Vereeville/Fox Chase


Historical Northeast Philadelphia

Stories and Memories ~1994

editors:  Alicia M. Freitag and Harry C. Silcox



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 Pennís principles.

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 local streams.

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 charter.

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.

Above photo:
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.

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