The history of Northeast Philadelphia dates back to
1681 when William Penn approached King Charles II of England hoping to
collect a debt owed the estate of his father Sir Admiral Penn. Being in
great financial difficulty and unable to meet his obligation, King
Charles offered Penn the proprietorship of 40,000 square miles of choice
territory in America recently claimed by England, after defeating the
Dutch in war. Penn welcomed the offer for it would give him an
opportunity to put his democratic ideas of government into practice. A
royal charter officially made Penn the Colonial Proprietor of what would
be called Pennsylvania. England was to receive certain benefits,
including loyalty to England. Beyond these requirement, Penn could set
up his own government. The Charter, spelling out the agreements, was
signed and the Great Seal affixed March 5, 1681.
Penn lost no time in setting his plans into motion. To assist him in
doing this, he chose a cousin, William Markham, to be his deputy in
setting up the government. To facilitate the handling of the various
aspects of government, Penn planned on dividing the territory into
counties, each with a principle city; outside the city there would be
townships or boroughs, each with its own governing body. The three
counties of Bucks, Chester and Philadelphia were the first organized.
Philadelphia county, with its townships of Byberry, Lower Dublin and
Oxford northeasterly of Pennís townships, lost some of their governing
function when they were absorbed by the city in legislation known as the
Consolidation Act of 1854.
To explore the territory for features Penn specified, to survey for new
settlers, and to negotiate with earlier settlers, he chose another
cousin, Captain William Crispin to be Surveyor General. Negotiating was
an important responsibility, for any land already claimed (including
that of the Indians) was to be paid for at a negotiated price.
Unfortunately, Crispin died before reaching America. To replace him,
William Penn selected a friend, Thomas Holme, a staunch believer in
Holme, William Pennís newly chosen Surveyor General, departed England
in April 1682, on the ship Amity, arriving in America at Upland (now
Chester, Pennsylvania) three months later. Mso on board the Amity were
some new settlers including the late William Crispinís son, Silas, and
four of Thomas Holmeís grown children.
Thomas Holme began his exploration, working his way along the Delaware
River looking for a location for the already named Philadelphia.
Reaching the Pennypack, he found it much to his liking and satisfying
Pennís specifications, to wit: navigable stream (the Delaware tide
reaching more than a mile inland); high and dry ground; moderate
climate. Swedish settlers had already found it a desirable location,
having settled at the mouth of the creek and extending inland.
When William Penn arrived September 17, 1682, Holme reported his
findings. The decision for the location of Philadelphia was to be
William Pennís. He decided on the location the city has today,
at the convergence of the Delaware and Schuylkill Rivers. Thomas
Holmeís liking of the Pennypack area had prompted him to lay claim to
a parcel of land there which Penn granted to him for ďservices
rendered.Ē It was quite a parcel, 1646 acres, which with the passage
of time became a goodly part of the yet-to-be Northeast Philadelphia.
Throughout much of the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries the Northeast
remained overwhelmingly farm land. However, early on a number of small
villages sprung-up along the Pennypack Creek. Holmesburg and Bustleton
were such communities. They both were early locations for grist mills
for making flour. In the 19th century, Holmesburg became the location
for a textile mill powered by the waters of the Pennypack. The largest
community in the Northeast during this period was Frankford. It
contained many mills, iron foundries and later many factories powered by
Essential to all of these communities was the Delaware River. It was the
main means of transportation for commercial goods, farm products and
people. This led to the development of small river communities at
Bridesburg (Point-No- Point), Tacony (Longshore Street and the
River) Torresdale (Axe Factory
Road and the river), and Croydon (Bucks County).
In 1854 the entire Northeast became part of the city proper but the
townships retained local control. For instance Lower Dublin Poor House
(located on the grounds of Lincoln High School) was financed through
taxes paid to Lower Dublin Township as late as 1939. The final vestiges
of the township system ended in 1951 with the adoption of a new city
The opening of the Frankford Elevated in the 1920s to Bridge Street and
the 1930s opening of the Roosevelt Boulevard to Holme Avenue were the
two main stimuli to the residential development of the area. Both of
these improvements were the work of Congressman Peter Costello, a Tacony
politician and former worker at Disston Saw Works. The depression and
World War II slowed the residential development of the area but with the
end of the war came the most dramatic change in the landscape. In a
period of less than five years, thousands of homes were built and sold.
By 1950 the lower sections of the Northeast had become a small city in
itself. This expansion continued into the Far Northeast during the
1960s, 1970s and 1980s. Currently, the Northeast Section is the largest
residential area of the city.
The Seven Stars Hotel, Oxford and Frankford Avenues,
Frankford. A landmark for over a century, it was originally owned
and operated by John E Haines. In 1858, it was entirely
rebuilt. It changed hands a number of times and in 1890 John
Birkman, the last owner, came into possession. It was later
demolished and became the location of several commercial banks. Photo
courtesy of Frankford Historical Society.