Despite becoming part of Philadelphia through the Consolidation Act of 1854, Port Richmond has stood apart as a neighborhood containing several other smaller neighborhoods within its boundaries.
Port Richmond, known as the Richmond District before and after consolidation, took on the name Port Richmond with the rise of the importance of its coal yard and grain facilities in the1880s. Widespread use of the name Port Richmond entered popular parlance in the1960s when the sons and daughters of WWII parents began to call the Richmond of their parents Port Richmond.
Aramingo was originally the area west of Aramingo Avenue to Frankford Avenue north of Tioga Street to the Pennsylvania-Reading Railroad Bridge. This part of Port Richmond originally was part of the Borough of Aramingo, an entity unto itself, which was dissolved by the Philadelphia Consolidation Act of 1854 and became part of Port Richmond and Frankford.
Gunners Run had at least two branches that flowed through Port Richmond: one branch south from the Tacony-Frankford Creek weaving between Belgrade and Cedar streets into Castor Avenue at Aramingo Avenue; the other branch crisscrossed Port Richmond from the area of Trenton and Allegheny avenues crossing Wittee, Janney, Weikel Tulip, Agate, and Memphis streets before flowing into the Aramingo Canal near Ann Street (c. 1840-1900).
Aramingo Canal ran under the length of Aramingo Avenue from the Pennsylvania Railroad Bridge on the north to Lehigh Avenue and beyond toward the Delaware River. Building of the canal over Gunners Run began in the 1840s and was discontinued because of pollution in 1896. The original plan was to have local industries have easy shipping access to the Delaware River. (c. 1845-1900)
Coffee Bottom referred to a canal, fed by offshoots of Gunners Run, which ran on the south side of the Dillon-Collins Papermaking Plant on Schiller Street near Richmond Street. This canal emptied into the Delaware River and carried with it warm, white-stained wastewater from the paper making process. Therefore, even on cool days, Port Richmonders could swim in thermal waters; the only drawback being that your body became coated with the white papermaking residue. The canal was called Coffee Bottom because the paper residue that sunk to the bottom felt like coffee grounds to the touch of your feet. (c. 1920-1960)
Tar Bottom referred to the Delaware River, north of the Richmond Generating Station near the Black Bridge, a popular swimming area. The name comes from the sticky black blotches of tar that clung to your body if you swam in the area. (c. 1920-1960
The Meadows refers to a parcel of wetland bounded by Lewis Street on the north, Delaware Avenue on the east and Carbon Street on the west. Port Richmonders used the area for swimming, fishing, ice-skating and hunting turtles. (c. 1920-1960)
Slaughter Trail is a railroad right of way that extends on Carbon Street from Allegheny Avenue to Lewis Street. The area gets its name from the former M. L. Shoemaker Fertilizer and Oils Co. which was located at Venango Street. (c. 1890-1960)
Jewtown or New Jerusalem was the sight of the first major settlement of Eastern European Jews from provinces in Poland, Russia, and Lithuania. A community of Yiddish-speaking Jews was established shortly after the Civil War between East Cambria and Somerset Streets stretching from Frankford Avenue to Richmond Street. The heart of the community was Tulip and Auburn streets, where two synagogues were established on opposite street corners to minister to the religious beliefs of the community. The pioneer settler was Yehezekiel Bernstein who came from the district of Suvalki in Lithuania. By 1878, Bernstein and his relatives established Hevra B’nai Israel synagogue to secure proper religious observance, establish a system of education and act as protective mutual aid society. Less than a decade later a second congregation formed, Hevra T’hillim. Both congregations existed successfully across the street from one another. (c. 1875-1950)
Tugboat Row was on Aramingo Avenue from Cambria Street to Lehigh Avenue. The section acquired its name from workers on the Delaware River tugboats, many of whom lived in this area. Tugboat pride was exhibited in the area by the colors painted on the houses, usually a combination of black, white, green, red and the colors of Delaware River tugboats. (c. 1890-1960)
Fred Cimino is the unofficial popular historian of Port Richmond. He has published seven books about Port Richmond. His novel, In These Streets: a Port Richmond Summer is due in the spring of 2011. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. His books are available at Port Richmond Books, 3037 Richmond St., 215-425-3385.••