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History of Wissinoming


    On Flag Day 1909, the Citizens Committee of Wissinoming issued a souvenir program in conjunction with the presentation of the flag to the Henry W. Lawton Combined School.  William J. Duryea, an early resident of Wissinoming wrote a short history for the occasion, and it was published in the program.  This history appears below with only minor editing.  


                                       Where Is It And What Is It?

    The People who sojourned here for a time and then disappeared like the mists, before the Morning Sun, would no doubt give widely different answers to the above questions, much no doubt depending upon their success while here, and the extent to which they were able to control and guide the actions of their neighbors.

    Having the pleasure of residing in the town for almost a quarter of a century, and having a knowledge of the place for a still longer time, it may be on interest to my fellow townsmen to place them in possession, in part at least, of so much of the birth and growth of the town.  In doing so it is not my intention to overlook any one who may have been interested in the place, neither is it my intention to write a complete History of Wissinoming; because to do so would require works of research into the archives of the past, very little of which is, so far as I know, at my disposal or accessible to me.  Wissinoming when William Penn arrived at Philadelphia was no doubt a beautiful place, clothed in Natures beauties, Virgin forests and wild flowers abounded.   Flowing to the South; and emptying into the Delaware River, a lovely stream wended its way, along the banks of which it would have been a pleasure to idle away a Summer afternoon, perhaps to spend an hour in fishing or at some other time in the season of the year, to gather from the majestic and prolific vine, the most excellent found, the Grape.

    The writer of this article has personal knowledge of that which goes to prove that possibly less than fifty years ago the banks of Wissinoming Creek showed many an ancient grape vine reaching to the tops of the tallest trees.

    The name Wissinoming was given to the place by the Red Men of the Forest, the noble Indian, long since passed away and gone to the Happy Hunting Grounds.   They were always consistent in their actions and deeds: therefore it follows that from the luxuriant growth of the vines and the immense quantities of the most luscious fruit, that there were sound reasons for calling it the "Land of the Grape."

    An ideal abiding place for those who cared for rural scenery.   There are representatives of families residing in the village, who number many years of residence in the locality and who have seen the place grow in numbers and in industries far beyond their imagination.

    I well know, through the efforts of a few members of a fraternal and beneficial organization, known as The Brotherhood of the Union, now Brotherhood of America, a tract of land bounded by Torresdale Ave, Erdrich Street, Comley Street, Vankirk Street and Dark Run Lane containing about sixty acres was purchased from Mrs. Caroline H. Sherman and title in William J. Duryea, Thomas Neeley and Samuel T. Eshback, Trustees - dated April 15th 1885.

    The gentlemen who conceived the idea believed that they would best serve the object of the organization by putting into effect one of the cardinal principles of the order.  It was then and is yet their belief that while many and great, good things have been accomplished by individual efforts, a greater good can be accomplished by the united efforts of earnest workers, having faith in their convictions, and a determined effort, put their ideas into practical works.

    There was brought first the Wissinoming Land and Improvement Association.  Many preliminary meetings were held in various parts of the city during the latter part of 1884.  The originators and others who became connected with the Association and made the first payment in December 1884, there is to be found the names of many of the present residents of the village.  Not all who were interested came to Wissinoming to live.

    Wm. McBride, Garfield Circle No. 7 President; Henry B. Walters, Secretary, No. 76, William J. Duryea, Treasurer, No. 97.  They were elected at the beginning and continued in office by yearly elections until, by order of court the Association dissolved.  On the Board of Directors there appears the names of William H. Ploucher, Harry Shoch, Thomas Eckley, Edwin Campbell, George S. Campbell, Henry B. Howell, Harry Yohn, Geo. W. Merkel, Jr., Elwood Gibson and Harry Grand.  Castor and Hood, Solicitors.

    The Association was regularly organized in January 1885 and launched into existence by the election of officers.  Charter was applied for and received in April 1885, at a cost of $125.  The land was purchased at the cost of $500 per acre.   10% of the purchase price was paid under date of April 15th, 1885.  $2613.10 and a mortgage of $26000.00 executed for the balance to launch the Association into existence to guide and direct its affairs so that it might be brought to a successful issue, required much time, labor and moral courage, because of the excellent offers made and guaranteed by those who originated the project.

    Many who attended the meetings in the days of its beginning, after listening to the proposition, reports and promises, would leave the place of meeting with th4e thought in their minds, that no body of men would practice this liberality or fulfill the obligations; there must be a ground floor, ort of which a few individuals intended to reap a harvest financially.

    Next the payments made by the individual stock holders had reached the amount needed to make the first payment; the money so collected had been deposited in the Shackamaxon Bank.  Arrangements had been made to meet the Attorney for Mrs. Sherman by the committee on grounds, in Philadelphia to receive the money and execute the mortgage for balance.  A few days before the time set the Bank failed, the Association was without funds therefore could not meet their obligations.  A halt was called in the transaction, an extension of time asked for and granted.  A special meeting of the Association was called.  The conditions confronting them made known to the members and a most forcible question asked, what will you do?

    Nearly $40000.00 paid in and nothing to show for it.   Fortunately for all concerned the Officers and Board of Directors had so far gained the confidence of the stock holders, that advance payments were made to the amount of about $1500.00 and a loan made by one of the members, $1500.00.  Following this, arrangements were again made with Mrs. Sherman and the money paid April 15, 1885 and the title and deeds transferred to the trustees of the Association.

    This loan to the Association was made about April 15th, 1885 and was repaid in three $500.00 payments; the last one September 5th, 1885.

    This transaction forcibly illustrates what may be accomplished when men work together honestly, sincerely and courageously for the common good of all concerned, for mark the result: starting with nothing, trusting to the honesty of one another, laboring for the good of all.

    On or about April 24th, 1886, less than two years after the first payment, the final payment on the mortgage was made and the mortgage satisfied, and practically the Association ready to go out of existence.

    In closing up the affairs of the Association there was a lot on the east corner of Vankirk and Jackson Streets that had been reserved by the Association; for a hall to be erected thereon.

    There was in the hands of the Treasurer about $600.00.  The several lot holders agreed that if an organization was formed by the residents of Wissinoming or others, having for its object the erection of a Building for school purposes, the Land Association would transfer the $600 and lot.

    After several meetings in which many difficulties had to be overcome, the Wissinoming Hall Association was regularly chartered to do business and as a final act the Wissinoming Band [Land?] Association transferred the lot and $600 in cash.

    Sometime later a proposition was submitted to and accepted by the Hall Association [unreadable].

    Turn the deed for lot, and the money on hand which amounted to about $1380.00 over to W. J. Duryea who would in return proceed to erect a two story building at a cost of $700.00 and borrow money to complete the same in time to open in September 1888.

    When the final settlement for materials and labor was made the property was transferred back to the Hall Association.  School was opened in September 1888.  The first floor of the building was used as No. 52 fire engine house.  The second story southwest row was occupied by the Wissinoming Circle No. 130 B. of A. [Brotherhood of America], who were instituted on December 5th 1888 and still remain in the village.  They are imbued with the same spirit of progress and advancement as the organized promoters of the Wissinoming Land and Improvement Association, evidenced by the fact that they have purchased the lot 70 by 100 feet on the west corner of Torresdale Avenue and Vankirk Street, on which site they hope to erect a hall suitable to the needs of the village.  They are not working alone in this movement, as a number of other organizations in the village are working along the same line.

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  A farmhouse in Wissinoming around the end of the nineteenth century.

    This is true to the extent that Cook's Hall, the only hall in the town is occupied every night in the week by some organization, all striving to better the conditions of mankind and worthy of the respect of all in the village.

    in 1885: The only industries near the village were the Fitler Cordage Works and the Diston Saw Works.

    The families represented on the grounds of the Wissinoming Land Company were George Markel, M. Chursy Sules and W. J. Duryea.

    The nearest Church was St. Stephens in White Hall with Tacony a close second as to distance.

    At this time the village was a part of the old 23rd ward, the area of which comprised nearly one third of the entire County of Philadelphia and the voters from here were compelled to vote at the Clayton Tavern, located at that time at Bridge St. and Bustleton Pike.  The November election of 1886 found the polling place at Fisher's in Tacony.

    In 1888 - When the first school was opened there were forty scholars, today the Henry W. Lawton School has about four hundred and forty scholars.   Not gained by natural growth of the community, but brought about by the increase of families, who have come from the city proper.

    About 1890: The 23rd ward was divided and the 35th ward was created with the dividing line at Dark Run Lane.  At this time access to Wissinoming was by way of Dark Run Lane or by Howell's Lane running from State Road to Erdrich Street, thence to the old farm house on the north corner of Dark Run Lane and Erdrich Street.

    Today much of Dark Run Lane has disappeared, caused by the opening of Vankirk Street from the State Road to Erdrich Street.

    Howell's Lane is only to be found in the memory of those who were residents prior to 1890.

    While it is true, there are representatives of families residing in this locality who have lived here many years more than the average life of man, it is equally true that at least 95% of the present population came to reside in this beautiful suburban district in the last twenty-one years.

    The present population is composed largely of that great representative Americans who go to make up the bone and sinew of our great Republic.   They came not to abide in luxurious surroundings but to erect their homes and surround them as best pleased their fancy.

    The thought was in the beginning and we believe it is today to build a town of homes, where at the close of day, the occupant may follow his particular idea of enjoyment whether it be sport, poultry raising or gardening, in the pure air away from the congestion contamination of a large city; not for profit altogether, but for the great and helpful pleasure of seeing Nature's efforts for the benefit and enjoyment of man.

    Some may say; Those who were first interested in the village and those who came later made many blunders or were mistaken in their ideas of what was best for the upbuilding of the locality.  Permit me to say in answer that these, who from the beginning and are still interested in all that makes for the good of Wissinoming, builded from their view of the surrounding and the propositions they were met with, are in most cases absolutely unchangeable in their views.

    No great moneyed interest encouraged prosperity or growth of the place.  25 years ago, those who came first and those who followed later on from time to time, came for their own happiness without building for future generations.

    The fair minded man will admit we are blessed in location and improvements when he considered the value of property at the present time in a suburb with many of the city improvements.

    From a small beginning we now number about nine hundred homes with many new ones underway, seventy business places, four churches and one combined school of the most modern type.

    Among the men, women and children of the village there is found as much patriotism, Charity and Morality as can be found in many other locality of the County of Philadelphia ready at all times to give assistance where needed, in whatsoever manner it might best serve the purpose.  It is a community made up of people capable of reasoning and with an understanding that will admit of their reaching an opinion on the general issues of the day.  I have faith sufficient in my fellow townsmen to warrant me in saying they are loyal to God, our Country, their families and their neighborhood in general.

    May our Creator in His infinite goodness and mercy bless and prosper them in all their industry.

                                                            William J. Duryea   


Following the history is a list of the persons on the Wissinoming Flag Day Committee:

Joseph R. Nace, Chairman of General Committee, has resided in this vicinity for about thirty years.  Address: Keystone Street,  Fosterville.

Charles J. Faunce, Secretary of General Committee, has been a resident of the town for over ten years.  Address: 6122 Ditman Street.

Frank L. King, Treasurer of General Committee, has resided in the town for about fourteen years, one of our live business men.  Address: Hegerman and Howell Streets.

William J. Duryea, Historian for the committee, a pioneer in the founding of the Wissinoming Land and Improvement Asociation had resided at Howell and Dittman Streets more than twenty-five years.

Arthur J. Elsey, on the Music Committee, has been living in the town about twenty-three years at 3212 Vankirk Street.

John J. L. Merget, Publicity Committee, a resident of town for twenty-one years, 6009 Torresdale Ave.

Henry H. Barber, Jr., Decorating and Parade Committee has been living in the town twenty-three years at 3029 Vankirk Street.

R. Williams, Chief Marshall, also on the Decorating and Parade Committees, has been a resident of the town for fourteen years, 3314 Higbee Street.

Charles J. Stratton, Publicity Committee, has resided in this vicinity for several years, on Tulip Street, Fosterville.

Walter G. McHenry, Publicity Committee, living in the town over four years at 6000 Keystone Street.

Joseph E. James, Light and Band Committee, has resided at 3107 Comly Street, over twenty years. 

J. W. Stanistreet, Music Committee, has been living in our town about four years at 4919 Homestead Street.

Alexander Martin, Decorating Committee, has lived in this community about three years at 4915 Homestead Street.

Leon S. Thornton, Music Committee has resided in our town for several years on Howell Street.

James H. Davies, on Decorating Committee, living in this vicinity over four years, 6833 Marsden Street, Tacony.

Franklin J. Armstrong, Music Committee, has resided in this vicinity for nearly thirty years, at 2359 Pratt Street.

A Chronology of Wissinoming History: From a Variety of Sources

1679    A small settlement of Swedes and Finns at the mouth of Frankford Creek.  Some reports put settlement here at 1660s.

1684    Jacob Hall emigrated to Pennsylvania, probably on the ship Friendship, from Macclesfield, Chester County, England.  He settled in Bucks County in 1685.

1686    Provincial Council of Pennsylvania orders that a road be laid out from Philadelphia to the falls of Trenton.  This road eventually became Frankford Avenue.

1691    Jacob Hall was still residing in Bucks County.

1693    Jacob Hall was commissioned a Justice of the Peace in Philadelphia, and apparently moved to Philadelphia shortly before.

1694    Jacob Hall requested a survey of "meadow swamp or marsh" adjoining his land in the vicinity of "Tacony" (what Wissinoming was referred to at the time) and Frankford Creek.

1700    Jacob Hall died.  In his will he named three sons (Jacob, Joseph, and Solomon) and one daughter named Sarah.

1702    Jacob Hall, the son of the Jacob Hall that died in 1700, owned 119 acres in Taconic Township.   Wissinoming, as yet unnamed, was in Taconic Township.

1707    Jacob Hall purchases more land in Oxford Township.

1711    Trinity Church Oxford built for Anglicans on the site of an earlier Quaker meeting house.

1712    Jacob Hall died in Oxford Township.

1731    Joseph Hall, second son of Jabob Hall, described as a brewer, large land-owner, and a vestryman of Trinity Church Oxford,  died in Oxford Township.  Joseph had the following children:  Thomas, John, Joseph, Theodorus, Jacob, Rebecca, Susanna, Sarah, Hannah, Ruth, Mary, and Charlesworth.  Susanna was the mother of Benjamin Rush, the father of American medicine.  Sarah was the great grandmother of Samuel Morse, the inventor of the telegraph.  All evidence indicates that Joseph died without a will.

1731    Solomon Hall, third son of Jacob Hall, died in Oxford Township.

1734    A list of landowners in Oxford Township contains the names of Joseph Hall (250 acres), Jacob Hall (100 acres), and Solomon Hall (40 acres).

1742    Jacob Hall, the son of Joseph Hall and grandson of Jabob Hall, purchased the family farm from his surviving siblings: Joseph, Theodorias, John, Susanna, Sarah, and Ruth.  The indenture describes the farm as having a main house, a malt house, a brew house, and a tan yard.

1748    Jacob Hall was a captain in the Provinical Service, and was several times commissioned a Justice of the Peace for Philadelphia.

1760    Lynford Lardner built a waterfront mansion north of the mouth of Wissinoming Creek.  The Lardner Point pumping station is named after the Lardner Family.

1765    Jacob Hall sold 265 acres in Oxford Township for 1661 pounds to Samuel Howell, a prominent Philadelphia merchant.  Described in terms of the present day shape of Wissinoming, the borders were: from the Delaware River west on Howell St. to Hegerman St., then south to Cheltenham Ave., then west to Frankford Ave., then north to Wissinoming Creek, then east back to the Delware River.  In all likelihood, the farm remained a place for brewing activities.  Among his other activities, Samuel Howell was the owner of the Crooked Billet Tavern in Philadelphia.

1777    A map of the day still shows the Hall family in Wissinoming.

1783    An Oxford Township tax document shows that Samuel Howell paid taxes on 262 acres, 8 horses, 9 cattle, and 27 sheep.

1800    Frankford Borough was formed out of Oxford Township.

1803    The Frankford-Bristol Turnpike Company was incorporated.  The beginning point was Front St. and Germantown Ave.  Milestones were marked 1MT, 2MT, etc., meaning "first mile of the turnpike," "second mile of the turnpike," and so on.  The milestone marking the sixth mile of the turnpike is at the SE corner of Comly St. and Frankford Ave. 

1807    Samuel Howell died.  His estate at Wissinoming, now known as the Howell Farm, was divided up among his children and grandchildren.

1809    First mill in Frankford.  The factory system was firmly established in Frankford by the end of the War of 1812.

1816    Land purchased for Frankford Arsenal.  The Arsenal was completed in 1830.  Two more large tracts of land were purchased in 1849 and 1917, and the Arsenal was expanded. 

1834    In November, the Philadelphia and Trenton Railroad went into operation between Morrisville and Tacony.  The railroad tracks went as far as Kensington; however, the people of Kensington refused to let the trains into the city.   This made Tacony the end of the line.  Passengers had to detrain around present day Disston St. and take a steamboat into the city.   A small community, later to become Tacony, formed around this terminus.

1847    The Philadelphia and Trenton Railroad built the Buena Vista or Tacony Station on the Cavender Estate near the foot of Disston St.

1852    Robert Cornelius moved to his estate, Lawndale, which is now part of Wissinoming Park.

1854    Consolidation of the City and County of Philadelphia.

1872    Ground broken for Disston Saws in Tacony. 

1884    There were less than a dozen houses in Wissinoming.  In December, a group of workingmen in the 31st Ward (part of Kensington) instituted a corporation known as the Wissinoming Mutual Land and Improvement Association.  Sixty acres of land were purchased bounded roughly by Erdrick St., Comly St., Torresdale Ave., and Cheltenham Ave.  The area was subdivided into lots and streets were opened.

1886    Wissinoming Presbyterian Church built a frame one story chapel at Torredsale and Howell.  This is the earliest church in Wissinoming.

1887    First street light on Howell St.  There were about 69 homes in Wissinoming.

1888    Wissinoming Hall cornerstone laid at Vankirk and Jackson Sts.   Before Lawton School was built, children met at Wissinoming School on the second floor of this hall, the first session being on 8 October under the supervision of the first Principal, W. H. Hollis.  The first floor was occupied by Fire Engine # 52.

1889    First newspaper published:  The Wissinoming Schedule.

1890    William J. Moran became principal of Wissinoming School at the firehouse.

1891    Elmer E. Michener became principal of Wissinoming School for a short time and was replaced by A. J. Evans.

1893    Trolleys intoduced into Frankford.

1896    The Holmesburg, Tacony and Frankford Street Railway Company opened its State Road Line.

1902    Lawton School opened at Benner and Ditman Sts.

1903    Torresdale Avenue trolley line opened.

1909    Major Flag Day Celebration on June 12th.

1910    Frankford High School opened.

1911    Wissinoming Park purchased by the City.

1922    Frankford Elevated opened.

1922    Ferry established between Tacony and Palmyra.  Ceased operations in 1929 when the Tacony Palmyra Bridge opened.

1923    Northeastern Movie opened.  Closed in 1950.

1929   Tacony Palmyra Bridge opened.

1941    Wissinoming Boys Club won the Pop Warner Conference Football Championship.  Playing from 1939-1949, the "Wissies" amassed a record of 71-12-4 and won the Pop Warner Conference in 1941, 1942, and 1947.

194?    Moss field dedicated to Victor Moss, a local soldier killed in WWII.

1972    American Legion playground pool dedicated to William Findlay, a local soldier killed in Dung Ho, Vietnam on 29 October 1970.

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