Northeast Times

Home is where the history is

Historical Society of Tacony places historic markers on neighborhood homes that date back to the 19th century.

  • Houses with history: A home on Tulip Street is one of 22 properties that had plaques with information about the building’s dates and original owners installed. MARIA POUCHNIKOVA / TIMES PHOTOS

  • Houses with history: A home on Hegerman Street is one of 22 properties that had plaques with information about the building’s dates and original owners installed.

His­tory is leav­ing its mark, well, marks, in Ta­cony.

Over the past few years, the His­tor­ic­al So­ci­ety of Ta­cony has placed per­man­ent bronze mark­ers on more than a score of neigh­bor­hood homes that date back to the 19th cen­tury as the area was de­veloped for the em­ploy­ees of the Dis­ston Saw Works.

Twenty-two plaques with in­form­a­tion about the build­ing’s dates and ori­gin­al own­ers have been in­stalled in what could be called the core of the 1,500 par­cels of the Mary Dis­ston Es­tate in Ta­cony, said Louis M. Iatarola, a his­tor­ic­al so­ci­ety board mem­ber.

Henry Dis­ston, founder of the Dis­ston Saw Works, began re­lo­cat­ing his com­pany to Ta­cony from North­ern Liber­ties in the 1870s. He and his wife, Mary, be­lieved Ta­cony could be de­veloped in­to an ideal com­munity of af­ford­able homes for the com­pany’s work­ers.

The couple cre­ated the Mary Dis­ston Es­tate to pur­chase land and build houses for Dis­ston em­ploy­ees. After Henry Dis­ston died in 1878, his wid­ow pur­sued this vis­ion, donat­ing land for schools, churches and parks. After Mary Dis­ston died in 1895, an es­tate trust car­ried on that work in Ta­cony un­til 1940.

There’s a lot of in­terest in the neigh­bor­hood’s his­tory, Iatarola said, but there’s more than that.

“We def­in­itely have a pride of place here,” he said, “and that’s what we’re re­in­for­cing.”

A 23rd plaque is ex­pec­ted to be up be­fore sum­mer’s end, Iatarola said.

More are com­ing. “We hope to have [a total of] 33 plaques this time next year,” Iatarola said.

Loc­al his­tor­i­ans Patty and Jack Mc­Carthy re­searched the prop­er­ties and wrote re­ports on them.

In­form­a­tion on who built a house and when it was built most of­ten isn’t in one place, like a deed, Jack Mc­Carthy said in a Ju­ly 18 phone in­ter­view. A lot of the old deeds are dif­fi­cult to read. City maps and at­lases have to be con­sul­ted. Old pre-tele­phone dir­ect­or­ies of Phil­adelphia cit­izens have to be searched, and Census data has to be scoured.

“It took time, ef­fort and know-how,” Patty Mc­Carthy said. It could take 50 hours of work for some prop­er­ties, she said.

Re­search­ers some­times couldn’t get ex­act dates.

The Chris­toph­er Eis­en­hardt house at 7013 Tulip was built around 1900.

“Some­times, a prop­erty was pur­chased be­fore it was built on,” she said. “So you don’t have an ex­act date.”

The 1880 census shows the Eis­en­hardt fam­ily lived on Tulip Street, but not at that ad­dress, she said. 

Ad­dresses in the north and south streets haven’t changed, but in the 1920s some of the num­bers on the east and west streets were altered, Iatarola said. For ex­ample, the 3500 block of Long­shore is now the 4700 block.

PRE­SERVING HIS­TORY

The his­tor­ic­al so­ci­ety’s plaque pro­gram star­ted with a grant ap­plic­a­tion, Iatarola said dur­ing a Ju­ly 17 phone in­ter­view. The so­ci­ety’s longer-range goal is to have the neigh­bor­hood des­ig­nated a Na­tion­al His­tor­ic Dis­trict.

The so­ci­ety worked with the Pre­ser­va­tion Al­li­ance, a non­profit that over­sees his­tor­ic­al-re­lated is­sues in Phil­adelphia, to identi­fy a his­tor­ic core of Ta­cony: The 6900 and 7000 blocks of Key­stone and Tulip (Long­shore to Prin­ceton), the 6900 block of He­ger­man, and the 4800 and 4900 blocks of Dis­ston, Long­shore and Tyson.

Own­ers of homes in that pi­lot area that were built by 1920 were con­tac­ted and asked if they wanted to kick in half of the $550 per plaque cost.

Re­sponse was heavy and quick, Iatarola said. The so­ci­ety had fund­ing for 15 9-inch-by-12-inch plaques, he said, but so many homeown­ers wanted one that a wait­ing list had to be cre­ated.

“We’ve been happy with the re­sponse,” Iatarola said. “I’ve ex­per­i­enced an over­whelm­ing pride in Ta­cony.”

The in­form­a­tion for each plaque is re­searched, he said, and a re­port comes with each in­stall­a­tion that tells the cur­rent homeown­er when the house was built and for whom. The chain of own­er­ship also is out­lined. 

The so­ci­ety, with City Coun­cil­man Bobby Hen­on’s help, ap­plied for and got a Phil­adelphia Activ­it­ies Grant to put up eight more. The so­ci­ety is ap­ply­ing for more grant money to get 10 ad­di­tion­al plaques.

BARS BARRED

The Dis­ston Es­tate has a deed re­stric­tion, Iatarola said, that pro­hib­its al­co­hol sales. There are bars in the lar­ger neigh­bor­hood, but you can al­most see the Dis­ston Es­tate bound­ar­ies by where the tav­erns be­gin to show up, Iatarola said.

Re­cog­niz­ing Ta­cony as a very dif­fer­ent part of Phil­adelphia is the reas­on the his­tor­ic­al so­ci­ety was formed in 1990 and the his­tor­ic­al des­ig­na­tions have been sought, he said.

Ta­cony His­tory Day be­came an an­nu­al neigh­bor­hood event for cel­eb­rat­ing the area’s unique stand­ing in the city. That’s been sus­pen­ded for the past few years, Iatarola said, as the so­ci­ety pur­sued the plaque pro­gram and na­tion­al his­tor­ic des­ig­na­tion.

A con­sult­ant was hired to help, grants were ob­tained and dona­tions from res­id­ents and busi­nesses were sought.

All of that led to a re­port that will be sub­mit­ted to the Pennsylvania His­tor­ic­al Mu­seum Com­mis­sion in Septem­ber. The com­mis­sion moves along re­quests for na­tion­al his­tor­ic des­ig­na­tions.

Such na­tion­al re­cog­ni­tion, Iatarola said, “helps to re­in­force this is a dif­fer­ent place with­in the city … and has his­tor­ic sig­ni­fic­ance.” 

Lots of money has been needed to push the cause, Iatarola said.

A big con­trib­ut­or has been Port Rich­mond Sav­ings, which kicked in $20,000. Any­one in­ter­ested in Ta­cony his­tory can help out, Iatarola said. Checks pay­able to the His­tor­ic­al So­ci­ety of Ta­cony can be mailed to the or­gan­iz­a­tion at 4819 Long­shore Ave., Phil­adelphia, PA 19135. ••

You can reach at jloftus@bsmphilly.com.

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