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Historical Northeast Philadelphia

Stories and Memories ~1994

The history was written by William C. English (president)
 and Elaine D. Malinowski (vice-president) of the Torresdale Historical Society.


Amusement Park at Frankford Avenue and Poquessing Creek.  1880 to 1906.

 

Nelson Brown's Barn.  State Road and Convent Lane, 1946.  Photo courtesy of Bernard Stiffel.

 

Torresdale Railroad Station at Grant Avenue and James Street.

 

All Saints Church at Frankford Avenue south of Grant Avenue.  Photo courtesy of Elaine Malinowski.

 

Delaware River at Delaware Avenue and Linden Avenue, 1920.  Photo courtesy of William English.

 

Torresdale Railroad Station.  Photo - 1946.  Photo courtesy of Bernard Stiffel.

 

Pleasant Hill Beach, a Sunday afternoon August 8, 1921.  During the summer season, Pleasant Hill was an early recreation area in Northeast Philadelphia.  Today it is the Linden Avenue boat launching area.  Photo courtesy Urban Archives, Temple University

 

Frankford Avenue (Bristol Pike) at City Line.  Note the Red Lion Inn.  Roadway and bridge were rebuilt in 1904.  Photo - 1902.

 

 

   

     The name Torresdale comes from Torrisdale, the ancestral Scottish home of Charles Macalester, the man who originally owned the land now in use by Glen Foerd Mansion. In 1850, Macalaster bought this land and had a small summer home built on it. An important figure in American History, Macalaster was a banker and a diplomat with a home in Washington, D.C. (which is now the Russian Embassy) and an elder in the Presbyterian Church. He had a home in downtown Philadelphia at 10thand Spruce Streets. His daughter, Lily, was a debutante who lived for the most part in Europe close to Paris. Macalester was involved with Biddle in the Second Bank of the United States located at 2nd and Chestnut Streets which lost its charter because President Andrew Jackson felt that banks had too much influence in the country. Located at the Torresdale Train Station and Grant Avenue was the estate of Captain Barry. In 1847 the Sisters of the Sacred Heart, based at Logan Circle, purchased this40 acres which is now known as Eden Hall. They planned a boarding school for Catholic girls of wealthy backgrounds; instead, they built a European-style chapel which still stands. The Sisters’ had many diplomats’ daughters and actors’ daughters (Boris Karloffs and Basil Rathbone’s to name a few). Their alumni are loyal to this day. Thearea has been renamed Fluehr Park in honor of Joseph Fluehr, Poquessing Real Estate’s founder, in the hope that the ground would not be sold to developers. The land was “dedicated” with the intentions that Fairmount Park very seldom lets “dedicated” land be sold. The Friends of Fluehr Park have $32,000 in their treasury and hope to start repairs to the Chapel soon.

     An addition to the chapel was built at the turn of the century when Elizabeth Drexel (the eldest of the three Drexel girls), added a crypt to the North side of the chapel with a room called the “Lady Chapel on top of the Crypt.” In the crypt she planned to inter her family and other loved ones. She buried her mother, Emma Bouvier Drexel, her father, Francis Drexel, her own child, a girl who was stillborn and Helen Grace Smith, her husband’s sister. Elizabeth’s husband was the son of Kirby Smith, a Civil War General who lived at the now famous Smith-Wallace house at Milnor and Fitler Streets.

     Francis Drexel’s summer home can be found where the new Frankford Hospital now stands. The original home still stands near the Emergency Room. There was a chapel also built by Louise Drexel (the youngest). It is known as the Chapel of the True Cross, which was used to house the Drexel Family for a time. In the Drexel’s townhome at 15th and Walnut Streets, Emma opened her home to the poor on a weekly basis. Sheave food, clothing, and shoes. They were a very religious and generous family.

     Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis was a Bouvier, which was Drexel’s wife’s family. She is linked with the Sacred Heart Chapel through her father’s ancestry. When she went to the White House she took the Bouvier chairs with her which she was invited to take from the chapel. Her great-grandfather Bouvier was a carver of chairs. Saint Katherine of Siena Church, 9600 Frankford Avenue, originally was located on Eden Hall grounds. The small school was set up by the Sacred Heart nuns to accommodate the children of the neighborhood whose parents wanted their children to have an education equal to the boarding school. Eden Hall’s property extends all the way back to the rear of All Saints’ Episcopal property.

     All Saints’ Episcopal church is one of the oldest churches in Philadelphia and is the mother church of the Church of the Redeemer in Andulusia. “All Saints” is noted for its eight (8) Tiffany windows, it’s lovely architecture and its beautiful bells which can be heard at lunch time everyday. In its little churchyard are buried some of the most prominent people in this area, such as Risdon who started the Morelton Inn, the Washington House and other hotel-type accommodations.

     The Morelton Inn, between Glen Foerd and Baker’s Bay was a wonderful vacation place in the 1890’s. Many of the wealthy residents came from town to escape the summer heat and the intolerable fumes of the city. This entire area became enveloped by homes used as gambling casinos and rental homes and was soon considered a resort area. Macalester in 1850 became an entrepreneur in real estate as this area was adjacent to his Glen Foerd property (then known as Glen Garry). Macalester had a church built, one on Grant Avenue. The Macalester Church on Grant Avenue was razed and a new church was built at West Crown and Morrell Avenue at a later date.

     The Torresdale Country Club was founded in 1898, with an appendage of the club located at Oxford Avenue and Harrison Street (the old Wistar Farm). A decision wasmade to move the club to Torresdale, at the present location of Frankford High School. The old area of the club included from an early time, a nine-hole golf course.

     Colonel Edward Deveaux Morrell (1863- 1917) owned extensive land in Torres-dale. Not only did he own the land on which the Morelton Inn was located (Virginia Knauer’s property), but he owned land in the vicinity of Frankford and Morrell Avenues as well. Morrell came from a family of Quakers who owned a home known as the Powell House on 2nd and Pine Streets. Morrell was a lawyer by profession and earned his title” Colonel” through his association with the First City Troop, an Elitist Calvary Troop that could be seen at most Thanksgiving Day Parades in Philadelphia. He married Louise Drexel, and they maintained one of their five homes at Morrell Avenue and Frankford Avenue near Louise’s father’s family home. Colonel Morrell entertained military men on his grounds, had a horse track, and an amusement park for children and adults in the vicinity. “Torresdale Park” as it was called was located in back of the trolley car barn at Frankford Avenue and Knights Road. Torresdale Park donated many of its rides toWillow Grove Park after closing.

     The area between Grant Avenue and Fitler Streets and between State Road and the River is full of history. Called Resort Town at the turn of the century, some of the homes were casinos and fancy boarding houses. These include the remnant of the Morelton Inn, the Delaware River’s famous spot reached by steamboat and later by railroad. To the north of Glen Garry in Andalusia, sits the Biddle Estate once visited by French aristocracy (Joseph Bonaparte). Bonaparte lived in Bordentown, but visited Andalusia regularly where he was the guest of Nickolas Biddle, the man who began the Second Bank of the United States and who opposed President Andrew Jackson’s efforts to close private banks. James Biddle lives in Andalusia now and occasionally has tours on his property of the home his parents built. The home resembles a small Doric Temple and faces the river. The rest of the property is reminiscent of a plantation with an 18thcentury flavor. It is well worth a visit. Mr. Biddle’s ancestry is inscribed throughout Torresdale.

     In the late 1500’s, English, Dutch, and Swedish adventurers explored the Atlantic sea coast south of Manhattan. A Dutch captain, Cornelis Hendrickson, explored the South River (Delaware) in 1616. Shortly after settlers arrived, forts and trading posts were established along the river. A Lenape Indian village existed in the area near the Delaware River and the Peetquesink Creek (Poquessing). This area consisted of 670acres of land which was granted to Olle Coeckal and Lars Larson. They were joined by others who had settled in the same area. The riverfront became known as Swedeland. As time passed, the ownership of this land changed many times.

     Besides Charles Macalester’s magnificent home, Glen Garry, Torresdale had many other fine estates. Before Macalester arrived, Evan Thomas owned land in the area. He built a bakery on his property to supply the cargo ships that docked at his wharf. When General Washington’s troops arrived during the American Revolution, Thomas baked bread for the army. Thomas’s property was known as the Bake House. La Carolina was a splendid mansion overlooking the river, owned by William Hood Stewart. He built his house on land purchased from Mrs. Thomas Morgan, the owner of the vast Bake House property. George Carson also purchased a tract of the Bake House land and built a beautiful mansion, which he called the Rose Cottage. Vancouver was another grand estate. It was destroyed by fire sometime in the 1900’s. Baker’s Bay condominium complex is now located on this property.

     Before Macalester built Glen Garry, he lived at Risdon Tavern. Since the area was excellent for hunting and fishing, visitors came from Philadelphia by steamboat to Risdon’s. When Macalester purchased the land he called Torresdale, the tavern was included. It was later sold to Edward M. Hopkins who built the Morelton Inn. The Inn became so popular with affluent Philadelphians that other buildings had to be built to house and entertain the guests. The main building, The Inn, was a fine mansion, which stands today overlooking the river at the foot of Filter Street. A second building, TheAnnex, now serves as the home of the Delaware River Yacht Club. The third building, The Casino, is now a private home at the southwest corner of Grant Avenue and Wissinoming Street.

     San Michael was a sprawling farm purchased by John R. Wilmer, who rebuilt and enlarged the house. The property later was sold to the Drexel Family. The Drexels built a chapel on the land, now part of the Frankford Hospital Complex, from Knight’s Road. The Beechwood, later known as San Jose, was another of Torresdale’s grand estates. The mansion was built about 1850. Colonel Morrell purchased the property consisting of 143 acres, but after he purchased adjoining properties, Beechwood’s land totaled 300acres. The estate stood near Red Lion Road and the Bristol Turnpike (Frankford Avenue). It bordered three old townships, Moreland, Byberry, and Delaware. In 1854when the county of Philadelphia and the City of Philadelphia became one, the boroughs, districts and townships that were separate municipal entities were brought together.

     Just a short distance west of the King’s Highway (Frankford Avenue) on Red Lion Road, Dr. Benjamin Rush was born. Torresdale was home to many prominent Philadelphians and is rich in history. We can only touch on a few. We urge everyone to read the books titled Lights along the Delaware and Bristol Pike.

 

Interviews...   

The interviews were done by Traci Berardi and Kelly Donahue from the Nazareth Academy High School.

    

     Ken Rossbauer has lived in the Torresdale area for sixty-five years. He is the current owner of Torresdale Fuel Company (formerly Torresdale Coal Company). The coal company was started in 1841 by the Thomas family, who operated it until the early1900s. The company was sold a few times, then in 1941 Rossbauer’s father purchased it.

     Rossbauer delivered coal to most of the homes in the area. They had one truck, a 1929 open cab Autocar, top speed 25 m.p.h. Rossbauer was awed by the fine mansions he served, Glen Foerd, Marlton Inn, Rose Cottage, and many others. As he looks in the past, he said the area was peaceful and the people were friendly. He said he still loves Torresdale.

     Ralph Recupido lived in the area almost eighty years. His father lit the gas operated lamps in the area. He helped his father clean and maintain the lamps. He also told us the Torresdale Country Club property was a nine-hole golf course near Grant Avenue on Academy Road.

     The school board of Philadelphia purchased the Frankford Country Club property to build the Frankford High School. The two clubs merged to form the Torresdale-Frankford Country Club at Grant and Frankford Avenue. He told us that the work on the course was done by hand.

     Florance Snecket lived on Frankford Avenue for many years. She remembers the Blacksmith shop on the corner on Linden and Frankford Avenues. She watched the Blacksmith shoe horses and repair or make new tools for the area farmers.

     Herman Steiner enjoyed Pleasant Hill Beach as a young boy. His family would picnic there on Sundays. He said he was going to live in Torresdale someday because it was so “country.” In 1931 he purchased a lot and built a home.

     Preston Smith has been a Torresdale resident for over sixty years. He loves the outdoors. He camped along the river most summer nights. He worked on many of the estates along the Delaware River. In the late thirties and early forties, he found a few arrow heads along the creek. He loves Torresdale. He remembers the winters as being colder with more snow. Some of the residents had horse drawn sleds for winter night rides and hay wagon for summer evening hay rides.

     Fred Yeagle lives on the 9600 block of Frankford Avenue. He has been there for fifty-eight years. He lived in Holmesburg for twenty years. He remembers the trolleycars running along side of the Avenue. When the trolleys would get stranded in snowdrifts, his mother would give the motorman and his passengers hot tea or coffee. The men and boys would then pitch in and help dig out the stalled trolleys.

     We talked with William Brinkman, who worked for the Pennsylvania Fish Commission. He told us that the state hatcheries were located in Bristol, Pennsylvama. In the early 1900’s the hatcheries were moved to Torresdale at Linden and Delaware Avenues. The young fish (fry) were placed in milk containers and loaded on horse drawn wagons and hauled to the Torresdale Station to be shipped around the state. In 1956,the city of Philadelphia took over the hatchery property. It is now part of the Department of Recreation.

     William English is a long time resident of Torresdale. He remembers the sleds and horse drawn wagons. He also recalls playing in the empty mansions. There were plenty of farms in the area. The farmers would place full milk cans on State Road so the dairies could process the milk.

     The children in the area attended the Torresdale School, a one room building on James Street near Fitler Street. The Maple Grove School was another school that local children attended. It is now a private home at Academy and Red Lion Roads.

     Frankford Avenue was first called King’s Highway. Stage coach lines traveled over the highway from Philadelphia to New York. The trip took two to three days. Frankford Avenue was confirmed from Front and Vine Streets to the Poquessing Creek in 1747. It became part of the Frankford Bristol Turnpike System. The turnpike came into existence in the early 1800’s. A toll house stood at the bridge near the Pennypack Creek. The road was free of tolls in 1892.

     Grant Avenue, some (falsely) believe, was named for Ulysses S. Grant. More likely it was Samuel Grant, who purchased land in the area from the Macalesters. Convent Lane was a dirt path from the King’s Highway to The Bake House property on the Delaware River. It also bordered the Eden Hall property for which it was named. The book titled Bristol Pike refers to Convent Lane as Eleven Mile Lane. It was so named because it was located eleven miles from Second and Market Streets. Old maps show Linden Avenue as Eleven Mile Lane.

     All Saints Episcopal Church on Frankford Avenue near Grant Avenue was built in 1773. It served as a meeting place as well as a house of worship for the early settlers.

 
 

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