Port Richmond, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania


Port Richmond, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Port Richmond, also referred to as simply Richmond, is a neighborhood in the Near Northeast section of the United States city Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. It is notable for its extremely large Polish immigrant and Polish American community. The neighborhood is bounded by Frankford Creek on the north, York Street on the south, I-95 and the Delaware River to the east, and Trenton Avenue on the west.

While some have referred to Port Richmond as Richmond, there is an area named Richmond, not colloquially used often, that starts at Trenton Avenue and continues on to Kensington Avenue as the east-west borders, continuing the same north-south borders as Port Richmond. Adjacent neighborhoods are Bridesburg to the northeast, Frankford to the north, Kensington to the northwest, and Fishtown to the southwest.

Google streetmap of Port Richmond

* [http://maps.google.com/maps?sourceid=navclient&ie=UTF-8&rlz=1T4SUNA_enUS271US272&q=Port+Richmond,+Philadelphia,+PA,+USA&um=1&sa=X&oi=geocode_result&resnum=1&ct=image Port Richmond]

Colonial era heritage

In colonial times, most of today's Port Richmond was owned by Kevin Kenny, the founder of Philadelphia's Kensington neighborhood. Kenny put together various parcels of land starting around 1704. He named the estate he built "Hope Farm," and in 1729 sold this estate to William Ball. Kenny then purchased the old Fairman Mansion estate which bordered on the south of "Hope Farm" and built his town of Kensington. Over time some manufacturing began at the southern end of "Hope Farm" and this area became known as Balltown. There were glass and textile concerns located there during the later part of the 18th century.

A major coal terminal

During the 1800s, with the advent of the steam engine aboard ships, Port Richmond was a major terminus for colliers who received coal from the Reading Railroad facility at the port, and transported it to steam ships at other locations.

Colliers, as well as other merchant and military ships, continued to visit Port Richmond for coal until after World War I when coal-burning steam engines on ships were replaced by more modern oil and diesel engines.

*cite book
last = Strahan (ed.)
first = Edward
authorlink =
coauthors =
year = 1875
chapter =
title = A Century After, picturesque glimpses of Philadelphia and Pennsylvania
publisher = Allen, Lane & Scott and J. W. Lauderbach
location = Philadelphia
id =

Early 20th Century heritage

Port Richmond, at the beginning of the century, was a working-class neighborhood, and most workers simply walked to their nearby workplaces with lunch pail in hand. Cars were not common and those who had them stored them in stables. Stables for horses and cars were located in various parts of the area. Streets – unlike now --- were generally free of parked vehicles, allowing hucksters and other vendors space to easily proceed down the narrow side streets with their horse and wagon on a daily basis.

European immigrants arrived in large numbers and lost no time in scrimping and working long hours to earn sufficient money to purchase modest row homes, such as those along Chatham Street.

Usually, the only heat in such homes was provided by a coal-fired range in a tiny kitchen. Some comfort could be had in the fact that these homes contained tiny rooms, generally two downstairs and two upstairs, and were easy to keep warm from the heat of the kitchen range.

Such homes were generally twelve feet wide, and the entire length of the house was about twenty four feet. Cellars consisted of plain dirt floors. The fact that the homes were row homes, which were joined together by common walls, helped them retain heat during cold winter spells. Only the fronts and backs of each home presented themselves to the coldness of winter.

Why the cellars along Chatham Street, for example, contained dirt floors is not entirely clear, unless it was because the cellars were used simply for wood or coal storage or because of the fact that cement was not a widely used product at the time.

A ton of coal sold at the time for about four or five dollars a ton and would be sufficient for the entire winter. However, most people bought coal by the bucket from a street peddler who came by daily in his horse-drawn carriage.

The outside of these humble homes looked respectable with their wooden steps and brick sidewalks. Since this type of housing was of economic construction, the bricks in the sidewalk were laid in a crosshatch pattern in sand. When bricks were used in construction of the walls of the house, the mortar mix was made from lime and sand.

Chatham Street homes were constructed in the late 1800’s. Later, row homes in Port Richmond were generally sixteen feet wide and contained a cemented cellar, a coal-fired heater, and an upstairs bath for a total of for a total of five or six rooms.

Such newer homes, like those on Almond Street, for example, increased in size as prosperity improved for the residents. These homes were palatial when compared with Chatham Street homes, and contained a coal-fired furnace that provided central heat. They generally consisted of three bedrooms and a bath upstairs, and also a living room, dining room, and a kitchen downstairs. (See the Salmon Street photo for examples of this type of row home.)

Port Richmond residents were frugal and bought produce from the many street vendors who came by daily with their horse-drawn carts, loaded with fresh vegetables from nearby farms, located not very far away. Housewives could buy cabbage, cucumbers, potatoes, apples, and other vegetables by the bushel and store or preserve them for the winter.

Gas mains were installed in the neighborhood by the city of Philadelphia, and gas was metered into each home for cooking and illumination. The meter was in the basement, and required someone in the household to occasionally feed it coins to keep the gas flowing.

On Port Richmond sidewalks, tall gas lamps illuminated the streets. During each evening a lamplighter would come by to light the street lamps by igniting them with a very long device he held up in his hands.

"Source: The Challenge of the Times, by Tom Bojanowski, 1992, privately published."

Wartime heritage

Port Richmond played a major maritime role in American wars from the American Revolution and onwards through World War II. The William Cramp & Sons Shipbuilding Company, established in 1830 and located nearby, provided skilled work for local workers, who built the battleships USS|Indiana|BB-1 and the USS|Massachusetts|BB-2 for the Spanish-American War in the late 1800’s.

The shipyard, and others in the area, also built surface ships during the American Civil War -- such as the USS "Kensington"-- and during World War I, and World War II when Cramps' workforce employed 18,000 skilled workers.

During World War II, Port Richmond contained numerous docks and wharfs for the loading and unloading of war cargo. In addition, the riverside area contained numerous ancillary facilities, such as warehouses, work shops, and offices.

The Reading Railroad had used the port as a terminus for the transfer of coal, and, during the war, railroad service remained a vital function of the port, for its ability to quickly transfer goods to and from the port. The old Orinoka Mills in Richmond, was used as a training and wartime production facility in association with Masterman during the war.

Today, the port is a shell of its former World War II self, although some marine services still remain, such as the Tioga Marine Terminal at Tioga and Delaware Avenue.

Today's Port Richmond

Today, Port Richmond is a vibrant neighborhood with a deep and proud cultural history encompassing several centuries.Stores, some located down side streets, are small and numerous because of the nature of the existing row home architecture where row homes and homefronts have been converted to use as stores. However, many of these stores and drinking establishments offer food, drink and charm which is not available elsewhere. There are many Polish deli's and restaurants thoughout the neighborhood, evidence of the Polish ethnic background of the neighborhood. The neighborhood continues to attract Polish immigrants to live.

In addition to the area's Polish ethnicity, Lithuanians -- who have historically always been strongly linked with the Polish nation -- hold their dances, as well as catered affairs for the community, at the Lithuanian Dance Hall on Allegheny Avenue, just a few blocks west of Richmond Street.

Many Port Richmond homes have been refurbished and are now occupied increasingly by younger people, who no longer walk to work at the once bustling Port Richmond docks or to the tanneries and looms of their predecessors, but are employed in various parts of the city of Philadelphia, returning home in the evenings to the comfort of their picturesque neighborhood. Unfortunately, as the narrow side streets are a product of the horse-and-buggy era, car parking is a problem.

Principal thoroughfares

The two main thoroughfares of Port Richmond are Allegheny Avenue, running east/west, and Richmond Street and Aramingo Avenue, both running north/south.

Italian and Polish bakeries bake fresh bread and various traditional pastries and meats. A small luncheon restaurant called "Kitty's" (formerly "Rats") features a collage of pictures that splash the walls with the history of the neighborhood. It is located on the corner of Salmon and Somerset streets.

Port Richmond is also historically noted for the trolley tracks that run down Richmond Street (see photo at top of page) along the Delaware River. The trolleys have recently been restored and are running again.

Center city Philadelphia, with its metropolitan stores and historic tourist attractions, is not that far away. There is a southbound entrance to Interstate 95 on Allegheny Avenue, a half block east of Richmond Street, and I-95 will quickly take you to downtown Philadelphia or to the renaissance areas of South Philadelphia or to the Philadelphia International Airport.

On the other hand, to see the dynamic structures of Very Old Philadelphia, a drive to center city could be made south on Richmond Street and continuing on south on Delaware Avenue, providing a wonderful view of what remains of the ship terminals that once made the Port of Philadelphia a bustling seaport.

Polish heritage

During the late 1800s and early 1900s when immigration was at its peak in Philadelphia, Polish people settled on farms in Port Richmond. Soon, the Polish population increased massively, which produced rowhomes with their notable marble steps, and creation of Saint Adalbert Church, which was built in Polish Cathedral style.

Today, there are a number of Polish-speaking restaurants and stores in the area of Richmond Street and Allegheny Avenue. The Krakus market on Richmond Street offers a large selection of Polish and Eastern European foods, including a variety of kiebasy, Polish canned goods, Polish newspapers and various types of famous Polish pastries, such as Babka, Chrusciki and Paczki.

Philadelphia’s famous award-winning Polish American String Band which marches in parade down Broad Street on New Year’s Day, sometimes marches and struts through the neighborhood, as on Port Richmond’s Memorial Day celebration.

Despite its strong Polish roots, where even now, many still speak the language in ordinary conversation, the area has also served other nationalities, such as the Lithuanians, who have a dance hall on Allegheny Avenue. The Lithuanian Music Hall is currently the home of the Theatre Company of Port Richmond, a community theater providing entertainment to the community since 1984.

A half-dozen blocks west on Allegheny from Richmond Street, there is an ancient park, Campbell's Square, where neighborhood children play and where special community events are sometimes held.

People from Port Richmond

* Philadelphia composer, Joseph Hallman, is from Port Richmond/Fishtown.
* French/American concert pianist, Sandrine Erdely-Sayo, lives in Port Richmond.

References

* [http://www.port-richmond.com Polish Port Richmond Community]
* [http://www.globalsecurity.org/military/facility/cramp.htm William Cramp & Sons Shipbuilding Company]
* [http://www.ushistory.org/philadelphia/philadelphia.html Port Richmond]
* [http://www.philaport.com/tioga.htm Tioga Marine Terminal]
* [http://www.krakusmarket.com/ Krakus Market]
* [http://lcweb2.loc.gov/diglib/legacies/PA/200003469.html Polish American String Band]

See also

* Northeast Philadelphia
* Port of Philadelphia
* Polish Cathedral style

External links

* [http://www.nkcdc.org New Kensington Community Development Corporation (NKCDC) providing services to the lower Port Richmond area (south of Lehigh Avenue)]
* [http://www.TCPR.org Theatre Company of Port Richmond]
* [http://www.port-richmond.com Polish Language Port Richmond Community Site]
* [http://www.urbanspoon.com/n/21/2038/Philadelphia/Port-Richmond-restaurants Port Richmond Restaurants]
* [http://www.urbanspoon.com/r/21/257835/restaurant/Port-Richmond/Syrenka-Luncheonette-Philadelphia Syrenka Luncheonette (Polish)]
* [http://www.krakusmarket.com/ Krakus Polish Market, Richmond Street]


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