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, August 2022, by Lyda Doyle
After we woke up and ate breakfast, we had a world of choices, and none of them involved screen time -- aside from a black-and- white TV here and there. Here’s a selection of what we did:
We rode our bike alone or with friends, who we’d meet at the usual rendezvous point.
We roller skated, but we couldn’t forget our skate key.
We played out front. Games included tag, red rover, Mother May I, wire ball, stick ball and hopscotch.
On Plush Hill, now known as Krail and Haywood Sts. overlooking the Roosevelt Extension of I-76, we could pick mulberries from the tree and eat them, or we’d take extra berries home in a clean glass milk bottle to be eaten later with milk and sugar. Or we could help the older kids build a fort and try to round up any supplies they needed (wood, nails, etc.) At night (yes, we went outside at night, too) we would try to catch lightning bugs, bring a candle for telling stories in the fort, and watch the fireworks exploding from across the river at Woodside Park on Friday nights.
In the Mifflin School yard, we’d bring a stick and “pimple” ball to play stick ball, bring a stone to mark our place in hopscotch, bring a jump rope (long enough to play Double Dutch if needed), and/or a ball for wall ball, or marbles for marble shooting contests.
The abandoned Hohenadel brewery formerly at Conrad St. and Indian Queen Ln. or the caves in Dutch Hollow at the top of Arnold St. were prime candidates for exploring. The brewery “ruins” could be hair-raising. Kids were somehow able to gain access to the inside from the loading dock on the Conrad St. side of the brewery. We played tag and hide-and- seek in there. Sometimes you would be chasing someone and grab a railing to go downstairs, but suddenly there were no steps and we had to grab the railing with both hands and arms to save ourselves. Once was enough for that! The getaway route was to slide down the railing to the first floor, which was a pretty good drop. Some kids would hide inside the old brewing vats on the basement level, and some of the older kids would get up on the top roof by an outside metal ladder and then slide down the rain spout.
At McDevitt Playground or Inn Yard, we’d bring a baseball bat and glove for pick-up games. If you didn’t have your own glove and bat you could borrow one from the other team when they weren’t using them. Sometimes we would just play on the swing. At McDevitt, we also could play on the steel merry-go-round. Kids sometimes flew off, but it was very close to the ground, so no one got hurt.
We would hike in the Chamounix Woods, across the Falls Bridge, or go swimming in The Bathey – later to become the Trolley Care Café and now Boutique River Falls.
Monday, Wednesday and Friday were Girls Day; Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday were Boys Day. Sundays we would sneak in. We would wait outside in line for our turn in a one hour “rank,” leaving and getting back in line again and repeating until the pool closed for the day.) In the Wissahickon Creek we would just foray up there and wade or swim in “Devil’s Pool.” The older teens might go swimming in the Schuylkill.
Fishing in the Schuylkill was always an option.
We would play hide and seek after dark under the streetlights that had been converted from gas to electric lighting. Parents and neighbors were out on the steps and porches chatting and watching.
And we always were in a hurry, because we knew that in the blink of an eye it would be time to go back to school.
Photo: The Hohenadel Brewery, before it became a ruin. The front door in this photo was at the corner of Conrad St. and Indian Queen Ln., with Conrad running toward the left and Indian Queen toward the right. This part of the building was a beer garden, the first part of the brewery building to fall to ruin.
East Falls NOW, September 2022, by Wendy Moody
The East Falls Historical Society congratulates the Old Academy Players on its 100th season of entertaining our community. Enjoy these engaging snippets of Old Academy history that we found in our EFHS oral history interviews with our residents. Many Old Academy memories involved Grace Kelly - these will be featured in our November column, Grace’s birth month. (These are reliable recollections of OAP members who were there, but they have not been independently “fact-checked.”)
On the Old Academy Player’s Formation
“There was a group at the Falls Methodist Church on Indian Queen Lane called the Queen Esther Circle. To make money for the church, they put on a musical play in 1923, The Minister’s Wife’s New Bonnet. A great success! Other churches invited them to perform and the theater bug bit them. However, the minister at the very strict Methodist Church didn’t want them using the church’s name when giving plays – it was not in keeping with their beliefs. So the group named itself the Moment Musical Club and began meeting at homes, rehearsing in the Falls Library, and renting Palestine Hall at Ridge and Midvale to perform.
In 1932 the board of trustees of the Old Academy building asked the Moment Musical Club if they would like to occupy their building. Delighted, they purchased it for $1.00 and changed their name to Old Academy Players. They repaired the dilapidated building, created a theater on the first floor, made a curtain – everything was done by their labor – they had no money to speak of. They preserved the historical old building!” (Ruth Emmert, 1983)
The 1952 Fire
“My father was caretaker of Old Academy and when he died suddenly in 1949, I took over temporarily and ended up spending 33 years there - painting sets, making slipcovers. In 1952, they were painting the walls and I had come over at lunch time. The painters were outside eating, when someone said ‘There is smoke coming from under your roof!’ The fire department came, but the whole third floor - the roof was burnt right out. They said when they were chipping on the wall, wires must have crossed. All the water came flying down; all the clothes and play books went out the window! And then that dome up there -there were about ten firemen hanging on it trying to pull it down thinking the fire would be up in there. And then the women said “Don’t tear that down! It’s a landmark!” (Mae Mohr, 1983)
“Yes, we had a bad fire. The cupola was damaged, the attic was destroyed; there was over $10,000 in damage…. But we were insured and whenever we have troubles – we’re a close-knit club – we band together. Everybody cleaned up. There was a hole in the roof. They placed a tarp over it and managed to go on with the play - Three is a Family - just a week later.” (Robert Freed, OAP Historian, 2009)
Old Academy Players Charity
“Old Academy always did charitable stuff. Among them: The Nov.1, 1940 minutes read: "A motion was passed to give $2.40/week for milk to needy children at Mifflin School.” In
November 5, 1940: "Members are contributing fifteen cents a week for children who are refugees from the European war.” In war years they took shows to Camp Dix and the Naval Hospital. One interesting suggestion during the war (8/13/42): "Cast women in male parts because of men going to war This was defeated, fortunately!” (Robert Freed)
Not in the Script
“During the Depression, we performed Liliom, which later became the musical Carousel. One of our members was out of work and offered to live in Old Academy, do the work, direct the plays, build the sets – this was great. He had a pet cat – very black - named Inky. Anyhow, Liliom has died and they come to get him - all dressed in black and very solemn. They march with a measured stride onto the stage to take him to the hereafter. And this one night, as the music swelled for their entrance, the first to enter was Inky, with measured stride and black tail high in the air. He led the men from heaven or hell or wherever across the stage to get Liliom… the audience roared.” (Ruth Emmert, 1983)
East Falls NOW, October 2022
[This article included a notice of an Oct. 2022 tour, led by David Breiner, PhD of Jefferson University, and Alison Eberhardt, MA, an architectural historian and photographer.]
The central section of East Falls – the old “Falls Village” – is known for its 19th-century row houses and twins, many in the Italianate, Gothic Revival, and Second Empire styles. Going up the hill, an alert visitor will enjoy seeing our Tudor East Falls Historic District, our unusual Spanish Revival rows, and, finally, the many fine Tudor and Colonial Revival houses east of Henry Avenue, the area once known as “Queen Lane Manor.” But East Falls also can boast of important “Mid-century Modernist” houses (and also a former nurses home and a fire station in Modernist mode). What has come to be called “Mid-century Modern” overlaps with an architectural approach also referred to as “International” or less commonly, Miesian, after the prominent architect Mies Van der Rohe. Such design, broadly understood, aims at clean lines, use of the steel frame to allow glass walls, an “open” floor plan, and minimal ornament.
The Modernist houses of East Falls are mostly to the north, along School House Lane and Apalogen Road. Among them are the Hassrick House and the Rothner House, both of which will be visited on a tour organized by the East Falls Historical society for Saturday morning October 15 . Designed by internationally-recognized California architect Richard Neutra, and now part of the Jefferson campus, the Hassrick House exemplifies Modern architecture as it was widely produced in the decades following World War II. Though currently unfurnished, it is still an impressive residence. The Rothner House is owned by architect and aficionado Janet Grace, who has furnished it with excellent examples of Mid-century Modern design. This building was created by respected local architect Norman Rice, known for important contributions to the “Philadelphia School” of Modern architecture.
Photo: Rothner Residence by Norman N. Rice
East Falls NOW, November 2022, by Wendy Moody
As Grace Kelly’s birthday on November 12 approaches (she was born in 1929, died in 1982), enjoy these unique personal glimpses of her earlier years, extracted from the EFHS oral history collection:
Ruth Emmert (Old Academy Players; 1983 interview):
“Gracie was one of the kids in Don’t Feed the Animals when she was nine. That’s when the theater bug bit her and she knew she wanted to be an actress. She kept coming around and trying.
One day backstage, while Grace was putting on makeup, I said “How old are you, Gracie?” She said “14.” I said: “14! You’d never know - you look 18, 19, 20 - your height, your poise - I would say you were much older. You’re so grown up for 14!” She replied, embarrassed, “I’m not really 14, I’m only 12...”
Well she looked 18 – her hair worn in the bob of the day, that sweet smile, and sparkling blue eyes. She was tall for her age, very slender, dressed beautifully but casually. She was not shy, just not pushy, and had a great sense of humor.
She wanted to get a part and, for that, she worked. She was utterly reliable, knew her lines perfectly, never missed a rehearsal, and helped with props - emptying her mother’s closet of negligees and gowns for the cast, and lending furniture for the sets. She was a joy.
When her father donated money and bricks to build a theater addition, we asked him what we could do for him. He said “Give the kid a part once in a while. She wants to be an actress.” But Old Academy didn’t give her special attention. And so she didn’t get parts. Once she asked me: “What do you have to do down here to get parts?” I said “The only advice I can give you, Gracie, is to be visible - come to business meetings, plays, and club nights.” Gracie came down and came down. She sold chances; she was working all the time. She certainly deserved all the parts she’d get.
I don’t think she was naturally talented for acting – it was just learning, hard work, and stick-to-it-ness. And of course her beauty, which she had. Her inner and outside beauty was always there. And that helps.
Joe Petrone (2013 interview):
Ah! I was in love with Grace. In 1953, when Mrs. Kelly held the Rose Carnival in front of the hospital [Woman’s Medical College], my job was to ride in the back of a Buick convertible with Grace Kelly and sell chances for the Carnival. We rode through East Falls with a blaring speaker and I would sit there in the back seat and just gawk at her. I was in love with her. I was maybe nine. She was very pretty!
At the Carnival, somebody brought a gold compact to our booth and said “Grace gave you this to sell.” It was engraved ‘Grace Kelly.’ It was hers! It was five bucks - a million dollars in those days. I wanted that so bad, so bad. And I didn’t get it. But she was a beauty...
Peggy Kelly Conlan (Grace’s older sister; 1981 interview):
I took over for Grace in The Women at Old Academy when Grace got the measles. On the night of dress rehearsal, we were sitting at the dining room table and Mother looked over and
said “Gracie, you look a little flushed and funny.” She was breaking out just then and she had a fit! Right before the big night she comes down with the measles! She was about 12. Grace had just a few speaking lines so it was easy to take over.
Edie Gotwols (Old Academy Players; 2009 interview):
Grace was a bit on the quiet side. She was lovely. One day at Old Academy she was sitting next to the prompter, who looked down and said “Grace, you have runners in your stockings!” and Grace said: “My mother makes me wear them.”
Harry Prime (2012 interview):
I would go to mass purposely to sit near the Kellys. Jack was 6’2 - a big guy. He would walk in, Margaret next, then all the kids. He was like the Van Trapp father. I made sure I sat right behind them. I would look at Grace and say “Good Morning Grace” and she would say “Good morning.” Grace was a striking beauty. When people bring up the prettiest actress, many names are mentioned - Ave Gardner, Lana Turner…. but Grace was striking. (2012)
Robert Freed (Old Academy Players; 2009 interview):
In 1955, just after she had won the Academy Award [The Country Girl], Grace Kelly came to Old Academy for the last time to see her sister Lizanne in The Moon is Blue. She took an interest in the club - donating money, and sending us a telegram thanking us for our congratulatory note when she won the Oscar. Old Academy usually gets mentioned in her biographies, because this is where she started.
Photo: Grace Kelly with her Oscar, 1955
East Falls NOW, December 2022, by Steven J. Peitzman
Recent years have seen residents of Roxborough, our neighboring community, enthusiastically add three historic districts to the Philadelphia Register of Historic Places – the Ridge Avenue Thematic District (2018) and the recent Victorian Roxborough Historic District and Gates Street Historic District (both 2022). These comprise mostly residences, built from the 18th to the early 20thcenturies. The motivations were pride in historic streets and houses, but also development and rampant demolition. As recently reported in the Inquirer (15 November 2022), residents of Powelton Village placed over 800 properties, mostly homes, on the register as an historic district.
Twenty-one sites in East Falls are on the Philadelphia Register. Added over the last five years include: “Palestine Hall” (built as an Odd Fellows hall), The Falls of Schuylkill Library, the Brown/Hohenadel/Timmons House on The Oak Road, Manor Sunday School/Church of the Good Shepherd chapel on McMichael Street, the Memorial Church of the Good Shepherd on The Oak Road, a stone “Gothic Cottage” on the Penn Charter Campus, the Alexander Henry House on School House Lane, the Alexander Henry Carriage House and Stable with address on Warden Drive, the Woodside Carriage House and Stable on the Penn Charter Campus, and the Falls Bridge. Several of these nominations were produced by the EFHS. For information on most of these and other sites, go to eastfallshistoricalsociety.org. The Tudor East Falls Historic District, comprising 210 houses on the 3400 blocks of Midvale Avenue, West Penn Street, and Queen Lane, was listed in 2009.
Why do we have a Philadelphia Historical Commission and a Register of Historic Places? The relevant section of the Philadelphia code (14-1000) says this:
It is hereby declared as a matter of public policy that the preservation and protection of buildings, structures, sites, objects, and districts of historic, architectural, cultural, archaeological, educational, and aesthetic merit are public necessities and are in the interests of the health, prosperity, and welfare of the people of Philadelphia.
In other words, historic preservation is a public good. What does listing on the register mean for a house, church, commercial building, or district? Let’s answer some of the questions commonly raised about the preservation process in Philadelphia, with homeowners in mind:
How does a property become designated for listing on the register?
Any person, organization, property owner, etc. can write a nomination to place a property on the register. A prescribed format must be followed, and the historic and/or architectural merit must be adequately supported by research. Examples may be accessed on our website. The nomination is reviewed by PHC staff, a designation committee, then the full commission, which votes to designate or not.
Is the property owner’s permission needed?
No. This surprises, even shocks, many persons. Of course, it is desirable for owners to want to see their house or block recognized as historic, and protected. As in zoning and some other matters, public benefit may outweigh individual prerogative. But property owners often misunderstand what designation entails, so let’s continue…
When a building (and usually its lot, or parcel) is designated, is the owner required to return its appearance to the time it was built?
No! At the time of designation, an owner need do nothing. But some subsequent alterations become regulated by the Historical Commission. Any property owner in Philadelphia is expected, by law, to maintain good repair.
What is regulated?
Owners need only maintain the external historic appearance present at the time of designation, including prohibition from demolition! Internal modifications are not regulated.
How does the process work?
Any request for a building (or demolition) permit by the owner of a designated historic property is sent by the Department of Licenses and Inspections to the PHC staff. The vast majority of permits for minor changes are approved by staff, sometimes after review with the owner. Staff can provide helpful advice, preferably before a permit is sought. For proposed substantial changes which would lead to significant impact on the essential historical appearance visible from public spaces, the request goes to the PHC Architecture Committee, and then to the commission itself. For the Tudor East Falls Historic District, from 2009 until 2020, only one request out of a total of eighty needed to go beyond staff review!
Does historic designation lead to a decrease in the value of a house?
Many studies have shown that values usually increase, assuming a viable neighborhood. Sale prices of houses in our Tudor East Falls Historic District have increased, and houses sell easily.
For more information, visit the website of the PHC at https://www.phila.gov/departments/philadelphia-historical-commission/, the Preservation Alliance for Greater Philadelphia at preservationalliance.com. We can answer general questions via firstname.lastname@example.org. And join EFHS! You can do so on our website. We have plentiful plans which need new members to make real.
The Old Academy in an historic photo. It was one of the first buildings in East Falls listed on the Philadelphia Register of Historic Places, in 1962
East Falls NOW, January 2023, by Rich Lampert
At the beginning of a new year, East Falls Historical Society is taking a look at the beginnings of our community – even before it was settled by Europeans.
Back in 1869, the historian Charles V. Hagner wrote, “Tradition says, and I have no doubt of the fact, that the Falls of Schuylkill was the last place deserted by the Indians who inhabited this part of the country; it being the head of tidewater, and consequently such fine fishing ground, had, of course, peculiar attractions for them. That it must have been a great resort of theirs, is proved by the fact of the innumerable Indian relics that have been found in the vicinity.” (You can find a digital copy (PDF, 2 Meg) of his book on our website, eastfallshistory.org.)
Since Hagner’s time, archeologists have discovered plenty of evidence to confirm that humans had been living in this area for hundreds of years before Europeans arrived on the scene in the 1600’s. These Native Americans were part of the Lenape, a group that modern scholars believe occupied a swath of land that included modern-day central and southern New Jersey, Eastern Pennsylvania, and territory as far south as Cape Henlopen in modern-day Delaware. They lived mostly along tributaries of the river they called the Lenapewihittuck, now called the Delaware. Of course, the tributaries included the Schuylkill River and its tributary, the Wissahickon Creek.
Robert Grumet, an anthropologist now affiliated with University of Pennsylvania, wrote that the Lenapes lived in a “complex but flexible network of closely related independent communities.” He says that early European settlers believed there were 8000-12,000 Lenape living across their overall territory, though later estimates are roughly double that.
The historian Jean Soderland writes that the Lenape lived in towns without town walls, with land held cooperatively rather than by individuals. The society apparently was egalitarian and democratic, with decisions made by consensus. Soderland goes on to say that before William Penn’s arrival in 1682, the Lenape and early European settlers “created a society with peaceful resolution of conflict, religious freedom, and collaborative use of the land and natural resources.” This society enabled prosperous trade among both Native and European inhabitants.
Despite this sunny description, there were plenty of clouds darkening life in the 17th Century. Soderland says that from the 1630s to the 1650s epidemics of smallpox and other diseases wreaked havoc on the Lenapes. Francis Daniel Pastorious, a leader in Germantown, wrote in 1694 that about 75% of the Lenape population had died in recent decades, and in 1697 two Swedish ministers indicated that Lenapes had become “very scarce” in the area.
The difficult times for the Lenape persisted. In 1742, according to the archeologist Herbert C. Kraft, the then-governor of Pennsylvania asked the surviving Lenape in the colony to pick up and move to the Susquehanna River valley, about 100 miles away – at least a few days’ trek. This was the first of many relocations. Descendants of the Lenape now live in Ohio, Oklahoma, Wisconsin, and parts of Canada. In addition, according to the Lenape Nation of Pennsylvania, many German immigrant men living in the Poconos married Lenape women, who were prized as wives because of their knowledge of the soil and farming techniques, and because of their strong work ethic. Many of their descendants still live in the Poconos and identify as Lenape.
People who identify as Lenape continue to live in and around Philadelphia, as well. Friends of the Wissahickon hosted a virtual program in October, 2020, with three members of the local Lenape community. The community actively reaches out to the wider public. For instance, one of the speakers, Shelley DePaul, is one of the few speakers of Native Lenape and has taught classes in the language at Swarthmore College and to private groups. Every three years, the Lenape hold a Rising Nation river journey, from Hancock, New York, to Cape May, New Jersey, a highly visible indication of their presence. And they are present digitally, at the website Lenape-Nation.org. Pre-history lives into the present.
Image: Penn’s Treaty with the Indians, by Benjamin West. (1771-1772; Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts.). Painted a century after the event, the painting is more imaginative than factual. It is not even clear that such an event actually occurred.
East Falls NOW, February 2023, by Caroline Slama
Head 495 feet up a certain twenty-foot wide street leading northeastward from Conrad Street, and you might lose your bearings. That was how I felt tracing the history of Division Street, the dead-end right-of-way that runs between and parallel to Bowman Street and Sunnyside Avenue. My questions were simple: Why the dead end? Why the grade changes? And why the name? As I gathered evidence and retraced my steps, the collections of the East Falls Historical Society were key to making sense of the facts and placing them in context. Documents from various city archives helped as well.
Research began with the Streets Department’s digitized legal cards, which showed that Division Street was opened by affidavit in October 1911 and added to the city plan in March 1912. The Department’s Bureau of Surveys provided scans of the street’s plan and of the affidavits, in which three Falls residents (PDF, 2 Meg)averred that Division Street had been in continuous use since 1876. The city staff also shared a digitized copy of an 1875 topographic plan of the area. Division Street is absent, but Ainslie (Fairview), Sunnyside, and Bowman Streets appear— along with a stream flowing from a point above Vaux Street, across the bed of Sunnyside on the block where Division Street would come to be, and continuing down to the railroad. The historic watercourse— and the need to fill it in as lots were laid out—may partly explain the dramatic grade changes on Division Street and neighboring blocks.
Property records also help explain why the street comes to a dead end at a line that veers off at an angle to the rest of the street grid. Property maps and deeds show that this line is the remnant of the southwestern boundary of a large tract that once fronted on Indian Queen Lane and that was occupied by the Garrett family from the early 1700s to the 1920s. Property descriptions recorded in the 1880s for lots at the end of Division Street refer to “the line of Garrett’s land,” wording that persists in boundary descriptions in some recent deeds.
In a series of sheriff sales in the late 1860s and early 1870s, the property southwest of the line of Garrett’s land and surrounding what would become Division Street passed from businessman and politician Charles F. Abbot to his brother-in-law, physician Horace Evans. After selling off some of the irregular lots bordering the Garrett land, Evans conveyed the bulk of the block to his nephews Griffith Evans Abbot and Horace Evans Richards in the early 1880s.
Who were these cousins? The EFHS collection of scrapbooks by local newspaperman Alexander Cox Chadwick, Jr. (1890-1957), available as searchable PDFson the EFHS website, provided details unlikely to be found anywhere else. Volumes 31 (PDF, 23 Meg) and 32(PDF, 26 Meg) contain letters from reporter Robert Roberts Shronk (1844-1921), whose candid recollections as a contemporary paint a picture of Horace Evans Richards and Griffith Evans Abbot as profligates and ne’er-do-wells, with tenuous connections to the Falls. In a 1920 letter, Shronk recalls, “When Dr. Evans gave Griffith Abbott and Horace Richards the last fronting on Queen Lane, Grif, according to his Uncle showed great enterprise by erecting a row of dwellings on Sunnyside avenue. He lost the row and the property. […] The last heard of Grif was when he was clerking in a Boston book store.” Indeed, the 1920 census finds Griffith Evans Abbot rooming in Boston and working as a proofreader for a book company; he would die at a retirement home for physicians in western New York in 1927.
And as for the origin of the street name? A “list of Streets, Thirty Feet wide and under, now Built upon, but not on the City Plan” compiled in 1890 by the Bureau of Surveys, plus a liquor license application (PDF, 1 Meg)from 1892 for 3432 Division, show that the name was in widespread use by the early 1890s. Perhaps the street name was a generic placeholder on a subdivision plan, or perhaps the name reflects the division between Horace Evans Richards’ property interests fronting on Bowman, and Griffith Evans Abbot’s interests on Sunnyside. Registry records for a lot between the south side of Sunnyside Avenue to Division refer to the parcel as "Being Lot No. 3 on a certain plan of this and other ground of Griffith Evans Abbott.” Other registry records describe the street as being laid out for the mutual use and benefit of properties on Sunnyside.
Far from leading to a dead-end, the process of researching this narrow, one-block right-of-way has opened up other avenues of inquiry and shown the unique research value of East Falls Historical Society's archival collections.
Image: Detail from “Plan of the grade regulations and revision of street lines on the Second Division of the Twenty-first now Twenty-eighth Ward of the City of Philadelphia, 1875.” Courtesy of the Department of Streets - Bureau of Surveys
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