WEST MT. AIRY TODAY
by Chelsea Badeau and Burt Froom
West Mt. Airy: Yesterday and Today
December, 2012 (Article 3)
In our September Yesterday and Today column, we began a new series about the living history of our West Mt. Airy community. We looked at the life story of William Allen, the colonial Chief Justice of Pennsylvania and his country home Mount Airy because it caught the fresh breezes of its elevated position near the present day intersection of Germantown Avenue and Allen’s Lane.
In our November article, we visited the 300 year old Cresheim Cottage. This Yesterday and Today essay, looks at today’s West Mt. Airy and defining this neighborhood we call home. What is Mt. Airy today? I want to thank WMAN Board of Directors member Chelsea Badeau for her illustrations of the work of West Mt. Airy Neighbors and for the demographic material we present.
What are the BOUNDARIES of WEST MT. AIRY? Three of the four are obvious: Germantown Avenue on the east, the Cresheim Creek on the north, and the Wissahickon Creek on the west. But the boundary with Germantown has been a bit fluid historically. The West Mt. Airy Neighbors has chosen Washington Lane as our southern boundary. Cresheim began to be called Mt. Airy in the early 19th century, and its southern boundary has been shifting south!
In the earliest days of European settlement here, the Germantown Township had four villages or divisions: Germantown was settled first, in 1683. Mt. Airy was originally called Cresheim, and was located north of Sedgwick Street or Carpenter Lane, stretching just past Cresheim Creek to Mermaid Lane. To the north, in today’s Chestnut Hill, were the villages of Crefeld and Summerhausen. These names commemorated the home towns of the first German-speaking Dutch settlers from the Lower Palatine in the German Rhineland, who came here to be part of William Penn’s new colony of Pennsylvania.
HOW LARGE IS WEST MT. AIRY? Within the present WMAN boundaries, but excluding Fairmount Park lands, West Mt. Airy is a little larger than two square miles in size. Its population today is about 12,300 people, according to the Zillow real estate people.
THE LANDSCAPE of WEST MT. AIRY HAS THREE MAIN FEATURES. Picture the heart of West Mt. Airy as a great bowl which is tilted to the south and drains the water of the Monoshone Creek watershed into the Wissahickon Creek downstream from Rittenhouse Town. The serpentine, winding and hilly course of present-day upper Lincoln Drive follows the old stream bed of the Monoshone (or Paper Mill) Creek, which now flows in drainage pipes deep below the concrete paving of Lincoln Drive.
The second outstanding typographical features are the rims of the bowl of the Monoshone watershed: the ridge of Germantown Avenue, the edge of the Cresheim Creek valley along Allens Lane, and the rim of the Wissahickon valley along Wissahickon Avenue.
The third exceptional physical feature in West Mt. Airy is, of course, the canyon of the Wissahickon Creek. This is a different world from the bustling traffic of Germantown Avenue and Lincoln Drive. Wissahickon park is an iconic place of forest solitude, steep slopes, flowing water, and stone and wooden bridges. The park is visited by an estimated 750,000 people yearly who enjoy walking, bicycling, jogging and even horseback riding through Forbidden Drive in all seasons. Central West Mt. Airy, the Germantown Avenue spine, and the Cresheim and Wissahickon Creek valleys make our community a world apart. The lush forests of the Wissahickon overflow into our streets and gardens, which offer beautiful displays of flowers and leaves in their seasons!
WHO ARE WE IN PRESENT DAY WEST MT. AIRY? Sources of these figures are the Zillow real estate people as of 2011 (Z), and the United States Census as of 2011 or as noted (C).
Demographic figures tell us that our population in 2011 was about 12,300 people (C)
Our relationship status (Z):
Single females: 20.9%
Single males: 16.5%
Married adults: 42.7%
Average household size: 2.3 persons
Homes with children 25.4% (C)
Age distribution (Z):
< age 20: 25.8%
20s – 30s: 25.4%
40s – 50s: 28%
60s >: 20.8%
Median age: 38 years (C)
Median household income: in 2009 is: $66,318 (Z)
Average household income in 1999 was: $100,851(C)
Average household income during 2005-2009 was: $84,503 (C)
Poverty households in 1993: 9% (C)
Poverty households 2005-2009: 13% (C)
Racial make-up 2005-2009 (C):
Hispanic and others: 3.6%
OUR CONTEMPORARY STORY IS EXHILARATING! West Mt. Airy Neighbors was founded in 1959 to create and sustain West Mt. Airy as a racially integrated community. It was established by George Schermer, the first Director of Philadelphia’s Human Relations Commission, and other neighbors concerned with white flight and block busting. From the beginning, West Mt. Airy Neighbors has sought to make its community a welcoming home for all people. To this day, West Mt. Airy remains one of the few stable, racially integrated communities in the United States.
West Mt. Airy Neighbors works every day to keep the racially and economically diverse, urban neighborhood of West Mt. Airy great. Our Zoning Committee holds architects and builders accountable to the highest standards, prevents eyesores and allows for neighbor input on proposed development. Our Quality of Life Committee resolves disputes and coordinates police action. Our Streetscapes Committee has planted over 300 trees, beautified countless streets and open spaces, kept us all breathing more easily, and they started the restoration of the Mt. Airy Gateway Pergola, to keep our neighborhood beautifully green.
West Mt. Airy Neighbors provides a forum for community problem-solving and volunteers to organize for community improvement. In addition, through our website, eNewsletters, social media outlets and safety alerts, WMAN works hard to keep everyone in the community informed of important news, events and safety issues.
Bringing neighbors together to have fun and get to know each other is also a core part of WMAN’s mission. WMAN plans and hosts a number of community events each year, including the annual Mt. Airy Day and the Eat Your Heart Out events. In addition, WMAN has organized a bus trip to the Martin Luther King, Jr. monument in Washington, D.C., coordinated volunteer service opportunities on MLK Day and Philly Cares Day, and more. West Mt. Airy Neighbors also works closely with its sister organization, East Mt. Airy Neighbors, on a wide range of projects, including the annual East-West Mt. Airy Community Forum in January and the Mt. Airy Day community festival each May. This year, WMAN initiated a new event, the BlocktoberFest Fun Run and Block Parties, on October 6th. Hundreds of residents of all ages ran or walked the 5-mile or 2-mile courses and socialized with neighbors at block parties spread out across the neighborhood.
Mount Airy residents at the Allens Lane train station during the October 6th BlocktoberFest
As a small community organization with a modest budget, we count on volunteers and our members to carry out our mission of preserving and enhancing the quality of life in our richly diverse urban neighborhood. This includes working collaboratively with neighbors, businesses, schools, elected officials, governmental departments, police, utility companies, advocacy organizations and more to keep our neighborhood great.
Marilyn Cohen joined the organization in 2011 as the Executive Director and continues to work hard to further the original vision of the organization. Marilyn is a native of Philadelphia, but lived in South Africa for nearly 20 years, working to bring democratic elections to that country and making President Nelson Mandela’s Reconstruction and Development Programme a reality. She has also fundraised for The Peace Train project which works to improve interracial relations and community empowerment. The diverse neighborhood of West Mt. Airy is a perfect place for Marilyn to focus on her community-building work and promoting the values that make West Mt. Airy a great place to live.