Local author explores colorful history of NoLibs

A loc­al his­tor­i­an has pub­lished a his­tory of North­ern Liber­ties, ex­plor­ing the neigh­bor­hood's roots back to the days of Wil­li­am Penn.

Harry Kyriakod­is said he didn’t know why there was nev­er a book writ­ten about the his­tory of North­ern Liber­ties, so he de­cided to write one him­self.

Kyriakod­is, 47, is the proud au­thor of his second book, North­ern Liber­ties: The Story of a Phil­adelphia River Ward, which was pub­lished Oct. 17. His first book, Phil­adelphia’s Lost Wa­ter­front, is now in its third print­ing through pub­lish­er The His­tory Press.

The au­thor is also a con­trib­ut­or to the web­site Hid­den City Phil­adelphia, and has lived in the Penn’s Land­ing area since 1997. It’s where, he said, he found in­spir­a­tion.

“I’m just very in­ter­ested in the city,” he said.

He was born in Philly, and moved to the sub­urbs as a teen­ager be­fore mov­ing back.

“I’ve been bik­ing around North­ern Liber­ties for the past ten years, and I star­ted to won­der about all the older build­ings and empty lots.”

He said as he ex­plored the area and dug through the hun­dreds of books about the city. He found some an­swers.

“A lot of im­port­ant things were in those empty lots,” he said.

A lot of im­port­ant things could be found all over the neigh­bor­hood, in fact. The book ex­plores the neigh­bor­hood’s past as an im­port­ant ship­build­ing area as well as its rail­roads — one of the first rail­roads in the state ran through North­ern Liber­ties — its re­li­gious houses and its place on the na­tion­al polit­ic­al stage.

“Be­fore it be­came part of Phil­adelphia, it was [known as] ‘the city next to Phil­adelphia.’ It was one of the largest cit­ies in the United States,” Kyriakod­is said.

Its his­tory though, like any city, isn’t all squeaky-clean.

“I talk about [in the book] the early years of North­ern Liber­ties, when the area was a really dan­ger­ous place,” Kyriakod­is said. “It’s al­ways been a place where in­dustry and people resided to­geth­er. That seems to gen­er­ate a place where there seems to be a lot of drink­ing, de­bauch­ery  and dec­ad­ence.”

“It was not So­ci­ety Hill; it was not Ritten­house Square,” he con­tin­ued, and ad­ded that it still isn’t. “It’s not a prim and prop­er place.”

“Yet,” Kyriakod­is wrote in the book’s in­tro­duc­tion, “This var­ied pan­or­ama of his­tory is pre­cisely what gives North­ern Liber­ties its pe­cu­li­ar air.”

Kyriakod­is had worked for the Amer­ic­an Law In­sti­tute for 26 years be­fore he lost his job on Oct. 26. He said, though, he hopes he can now find a new ca­reer that’s more fo­cused on his pas­sion for Phil­adelphia’s his­tory.

Per­haps, he said, the book could help him as much as he in­ten­ded it to help loc­als.

“I did write the book to help people in the neigh­bor­hood learn more about it,” he said. “What I chose to put down was that the place was a great pan­ning cen­ter, a great brew­ing cen­ter … most of the new­comers, the ‘gentri­fic­a­tion set,’ I sup­pose, might not know about it. It’s im­port­ant they know about it.”

And im­mig­ra­tion in­to the neigh­bor­hood, he said he dis­cuses in the book, is noth­ing new. In the past, North­ern Liber­ties was home to im­mig­rants of Ger­man, Ir­ish Cath­ol­ic, Rus­si­an, Jew­ish, Slavic and Afric­an Amer­ic­an back­grounds.

“[Now] the im­mig­rants are com­ing from New York City, San Fran­cisco, Bo­ston,” he said. “I think it’s im­port­ant to real­ize that the place has al­ways been a place where im­mig­rants have come from oth­er places, and made it their own.”

In the last three chapters of the book, Kyriakod­is said, he dis­cusses the changes in the neigh­bor­hood over the years.

“I get the sense that many neigh­bors are nervous about all this gentri­fic­a­tion stuff, but it seems to be part of the re­volu­tion of the en­tire town,” he said. “The neigh­bor­hood seems to be go­ing through this cycle every so of­ten of re­birth and re­new­al and de­cline — now it’s on an up­ward swing.”

He said that, al­though there’s no telling how long that up­swing will con­tin­ue, it’s nice to know it’s not con­fined to this par­tic­u­lar time peri­od. There have been, he said, good times and bad times throughout the en­tire his­tory of North­ern Liber­ties.

North­ern Liber­ties Neigh­bors As­so­ci­ation pres­id­ent Matt Ruben wrote the book’s fore­word. In it, he wrote:

“No one knows if our present will end up look­ing as col­or­ful as our past, or if we’re wit­ness­ing the end of something spe­cial about the Liber­ties. My hunch is that it’ll be a wash: we’ll lose and gain a lot of what we love and a lot of what we don’t.”

In the in­tro­duc­tion of “North­ern Liber­ties, The Story of A Phil­adelphia River Ward,” Kyriakod­is wrote:

“Stand­ing atop the tower of Phil­adelphia’s City Hall is a mo­nu­ment­al statue of Wil­li­am Penn … Some say that the 27-ton bronze sculp­ture was po­si­tioned to look north­east­wards in the dir­ec­tion of Ta­cony … while oth­ers say that it faces Penn Treaty Park…”

The au­thor makes one thing clear—

“… Either way, though, Wil­li­am Penn gazes first at North­ern Liber­ties.”

Find “North­ern Liber­ties: The Story of A Phil­adelphia River Ward” on www.amazon.com, www.his­tory­press.net, or pur­chase a $20 signed copy from the au­thor by e-mail­ing hkyriakod­is@gmail.com.

Star Man­aging Ed­it­or Mi­kala Jam­is­on can be reached at 215-354-3113 or at mjam­is­on@bsmphilly.com.

You can reach at mjamison@bsmphilly.com.

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