Northeast Times

Port Richmond: A cornucopia of neighborhoods Part II

Philly might be known as a city of neigh­bor­hoods, but Port Rich­mond is a neigh­bor­hood of neigh­bor­hoods.

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 marblesteps@ve­r­i­zon.net. His books are avail­able at Port Rich­mond Books, 3037 Rich­mond St., 215-425-3385.••

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