Header:Philadelphia History


Ridge Road — along most of its city course we usually call it Ridge Avenue — is a mart, a popular promenade, and a highway, in part urban, in part suburban and in part rural. It is one of the oldest the "great roads," as they once were known, that led out from Philadelphia into the inland, and it is the only road, or avenue, if we except old city proper. It has long been one of the most important as a "short cut" in our rectangular system of streets, as Moyamenshing, Woodland, Lancaster and Germantown also are, and beyond out city it passes into two of our counties through some of the most delightful landscapes in Eastern Pennsylvania. Almost everywhere along it may be traced some landmark or memory of the Native Americans of Tammany or Tedyuscung, of the Welsh Quakers, of the colonists of the Revolution, of the German settlers in not only the eighteenth, but the seventeenth century, and of the thrifty and substantial population which spread through either side of it in what was once the District of Spring Garden and Penn Township.

Even a stranger, when passing over it in the city, may easily see that it was not expressly designed for the municipality. Its turns and bends every now and then readily denote its original use as a country road. Its name betokens the high backbone, as it were, of the land which separates the valley of the Schuylkill from the valley of the Wissahickon, and even to this day there are some Philadelphians who keep up the habit of calling it the "Ridge Road." For mile after mile it consists of almost continuous rows of retail stores or shops, in which usually a small or moderate business is done and in most of which the storekeeper or shopman has dwelling or living quarters for himself or his family. It is a busy rather than a bustling thoroughfare, is well ordered rather than spick and span, and is marked for the most part by a simple, unaffected respectability. I do not know of any highway of its length and type which has a higher average of sobriety and decency in its habits and its habitat, despite a good deal of the floatsam and jetsam of town life that flows through it. In nowise is it a sensational or a showy street, but in most of its atmosphere there is something which suggests an honest one.

The Ridge Road or turnpike that ascends from the Wissahickon to the region behind Manayunk, and thence into Roxborough, and on to Manatawna and Barren Hill, and to the Whit Marsh county and over to Norristown, and thence up to the Perkiomen, is pleasant and peaceful in its domestic comfort. Some touch of ancient simplicity or historic quaintness may be noted there time and again. A good American sometimes feels, when going over it and seeing Valley Forge in the distance, as he does when he goes out on the road that leads from Boston to Lexington and Concord. Old Charles Thompson Jones, whose paternal grandfather was the Rev. David Jones, the "fighting Parson" of the Revolution, used to say that no one could live on the Ridge from boyhood without becoming a sound American, because the battle of Germantown and the march to Valley Forge would be sure to become a part of his very being. In recent years Roxborough has largely been taken out of the sort of semi-isolation in which it once existed by reason of the peculiarities of its topography, and although it is in need of more modern transit, it is now comparatively easy of access, and electric service has conquered the former terrors of its steep approaches. It has gradually become much more urban, but it still retains some of the old-fashioned American rural habits that have inherited in not a few of its thrifty homes.

In the city the shops and the shoppers, and the double tracks for the trolley cars, and the crowds of big trucks and wagons that go to or from Manayunk or Conshohocken often make Ridge Avenue look too narrow for its business and traffic. If we should ever have a Baron Haussman here to do what was done in Paris, he would make Ridge Avenue a hundred feet wide. Some day it may figure largely, too, in our schemes of transit as well as those processes of reconstruction which are followed by adornment. Directly upon it, that is in the city, churches of importance have always been few, and, for that matter so have important houses of amusement. The National theater at the Tenth and Callowhill Streets intersection, has become a thing of the past, and Israel Fleishman's Park, at the Fairmount Avenue intersection--it was built by him more than a quarter of a century ago in high expectation--never could quite get its roots into the soil. But for many years in the Twenty-fourth and Columbia Avenue quarter the Philadelphia Base Ball Club provided an abundance of good sport on the grounds which had once been the Doerr horse market, although poor Harry Wright, who had been so famous in Cincinnati and in Boston, labored in vain to repeat here his great achievements as one of the cleanest and manliest sportsmen of his time. Then, too, the simple joys of the catfish and waffle suppers in the little inns and wayside houses near "the Falls" have become almost archaic. Even Laurel Hill and the rest of the cemetery region to which countless funerals along "the Ridge" have passed for more than two generations, is no longer the area of silent seclusion it once while the advance of population everywhere along the boundary line of the East Park is sometimes suggestive of the value of extending the domain at some points into new territory. Moreover the mill district of the Dobsons and the rest of the captains of industry is no longer so cheerless as it used to be. One may now ride past them on the old road without feeling that sort of dreariness which depresses him when he is in the midst of the Down East severeness of Fall River.

But I must pause in recounting these rather random impressions and reflections of my own and recur for a moment to the little paper of the Monday Morning Class which serves as out text today. As its author remarks, the most famous and enduring landmark Ridge Road--although it ought not to be so enduring that provision may not be made some day for its removal, at least, in part--is Girard College which was dedicated seventy years ago on what had been the Peale Hall farm in quiet region of farms and villages of the Penn Township far beyond the city's frontier. A study of this alone would give rise to not a few curious entertaining, and also practical sources of local knowledge, such as the ladies of the Current Events Class would appreciate and enjoy, for it is by knowing the past, and knowing it by the small as well as the great affairs of life that may understand better both the present and the future. For example, if in the studies of Ridge Avenue they were to picture what it was in its early days as a turnpike at the point where it begins at Ninth and Vine Street and where Oliver Evans had his Mars Iron Works, they would find their inquiries into the life of that Quaker inventor, promoter and maitre de forge, carrying them into various fields of city lore. Or again, a few yards further on, where the Fairmount Fire Company had its origin among the butchers of Spring Garden when the district was still young, and where, in later days, David M. Lyle, the noted of the Chiefs of the Volunteer Fire Department, made his headquarters--for as the church is the bride of the priest, so was "the company" to him--the haunts, and habits, and exploits of the "Fairies" from the days of "Moses" and "Jakie" to the last of the red shirts, would furnish many a clue to the changes and the peculiarities that have come about in that quarter.


During Franklin's time the Quakers owned a tract of land located on what is now Ridge Avenue and Thirteenth Street. A place for pasturage for the Quakers who came from outlying points to attend meeting. Considered by all the inhabitants as a Common.

Here it was that Franklin accompanied by his son William, came to fly a kite, previous to a threatening storm. A kite-flying that was chronicled in the history of the world.