Wissinoming Firehouse - Engine Company 52. Photo Courtesy
of Robert Springer & Robert Smith
Wissinoming Firehouse - Engine Company 52. Built in
1888. Photo Courtesy of Robert Springer & Robert Smith
Uncle Sam and the children of the Lawton School participate in
patriotic celebration in 1942.
"Lawndale" - Residence of Robert Cornelius.
Formerly Cornelius Park, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Now
Wissinoming Park. Photo Courtesy of Frankford Historical
Lake in Wissinoming Park. Photo Courtesy of Frankford
Lawton School graduation class 1934. Photo Courtesy of Ann
Old Ladies Home - State Road, Wissinoming. Former Summer
Mansion of Mathias Baldwin of the Baldwin Locomotive Works, erected in
Wissinoming Railroad Bridge. "The Trestle" at
Lardners Point. Photo Courtesy of Frankford Historical
Aerial view of Yellow Jacket's Stadium, a Wissinoming attraction in
the 1920s and 1930s. It was home of the first professional
Football team, representing Philadelphia in the National Football
League. The stadium was located on the east side of Frankford
Avenue below Harbison Avenue.
This cannon stood in Lawton School's garden on Benner Street.
It was a memorial cannon presented on November 11, 1922 by the
Wissinoming Improvement Association and obtained through the Frankford
Arsenal. It was never fired and was donated to the scrap metal
drive in 1942. Photo Courtesy of Alice Rapp
Original Lawton School Building, opened in February 1902 for first
372 Papooses of Jope Lutheran Church - 1950 with Chief Halftown.
Photo Courtesy of Edna Altomari
In the fall of 1991, John Altomari invited an
acquaintance, Dr. Harry Silcox, to the Senior Citizens’ meeting at
Hope Lutheran Church, Benner and Ditman Streets. Here he showed his
slide presentation of Old Tacony which was excellent and well
received. One of the Seniors was actually seen on one of his historic
The added comments and questions impressed Dr. Silcox and he
suggested that something similar be initiated in the Wissinoming area.
John Altomari contacted several people who expressed interest
in the project and possibility of forming the Wissinoming Historical
Society was discussed. John advised Dr. Silcox of this project and
learned he was organizing a Northeast coalition of neighborhood
historical groups. A meeting was scheduled for October 9, 1991 at the
Tacony Music Hall, 4815-19 Longshore Avenue. John Altomari, Marie
McHeran, and Ann Peltz attended and thus began our affiliation with
Northeast Historical Affiliates.
The founding members are John Altomari (President), Alberta
Chase (Vice President), Ann Peltz (Secretary), Elsie Barnes
(Treasurer), Marie McHeran (Chairman of the Board), Edward Fink, Al
Irvine, Naomi Mellar, George Schule, Dorothy Weidemann and Walter
Admiral William Penn, father of William Penn the Quaker, was
given a land grant from the King of England that encompassed what
became Pennsylvania (Penn’s Woods). This area included Philadelphia
and what was then Oxford Township. It was named by the Seary family,
the first settlers in this area, who were Quakers from Oxfordshire,
England. Wissinoming was part of Oxford Township prior to the consoli-
dation of Philadelphia City and County in 1854, wherein twenty-eight
(28) boroughs and districts were brought together. The name
Wissinoming first appeared on a property deed in 1723 but was never
listed as an official subdivision or township of Philadelphia county.
Wissinoming takes its name from Wissinoming Creek, which is a
patent for land granted by Edmund Andros, Governor of the Province of
New York, on March 25, 1676, and was spelled, “Sissowokissinek,”
Indian for “long, slender fish.” Wissinoming Creek was a large
stream years ago. Many rare birds were to be found in the woods that
lined its banks, as well as foxes, squirrels, rabbits, and other wild
animals. This was especially true during the Civil War, when many
farms were deserted. Wolves were known to have crossed the Delaware
River on the ice from New Jersey as late as 1870.
The first inhabitants of Wissinoming were the Delawares of the
Lenni-Lenape Thbe until about 1755, which gives credence to the Indian
origin of the name. Various explanations of the name have been
offered, the most credible being “place where the grapes grow,”
probably from the wild grapes growing in the wooded areas. “Where
the waters run” may have been referring to the Delaware River or the
creeks existing in the early days. “Long, slender fish” perhaps
originates from the eels caught in the Delaware River.
The first grant to a white man in this area, a Swedish settler
named Peter Cock, in 1675, was named “Quessmacemink.” The
alternate spelling of this name is Kwissinomink, which would be
pronounced “Wissinoming” in English and would possibly mean
In 1805, a survey was made of the Howell Farm, upon which
Wissinoming is built. Howell Farm comprised 200 acres of land bounded
on the east by Torresdale Avenue, the west by Wissinoming Park, the
north by Wissinoming Creek (approximately the Robbins Avenue area),
and the south by Dark Run Lane (Cheltenham Avenue). It was purchased
by the Wissinoming Land Association in 1885.
Matthias W. Baldwin (1795-1866), the locomotive pioneer, named
his country home “Wissinoming.” It was opposite the railroad
station about 1853. A settlement grew up around this depot north of
Bridesburg. Early families included Castor, Lardner, Penrose, Foster,
Hannan, Salter, Cornelius, Lukens, and Bradner.
The Castor family was well known from the
earliest days of Wissinoming. The George Johnson Castor house is still
located at Howell and Tulip Street, which were originally known as
Dark Run Lane and Tacony Road. Howard Paul Castor, a nephew of Barton
Castor, was instrumental in having a road cut through from Frankford
to 160 Historical Northeast Philadelphia: Stories and Memories Tacony
on the north side of the railroad tracks. It was completed on July 3,
1894, and is presently known as Torresdale Avenue.
Professor T. Worcester Worrell wrote the following regarding
“a remarkable occurrence in the location of Wissinoming”:
The year 1816 is spoken of as ‘the year without a Summer.’
In that year the whole country suffered from abnormally low
temperatures, and this was especially true of the northern states. In
June, snow fell in New York to the depth of five inches, and
Massachusetts experienced a fall often inches. In Pennsylvania, frost,
snow and ice prevailed throughout the summer months. In May, ponds
were covered with ice one-half inch thick. Buds were frozen and crops
destroyed. Farmers, despairing of a corn crop, cut down the stunted
shoots and used them as fodder. In the whole state Wissinoming was
particularly fortunate in raising a few perfect stalks bearing full
ears. These were grown in fields with southern exposure in an angle
between two woods and shielded from the northern and eastern
Mr. Samuel A. J. Salter contributes the following interesting
facts regarding the early history of this vicinity.
“In May 1868, I moved to Wissinoming. I remember well the
fine old mansion owned by Matthias Baldwin fronted by the fine row of
shade trees which is now the Old Ladies Home. At that time there were
only the following houses: the Baldwin and David mansions, the Ball
and Castor homes, and four tenant houses. The surroundings were purely
rural. A beautiful woods extended from the Delaware River along
Wissinoming Creek almost to Bristol Turnpike, part of which still
remains. The shore of the Delaware was a beautiful gravel beach,
especially in front of “Somerset”, the Lardner’s place. In 1875
came the first change — the taking by the City of about three acres
of land from Somerset on the river front for a pumping station. This
was followed quite rapidly by industrial plants.
Salter’s memories of early Wissinoming also include the
following: skating parties and ice-yacht racing took place on the
Delaware River prior to 1900. Before the advent of street
illumination, people carried lanterns at night. The first street light
was placed on Howell Street in 1887. The ground along the river front
from Dark Run Lane to Homestead Street was used for many years as a
drilling ground for the mounted police. The Torresdale Avenue trolley
line was opened in 1903, ten years after Jackson Street was opened in
A little known fact about Wissinoming is that it was one of the
founding cities of the National Football League. The Frankford Yellow
Jackets played in the League from 1924 until 1931 when the franchise,
which is now the Philadelphia Eagles, was sold to Bert Bell and Fred
Wray for $2500. The Yellow Jackets were the National League Football
Champions in 1926. The Jacket Games drew 15,000 to 20,000 fans each
game. Salaries ranged from $250 to $300 per game and an additional $10
for practice. There were twenty-two teams in the league that year. The
Yellow Jackets won 14, lost 1 and tied 1. No other team played as many
as sixteen games. Due to the City’s “Blue Laws” the Yellow
Jackets had to play all home games on Saturday, then travel and play
the next day away. The teams limit was eighteen players, and they
played without shoulder pad equipment. Other teams in the league in
1926 were the Chicago Bears, Kansas City Cowboys, Green Bay Packers,
New York Giants, Providence Steam Rollers, Chicago Cardinals and
Canton Bull Dogs, to name a few.
Names of some great players who played on the Yellow Jacket
field are: Red Grange, Bronco Nagurski, Ken Strong, Charlie Rogers,
Lud Wray, Herb Joesting, Jim Thorpe, Ernie Nevers, George Halas, Curly
Lambeau, William Pete Henery, Robert “Cal” Hubbard, John McNally,
Jim Conzelman, William Lyman, Geo Trafton, Steve Owen, Walt Kiesling,
Joe Guijon, Arnie Herber, Ed Healey, August “Mike” Michalske, John
“Paddy” Driscoll, Grey Chamberlin, Morris “Red” Badgro and
others who were entered into the Football Hall of Fame.
In the early years of football, various sizes of the ball, some
under inflated, some inflated up to fifty pounds, were used. The rules
by 1929, however, specified size, weight, and inflation.
Wissinoming, a residential community since the early 1800s, has
long been overlooked by the industrial growth of Frankford and Tacony.
In a news item in 1923, describing the location of the Yellow Jacket
Stadium, nowhere is Wissinoming men- tioned: “The new field is above
Frankford on the road to Holmesburg.
Robert Cornelius (1809-1893), one of Wissinoming’s famous
residents, has been credited for taking the first photograph of the
human face ever taken. Robert married Harriet Comly of England
extraction, having three sons and five daughters. In 1851, Robert,
feeling a strong call to be out more in the country and to get away
from the people that he saw on a daily basis, bought a farm and woods
of 80 acres on old Bristol Pike (Frankford Avenue) at Dark Run Lane
The farm was owned in the 1830s by a man named Blackburn. John
Taylor owned the farm in the late 1840s and he called his estate
“Lawndale.” Cornelius purchased the farm from Edward and Lydia
Lukens for $18,500. Cornelius
built three wings to the small residence about the center of the
property, to accommodate his family and their children. When Robert
Cornelius and his wife celebrated their golden wedding anniversary,
thirty-two family members sat down to dinner and all thirty-two plus
servants slept comfortably in the house that night.
Cornelius planted over 4,000 trees, many rare specimens. The
creek that ran through the estate was dammed into two ponds. The
overseer’s house also was used as Sunday Church School. President
Abraham Lincoln was a friend and he visited Lawndale on occasion.
Lawndale was the center of social life during these times.
Robert Cornelius left behind a legacy. He has been recognized
as the person who did the most to beautify Wissinoming Park. After his
death, the eighty-acre estate changed hands a few times, parcels were
sold off and in 1913 Thomas and Indiana Tansey sold the forty-one
acres that encompasses the park as it is known today. It was sold to
the city of Philadelphia for $115,000 and named Cornelius Park. As
time went by, newer generations began calling it Wissinoming Park To
some old-timers, however, it is still known as Cornelius Park.
The generation gap produced nothing but positive results when
teenagers from Mr. Jerome Ruderman’s, Department Head of Social
Studies, class of Frankford High School met with Wissinoming
Historical Society’s Senior Citizens. These students interviewed
long term residents and learned what life was like before touch tone
phones, VCRs, automatic heat, computers, etc. They also learned what
changes took place in their neighborhood throughout the years.
Albert Irvine, a member of the Society and an antique car
collector, treated the teenagers to a ride in his Model A Ford
Roadster with its running boards and rumble seat proving that seeing
The following facts came to light from this unique meeting of
youngsters and old- timers.
with John Altomari
I was born of one immigrant parent, my father. My mother,
Gertrude White, was born in Frankford on Farina Street in 1895. Her
mother, Emma, was also born in Frankford. Her ancestry was English. My
mother was one often children. They were very poor.
My Grandfather White died at an early age. I remember my mother
telling me of their hardships, no indoor plumbing (not even water, it
was brought in with pails and buckets) and she picked coal along the
railroad tracks for heat. She went to work at age 13 in a hosiery mill
on Dark Run Lane (Wingohocking Street). I loved my mother very much
and my father was my real hero.
My father, Alfonso “Fred” Altomari, was born in 1885 in
Belsito, Italy. He came to America alone in 1899 through Ellis Island,
with a tag on his coat directing him to a family friend in Glasgo, New
York. It was customary in those days for immigrants here to help
others get to America. The “friend” must have been involved with
others who also helped and he sent my father to Frankford, to board
with the Fortino family on Unity Street. His first job was digging
ditches for the Philadelphia Gas Works. He spoke very little English,
but did progress to ajob with an Italian Baker, Joe Deni. Mr. Deni
must have liked him and his work habits. He learned to drive the
bakery truck and that started a life long job as a driver salesman.
My parents were married about 1910 or 12 and I have one sister,
Mary, born in 1914. They rented a house on Seller Street and shortly
after purchased a house, through the Bridesburg Perpetual Building and
Loan Association, at 1502 Unity Street where I was born. I grew up in
this house with running water, but no other plumbing facilities. My
mother cooked on a black cast iron coal stove in the kitchen. This,
along with a “pot belly” coal stove in the living room, provided
the only heat in the three story house.
As a small child, my mother bathed me in the kitchen in a
galvanized wash tub, heating water on the coal stove. I remember
visiting the backyard toilet on some very cold winter days.
Another vivid memory is the very poor gas lighting, when it
flickered a low flame, it meant I had to insert a quarter in the
cellar gas meter. Later on, when we first got electric lights, the
electric company had a promotion to replace burned out electric bulbs
free, by returning the burned out one. This was one of my chores.
On very hot summer nights, the temperature reached 100 degrees
and the four of us slept on the living room floor with the front and
back doors open and a small electric fan offering some relief.
After hot water heat was installed, my job was to tend the
furnace, rake, sift and remove the ashes to the front pavement on
trash day. I used to admire the trash men, who were strong enough to
lift and throw those heavy containers (just to empty them) about six
feet high into the trash trucks. Another man I admired was a neighbor
who drove the “back end” of the “hook and ladder” fire truck.
He was the superman of our childhood.
When my father installed an indoor bathroom, he did it himself
with the help of neighbors, one who had knowledge of plumbing. I can
vividly remember him and two other men struggling with a very heavy
cast iron bath tub up a very narrow curved stairway.
These were strong, hard working people. This is how the
immigrants progressed, helping each other.
Very few women worked outside the home. For those with
children, it was impossible, due to the needed labor in the home.
Cooking on a coal stove, washing on a washboard, hanging out the wash
(if it didn’t rain), draining the ice box water and polishing the
black iron stove was a full time job for a housekeeper. Also preparing
for the milk man, the bread man, the ice man (which meant a sign in
the window) and taking care of the children, in addition to the
shopping, visits to the butcher, the baker, and the grocer. Ironing
clothes was done with a flat iron, heated on the coal stove. Men
worked ten hours a day, six days a week and my father even worked
Our activities were the fun we made ourselves; playing marbles,
buck buck, red light, kick the can, peggy, and many others. We had a
crystal radio set for evening entertainment with one set of ear
phones. My father would place the earphones in a large glass bowl and
we would all lean close as it amplified the sound.
We went to the movies on Saturday night, either the Windsor or
the Frankford, where they had vaudeville. There were always beggars
along Frankford Avenue and I never saw my father pass one without
giving a dime. He always carried some dimes for this and told me how
fortunate he felt to be in America, the land of opportunity.
I had one good pair of suit clothes and school clothes. As
these became shabby, they became play and chore clothes. We either
wore them out or grew out of them.
In spite of my father’s poor English, which constantly
improved, he remained a very successful driver salesman. He became a
driver of a team of mules selling soft drinks for Booth Bottling
Company in Kensington. During summer vacation, he let me handle the
reins to drive the mules. There was little to no automobile traffic so
it was not dangerous.
One of his best customers was “Pleasant Hill,” a leisure
area in Torresdale, near where I now live. It had a bathing beach on
the Delaware River. Also very close was an old Philadelphia City
project for poor children, called “Camp Happy.” My father would
start very early from Kensington, drive the mules to Pleasant Hill,
deliver a full wagon load of soda to the various drink stands and
return late in the day to the plant. It was always late evening when
he arrived at home.
Another memory was a radio program called “Amos and Andy.”
It came on each evening after dinner and was so popular it was hurting
the movie theaters. The theaters finally advertised and played the
radio over a large amplifier before the movie in order to keep their
There were racial problems in those days, just as there are
today. The term was W.A.S.P., if you were not a “White Anglo Saxon
Protestant” you could have problems mixing with those who were,
getting a good job or getting promoted. My father was not well
accepted into the “white” family when he married my mother. This
racial feeling persisted, although to a much lesser degree, to my
marriage, where the name Altomari drew some comments.
My young days were fun with Boy Scouting and baseball, which I
enjoyed more than school. I was not a great student, but I never
flunked a grade.
with Mrs. Elsie Barnes
My name is Elsie Barnes. My husband and three of our children
went to Frankford High School. The other two went to Lincoln High. My
maiden name is Cartwright.
My grandfather, William Cartwright, immigrated from Liverpool,
England, in 1880 when he was twenty-one. At that time in England,
parents gave their daughters dowries when they married. When their
sons became twenty-one they were given a sum of money to “seek their
fortune.” Since Liverpool was a seaport, I think my grandfather may
have served his apprenticeship at a shipyard before he came to the
United States. He came here by way of Ellis Island, New York and went
to work at the New York Shipyard. He married Emila Ward, a girl from
Long Island, New York. Her family was also English. Later they moved
to Philadelphia and worked at Cramp’s Shipyard.
On my mother’s side of the family, my grandfather, David
Grason, who was English, moved to Philadelphia and worked at Cramp’s
Shipyard. He married a girl named Theodosia Cordray, whose family
immigrated from France. Both families lived in Kensington.
My father, Joseph Cartwright, also worked at Cramp’s. He met
and married Ida Grason, my mother.
My parents, my two brothers and I moved to Wissinoming in 1920.
Then my father was doing maintenance work for the Board of Education.
When we first moved to Wissinoming some of the houses still had
back houses (outside toilets) and water pumps, but our house already
had been changed to indoor plumbing, with a bathroom and running
water. Our house originally had gas lights, but it had been changed to
electricity before we moved in. The houses were still being heated by
coal. During the first World War, you had to have a prescription from
your doctor to buy a ton of coal.
The transportation to Northeast Philadelphia in 1900 was by
train, but as the neighborhoods built up, the trolley cars went into
service. Into the 1930’s we still had horse drawn trash wagons, milk
wagons and ice wagons. We didn’t have electric refrigerators. We had
to buy blocks of ice and put them in our ice box.
I remember our first radio. It was a crystal set that my father
put together. The wire was wrapped around a round oatmeal box. The
first station we heard was Pittsburgh. You had to have earphones to
I remember the hand-cranked automobiles, Oaldands and
Model T Fords. We did not have an automobile until 1938.
The Great Depression started in 1929 and was not completely
over until 1939. The financial condition of our neighborhood would be
considered average until the Great Depression, then nearly everyone
experienced being poor.
Most of the people were out of work The house rent was about
$25 a month. Some of the women tried to earn money by sewing because
they and their friends could not afford to buy clothing.
Some of the women in the Kensington area earned money by sewing
baseballs by hand.
In my mother’s home there were seven adults and one child
with only $45 a month income. Meals had to be planned so each one was
getting enough nourishment for as little money as possible. During the
Second World War (1941-1945), food, sugar, shoes, tires, meat and
liquor were rationed. The government gave you coupons (ration books)
for each of these items. When your coupon book was empty you had to
wait for the next issue.
In 1934 my husband, Harry Barnes, was working at wall scraping.
He was working six days for $12.50 a week The men worked in pairs and
they had to scrape the walls and ceilings of six rooms a day.
In 1935, he went to work at Disston Saw Works. He was paid 37
and a half cents an hour for grinding saws. When he started to do
piece work his pay was raised to sixty cents an hour or twenty-four
dollars a week.
Harry joined the fire department in 1940. He was paid $1,820 a
year for working eighty-four hours a week, which comes to $35 a week.
Before TV, people used to visit one another, play cards or
stand around the piano and sing. The young people used to play street
games such as jumping rope, hop scotch and hide and seek The teenagers
played team games such as lie low sheepy, red rover, cowboys and
Indians or cops and robbers. They would play on a small back street
with no through traffic.
In the early 1920’s Wissinoming had a movie theater on the
east side of Torresdale Avenue. It’s name was the “Elite” but
the kids calledit~-the “Flea Bite.” Then the Northeastern movie
was built at Torresdale and Benner Streets.
Wissinoming had a large Halloween Parade which anyone in
costume could enter. They also had a Memorial Day Parade in which the
First World War Veterans marched, but the Civil War Veterans rode in
open cars. They also had a 4th of July Parade, which started at Lawton
School and ended up at Wissinoming Park. Then we would have a picnic
in the park. After dark, people from all over would come to see the
fireworks display. The neighborhood churches all had their church
picnics in the park too.
The Yellow Jackets Stadium was on the east side of
Frankford Avenue, between Benner and Devereaux Streets. The Frankford
Yellow Jackets was started in Frankford by the Frankford Athletic
Association. When they joined the National Football League, they
played at the stadium in Wissinoming. When they sold the franchise in
1933, the name of the team was changed to the Philadelphia Eagles.
Red Grange and Olympian Jim Thorpe played with the Yellow
Jackets. Ernie Nevers still holds the record for scoring forty points
in one game.
with Paul Stiteler
Michelle K. Hazelwood
My family immigrated from Germany in the 1700’s. I had a
grandfather who fought and died in the Civil War and my mother’s
father was a baker.
While I was growing up my family’s financial situation was
good. We always had food and my father, at times, helped out the rest
of the family. He was very generous. We ate well-balanced, standard
American meals, with things such as apple dumplings. My mother baked
delectable pies, which she learned from her father.
I was born n 1919 and grew up in the “roaring twenties.”
The twenties were prosperous years. I often played hide and seek or
red rover come over. Growing up was good, I often hung out at
Robbins’ Field and played touch football. Sometimes we would go to
Shibe Park to see the Athletics. We would watch House of David, which
was a professional exhibition game. They would pass “the hat” and
ask for donations. In Wissinoming we could watch the Philadelphia
Twilight League who were semi- professional. I enjoyed building model
airplanes and I also listened to nursery rhyme records.
In the twenties, electricity and plumbing were installed in
homes. The indoor plumbing was a big deal, we no longer had to walk
outside in the cold to use the bathroom. We also could listen to music
and the first automobiles were on the streets.
My family and I moved to Wissinoming in the 30’s. As I got
older I spent my leisure time playing football. I attended Northeast
High School, but never played any organized sports for school. I would
say, “I got a football injury, I fell out of the stands.” I also
attended church functions and dances to associate with girls.
My wife and I met at a dance and married in 1941. The 40’s
went by rapidly due to the war. I was a tool maker, so I didn’t have
to go to war. Mechanics were needed for the homefront. I worked sixty
hour weeks because the industry began to pick up.
World War II didn’t affect us too much, of course, we bought
bonds for patriotic reasons. Money for war bonds was taken from my
pay, but after ninety days we could redeem them.
The first election I remember was Al Smith versus Hoover. It
was a big election because Al Smith was Catholic. During election time
there would be big rallies and marches up and down the streets. On
election night we would go out and make a big bonfire.
Transportation is about the same now as then. I would take the
elevated train when traveling into Center City. I also rode the
trolley. Public transportation cost fifteen cents for two tokens and
Wissinoming hasn’t changed from when I was growing up. Most
of the houses had already been built. Actually the only change had
occurred above Frankford Avenue. What was once all farm land is now