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  1. #1
    Don Schneider is offline Member
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    Default History of East Oak Lane

    I was wondering if anyone had any information on the history of East Oak Lane. Being bordered by the typical Philadelphia row house neighborhoods of Olney and West Oak Lane (and Cheltenham at the Montgomery County line of Cheltenham Avenue), it seems so aberrant. It contains many large single houses and the entire old line suburban ambience makes me wonder if it antedated its incorporation into the city (at some time in the past) as an independent entity, incorporated or otherwise. Was it always part of Philadelphia County? I’ve always wondered about this.

    Noam Chomsky, the controversial political philosopher, and Hugh Panaro, the Broadway actor/singer, were raised in this neighborhood.

    Thank you.
    Last edited by Don Schneider; 01-17-2011 at 07:14 PM.

  2. #2
    uly55es1's Avatar
    uly55es1 is offline “anobium punctatum.”
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    Amazon.com: Oak Lane Olney and Logan by Marita Krivda Poxon, Rachel Hildebrandt and the Old York Road Historical Society

    There will also be a book signing and reception at the Oak Lane Branch of the Free Library Of Philadelphia 12th St and Oak Lane Ave on Jan 23 from 2p till 4p rsvp: tm.poxon@verizon.net or call 215-886-8590

    http://www.eastoaklane.org/
    Last edited by uly55es1; 01-18-2011 at 05:26 AM.
    But if any provide not for his own, and specially for those of his own house, he hath denied the faith, and is worse than an infidel. 1 Timothy 5:8 Translations

  3. #3
    Don Schneider is offline Member
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    Thanks for the tip. I shall check out the book! The association's link is at least somewhat informative as well. It was first settled in 1863, I suspect long before Olney and West Oak Lane and other neighborhoods to the south and west of it. It apparently was once part of "Bristol Township," and presumably independent prior to its incorporation into the city. Before the city grew to it, I guess it had been somewhat isolated for a period of time.

    Best regards,

    Don
    Last edited by Don Schneider; 01-18-2011 at 06:23 PM.

  4. #4
    Don Schneider is offline Member
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    I’m sorry, but I made a transposition, typographical error. East Oak Lane was founded in 1683 and not 1863 as I typed. (Too late to edit, apparently.) Big difference there!

  5. #5
    dennis DeBrandt is offline Junior Member
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    To John Schneider and others. Marita Krivda and the Old York Road Assn have just published a photo history of Oak Lane, Olney and Logan. I haven't seen it yet. I independently put together a history of the old Bristopl Township narrowing it over time to East Oak Lane. All the lands were claimed, probably not much settled, by 1687 attested to by a map of that year. The settlement really occurred in the 18th century but consisted largely of farms and later estates until the latter part of the 19th century. Oak Lane developed before areas to the south because of the railroad station of that name located initially where Oak Lane Avenue crosses today. Earliest extant houses are to the east of the railroad built about 1880. The area to the west was built on about 1900 and after. I hope to get my narrative on a web site soon. Its based on maps, censi, wills, historic records and accounts by Anne deB Mears and S.F. Hotckins. I included photos of the early 1900s but mostly those taken by the city in the 1950s. I grew up there in the 1950s. So to answer your question about the houses. Oak Lane became a desirable place to live because of the railroad and the easy access it afforded to the city. It already by the middle to late 19th century had a number of estates and it was a summer time destination for some as shown by Lawnton House. Joseph Wharton had an estate as did an Ingersoll, Fox, Culp and Kane families. T. Henry Asbury was probably the first real developer and he owned most of the land from the railroad to Old York Road north of say 69th Avenue. Maps show the names of other developers who bought land west of the railroad in about 1900. Philadelphia County/City took its present boundaried in about 1780 when Montgomery County was formed and Cheltenham Avenue became the city line. I'm not sure when Bristol Township was formed but probably about that time. The city and county were made co-terminus in 1854. It was never incorporated as were Frankford and Germantown. I'll keep you posted about the web site. Regards Dennis DeBrandt

  6. #6
    Don Schneider is offline Member
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    Dennis:

    Thanks much for having taken the time to fill us in on quite a bit of the history behind East Oak Lane. Was this Oak Lane railroad station you mention along the same right of way that is currently used by the SEPTA commuter line (formerly Reading RR) of which Fern Rock would be the closest extant station?

    I had already surmised that East Oak Lane antedated Olney and points south for quite some length. You say that was because of the railroad station. But that presents a chicken or the egg sort of problem. Why would there have been a RR station there if it had not already been settled, at least to some extent? If it had been settled by largely small farmers, why did they farm there when there were apparently no farmers in what is now Olney and points south? Olney (and perhaps Logan and Feltenville) were still wooded and vacant lands? If so, why then the original leapfrog over what is now these neighborhoods in order to farm in what is now East Oak Lane?

    A guess (just that) on my part would be that the original settlers did not come from the south (from center city Philadelphia), but rather from the west. I noticed on another site that Germantown was first settled in 1683 as well (by German Mennonites and Quakers in response to William Penn’s invitation). The RR you spoke of probably had a stop in Germantown as well. (Do you know what the beginning and end of the line was? Perhaps Philadelphia to Reading?)

    Therefore, perhaps Olney and points close by south of it were actually originally settled from the north rather than from the south as one might expect. Maybe farmland in Olney (and West Oak Lane) was ultimately bought out by real estate developers at a much later date and developed as low income row house neighborhoods, while East Oak Lane retained its present character because of the estates and large houses built there that you noted. That is, after most of the East Oak Lane farms vanished it transformed into an old line suburban environment (much like Cheltenham), even after being incorporated into the city.

    Although this is speculation on my part, I am beginning to get a picture as to what happened in this area. Your input has been very helpful, and I look forward to your upcoming website. Please do keep us informed. It sounds most interesting.

    Best regards,

    Don Schneider
    Last edited by Don Schneider; 01-24-2011 at 06:59 PM.

  7. #7
    dennis DeBrandt is offline Junior Member
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    Default More on East Oak Lane

    Yes, the Oak Lane station was just north of Fern Rock. I used to ride the old Reading Railroad. The express took 11 minutes to the terminal in Center City. The development of Olney came after Oak Lane because it was not on the Railroad although there was a railroad ine that went out that way. Fern Rock Station was put in right by the Kane Estate and others so perhaps the land was not available initially for development. I believe there were farmers in Olney just that it got passed by. The railroads were expanding in all directions and the one to the north a first was called Pennsylvania Railroad North that went broke and the Reading took over. That railroad had ambitions to go north and the old Reading Railroad, with its Crusader, stainless steel, locomotive traveled that route to Jersey City, NJ. The railroad did not go through Germantown. It began probably where the Terminal was to points north. The Reading RR originally connected Reading with Philadelphia and covered all northeastern PA for the coal traffic. When I was growing up the local went to Hatboro with the main transit point north at Jenkintown. Note that the Old York Road enabled the creation of Milestown in the early 1700s at Oak Lane Avenue and Old York Road. In the 1800 and 1900s there was little settlement in what is now East Oak Lane. We did not call it a such in the 1940s and 50s.

    The maps of the late 19th century show the steady northward encroachment of street grids from the south. What differentiates East Oak Lane from surrounding areas is that it was developed much earlier with the taste of replicating the estate, summer house quality. By the 1920s row house were in, witness the row houses built in the period on the 700 block of 69th Avenue. As I mentioned, Oak Lane, as Bristol Township, was part of the city as of 1780s and certainly by 1854.

    I have one great story. Anne deB Mears wrote that in making the railroad cut just north of Oak Lane Avenue in the 1850s they cut out a boulder roughly 4' by 8'. They put a huge charge under it thinking that they could break it into pieces. The charge sent the boulder 200 feet in the air just narrowly missing a house on what is now Verbena Avenue. I took a Google tour of Verbena Avenue and there is a 4' by 8' boulder now 20 feet from a house of that vintage on Verbena Avenue. Regards Dennis

    Much of the land was bought by settlers who came from England and some from Germany directly from Wm Penn and then was resold to newer English immigrants and some German and French.

  8. #8
    dennis DeBrandt is offline Junior Member
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    Concerning your chicken and egg dilemma, in the 1850s when the railroad was built there were only two east west roads in what we call East Oak Lane. (I don't think Cheltenham Avenue was in place.) Th eastt west road in the south was Green Lane where Fern Rock Station was built, not called Green Lanes Station because a station somewhere had that name. The northern east west cross road was Oak Lane, recently changed from Martin's Mill Road by Hall Murcer who lived at about 10th Street and Oak Lane Avenue. So the road caused the creation of the station not the nuymber of people who lived there. I think the railroad could have anticipated the development of the area when it got the trains running. Regards Dennis

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    Joeolney is offline Senior Member
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    Dennis, thanks for the info. This is great news. I have been waiting for an Images of America book on Olney for years. I grew up at Mascher and Godfrey and was always amazed at the houses on the other side of 5th and Godfrey, jealous of my St Helena classmastes who lived in them. Please do update this thread when you have your website up. I look forward to reading it. I have never been able to find much out about Olney, except for information such as this:

    Olney, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania at AllExperts
    "...we made the grade and still we wonder who the hell we are"

  10. #10
    Joeolney is offline Senior Member
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    Quote Originally Posted by dennis DeBrandt View Post
    Yes, the Oak Lane station was just north of Fern Rock. I used to ride the old Reading Railroad. The express took 11 minutes to the terminal in Center City. The development of Olney came after Oak Lane because it was not on the Railroad although there was a railroad ine that went out that way. Fern Rock Station was put in right by the Kane Estate and others so perhaps the land was not available initially for development. I believe there were farmers in Olney just that it got passed by. The railroads were expanding in all directions and the one to the north a first was called Pennsylvania Railroad North that went broke and the Reading took over. That railroad had ambitions to go north and the old Reading Railroad, with its Crusader, stainless steel, locomotive traveled that route to Jersey City, NJ. The railroad did not go through Germantown. It began probably where the Terminal was to points north. The Reading RR originally connected Reading with Philadelphia and covered all northeastern PA for the coal traffic. When I was growing up the local went to Hatboro with the main transit point north at Jenkintown. Note that the Old York Road enabled the creation of Milestown in the early 1700s at Oak Lane Avenue and Old York Road. In the 1800 and 1900s there was little settlement in what is now East Oak Lane. We did not call it a such in the 1940s and 50s.

    The maps of the late 19th century show the steady northward encroachment of street grids from the south. What differentiates East Oak Lane from surrounding areas is that it was developed much earlier with the taste of replicating the estate, summer house quality. By the 1920s row house were in, witness the row houses built in the period on the 700 block of 69th Avenue. As I mentioned, Oak Lane, as Bristol Township, was part of the city as of 1780s and certainly by 1854.

    I have one great story. Anne deB Mears wrote that in making the railroad cut just north of Oak Lane Avenue in the 1850s they cut out a boulder roughly 4' by 8'. They put a huge charge under it thinking that they could break it into pieces. The charge sent the boulder 200 feet in the air just narrowly missing a house on what is now Verbena Avenue. I took a Google tour of Verbena Avenue and there is a 4' by 8' boulder now 20 feet from a house of that vintage on Verbena Avenue. Regards Dennis

    Much of the land was bought by settlers who came from England and some from Germany directly from Wm Penn and then was resold to newer English immigrants and some German and French.
    Perhaps Olney's development was spurred by the Olney station on the Newtown Branch of the Reading line at Mascher street. Those houses in that area seem to be from the later 19th century versus the more bland rowhome I grew up in at Mascher and Godfrey. I did not know until recently that I lived on the border of Olney. I had thought that Olney went up to Cheltenham Ave
    "...we made the grade and still we wonder who the hell we are"

  11. #11
    dennis DeBrandt is offline Junior Member
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    Default East Oak Lane History

    I'm probably telling you about something you already know, but log onto phillyhistory.org where you can view and even copy old photographs of Philadelphia including East Oak Lane, some in the latter from early in the century but most from the 1950s in connection with claims made from the blasting out for sewers and storm drains. Then compare them with google street views and decide if we have progressed in city design and ambience. Regards Dennis DeBrandt

  12. #12
    dennis DeBrandt is offline Junior Member
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    Default East Oak Lane History

    Quote Originally Posted by Joeolney View Post
    Dennis, thanks for the info. This is great news. I have been waiting for an Images of America book on Olney for years. I grew up at Mascher and Godfrey and was always amazed at the houses on the other side of 5th and Godfrey, jealous of my St Helena classmastes who lived in them. Please do update this thread when you have your website up. I look forward to reading it. I have never been able to find much out about Olney, except for information such as this:

    Olney, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania at AllExperts
    I looked over the Images of America, Oak Lane, Olney and Logan and reveled in the wonderful photos of the region. I guess Fern Rock got subsumed in Oak Lane or Olney. I always knew where Olney was bcause of the shopping district at Christmas with two five and dimes, Kresges and Woolworths almost next door to one another. What a busy place at that time of year and we walked there and back, a good couple of miles. But Logan was a mystery to me as a defined place except for the railroad station. I guess it was the area south of Godfrey. You can get the book through Amazon for about $15.00 and at a bookstore for $22.00. Regards Dennis DeBrandt

    ll

  13. #13
    dennis DeBrandt is offline Junior Member
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    Default East Oak Lane History

    In the Images of America, Oak Lane etc there are separate sections on Fern Rock and West Oak Lane, they just ddn't get into the title. The one thing that astounds me is that practocally every building from the 18th and 19th centuries were leveled even as recently as the 1960s and 1980s. Go to Germantown and they still stand. Go to Hartford CT and Springfield MA and 18th century houses abound. I guess Phila was too dynamic an area in the late 19th and early 20th centuries for anyone to care about the old houses. Recently I was traveling along via Google Street Views and got to the corner of Chelten and Broad Street where across the way on the northwest corner stood what appeared to be an old building cream/yellow in color. Crossing Broad Street via Google taken at a later date the structure was gone except for the fieldstone wall around it. So, are we still taking down old houses?? Dennis DeBrandt

  14. #14
    Joeolney is offline Senior Member
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    Hey Dennis. I have ordered the book and am looking forward to reading it. Logan was always too far removed for me to even realize where it was in relation Olney. since I lived on what I know now to be the northern border of Olney, the furthest I was allowed to go as a youngster was Zapf's music store on fifth street. I had thought that Olney ended at the Railroad bridge right before Somerville Ave. Logan is south of 5th but I am not too sure of the borders. I never knew it to be a nice area, being born in 1970. My father would sometimes exit the Blvd early and cut through there to get home.
    "...we made the grade and still we wonder who the hell we are"

  15. #15
    dennis DeBrandt is offline Junior Member
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    Default East Oak Lane History

    I went to school with Eric Zapf and I recall he lived on 5th street. This was the 1950s Dennis

  16. #16
    dennis DeBrandt is offline Junior Member
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    Default Est Oak Lane History

    I'd like to ask if Ed Schneider and Joeolney still have connections with Oak Lane or if like me have long ago moved away. I am in touch with a number of people who grew up in East Oak Lane in the 1930s, 40s and 50s and have solicited copies of old photos and old memories. In this I have not succeeded. So I solicit you especially memories that I can include in the personaL memories section of the web site. Joeolney must have hung around Sturgis Field. I did a little when they had Memorial Day or Flag Day festivities with root and birch beer in wooden barrels and games. We all used a field in Melrose Park for our games and we called it just that "the field." By the time I left Oak Lane and my father sold the house on 69th Avenue, the neighborhood was changing in that many of the big houses were converted to apartments and other big houses became Eastern Rite Catholic Churches. The stores were closing on Oak Lane Avenue, we called it that then but I think it's called just Oak Lane now. And I think East Oak Lane was going downhill starting in the 1930s and even in the 1940s many of the houses were vacant because they were too big and expensive to keep up. I don't know why it declined since I don't think "white flight" was the reason although in other sections of Philadelphia, particularly West Philadelphia, moving out of the city for racial reasons was in full throttle. My son is making my web and he's learning as he goes. It's long, 135 pages of text, maps, census figures and photos. Dennis DeBrandt



    Quote Originally Posted by Don Schneider View Post
    Dennis:

    Thanks much for having taken the time to fill us in on quite a bit of the history behind East Oak Lane. Was this Oak Lane railroad station you mention along the same right of way that is currently used by the SEPTA commuter line (formerly Reading RR) of which Fern Rock would be the closest extant station?

    I had already surmised that East Oak Lane antedated Olney and points south for quite some length. You say that was because of the railroad station. But that presents a chicken or the egg sort of problem. Why would there have been a RR station there if it had not already been settled, at least to some extent? If it had been settled by largely small farmers, why did they farm there when there were apparently no farmers in what is now Olney and points south? Olney (and perhaps Logan and Feltenville) were still wooded and vacant lands? If so, why then the original leapfrog over what is now these neighborhoods in order to farm in what is now East Oak Lane?

    A guess (just that) on my part would be that the original settlers did not come from the south (from center city Philadelphia), but rather from the west. I noticed on another site that Germantown was first settled in 1683 as well (by German Mennonites and Quakers in response to William Penn’s invitation). The RR you spoke of probably had a stop in Germantown as well. (Do you know what the beginning and end of the line was? Perhaps Philadelphia to Reading?)

    Therefore, perhaps Olney and points close by south of it were actually originally settled from the north rather than from the south as one might expect. Maybe farmland in Olney (and West Oak Lane) was ultimately bought out by real estate developers at a much later date and developed as low income row house neighborhoods, while East Oak Lane retained its present character because of the estates and large houses built there that you noted. That is, after most of the East Oak Lane farms vanished it transformed into an old line suburban environment (much like Cheltenham), even after being incorporated into the city.

    Although this is speculation on my part, I am beginning to get a picture as to what happened in this area. Your input has been very helpful, and I look forward to your upcoming website. Please do keep us informed. It sounds most interesting.

    Best regards,

    Don Schneider

  17. #17
    EastOakLane is offline Junior Member
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    Default 2nd Annual Architectural Lecture Series in East Oak Lane 2011 Spring

    Hey gentlemen, I have enjoyed the discussion about the origins of East Oak Lane. Perhaps you would like to know some more.
    The Friends of the Oak Lane Library announce their Second Annual East Oak Lane Architecture Lectures this spring, 2011. Two distinguished speakers will lecture on two different Sunday afternoons in the Youth Auditorium of the Korean United Church of Philadelphia, PCA, formerly the Oak Lane Methodist Episcopal Church. The Church is located at 12th Street and Cheltenham Avenue in East Oak Lane. Marita Krivda Poxon will introduce both lectures. Before the first lecture, she will give a short presentation on T. Henry Asbury, father of modern Oak Lane, and the architectural style of the cottages he built, many of which were designed by Harrison Albright.
    On Sunday March 27th, 2011 at 3PM, Dr. Jeffrey Cohen, Senior Lecturer in the Growth and Structure of Cities Program at Bryn Mawr College, will give the first lecture. His talk will look at the evolution and early architecture of East Oak Lane, exploring that through early maps and other documents that help us discover its story. Using some of the same pictures in the recent publication, Oak Lane, Olney & Logan (Arcadia Publishing, 2011 – written by Marita Krivda Poxon, Rachel S. Hildebrandt and the Old York Road Historical Society), he will discuss their architectural character and their association with other Victorian domestic buildings in Philadelphia.
    On Sunday April 17th, 2011, at 3 PM, David S. Traub, prominent Philadelphia architect and co-founder of Save Our Sites, which advocates for the preservation of sites and structures within the City of Philadelphia, will give his lecture “ FARM HOUSE TO RANCH HOUSE. THE HISTORY OF ARCHITECTURAL STYLES IN EAST OAK LANE.” Mr. Traub will emphasize the importance of the preservation of East Oak Lane with its wide range of architectural styles as an historic neighborhood within Philadelphia
    The lectures are free and open to the public. There will be light refreshments. Free Parking in the KUC Parking Lot at 70th Ave and Old York Road. Walk out rear, past cemetery to church on 12th Street. For more information, email Marita.Krivda2@verizon.net
    Regards, T Michael Poxon

  18. #18
    dennis DeBrandt is offline Junior Member
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    Default The Tavern

    In the Arcadia book on East Oak Lane, the Tavern owned by a McShain is considered the oldest building in the area being more than 300 years old and that for some period in its history it was a tavern. Yet it was not located back when on any road with Green Lane way to the south and York well to the west Taverns/Inns are marked on the old maps on York Road but the Tavern is not. It does show on the 1910 Bromley Atlas but that's it. Nada on the 1753, 1777, 1808, 1843, 1847, 1853, 1855, 1856, 1862 maps. A Nice house appears near on the 1856 map. Was it ever a residence and do any names attach with it?

    Also I was taking a Google stroll at Chelton and Broad Street and spotted what appeared to be an old structure on the northwest corner. It completely disappeared by the time I crossed Broad, meaning there was a time lapse in the picture taking, a long time lapse. So anyone know what that building was and was it old? Dennis

  19. #19
    EastOakLane is offline Junior Member
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    Default The Tavern

    The documentation for the Tavern is admittedly incomplete., but has been the subject of extensive study by Janet McShain. The Nice farm appears the most logical forerunner, situated in the middle of an estate, not on the road, but at the end of a lane from the road to the house. As such it would have afforded travelers some privacy, and for a while it may have been a family's residence. Archeological studies may help confirm the age of the house, and when each section was built. Tax records may exist, perhaps in Norristown?? By the way, MJK received finally the MS of History of EOL, that had been left unopened at her former job. Very good job. MJK will comment soon. Regards, TMP

  20. #20
    Joeolney is offline Senior Member
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    Quote Originally Posted by dennis DeBrandt View Post
    I went to school with Eric Zapf and I recall he lived on 5th street. This was the 1950s Dennis
    Zapf's was quite the destination in my youth. I believe it got back down to one store before they closed altogether
    "...we made the grade and still we wonder who the hell we are"

 

 

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