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The Old Academy in 1914, from Free Library of Philadelphia collections

The January news from way back:  seems that not much has changed

East Falls NOW, January 2024, by Wendy Moody and Steven Peitzman

Following is a sampling of news reported in East Falls newspapers during Januarys past. The popular local papers were the Weekly Forecast, the Record, and the Suburban Press. To learn more about these past local newspapers, join the EFHS for a zoom lecture on “Old East Falls Newspapers” on February 28, 2024 at 7pm (details will be found on the EFHS website).

These three extracts reinforce that not much has changed over the years: a complaint of inadequate police presence, the challenges of women in the workforce, and the need for private contributions when the local government cannot provide funds.

January 24, 1901 – Our Police Protection – Although there has been an increase in the number of police patrolling the large territory included in the district of the substation at the Falls, the force in toto includes nine patrolmen.  What is termed one beat takes in as much territory as is comprised in the new Thirty-First District, which has some 30 odd officers, yet this District – beg pardon “beat” – is protected during the entire day by one solitary officer who does a tour of 12 hour duty.  At night the tour is divided into two shifts…the officers are mounted, but just consider a man on horseback for twelve consecutive hours… Is this the kind of protection our people are paying taxes for…in a district numbering 10,000 souls?   The force is utterly inadequate and our business people should demand that we be given the protection which the extent of such a district requires.  Weekly Forecast  (We are not sure what sorts of crimes or other troublesome activities were prevalent in East Falls in the late 1890s. Strikes at Dobson Mills certainly did occur in this period.)

January 12, 1930 – Three quarters of a century ago, Hannah E. Longshore, M.D., the first woman physician here, drew a raucous crowd when she hung out her shingle.  The crowd expressed its contempt.  “A ‘she’ doctor!” The expression summed up the opinion of an age intolerant of all feminine endeavor…she was ignored, condemned, sneered at.  Druggists refused to fill her prescriptions. Despite insults and handicaps, Dr. Longshore went quietly about her work of healing.  Then the tide inevitably turned.  She won the love and respect of the public that had condemned her and even established a lucrative practice.  Dr. Longshore was one of the first eight graduates of the Woman’s Medical College.    Record (The “first woman physician here?” We don’t recall seeing any references to Dr. Longshore practicing medicine — or living – in the Falls, but she was a celebrated Philadelphian who attended the Woman’s Medical College of Pennsylvania long before it moved to East Falls.)

January 18, 1934 – Trustees of the Old Academy held their quarterly meeting last Monday night.  Despite the fact that the city has failed to provide the residents of Falls of Schuylkill with a recreation center, the people of “the Falls” can point with great pride to the fact that on Indian Queen Lane stands the oldest community center in Philadelphia. Old Academy was paid for by contributions made directly by the men and women who lived in its vicinity.  It was erected by William Moore Smith, a son of Dr. William Smith, first provost of the University of Pennsylvania – and his wife, Ann, in the year 1816 and completed in 1819.  The provisions distinctly stated that the building should be used for recreation, education and worship.  There was a clause that if the Trustees failed to meet in January of any year the land would revert to the donors, or their heirs.  Suburban Press  (Of interest, by 1932 the Old Academy had become the home of the much respected Old Academy Players. The trustees of the building were long known as the Falls of Schuylkill Association.)


A Presidents’ Month anecdote: no Falls monument for a slain president

East Falls NOW, February 2024, Wendy Moody

Front page tribute to recently assassinated President McKinley from a September, 1901 issue of the Weekly Forecast and Falls of Schuylkill Review

The assassination of our 25th President, William McKinley, created an awkward moment in East Falls history. Recall that McKinley took office in 1897, with his tenure highlighted by the Spanish-American War and increased tariffs.

Days after his assassination (Sept. 14, 1901) at age 58, our local paper, the Weekly Forecast and Falls of Schuylkill Review featured a tribute to McKinley announcing the McKinley Memorial Monument Funda drive for the erection in the Falls of a monument to the late president. This endeavor revealed a surprising lack of enthusiasm from our residents and led to weekly “scoldings” by the newspaper.

As you read these excerpts, keep in mind that they are abridgements of long weekly rants:

      Oct. 10, 1901:

“Two weeks ago, the Forecast published a letter advocating a memorial to McKinley in our vicinity and volunteering to act as treasurer.  Since that time, two donations, totaling $15, have been received, both from local organizations.  Is this a true reflection of the people of Falls of Schuylkill? We trust not.  How humiliating it is to realize that we have not received one individual donation!  We trust the delay is not indifference, but simply neglect….. As a tribute to a beloved President, through whose administration our nation has prospered, and whose life was a beautiful example of morality, marital felicity, and respect, who can say but these ennobling traits may be a guiding star for generations yet unborn, as they are read by the passerby (on a monument), whether it be impressed on cold stone or emblazoned brass.”

Oct. 17, 1901:

“Nothing is more disagreeable … than to bring another to task for failing to fulfill a duty; yet this is the unpleasant position the Forecast finds itself in by the neglect of its readers to respond to its local fund for a memorial to our late President…. It is indeed gratifying to add a few additional names (three donations of $1 each) and the Forecast is thankful for the example set by them…. It is utterly impossible to offer any excuse for the lack of interest manifested by the people of the Falls.  If they have no patriotism, they should at least have a certain amount of local pride….”

To praise the few and maybe shame the many, the publisher-editor of the Weekly Forecast printed the list of donors to the fund for a Falls of Schuylkill McKinley monument.

Oct. 24, 1901:

 The Forecast published periodic lists of donors, such as that shown in the photograph. But then…

Oct. 31, 1901

Since last week, not one cent additional has been received.  It is utterly useless for the Forecast to express its opinion of the indifference so strikingly manifested by our residents…. everyone should feel the deep humiliation which their want of interest has cast upon the entire community…. Our business men are too deeply engrossed in their own selfishness to spare even 10 cents in grateful remembrance of a man to whom they owe the greater part of their prosperity…. The Forecast made continued effort to interest its readers in this movement.  Its failure is the fault of the local residents.  It will not further humble or belittle [McKinley’s] greatness by appealing to a penurious public who have clearly shown they have neither patriotism nor local pride enough to assist in this movement….. Unless the public show a different disposition before the next issue, the Forecast will close the fund and turn the money over to the general fund for the erection of a Philadelphia memorial.”

Nov. 7, 1901

“The local fund … is now closed, there having been no additional subscription received during the last week…. The $21.10 will be sent to the city-wide fund.  The Forecast will be pleased to assist in any further interest in the proposed memorial. Let some of our public spirited Falls citizens take the matter in hand.”

Added Notes: In 1908, a bronze on granite 9’6” sculpture of McKinley was erected at the South Plaza of City Hall. A financial depression afflicted Americans in the 1890s, so Fallsers might still have been watching expenditures in 1901. Also, the turbulent early years of the 1900s saw several strikes at the Dobson Mills. The Dobsons, at least, would have favored McKinley, being staunch protectionists, but their names do not appear among the few Falls donors.


“Tulipwood,” the residence of Elizabeth and Horace Fleisher, designed by Elizabeth in 1954. She lived here until her death in 1975. Horace had died in 1964. Seen in this view is what might be considered the back of the house. With modern houses, it is sometimes not easy to know.

Remembered in Women’s History Month: Elizabeth Fleisher, East Falls architect

East Falls NOW, March 2024, Steven J. Peitzman

Born in 1892 into a prominent German-Jewish family of Philadelphia, Elizabeth R. Hirsh attended Philadelphia High School for Girls and then Wellesley College, where she graduated in 1914 as a Phi Beta Kappa. She looked to a medical career. But after marrying Horace Fleisher (of the Fleisher yarns and hosiery companies) in 1916 both decided to pursue training in architecture, and they moved to Boston. Horace gained admission to Harvard’s program in landscape architecture, but the school did not admit women. Elizabeth instead attended the Cambridge School of Architectural and Landscape Design for Women, then associated with Smith College, and completed its program in 1929. Possibly her experience with this unusual single-sex school (created and taught by supportive men) helped kindle interest years later in the Woman’s Medical College of Pennsylvania.

The Fleishers returned to Philadelphia to practice their newly acquired professions. Elizabeth entered into a partnership with Gabriel Roth in 1941 that lasted until her retirement in 1968. Along the way, she and her husband raised three daughters! Her most prominent and admired project with Roth is Parkway House (1952), the large ziggurat-like building at 22nd Street and Pennsylvania Avenue, whose U-shape seems to embrace and welcome the Parkway and Philadelphia Museum of Art. It remains one of Philadelphia’s distinguished residential edifices.

Part of the former Ann Preston Hall, designed by the Roth and Fleisher firm with Thaddeus Longstreth in 1950 as nurses’ housing and the nursing school. It is difficult to photograph the entire linear building from any one locus.

But where are the connections of Elizabeth Fleisher with East Falls? Two, not surprisingly, are buildings. The modernist former “Ann Preston Hall” section of the Woman’s Medical College/Medical College of Pennsylvania (now part of Falls Center) stands as a product of the Roth and Fleisher office, though its primary designer was Thaddeus Longstreth, then working with the company (1950). Even if a project is not primarily designed by the heads of an architectural firm, it emerges within a team; and the principals must approve before drawings go from studio to the work site. The second building is the former home of the Fleishers, who for some years lived in the Falls. “Tulipwood,” at 4030 Apalogen Road, was designed by Fleisher and built in 1954. It is one among a remarkable colony of modernist dwellings along Apalogen and nearby.

One more connection of architect Fleisher with East Falls returns this story to the Woman’s Medical College. There (and into its coeducational years as MCP, the Medical College of Pennsylvania) she served on the Board of Corporators for thirty-three years, “giving generously of her time, her ideas and her talents.” The board minutes noting her death in June of 1975 went on to recognize her as “Deeply interested in the education of women…[who] in her own architectural career served as a model for young women entering medicine.”

Take a walk around Apalogen Road to view the modern houses, and another to the Indian Queen Lane entrance of Falls Center to look at part of Ann Preston Hall. Leaf-less winter is the best time to gaze at architecture.

Thanks to Matt Herbison at the Drexel College of Medicine Archives for his help. Our newly rebuilt website is eastfallshistoricalsociety.org. Reach us on email at eastfallshistory@gmail.com. And join – you can do so easily on our website.


Historical Society offers walking tour of The Oak Road

East Falls NOW, April 2024

The “Timmons House” on The Oak Road (properly, the Henry W. Brown House)/

What is the story behind The Oak Road, an anomalous one-block street winding “off the grid” from School House Lane to Midvale Avenue, whose proper name requires “The,” and which features a small island with an oak tree?

The street and its dominant dwelling, the “Timmons House,” were created by Henry W. Brown in 1906-1907.

Brown was a prominent figure in the insurance industry and a lead player at the Germantown Cricket Club. The Oak Road came to be both a residential “colony” for the Brown family and a handsome development of mostly Colonial Revival homes.

The East Falls Historical Society will offer an architectural-historical walking tour along this pleasant Street on April 20, 2024.

Other buildings on the tour will include the “Ivy Cottage,” a Gothic revival house dating to circa 1860, and the beautiful Memorial Church of the Good Shepherd, designed by Philadelphia architect Carl Ziegler and built in 1926.

The walkers will also learn about two nearby historic buildings on School House Lane. All told, six structures on the Philadelphia Register of Historic Places will be described by tour leaders Steven Peitzman and Nancy Pontone.


Highlighting the ‘East Falls’ in Jefferson-East Falls

From this angle, the firehouse on Midvale Avenue is a fine example of midcentury modern architecture. Photos from City of Philadelphia Department of Records.

East Falls NOW April 2024, by Rich Lampert

About a year ago, East Falls Historical Society announced that we are aiming to develop an online encyclopedia of East Falls history, eventually encompassing all the key people, institutions, buildings, and more that have defined our community since it was first settled by Europeans in the mid-1600’s.

This is a big job – bigger than East Falls Historical Society can accomplish on our own. We’ve been looking for partner organizations that might be able to amplify our efforts, and in recent months we’ve embarked on a promising effort with Jefferson University-East Falls. The platform for our collaboration is a course entitled Uncovering the Past: Tools, Methods, Strategies, a foundational course in Jefferson’s Historical Preservation graduate program taught by Prof. David Breiner. In this course, students track down data using written, graphic, and oral sources. Field trips to archival repositories are a key activity, and students also learn how to conduct oral history interviews.

Last winter, East Falls Historical Society asked Prof. Breiner if he would be willing to assign some East Falls-oriented research topics to his students during the current academic term. Not only did he agree to this, he also invited active participation from our members.

In the weeks before the term started, we collaborated with Prof. Breiner on selecting research topics. We uncovered a common interest in learning more about building that haven’t yet been well documented through listings in the Philadelphia or National Register of Historic Places (for instance, the Kelly house on Henry Avenue), or the National Historic Engineering Survey (for instance, the Falls Bridge.) We came up with an intriguing list. In alphabetical order, they include:

  • 3333 West Hunting Park Avenue, near Ridge, a former industrial building that is now an office for State Rep. Roni Green
  • Abbottsford Homes and community building, the landmark on lower Henry Avenue
  • America Hall, the three-story structure at Sunnyside and Conrad Streets with a row of storefronts on the first floor
  • The BINAC/UNIVAC birthplace, on Ridge Avenue across from Laurel Hill Cemetery
  • “The Button,” the clubhouse for Bachelor’s Boat Club, along Kelly Drive
  • The “Chemical Building” on Fox Street, the multi-story building within the Queen Lane water treatment facility
  • Falls Methodist Episcopal Church on Indian Queen Lane, now an office building
  • The fire station, an interesting midcentury modern structure, especially when seen from the Kelly Drive side
PWD’s humble Chemical Building is elegantly proportioned, with interesting details that include corner windows.

In addition to helping Prof. Breiner choose research topics, East Falls Historical Society is providing his students with our perspective on our community’s history. EFHS president Steve Peitzman presented an illustrated overview of East Falls history to an early class session, and in early March the students conducted one-on-one oral history interviews with several of our members to uncover perspectives about specific buildings as well as our recollections about life in East Falls. And we’re invited to join in a class session in late April where students will present the results of their research.

The students’ written papers may provide the greatest benefit to EFHS activities. The papers will be written in the form of nominations to the Philadelphia Register of Historic Places, so they could form the basis for formal nominations that EFHS could take to the City Planning Commission. In addition, we hope that the information in these student papers will be the foundations for articles that we can develop for the online encyclopedia.

We’re enjoying working across the town-gown gap with Prof. Breiner and his students, and we’re pleased that our 2026 ambitions are helping to reinforce the “East Falls” in Jefferson University -East Falls. And we hope this is the first of many collaborations that will benefit EFHS, in particular our ambitious online encyclopedia project.