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


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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.


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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


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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


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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


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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.