Northeast Philadelphia: Frankford Roots
Frankford, Philadelphia, serves as the genesis of and gateway to the Northeast Philadelphia
region. This area was inhabited by the Lenape Indians and later settled by the Swedes, who
started a village and gristmill in 1660. Frankfords origins lie in the Manor
of Frank - a land purchase from William Penn to a group of Quaker businessmen in
London called the Society of Free Traders. The Indian trail through this area became the
Kings Highway (established by Royal warrant in 1683) and, later, Frankford Avenue.
This route is the oldest country road in continuous use in the nation, and was traversed
by Continental Congress delegates before the Revolutionary War. In 1781, the troops of
Washington and Rochambeau marched through Frankford on their way from Rhode Island to
Virginia to achieve a decisive American victory at Yorktown.
Early places of worship include the Friends Meeting House at Unity and Waln Streets
(established 1684), Frankford Presbyterian Church (the Pink Church) and,
later, the Campbell African Methodist Episcopal Church (founded 1804). The first savings
and loan society in the country (Oxford Provident) was instituted here in 1831, the first
textile mill was established by William Whitaker in 1813 on Tabor Road off Rising Sun
Avenue, and Oswald Eves powder mill, located along Frankford Creek at Wingohocking
and Adams, served as a model for the production of gunpowder during the Colonies
War for Independence. The African-American community continues to have a strong presence
in Frankford since the Free Black settlement in the 18th century, with a history of
participation in the Underground Railroad, the Civil War, and the Civil Rights struggles
of the 1960s.
Frankford takes great pride in once having within its environs the palatial summer homes
of prominent Philadelphians dating from the early 1700s through the Revolutionary
Period: Cedar Grove, Chalkley Hall, Waln Grove, and Port Royal. With the exception of
Cedar Grove, now in Fairmount Park, these homes were destroyed to make way for industry.
However, much of the Port Royal mansion was dismantled and reassembled at the Winterthur
Museum in Delaware.
Preserving the Frankford Legacy
The Historical Society of Frankford was established in 1905 by a group of prominent
Frankfordians led by T. Comly Hunter. They believed that the presentation and perpetuation
of the history of the Northeast Philadelphia region was a solid foundation for an
understanding of how the United States of America gained its unique heritage. The
Societys first president was William Foulkrod, a US Congressman and Frankford
Initially, this founding group met at various locations including Wrights Institute,
the Assembly Hall (Lyceum Building, located on the 4400 block of Frankford Avenue), the
Waln Street Meeting House, and Frankfords Carnegie Library (Overington Street location
of the current Frankford Free Library). In 1930, the Historical Society building was
erected by William Smedley in memory of his wife, Margaretta, and his brother, Franklin
Smedley, the organizations second president. Franklin, who operated a local lumber
and building materials business with William, served as president until his death in 1924.
This Georgian Revival building was designed by Frank Rushmore Watson, who also designed
St Marks Episcopal Church on Frankford Avenue.
The Society is a splendid repository of historical data pertaining to the industrial and
cultural development of the area from the days of its settlement to the present. Artifacts
include stoneware crockery, early fire memorabilia, Indian arrowheads, toys, pewter, china,
The library contains several thousand volumes, starting with the descriptions of the
Quakers right up to the Industrial Age. The J. Friend Lodge collection contains books and
artifacts relating to Abraham Lincoln and the Civil War. Local maps provide details of
Philadelphia and surrounding areas, and include a copy of Thomas Holmes first map.
Genealogical records for prominent Frankford families are also available.
In March, April, May, June, September, October, November, and December, the Society offers
a variety of programs on the second Tuesday at 7:30 pm, and special exhibits on the first
Sunday (except January, February, July, August, and September) from 1:00-4:00 pm. Tours of
the building are conducted regularly. Access for research or private tours can be arranged
by prior appointment. The Society is located one block west of the 4600 block of Frankford
Avenue, between the Church and Margaret-Orthodox Market/Frankford Line Elevated train
As an active and growing organization, we welcome your membership and contributions, and
invite you to join with us in preserving this distinctive element of our shared history.
Your interest will be appreciated; your membership and annual dues are an important part
of our support.
Please consider becoming involved in this exceptionally rewarding and worthy effort to
preserve and promote the history of Frankford and Northeast Philadelphia.