “Pearls of Price”. In the context of this quilt’s evolution, it may be the words “Pearls of Price” referred to the value of donating to the cause of the quilt itself, as well as a salvation parable. Mystery solved!
Click here for the Quilt Page - detailed images, list of names, and more.
Do you have questions about East Falls history, or want to know more? See our growing website at eastfallshistoricalsociety.org, or contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org. And join!
East Falls NOW, February 2021, by Steven Peitzman and Wendy Moody
The year 1809 saw the completion of the first bridge to span the Schuylkill at East Falls (known earlier as Falls Village or Falls of Schuylkill), an innovative chain suspension bridge. A novel wire suspension bridge followed: Fallser Josiah White had started a wire mill in the town. Innovative but not durable, both soon failed; and subsequent bridges yielded, one after another, to floods or wind. Finally, city engineer George Webster designed a heavy steel truss bridge capable of resisting water, wind, and fire. Completed in 1895, it reached 125 years of service in 2020. To mark this occasion, the East Falls Historical Society on December 9 hosted Justin Spivey, a preservation engineer and authority on the Schuylkill River bridges, to provide a (Zoomed) talk on the bridge. A video of the presentation can be found on our website, eastfallshistoricalsociety.org, under “events,”
Why was bridging the Schuylkill at the Falls important by the early and mid-nineteenth century? This was, of course, before Fairmount Park and the river drives, which the span now connects. Falls Village had become an important industrial site. And industry also flourished on the West bank, most notably Simpson’s Mills, a large complex centered on printing and dying textiles. South of it was a small village which may have had the name Coxsackie or Cocksockie. No visible trace of these exists. But beyond the local, the Falls of Schuylkill was where the Ridge Road from Philadelphia, and two lanes from Germantown, met. The bridge offered a route for goods and people not just to the west bank, but onward, to the western part of the Commonwealth, and nation.
The Falls Bridge is a Petit truss, a sub-type of the popular Pratt through-truss bridge. It comprises three spans for a total of 540 feet, and is 40 feet wide. Two piers and abutments of stone masonry, built on solid bedrock, form the substructure. These supports were started nearly 10 years prior to the bridge’s completion.
Many of the various components under tension or compression are joined by pins, an American technique. The bridge is steel, though the railings which we admire are of wrought iron. The bridge is on a slight incline, downward from west to east, as cyclists will recognize.
The original flamboyant paint colors of red, buff and light blue made the bridge a striking sight. The Falls Bridge was designed to support an upper deck – hence the top-heavy appearance – for connecting the high ground on both sides, and for a possible streetcar. Probably for reasons of budget, it was never completed.
The bridge has held up generally well for so long in part because it was never stressed by two levels of traffic, and has been mostly spared heavy trucks.
But even steel wears out, and our beloved Falls Bridge is in need of serious repair, particularly the heavy plate girders forming the floor beams. PennDot will carry out the work, with federal funding. Because it lies in an historic environment, the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission will monitor the developing plans. EFHS has engaged Justin Spivey as our consultant: we signed on as an interested organization, since we want to see the appearance unaltered and as much original fabric as possible preserved. It’s not clear yet when actual work will begin, but PennDot expects that the bridge will be out of service for two years! So enjoy it and study it, preferably by foot or bicycle, while you can.
East Falls NOW, March 2021, by Ellen Sheehan
A photograph of a gas street lamp on Penn Street in the snow was recently given to EFHS by Janet Colianni, a resident of Penn Street. Janet received it years ago from a teacher at Thomas Mifflin School. We are not sure who took the photo but Mrs. Rosberg was a long time first grade teacher at Mifflin School and lived on Penn Street. Mifflin School is possibly visible on the left side of the photo.
On February 8, 1836, forty-six lights burning manufactured “coal gas” were lit along Philadelphia’s 2nd Street by employees of the newly formed Philadelphia Gas Works. Gas lamps soon became an important part of establishing safe night travel in the city. Many were right here in East Falls well into the 1950s.
One I remember was in front of the last house on Arnold Street, home of “Jigs” Donahue. As his name implies, he was one of East Falls well known characters. Taking a short cut from the shops on Midvale Avenue to my home on Indian Queen Lane, I often observed the lamplighter at dusk. He unfolded a small wooden ladder that was slung over his shoulder, climbed up and by some magic unknown to me, “poof” – a flicker and then the faint light would grow as darkness descended. I always welcomed this as it was otherwise a dark route home through Dutch Hollow.
My research led me to Arthur King who remembers three gas lamps on Ainslie Street between Vaux and Conrad Streets. He comments that they disappeared sometime in the 1950’s along with the cobblestone streets. Susan Schmidt contributed that her great-great-grandfather, Antoine Hosephas, was a lamplighter on Ridge Avenue.
On April 15, 1959, Mayor Richardson Dilworth, wearing a 3 piece suit, mounted a ladder with a young boy in front of him (also wearing a 3 piece suit) to extinguish Philadelphia’s last gas streetlight. Located at 45th and Osage Avenue in West Philadelphia, the crowd reportedly cheered to see this vestige of the Victorian age gone.
If you have memories of the gas lamps in East Falls, or photographs of historic East Falls, please get in touch with us. Also let us know if you have questions about East Falls History. See our growing website at eastfallshistoricalsociety.org, or contact us at email@example.com. And join!