Ridge Ave Roxborough Historic District
During and After the Civil War
During the Civil War, manufacturing generally and textile manufacturing specifically flourished in Manayunk and throughout Philadelphia, creating great wealth and effecting great change. “In Philadelphia, which was perhaps the largest center of manufacturing in the country, 58 new factories were erected in 1862, 57 in 1863, and 65 in 1864; and the building inspectors reported that those erected in the last-named year were generally very large.”84 In Manayunk, for example, Sevill Schofield’s carpet and yarn mill, which made blankets for the Union Army during the Civil War, employed 32 and was capitalized at $15,000 in 1860, but, by 1870, employed 314 and was capitalized at $200,000.85 As industrial Manayunk burgeoned, the managerial class, which ran the mills, pushed up the ridge into Roxborough, building their residences beyond the dirt and noise of the factories and the crowded rowhouses of the millworkers.
As the mills expanded, traffic between the city and northwest Philadelphia increased. The section of Ridge Road running through North Philadelphia, just outside the downtown, began to be called Ridge Avenue in the 1850s. By the 1860s, the name Ridge Avenue began to be used in Roxborough. An advertisement in the Inquirer in July 1861 for “Country Boarding at Roxborough … for the Summer, in a private family, on Ridge avenue, above the sixth mile stone” may be the first use of the name in print to refer to the section of the road in Roxborough.86 The Ridge Avenue passenger railway line was started in 1858 and became fully operational the next year. It ran from Arch Street at N. 2nd Street to Manayunk by way of Ridge Avenue. The Ridge Avenue Passenger Railway Company was on formed 8 March 1872 by the consolidation of the Girard College Passenger Railway Company, which was incorporated in 1858, and the Ridge Avenue & Manayunk Passenger Railway Company, which was incorporated in 1859. Under a proviso in the charter of the Ridge Avenue Passenger Railway Company of 1872, the railway company purchased the Ridge Turnpike Company for $15,000. Subsequently, the Court of Quarter Sessions freed the turnpike from toll, signifying that the thoroughfare was transitioning from a country road into a city street.87 The Roxborough Passenger Railway Company was chartered on 15 April 1869, granting it the right to construct a trolley system from the Wissahickon Station on the Philadelphia, Germantown & Norristown Railroad line to the Sorrel Horse Tavern north of Port Royal or Ship Lane. Train travel to northwest Philadelphia increased as well. In 1847, 69,443 passengers passed through the Wissahickon and Manayunk stations of the Philadelphia, Germantown & Norristown Railroad. By 1860, the annual ridership at the two stations had jumped to 211,883. By 1870, the annual ridership had more than doubled during the ensuing decade, climbing to 455,542.88
Describe your image
On 9 April 1873, the state legislature chartered the Manayunk & Roxborough Incline Plane and Railway Company, authorizing it to construct and operate a standard streetcar line powered by “horse or dummy engine” on Ridge Avenue from the Wissahickon to Barren Hill in Montgomery County. The new company was also authorized to construct and operate “an inclined plane from any point on Levering Street, in Manayunk, to extend to the top of the hill in Roxborough … and to run and haul cars by a stationary steam engine up and down said inclined plane.”89 The novel inclined plane proposal was celebrated. “This will be something new for this city, it being the first road of its kind that has ever been built here. … At first undoubtedly the timid ones will be afraid to patronize the new road, but after they have learned that the inclined planes in the western part of the State have been in operation for a long time without a single accident … they will ride up and down in the queerly shaped cars with the same feeling of comfort and security that they now experience in a street car.”90 Despite the enthusiasm for the novel technology, only the standard streetcar line on Ridge Avenue was constructed. The inclined plane up Levering Street from Manayunk to Roxborough was never built.
Describe your image
On 14 April 1868, the General Assembly of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania approved a measure to take much of the land bounding the Wissahickon Creek in Philadelphia as an addition to Fairmount Park to ensure the protection of the purity of the water and the preservation of the beauty of its scenery. Over the next several decades, the Fairmount Park Commission acquired more than 2,000 acres of land in the creek valley and systematically demolished most of the industrial facilities as it returned the Wissahickon Valley to its natural appearance. In the 1930s, the Works Project Administration, a New Deal agency, demolished the remaining mill buildings, removing the last traces of what had been one of the most industrialized landscapes of eighteenth-century America and constructing rustic buildings for recreational uses.91
At about the same time the City began acquiring the valley of the Wissahickon Creek to protect the Schuylkill River’s water quality, it also began construction of a reservoir system in upper Roxborough. By the end of the 1850s, the Philadelphia Water Department determined that the northwestern section of the city, including Roxborough, Manayunk, and Chestnut Hill, would need to be served by its own water works. The high ground in this area was far above the reach of existing reservoirs in the city, which supplied water by gravity. Wells in populated areas were becoming unpalatable and in many cases unhealthy. “Manayunk and Roxborough [contain] a population numbering about twelve thousand,” Henry P.M. Birkinbine, chief engineer of the Philadelphia Water Department, wrote in a report to City Councils on 8 September 1859. “Of these, at least three thousand are operatives employed in the different factories. This part of the city is much in need of a supply of water for culinary, manufacturing and sanitary purposes, and for protection against fire, as the property in the manufactories is of great value, and now almost entirely without protection against fire…. From the dense population of parts of the district, the wells have become so contaminated, that the water in but few of them is now fit for culinary purposes. The necessity of a supply for manufacturing and mechanical purposes is evident.” Birkinbine proposed a water works along the Schuylkill, with a pumping station above the Flat Rock Dam at Shawmont and reservoirs located higher up the steep banks of the river, which would provide water by gravity through distribution mains in the streets. This system would serve not only the immediate vicinity, but other areas of the city as well. Construction began on these works after the end of the Civil War, with the pumping station at Shawmont completed in 1869. The steam-powered pumps forced water uphill into a reservoir (about 366 feet above city datum) located at present-day Eva and Dearnley Streets in Roxborough. To increase the capacity of the Roxborough Works and allow water to flow by gravity to a larger part of the city, the pumping station on the Schuylkill was expanded in the 1890s, and a much larger reservoir was built higher up the ridge (the Upper Reservoir, about 414 feet above city datum), along Port Royal Avenue about a block from Ridge Avenue. In the first decade of the twentieth century, the City constructed slow-sand filter plants at the Lower and Upper Roxborough Reservoirs. Once it went into operation citywide in 1909, the filtration system greatly reduced the incidence of waterborne diseases such as typhoid fever, which had been transmitted by the untreated (and sometimes sewage-tainted) river water. By the 1940s, rapid-sand filters began to supplant slow-sand filters as the technology of choice for water purification systems. By the early 1960s, filtration plants elsewhere in the city had been updated with this new technology as well as other automation features. More efficient and powerful electric pumps also meant that water could be delivered to the highest parts of the city from other pumping stations and reservoirs. “Unsuited to the needs of a modern city, the [Roxborough] water works were rapidly becoming obsolete and their capacity was too limited to meet future community growth,” stated the 1962 annual report of the Water Department. That year, the pumping station and two filter plants were closed down, and the upper reservoir was drained of its 147 million gallons. Today, underground storage basins at the Upper and Lower Roxborough sites are now filled by the pumps of the Queen Lane plant.92
Describe your image
The City Atlas of Philadelphia by G.M. Hopkins clearly shows that Leverington had emerged as an identifiable suburban residential district by 1875 (Figure 33).93 West of Ridge Road, between Levering Street at the south, Leverington Avenue at the north, and Manayunk Avenue at the west, a highly developed suburban neighborhood of large detached and semi-detached houses was nearly built out by 1875. East of Ridge, large suburban houses were depicted on the 1875 map on Leverington and other streets. Smaller suburban houses, primarily twins, were evident on Dupont, Monastery, Roxborough, and other streets extending east from Ridge. In 1875, large estates including those of Dr. William Camac and J.V. Merrick occupied southernmost tip of the ridge in the Wissahickon neighborhood, mirroring the grand estates across the valley, on the southern bank of the Wissahickon along School House Lane. Little had changed in the remainder of Roxborough, which persisted as a linear village along Ridge Road surrounded by farmers’ fields. The 1875 map depicted the Wissahickon & Barren Hill Horse Railway running the length of Ridge Road out into Montgomery County, with a horse car barn west of Port Royal or Ship Lane, at the former Sorrel Horse Tavern.
The population of the 21st Ward grew considerably in the late nineteenth century, from 13,861 in 1870; to 18,699 in 1880; to 26,900 in 1890; to 32,168 in 1900.94 In the 1870s, 1880s, and 1890s, much of the remaining open land adjacent to Manayunk in the Wissahickon and Leverington sections of Roxborough, south of Fountain Street was subdivided and built upon, primarily for residential use. For example, by 1885, large single and twin Second Empire houses lined Sumac and Rochele in the Wissahickon neighborhood, provided elegant housing for managers associated with Manayunk’s textile mills and the Pencoyd Iron Works, which was located across the Schuylkill River in Montgomery County, but linked to Roxborough by bridges. However, large pockets of open land remained south of Fountain, especially to the east of Ridge Avenue. Commercial and institutional buildings were primarily located on Ridge Avenue. To the north of Fountain Street, Roxborough remained a linear village along Ridge Avenue with zones of denser development around Shawmont Avenue and Manatawna Avenue. Away from Ridge Avenue, north of Fountain Street, the land continued to be farmed as it had for nearly 200 years.
During the decades after the Civil War, numerous religious and other institutions were established in the Leverington and Wissahickon neighborhoods of Roxborough to support the growing population. The Central Methodist Episcopal Church was established on Green Lane west of Ridge Avenue in 1870. The Leverington Presbyterian Church was established in 1878 and consecrated its first church building at Leverington and Ridge in 1880. The Wissahickon Methodist Episcopal Church was founded in 1882; the congregation consecrated its church building at Terrace and Salaignac Streets in 1883.95 The Wissahickon Baptist Church, on Terrace near Dawson, was established in 1884 at a mission chapel. The church building was erected in 1889.96 St. Stephens Episcopal Church at the corner of Terrace and Hermit was established in 1886 from a mission that was formed in 1871. The Talmage Reformed Church at Pechin and Rector was formed in 1889. Wissahickon Presbyterian Church at the intersection of Ridge and Manayunk was organized in 1892 and the church building was completed in 1894. The Galilee Baptist Church, an African-American congregation, incorporated in 1899 and constructed a church building to designs by architects Kennedy & Kelsey at the corner of Roxborough Avenue and Mitchell Street in 1901.97 During this period, only one church was established to the north, in the sparsely populated rural section of Roxborough; the Manatawna Baptist Church on Ridge Avenue was established in 1872.98
In addition to churches, several religious-based social service agencies were established in the southern sections of Roxborough during the late nineteenth century. St. Timothy’s Working Men’s Club and Institute was founded in 1872 to provide social and educational opportunities for working men. The club’s building, located at the intersection of Ridge Avenue, Terrace Street, and Vassar Street, was designed by architect Charles M. Burns Jr. and completed in 1877 (Figure 34). It included a library with reading and billiard rooms. The club hosted baseball and cricket teams and offered free night classes in mechanical drawing, engineering, and chemistry. The club ceased operations in 1912 owing to declining membership. The Roxborough Home for Women was established in 1887 on East Leverington to provide housing and support for Protestant women. The Memorial Hospital and House of Mercy of Saint Timothy's Church, Roxborough opened in 1890. By 1896, the name was changed to St. Timothy's Memorial Hospital and House of Mercy, Roxborough and, in 1920 to the Memorial Hospital, Roxborough. Located at Ridge Avenue and James Street, the hospital was built on land and with funds donated by J. Vaughan Merrick. The hospital was under the control of St. Timothy's Protestant Episcopal Church until 1920.99
Describe your image
As George W. and Walter S. Bromley’s Atlas of the City of Philadelphia of 1895 shows, Manayunk and Lower Roxborough, south of Fountain Street, continued to be densely developed during the later nineteenth century as a suburban residential district for people employed in Manayunk and downtown Philadelphia. Commercial activity in Roxborough was primarily confined to Ridge Avenue. Away from Ridge Avenue, Upper Roxborough as well as the eastern reaches of Lower Roxborough along the Wissahickon, which were inaccessible to commuters, remained open land.100
Describe your image
In the late nineteenth century, Henry Houston, a wealthy businessman and real estate investor with connections to the Pennsylvania Railroad, began to acquire large tracts of open land in Upper Roxborough.101 Houston also held large tracts of land in Germantown, Mt. Airy, and Chestnut Hill and had built the Philadelphia, Germantown & Chestnut Hill Railroad (now the Chestnut Hill West line) in the 1880s to provide easy access to the land west of Germantown Avenue for suburban development.102 About 1890, Houston and others began promoting a suburban commuter rail line in Roxborough to open the rural land for suburban development. In July 1891, William F. Dixon, a paper manufacturer, City Councilman, and 21st Ward powerbroker was granted a charter for the Roxborough Railroad Company, which authorized it to build a line 10 miles long from the Philadelphia, Germantown & Chestnut Hill Railroad line at Chelten Avenue and Pulaski Street in Germantown, across the Wissahickon, through the eastern and northern reaches of Roxborough, and into Montgomery County, where it would connect with the Trenton cut-off (Figure 35).103 As Dixon explained, the railroad was intended to “open up a territory of the city which is now virtually isolated, and one which is badly in need of railroad facilities.”104 Survey work and negotiations for the right-of-way were initiated in the summer of 1891. In 1892, the Pennsylvania Railroad, which also operated the Philadelphia, Germantown & Chestnut Hill Railroad, agreed to manage the Roxborough line. The railroad project, however, hit several snags including property owners who “demanded exorbitant prices” for their land. Evidencing the troubles, the police were called to prevent the railroad from breaking ground in 1893.105 The project languished. In 1910, the Pennsylvania Railroad abandoned the Roxborough Railroad project because “it was finally determined that the costs of the right of way would be far in excess” of $80,000, the amount the railroad had agreed to pay in 1892. Charles E. Pugh, the First Vice President of the Pennsylvania Railroad, explained to Philadelphia’s Mayor John Reyburn that “the advent of electricity has made the trolley car the proper medium for doing this character of work, and the facilities of the steam railroads, already very crowded, should be depended upon for taking care of long distance travel.”106
This information has been posted by RMWHS with the permission of the Philadelphia Historical Commission.
84 Emerson Fite, Social and Industrial Conditions in the North during the Civil War (New York: The MacMillan Company, 1910), p. 94-95.
85 Cited in Table 8.1 in Philip Scranton, Proprietary Capitalism: The Textile Manufacture at Philadelphia, 1800-1885 (Cambridge: Cambridge University press, 1883), p. 296-297.
86 Inquirer, 13 July 1861, p. 5.
87 “A Defiant Corporation,” Inquirer, 12 June 1888, p. 2; “The Ridge Line Leased,” The Times, 1 July 1892, p. 1; “The Ridge Line Leased,” The Times, 19 August 1892, p. 1.
88 Cited in Table 2-2 in Jeffrey P. Roberts, “Railroads and Downtown: Philadelphia, 1830-1900,” in William W. Cutler III and Howard Gillette Jr., eds., The Divided Metropolis: Social and Spatial Dimensions of Philadelphia, 1800-1975 (Westport, Ct.: Greenwood Press, 1980), p. 41.
89 Laws of the General Assembly of the State of Pennsylvania Passed at the Session of 1873 (Harrisburg: Benjamin Singerly, 1873), p. 883-884.
90 “Proposed New Railway from Manayunk to Roxborough,” Inquirer, 25 April 1874, p. 2. See also “New Passenger Railway,” Inquirer 12 August 1873, p. 2; Inquirer, 4 January 1875, p. 6; Inquirer, 9 September 1893, p. 2.
91 David R. Contosta and Carol Franklin, Metropolitan Paradise: The Struggle for Nature in the City Philadelphia's Wissahickon Valley, 1620-2020 (Philadelphia: Saint Joseph's University Press, 2010).
92 Adapted from Adam Levine, “Watershed History: Roxborough Water Works,” Watersheds Blog, Philadelphia Water Department, 19 May 2011.
93 G. M. Hopkins, City Atlas of Philadelphia, Vol. 2, Wards 21 and 28, 1875.
94 In 1867, the former Penn Township portion of the 21Ward, with School House Lane as the dividing line, was split off to form the 28th Ward. Act of 14 March 1867, §1, P.L. 460. Population numbers from: John Daly and Allen Weinberg, Genealogy of Philadelphia County Subdivisions (Philadelphia: City of Philadelphia, Department of Records, 1966), p. 100.
95 “Wissahickon M.E. Church,” Inquirer, 30 October 1883, p. 2.
96 Inquirer, 11 January 1889, p. 7.
97 “Baptist Church Can Incorporate,” The Times, 29 December 1899, p. 3; “The Latest News in Real Estate,” Inquirer, 24 November 1900, p. 15; “New Church to Cost $13,000,” The Times, 3 December 1900, p. 11.
98 Inquirer, 18 May 1872, p. 2.
99 “A Generous Gift,” The Times, 19 March 1890, p. 6; “The Merricks’ Munificent Gift,” Inquirer, 12 June 1890, p. 5. 100 George W. & Walter S. Bromley, Civil Engineers, Atlas of the City of Philadelphia (Philadelphia: G.W. Bromley and Co., 1895), plates 32-34.
100 George W. & Walter S. Bromley, Civil Engineers, Atlas of the City of Philadelphia (Philadelphia: G.W. Bromley and Co., 1895), plates 32-34.
101 On Henry Houston, see J.M. Duffin, A Guide to the Henry Howard Houston Estate Papers, 1698-1989 (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania, The University Archives and Records Center, 1989).
102 The Philadelphia, Germantown & Chestnut Hill Railroad was incorporated on 2 January 1883 and 6.75-mile line between Germantown Junction and Chestnut Hill was constructed in 1883 and 1884.
103 “William Dixon’s Railroad,” Inquirer, 18 July 1891, p. 3; “Surveys for a New Road,” Times, 23 July 1891, p.4; “The New Trenton Cut-Off,” Inquirer, 10 September 1891, p. 4; “Roxborough’s Railroad Extension,” Inquirer, 11 September 1891, p. 8; “Roxborough’s New Railroad,” Inquirer, 29 October 1891, p. 4.
104 “Councils’ Committee at Work: The Roxborough Railroad Seeking a Route,” Times 11 September 1891, p. 6.
105 “A Railroad Checked,” Inquirer, 17 May 1893, p. 2.
106 “Roxborough Line Will Not Be Built,” Inquirer, 25 June 1910, p. 7.