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Colonial to neo-gothic and post-modern – East Falls has it all
East Falls NOW, May 2019, by Ellen Sheehan

This article was inspired by Ken Hinde’s Lecture, “200 Years of East Falls Architecture,” but is not intended as a summary of the full presentation.

Imagine East Falls as a sleepy fishing village whose hills supported the recreational activities for the weary and overworked residents of center city. This is our proud Colonial origin in the early 1700’s. “200 Years of EF Architecture” a program presented by the EFHS, provided a chronological overview of how architecture was influenced by the geographical, occupational and social development taking place in our community from Penn’s landing to the present.

The program was presented by Ken Hinde, EF resident and historical Society board member, to over 100 attendees at the Fall Library on April 10. Ken has a museum background and was tour director for the Foundation for Architecture for 15 years. He is presently a part-time tour guide/educator at the Fairmount Water Works. He works with other historical society members in developing and co-leading a number of tours related to EF history and architecture.

The 1700-1800’s’s saw the city as a walking/mercantile society where masonry and frame construction provided brick row housing for a society in undifferentiated living and working spaces. Society Hill, the “Cradle of Democracy,” for instance represents the Medieval Craft Tradition. During this time, EF provided a suburban respite from the crowed city conditions.

During the 1800-1900’s the Schuylkill River produced not only power for industrial plants but easy transportation of raw materials and finished products to and from ports for distribution. East Falls became a Mill Town for middle class factory workers. The Simpson Mills, Dobson Mills and Powers & Weighman Factories flourished and populated EF with the construction of surrounding row housing for their employees. Breweries too were prevalent because of the underground springs. Estates for the Barons – the Dobsons, the Hohenadels and the Weightmans rose up on the hills influenced by the revival of Classical and Romanesque Architecture. Churches reflected the Gothic and Romanesque revivals taking place throughout the city. Ridge Avenue’s business district and housing is punctuated by cornice detailing and Mansard roofs.

Once trains, trolleys and automobiles were in use EF became a commuter suburb. With proximity to Center City and access to the Schuylkill Expressway, service and professional employment available through brief travel now saw EF become a residential area with provisions for gardens and garages. The Queen Lane Water Works, the Falls Library, Mifflin School, Ravenhill and Alden Park display EF as an eclectic range of Queen Anne, Gothic, Beaux Arts, Tutor and Art-Deco styles. Recent Modernism styles can be seen on Penn St., Kelly Dr. and Conrad St.

McMichael Park, Inn Yard Park, McDevitt Recreational Center plus jogging and biking trails provide welcome recreational opportunities. And yes, fishing along the Schuylkill in 2019 is still a recreational pastime in East Falls.

1920: A parade for John B. Kelly; Today, Inn Yard Park
East Falls NOW, August, 2019, by Ellen Sheehan

September 18, 1920 was the scene of a parade of shiny new Packard Touring cars with their tops down, weaving their way through East Falls.  In the lead car was John Brendon Kelly with his cousin Paul Costello, returning from the 8th Olympiad held in Antwerp, Belgium.  They had won the world championships in the singles and doubles sculls.  Kelly had beaten the English champion, Beresford, and then competed with his cousin for another victory for America and East Falls.  The cars wound their way to Café La Riviera, Ridge Avenue and Stanton Street, for a celebration hosted by the St. Bridget’s Holy Name Society,

Café La Riviera was located on the present site of Inn Yard Park, so named because of the Inns and hotels along the route of the old Ridge Road.   The oldest part of the building was built in 1845 and was known as “Bobby Evans Fountain Park Hotel.”  Before moving to the Café in 1847, it was at the Old Falls Tavern that Evans initially introduced his famous “catfish, waffles and coffee suppers.”   The Café was the scene of many popular wrestling and boxing matches by the most famous athletes of those days.

Recently Alice Reiff was interviewed for an oral history for EFHS.  Alice is the President of Friends of Inn Yard Park and has been the force behind the success of the Park since she became a neighbor there in 1939 when she married her husband, Jack.

Alice remembers children spending all day there as there were a lot of programs including the teaching of chess.  Later the park went downhill.  “They ran out of money and stopped the supervised play and weren’t even cutting the grass.”   Alice and Jack stepped up and provided tools and labor to care for the park.  In 1997, the Fairmount Park started a Friends Group.  Alice applied and was accepted as President/coordinator. 

“I applied for a grant to the Community Design Collaborative and met with members of the EFCC and EFDC.  They were a big help in connecting to the people who eventually built the playground and    Basketball court.”  In 1996 I started Arbor Day in the Park as a way to get trees in the park donated by the Horticultural Society.   This year we invited the school children from Mifflin, Penn Charter and Wissahicken Charter Schools and contributed a book for each school’s library about horticulture.  Cynthia Kishinchand helps with the planning representing “Tree Tenders.”  Contributions given after Jack died will be used to build a tool shed for the park maintenance equipment.  With proper supervision the Inn Yard Park is providing a safe and fun environment for the community. 

A remembrance – Growing up in East Falls
East Falls NOW, September 2019, By Ellen Sheehan

Growing  up in East Falls, a weekly ritual on Saturday mornings for us kids was  hanging on the mailbox across from the Methodist Church on Indian Queen  Ln., catching sight of the brides and their guests. Today, if you want  to see a bride, prepare to fly to a destination beach. Things are so  different.  

Consider language.  We called our female parent mother. There were “Mom and Pop” shops but  these were not people we actually lived with. Now everyone calls this  person mom. And not always respectfully as in “mom jeans.” Which is not a  compliment.  

After school we  went outside and played with whomever was there. Physical stuff like  Hopscotch, jump rope and “Red Rover.” The mental games were “I packed my  trunk for Paris” and “Simon Says.” A birthday party was cake and ice  cream and presents like pencils and hair ribbons. Now play dates are  arranged ahead of time by parents who supervise in their homes. Limos  arrive to transport kids to birthday parties with a theme at places like  Sky Zone and Chucky Cheese. Clowns and nannies are hired to assist in  the mayhem. Can’t even imagine what a present costs for a seven- year  old today.  

We were brought up  on adages. “Waste not, want not,” a throw- back to the Great Depression,  was still popular in my childhood. Does anyone else still twist and  mutilate the toothpaste tube to wring out the last bit? Or save oodles  of free bread ties on the slim chance we might need them later.  

We  were admonished to “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”  A golden thought if not rule. Today thankfully “pay it forward” reminds  us to do good where we can because we are all in this together The good  sisters at St. Bridgets, after marking our report cards for subjects,  gave us AF letters for personal habits. Yes, cooperation, obedience,  perseverance, deportment, and the all- important selfcontrol (did anyone  ever ace this?) were considered just as important as reading, math and  the Palmer Method. Which, by the way, was very important to the good  Sisters of St. Joseph.  

Did  your parents tell you things that didn’t make sense, but you didn’t  question at the time? We weren’t allowed to wear sneakers when we were  kids because my mother said they “draw your feet.” What, with tiny paint  brushes attached to the laces? As an adult I asked my mother what  exactly did this mean. “Well, the rubber in the soles drew the blood  away from your heart.” That is gross! Who would even think that this is  possible? Obviously, a lot of kids survived this malady.  

My grandson wears sneakers that cost $250. I worry about the effect this may have on his heart, not to mention his wallet. 

Friends Mourn Death of Ken Hinde
East Falls NOW, October 2019, By Steve Peitzman

East  Falls lost a valued resident and unique contributor with the death of  Kenneth Andrew (Ken) Hinde on August 29, 2019, following a sudden and  aggressive illness. He was 71 years old.

Ken  lived in East Falls and studied its history and architecture for many  years. As a member and board member of the East Falls Historical  Society, he led and co-led a variety of walking tours of our streets and  sites. In April of this year, his presentation on “200 Years of East  Falls Architecture” overfilled the Falls Library lecture hall. 

In  his lectures and tours, Ken always knew how much information to give,  how to relate buildings to the history of people occupying them, and how  to clearly project despite the competition of street traffic and  barking dogs. It is safe to say that many tens of thousands of  Philadelphia area residents and visitors benefitted from his  comprehensive knowledge of Philadelphia history, city planning, and  architecture, and his skill in sharing it. Opening the eyes of  Philadelphia residents to the city’s excellence in architecture remains a  critical task, and we have lost one of the best at this work. 

He is already sadly missed by many friends, family, and colleagues. 

The Lower End – hard to recognize today

East Falls NOW, December 2019, by Ellen Sheehan and Kassie and Chuck Taylor

Have you seen the ad featuring Carson Wentz tossing a football while a player dances in front of him? No, I don’t get it either. But did you know the ad was produced right here in East Falls? The Bud Studio is on Shedwick Street, site of the former Buddy Machini’s Auto Repair Shop. Bud’s was there for so long it is hard to picture a totally different type of “body” shop.

In fact, the whole Lower End of East Falls is hard to recognize today. On the corner of Allegheny and Scotts Lane the former “Hidden River Café” with its iconic bar and amazing interior is being replaced by a multi-story apartment building. That tiny spot will soon be home to upscale residents. Further up the block on Ridge Avenue a green mammoth is almost erected in the middle of some row houses. Around the corner the empty lot, site of so many Lower Ender neighborhood parties, is preparing for more construction. The Lower End now has some of the expensive architecture attracting a whole new wave to East Falls.

When most of present-day East Falls consisted of fields where Revolutionary Soldiers fought the Hessians and Civil War encampments prepared for battle, and where cows roamed on Fanning’s Field before Queen Lane Manor existed, the geographical lower end established the early community of East Falls.

Attracted by the two “Ws” – wages and worship – Irish and English and some German immigrants brought their talents, skills and dreams to this area.

The Dobson brothers, John and James, had established their factory on Scott’s Ln. after a fire destroyed their factory in Sumac Park, where Ridge Ave. and Main St. meet today. Their contract with the Army of the Potomac to provide blankets for Civil War soldiers made them a fortune. At its height the factory employed 11,000 workers. Later Dobson Mills created carpets made with velvet “plush” with the need to import workers from England with experience in working with this material.

Laurel Hill Cemetery lured laborers from Ireland: the Flynns, Dailys, Kellys and mostly the Murphys whose 13 children intermarried with other Fallsers so that anyone who is not a squatter in East Falls claims a Murphy cousin. Their houses were purchased from the Laurel Hill Company, which owned the surrounding acres. These mostly Irish Catholics worshiped at the Laurel Hill Seminary Chapel until establishing their own church, St. Bridget’s.

The English, namely the Dobsons and Robert Ralston, a tea merchant, undertook the plans for their Episcopalian Church, St. James the Less. Robert Ralston’s estate “Mount Peace” was located at Nicetown Ln., now Hunting Park Ave. and Lamb Tavern Rd., now Clearfield St. Land was purchased from the Laurel Hill Company. It was exactly 21 and a half miles from three other Episcopalian Churches – St. David’s Church in Manayunk, St. Matthew’s in Francisville and St. Luke’s in Germantown. Could this be the distance deemed walkable for worshipers, or perhaps a carriage ride away?

Stores grew up around the area: Tommy Atkinson’s grocery, Manny’s Restaurant and Huey Doren’s Restaurant, Knoll’s homemade ice cream and Bill Garrett’s candy store. Sis & Bill’s Steak Shop (with the pin ball machine in the back room) and Sid’s Steak Shop. Kelpac’s Cleaners, Charlie the Shoemaker, Cook’s Coffee and McKeever’s beer distributor. Tony Amorio the Barber and Woofie’s clothing. Kelley’s Flowers along with Morrison’s Pharmacy and Gene’s Drug Store. Frank’s Food and who could forget the Greasy Spoon? Described as the real life “Happy Days” sitcom, no one locked their doors or knocked when entering. Everyone was considered family.

The Lower Ender’s reunion is planned for this month. Present and former residents (the Taylors, DiStefanos, Marinos, Mazies, Jenkinsons and others,) are planning to gather as they have so often to share memories and probably chalk up the street for a game of “Shooters.” A kind of street Billiards, the game was first played with bottle caps, later ball bearings abandoned by the nearby Budd Plant. “Happy Days“ are here again.