Yesterday and Today in West Mt. Airy

Since December 2011, residents of West Mt. Airy have been guided through a tour of the deep history of our neighborhood. Local historian Burt Froom, is taking readers on a journey from Mt. Airy’s geological origins to the arrival of the early settlers and the development of local industry to the pleasant residential streets of today. Join Burt, and his fellow authors, as we visit the people, places and events of our shared history. Our archives can be a resource for your historical exploration.

Germantown and the Great AwakeningWhitfieldGreatAwakening

May 2016, Article 25

In 1739, in the midst of the era in the history of our nation called “The Great Awakening” preacher George Whitefield came to Germantown and spoke to an estimated 5,000 hearers. This young evangelical Anglican priest from England brought a compelling message few had heard before. Though his stay in Philadelphia was brief, a mere 5 days, the impact of his presence would be felt for quite some time.

Washington’s Germantown Servants and SlavesPresident George Washington painted by Gilbert Stuart, probably in Germantown at the Frick Collection, New York City, 29.3 x 24 inches. Stuart earned a fortune painting 104 replicas of three portraits he painted of Washington. This Frick canvas is thought to be made by Stuart for the Philadelphia merchant John Vaughan. Gilbert Stuart (1755-1828) was born in Narragansett, Rhode Island. He trained in London with the American artist Benjamin West.

September 2015, Article 24

At the “Germantown White House,” when President George Washington and his family stayed during July 30 – September 20, 1794 at the home of Colonel Isaac Franks (now the Deshler-Morris House), there were perhaps twenty-three servants assisting the family while they retreated from Philadelphia during the yellow fever epidemic. In this Yesterday and Today column article, let us learn about the people who inhabited this presidential abode and its several levels of: family, guests, employees, indentured servants and slaves.

Martha Washington’s World

June 2015, Article 23

n a previous article, we began to listen to the voices of Market Square, the soul of Germantown, Market Square has always been a crossroads, and among its visitors and residents were the First President of the United States, George Washington and his wife Martha. They lived in the Deshler-Morris House, during the summer of 1794, partly to escape the yellow fever epidemic. In historic Germantown, George and Martha Washington’s lifestyle represented a seemingly contradictory mixture of the freedom they helped us achieve in the War of Independence and the plantation culture of Virginia based on slavery. Today, let us meet Martha Washington and seek to understand her and her world.


Roberts’ (aka Townsend and Lukens) Mill, side view.

The Economy of Germantown: Early Mills

May 2015, Article 22

Our snapshot of the Germantown economy is taken in the period 1687 to 1800, when the primary means of power was flowing water. The many small streams of the Wissahickon watershed were ideal for the purpose and were carefully chosen for their flow. For example, one historian reports that William Rittenhouse was driven to lands just over the line in Roxborough Township because there was not sufficient flow in Germantown streams for his paper mill (Hotchkiss, Ancient and Modern). These mills would have been the first resources for processing agricultural products. William Penn well understood their importance and made provision for their establishment.

When Washington Lived in Market Square
March 2015, Article 21

The newly founded Germantown of 1683 had an area of eleven square miles, corresponding with the twenty-second Ward of Philadelphia today. There were twelve families, consisting of forty-two individuals, living in Germantown. In 1701, there were sixty families. Germantown historian Margaret Tinkcom says that “throughout the 18th century, Market Square could be designated the heart of Germantown.” This half-acre plot was the town market place, the center of commercial activity. Around this small block lived the men who controlled Germantown’s destiny for some two-hundred years. Here was located the Reformed church where town residents gave each other assistance. Here was the school where families met with one another. Let us become acquainted with this modest space that was the heart of the community.


The Economy of Germantown: How Did People Get By?LogHouse
February 2015, Article 20

It is a challenge to the 21st Century mind to imagine the circumstances that greeted early immigrants to Pennsylvania. As we try, let us turn to eyewitness Francis Daniel Pastorius, the founder of Germantown, who in his journal called Pennsylvania “a howling wilderness.”



James Logan and Stenton
November 2014, Article 19

James Logan (1674-1751) was born in Lurgan, County Armagh in Ireland of poor Scottish parents. His father was a schoolmaster who fled Scotland because he and his wife, Isabel Hume, were Quakers and was in in danger due to the Jacobean uprising following the Glorious Revolution of 1688 that put William III and Mary II on the throne of England. The Logan family soon moved to Bristol, then England’s third largest city. James was well educated by his scholarly father and replaced his father as school master. At a young age, he mastered Latin, Greek, Hebrew, French and Italian, and he taught himself mathematics from Isaac Newton’s works.



Pastorius and the Founding of GermantownPastorius
October 2014, Article 18

The Concord landed in Philadelphia on October 6, 1683, a mere seven weeks after setting sail from the town of Crefeld (pronounced approximately Kray-feld) in the lower Rhine River valley of Germany. Would this little group of thirty-three persons from twelve families really initiate a revolution in the New World? Their ship’s name was prophetic: Concord is derived from the 17th century Latin motto of the Netherlands, which translates, “Concord makes small things flourish.”



StainedGlassFrederickWhy Germans Came to Pennsylvania
May 2014, Article 16

Susan Bockius’s ancestors settled in Pennsylvania in 1741. Her writings are a doorway into the past! By the American Revolution, one-third of Pennsylvania’s people were Germans. What pushed them here? Wars are part of the reason. The Thirty-Years’ War (1618 – 1648), the Nine Years’ War (1688 – 1697), and the War of the Spanish Succession (1701 – 1714). These three wars killed an estimated one-half of Germany’s 1600 population. Harvests failed, diseases killed many, people died of starvation, enemy armies destroyed towns and villages in the name of religion. But brave people planned a new life in a new land beyond the ocean.


PennsburyWilliam Penn’s Successes and Frustrations
April 2014, Article 15

Penn was Pennsylvania’s parent. He helped give birth to a new people, “Americans,” who were inspired by the Quaker vision of a community of toleration and peace.

Penn believed that his most enduring legacy would be his struggle for liberty of conscience. Penn laid the foundation of peaceful relations with Pennsylvania’s Indians in his first meeting with them, saying that his King had given him a great province. “I desire to enjoy it with your Love and Consent that we may love together as neighbors and friends.”


WilliamPennWilliam Penn’s Political Philosophy
March 2014, Article 14

Penn lived an extraordinary life, and published over 90 books, tracts and pamphlets. His book “Sandy Foundations Shaken” was written in jail and reveals his devotion to the Quaker laws at age 24! He refutes the Trinity, denies the deity of Jesus, repudiates the angry, vengeful deity of the Presbyterians. Rather, he is a God of perpetual benevolence.



WilliamPennWilliam Penn, Our Proprietor
February 2014, Article 13

William Penn (1644 – 1718) was the son of a famous English Admiral. He was a quiet child, but when 11, he discovered God while praying, and became a Quaker in 1665. In 1681, King Charles II granted Penn a charter making him “True and Absolute” proprietor of Pennsylvania. He recruited Quakers to settle here. He desired to be an architect of brotherhood. He cultivated the good will of Lenni-Lenape. He owned slaves. He was jailed in later life in debtor’s prison.



GeorgeFoxEarly Quakers
December 2013, Article 12

The Quaker movement was founded about 1647 by George Fox (1624 – 1691) in a puritan village in England. His father was a weaver. He read mostly the Bible. When he was about 19, God spoke directly to him, and he was filled with the greatness of God’s love. Fox believed that authentic faith comes from each person’s private encounter with God. He preached against organized religion and emphasized the work of the Holy Spirit. Fox was jailed some nine times. At age 45 he married Margaret Fell.


ChristinaNew Sweden On The Delaware
October 2013, Article 11

Who were the first European settlers in the Delaware Valley? The Swedes came here in 1637. This was the time of the Thirty Years War, Europe’s longest and most destructive war until WWI. Sweden’s King Gustavus Adolphus united Protestants against Catholics. His daughter, the progressive and passionate Queen Christina, helped establish the colony. Later, she lived in Rome. Sweden controlled Finland and Finns settled here too. Philadelphia’s oldest neighborhood is Queen Village, settled by Swedes, and they built Gloria Dei Church here by 1700.


BenWestTreatyThe Lenni-Lenape Meet William Penn
September 2013, Article 10

What is it like when new people move into your neighborhood? Do you reach out or are you afraid? The Lenni-Lenape’s new neighbor was William Penn. How did they react? Their world in the 17th century was invaded by Indian enemies and European fur traders. In Penn Treaty Park in Kensington, we can see where Penn made his treaty with the Indians so Pennsylvania would be a place “peace and justice” for all. Did it last?



LenniLenape2The Lenni-Lenape Indians
June 2013, Article 9

Who were they? They called themselves “Lenni-Lenape,” meaning the “original people.” They lived in Pennsylvania, New Jersey and southern New York. They spoke an Algonquian language. They were nomads without metal, or the wheel, and only dogs. They lived in wigwams and ate healthily, mainly corn, beans and squash, and game sometimes. They were courageous, honest and resourceful.



bisonThe Wildlife Of The Wissahickon
May 2013, Article 8

Bison in the Wissahickon? Ok, but that was a long time ago. What other species are nearing extinction because of the ways we (mis)use the environment? William Penn raved to his friends about the birds and animals of the Wissahickon.


The Forests Of The Wissahickon
April 2013, Article 7

chestnutTo borrow a line from Joni Mitchell, “Are we paving our paradise?” The “spreading chestnut tree” of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s poem is long gone. The “Old Growth” forests of long-lived, very diverse trees that Penn found here must have been paradise! The prevalent American chestnut tree died of blight after 1904. The great Hemlock forests are perishing. Our task today is to reclaim the forest and offer it to the future so the forests and cities of the world may thrive together.




Creeky West Mt. Airy
creeks_faultMarch 2013, Article 6

Just when we thought West Mt. Airy was almost perfect, now we learn that we’ve got plenty of faults! – the kind that come from our geology, that is! And can we imagine our idyllic neighborhood as a major industrial complex?




Where Is The Wissahickon Creek?
February 2013, Article 5

WissValley2We know how to get to the Wissahickon, but where has it been and where are its head waters and where did it used to flow, and who used to enjoy it before we got here? It was called “Catfish Creek” by the Lenni-Lenape and is visited by 750,000 people each year. The Wissahickon Creek is 21 miles long, and 13 miles of it are outside the city. The creek has three distinct regions: the upper, middle, and lower valleys – each distinct.




West Mt. Airy In The Stone Age
Wiss_SchistJanuary 2013, Article 4

“Getting stoned.” 500 million years before the debates about hippies and medical marijuana, West Mt. Airy was getting stoned by the geological formation named Wissahickon schist that was named by the first woman geologist in America, Florence Bascorn.





West Mt. Airy Today
December 2012, Article 3

The boublocktoberfestndaries of West Mount Airy stretch from Germantown Avenue to Cresheim Creek to Wissahickon Creek to Washington Lane. Our population is 12,300 persons. Our landscape features are the Monoshone Creek (below Lincoln Drive), the canyon of the Wissahickon Creek, and the ridge of Germantown Avenue and the great bowl of the Monoshone Creek (below Lincoln Drive), the ridge of Germantown Avenue, and the canyon of the Wissahickon Creek.




CresheimCottageCresheim Cottage
November 2012, Article 2

What is the oldest building constructed by European settlers in West Mt. Airy? The Cresheim Cottage at Germantown Avenue and West Gowen Avenue is a prime candidate. The cottage takes its name from the village of Cresheim in the German Rhineland that was the home of the earliest settler families in 1683. Today, the Latin American restaurant “Avenida” is housed in Cresheim Cottage. This is a mouth-watering story!



Mt-1William Allen At Home In Mt. Airy
September 2012 Article 1

Where did our name Mount Airy come from? Who coined it? What meaning does it carry? William Allen (1704 – 1780) was the chief justice of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court and he built his country home Mount Airy at Germantown Avenue and Allens Lane in 1750. He called it Mount Airy because of the location’s fresh breezes.


 Pelham Archives

Alongside the articles investigating the history of West Mt. Airy, there are also nine articles that are devoted to the Pelham neighborhood, which were published earlier. You may access each of the nine articles on this page.


A Look At Pelham’s Past
by Burt Froom   December, 2011 (Yesterday and Today in Pelham) Article 1

Who Was George W. Carpenter?
by Burt Froom  January, 2012 (Yesterday and Today in Pelham) Article 2

The Carpenter Family
by Burt Froom  February, 2012 (Yesterday and Today in Pelham) Article 3

Phil-Ellena:  Greek Revival Palace
by Burt Froom  March, 2012 (Yesterday and Today in Pelham) Article 4

The Greek Revival Movement
by Burt Froom  April, 2012 (Yesterday and Today in Pelham) Article 5


Inside The Phil-Ellena Mansion
by Burt Froom  May, 2012 (Yesterday and Today in Pelham) Article 6


Phil-Ellena’s Furnishings
by Burt Froom  June, 2012 (Yesterday and Today in Pelham) Article 7


Phil-Ellena’s Furnishings Continued
by Burt Froom  July, 2012 (Yesterday and Today in Pelham) Article 8


Touring The Grounds Of Phil-Ellena
by Burt Froom  August, 2012 (Yesterday and Today in Pelham) Article 9