Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Fifth Generation Poweltonians

In an earlier post (Of Church and Family), I discussed the long ties between the Andrews and Alexander families and the Northminster Presbyterian Church.  At the end of that piece, I noted that Julian and Virginia Alexanders' two children (Julian, Jr. and Louisa) were the great-grandchildren of four Poweltonians: Alexander and Amelia Andrews and Horace and Mary Hill.  I have recently discovered that that is only half of the story.

Seven of Julian and Louisa Alexanders' eight great-grandparents lived in Powelton.  The eighth died in 1858 before people began to move into the neighborhood.  In addition, one of their great-great-grandmothers also lived here.

 Ancestors of Julian and Louisa Alexander
with Home Addresses in Powelton
(click to enlarge)

As I described previously, Julian and Louisa's great-grandparents, Alexander and Amelia Andrews, were among the earliest residents of Powelton.  They purchased 3507 Baring St. in December, 1859.  Alexander had recently begun trading grain and became quite successful.  However, they bought the house with money from a trust set up for Amelia and her siblings when their parents died quite young.  Amelia died in 1873 at age 50.  Alexander sold 3507 in 1882 and died five years later at the home of his daughter and son-in-law, E. P. Alexander.

Julian and Louisa's paternal grandparents, Euretta Andrews and Edward P. Alexander, married in 1874 and moved into a new home at 306 N. 35th St.  Edward and his siblings, Charles, Josephine, and Henry moved to Philadelphia from New Hampshire in the 1860s.  In 1867, they founded Alexander Brothers, manufacturers of industrial leather belts.  The brothers purchased a new home at 3626 Baring St. in 1869. Their father, Lemuel Alexander (another great-grandfather of Julian and Louisa), joined them sometime in the 1870s.  He died in 1883.  Euretta and Edward lived at 306 for 48 years before selling it in 1922.  Euretta died the next year and E. P. died in 1927.

Euretta and Edward's youngest child, Julian, married Virginia Hill in 1914.  Virginia (Julian, Jr. and Louisa's mother) was the granddaughter of Horace and Mary Wiggins Hill.  Like the Alexander family, Horace Hill's family was from New Hampshire and Maine.  He was born in Pennsylvania, but his parents and his older siblings were born in New England.  In 1860, Horace and Mary were living at 3504 Hamilton St. with their newborn son, Horace G. Hill.  About 1861, they moved to 3405 Hamilton St.  Mary's mother (Julian and Louisa great-great-grandmother), Elizabeth Wiggins, lived with them from before 1870 until her death in 1886.  In 1894, Horace Hill retired as assistant cashier for the Philadelphia National Bank where he had worked for 39 years.  The next month, the couple sailed for Europe where they were to spend the next two years traveling.  On their return, they moved out to Belmont Ave.

The Hill's son, Horace G. Hill, was a 1882 graduate of Jefferson Medical College.  In 1886, he married Maria L. Bennett.  Her parents, Joseph S. Bennett and Virginia Grier (or Greer) Bennett, moved their family to 3519 Hamilton St. in 1870.  Joseph was a wholesale druggist but his changing occupation suggests he might have suffered financial setbacks.  In 1880, they were living with Virginia's cousins at 3410 Race St.  When Horace and Maria were married in 1886, they moved to 3416 Baring St. and Joseph and Virginia Bennett moved in with them.  Joseph died in 1892.  Both Horace G. Hill and his mother-in-law, Virginia Bennett, died in 1901.  Maria Hill apparently had to make adjustments for the loss of her husband's income.  She first moved with her three children to the smaller 3419 Hamilton St. and about ten years later, she downsized again moving to 409 N. 36th St.

The Hill family was living on 36th St. in 1914 when Virginia Hill and Julian Alexander were married.  However, Virginia and Julian grew up just around the corner from each other.  Virginia Hill's father died just before her 14th birthday.  After their wedding, Virginia and Julian moved to 3417 Race St.  where Julian, Jr. and Louisa were born.  Virginia's mother, Louisa Hill, lived with them.  Julian worked in the family business.  Tragically Julian, Sr. died in the 1930s when he was only in his 40s.
Julian and Louisa Alexander lived on Race St. with their mother into the 1940s, eighty years after their ancestors first arrived here.  (Virginia lived there until her death in 1949.)  They grew up about two blocks from where their parents were raised.  When they walked up 35th St. on their way to church on Sundays, they walked past the home that their Alexander grandparents built.  The church was right across Baring St. from the house their Alexander great-grandparents built in 1859.  All of their great-grandparents were raised within four blocks of the house on Race St..  This geographic clustering of multiple generations was seen in farming communities in the early twentieth century and it might have happened in some other urban areas, but five generations in one small urban neighborhood could not have been common.  The clustering of generations in this family and a few other extended families (for example, the McIvain and Sellers families) helped define Powelton as a distinct neighborhood and played an important role in establishing the sense of community that continues to this day.

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Sherman Hemsley (1938-2012)

 Sherman Hemsley, best known for his role as George Jefferson on “All in the Family” and “The Jeffersons” died last week. After leaving the Army, Hemsley lived at 3301 Baring St. for about eight years while working the midnight shift at the 30th St. Post Office and pursuing his acting career.

Powelton has always been a mixture of long-term owners and  renters and short-term renters, lodgers, and boarders. Many come and go without engaging in the neighborhood while others become known parts of the community. Hemsley was apparently one of the latter. In January, 1965, the Powelton Post included the following:

“Sherman Hemsley, 3301 Baring St., plays Archibald in Jean Genet’s ‘The Blacks’ at the Society Hill Playhouse, 507 S. 8th St. Mr. Hemsley's previous acting experience has been in ‘Under the Yum Yum Tree’ and ‘Pearlie Victorious’ for Theatre 14, Philadelphia's all Negro theatre group.”

It was his role in “The Blacks” that got him noticed in New York and his role in “Pearlie” on Broadway landed him an audition for the role of George Jefferson. In September, 1967, the Philadelphia Tribune reported that Hemsley had been selected to join the prestigious Negro Ensemble, Co. in New York. He had put in for a transfer to the New York Post office, but apparently didn’t need that gig for long.

Saturday, June 9, 2012

The Horse Trader’s Son and the Elocutionist’s Daughter: The Kendircks of Powelton

Minnie Murdoch Kendrick
            George and Minnie Kendrick moved to 3404 Hamilton St. in 1870 shortly after they purchased it from William List who lived next door at 3406 Hamilton St.  George, a 28 year-old pawnbroker, was the son of a Philadelphia horse trader.  He was at the start of a very successful career in finance.  Minnie was 21 and the mother of a 2 year-old son who died soon after.  She soon gave birth to sons George W., 3rd and Samuel Murdoch.  In 1882, they traded up and moved to 3507Baring St.
            In the 1887 city directory, George listed three separate partnerships, plus the humble “pawnbroker.”  Over the years, he developed close ties with many financial institutions including the Third National Bank, Fidelity Mutual life Insurance, and the Philadelphia Company for Guaranteeing Mortgages.  He was also active in civil affairs as a member of the Board of City Trusts and was elected to Common Councils three times and to Select Council (as a Democrat in a strongly Republican ward).
            Minnie’s parents lived with the Kendrick family.  Her father, Samuel K. Murdoch, was an actor who became an elocution coach.  Her uncle, James Edward Murdoch, was a nationally prominent Shakespearean actor.   Samuel's brother, Edward Murdoch, (Minnie’s uncle) was a bookbinder.  In 1880, he lived next door at 3406 Hamilton St. with his daughter, Ella List, her husband William, and seven (of an eventual ten) children.   Minnie and Ella may also have been cousins through their mothers, Mary and Ella Hanna.   The Kendrick and List families were very close.  In 1878, Minnie purchased 3406 Hamilton St. from William and Ella List and rented it to them until 1901 when it was deeded back to Ella.  Charles List inherited the family home and his widow was still living there in 1940.  Leonard List lived at several addresses including 3301 Hamilton St. (the cottage house).  In 1930, he lived at 3605 Hamilton St.
Minnie Murdoch Kendrick
            The Kendrick’s made their most significant contributions through the clubs and organizations they founded and fostered.   George’s obituary in 1916 began by stating “he was one of the best known and most honored masons in this country.”  In 1895, he was the principle force in founding University Lodge No. 610 (now #51).  The next year the members of the Lodge visited the Kendrick’s home to present George and (in a highly unusual action for a Masonic Lodge) Minnie with separate resolutions noting the many kindnesses they had shown the Lodge.  Both sons also played important roles in the Lodge.  Lodge 610 soon became the largest in Pennsylvania and one of the largest in the country.
Philadelphia Inquirer, June 3, 1896
             Minnie Kendrick was involved in founding and supporting a dizzying array of organizations most of which were in support of women’s education.  The first club she formed was for her two sons.  In the mid-1870s, she founded a local Agassiz Association, one of many named in honor of the great biologist.  There were 35 boys who met on Baring St.  A neighbor, Mrs. George Smith (3615 Hamilton St.), later reported that “[every] Saturday they went into the country, collected specimens, studied and did good work, every one of them.”  In 1884, a new chapter with 23 teenage members was founded by the Kendrick’s young neighbor, Robert Truitt (3505Baring St.), and Minnie’s young cousin, Charles List.  Mrs. Smith also noted Minnie’s involvement in fostering local parks and playgrounds.  George was a founding member of the Northminster Presbyterian Church (35th & Baring) and Minnie a leading member of the Mite Society, the church’s benevolent society.
Minnie Murdoch Kendrick School (from Free Library of Philadelphia)
            Minnie was best remembered for her support of education for girls.   She worked for decades with the Alumnae Association of the Girls' High and Normal Schools of Philadelphia and founded an annuity fund for women teachers (who had to remain single).  The Kendricks established a scholarship at the Philadelphia College of Music and George founded the High School Alumnae Scholarship at Bryn Mawr in memory of Minnie.  (The first recipient at Bryn Mawr was her niece, Minnie Kendrick List.)  Her contributions were also celebrated with the naming of the Minnie Murdoch Kendrick School next to the current site of the Drew School (38th St. south of Powelton Ave.).  She was also a major force in the D.A.R. and the Pennsylvania Daughters of 1812.  Through the Civic Club, she worked with Hannah Schoff (3418 Baring St.) on the establishment of juvenile courts.
            Theater was always important to her.  She founded and led the West Philadelphia Shakespeare Club for several decades and organized a week-long Shakespeare Festival at the Academy of Music for the benefit of the annuity fund for women teachers.  Both of her sons were active in Mask and Wig at the University of Pennsylvania.
George Kendrick, Jr. (Phila. Inquirer, 1916)

            Minnie died in 1903.  George remained on Baring St. until his death in 1916.  For more than 40 years, they were a dynamic, important part of Powelton.

Monday, June 4, 2012

New Homes in Powelton, 1891

    I have found very few ads from home builders for new homes in Powelton.  The following ad from 1891 for 3807-09 Baring St. is an unusual exception.  It lists numerous features that the builder thought would attract those in the market for a "modern" home.

 “LOOK! LOOK!  At the new modern, side yard dwellings, 3807-09 Baring street.  Notice the difference in work and material to other houses recently built.  No skylights in dining rooms, but large bay windows instead; no long back alleys; large front porches and back yards; Filbert’s patent pavement ["Vulcanite"]; finest tiled bath rooms ever seen, butler’s pantry, with hot and cold water, plenty of closets [i.e., cabinets]; steel plate French ranges; two heaters; cemented cellars;  incandescent electric and gas for lighting; wardrobes in second and third floor front rooms; all French plate glass in fronts; no carpets laid to cover bad floors; first and second stories furnished in hard wood, old colonial style [i.e., parallel boards]; all done by day’s work, no cheap contract work; plumbing guaranteed for three years.  If you never have seen a first-class modern house, you are specially invited to look through the houses.  You may buy when you see them and learn the price.
                           E. E. Baldwin, Builder.
                                                on the premises.”
(Phila. Inquirer, Nov. 21 and 23, 1891)

     In April, 1892, 3807-09 was purchased by Anna T. Pritchett.  In 1870, she was 4 years-old and living with her parents, Bardale and Emily Pritchett, at 3710 Lancaster Ave. Her father died in the 1870s.  In 1880, Emily, her mother, and three siblings were living at 204 N. 33rd St.  Its not clear whether the Pritchetts ever lived in 3807 or 3809.  Anna sold them in 1895.  In 1900, 3807 Baring St. and 3809 Baring St. were both rentals.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

From Census Names to Real People

       When I started looking into Powelton history, I began with the censuses. They give the name of each resident plus a few words to describe them in terms of marital status, occupation, place of birth, etc. Some of those individuals were quite prominent. However, most Poweltonians didn't head national organizations or large companies, didn't write books, and weren't heroes of the Civil War. Digging deeper using a wider variety of sources, I occasionally find brief insights into the lives of more typical Poweltonians -- some of their history, details about their jobs or social life, or hints about what happened to them in later years.
       Here are three examples from the 3600 block of Hamilton St. around WWI. These families were neighbors who probably saw each other on a regular basis while walking down the street or waiting for a trolley.

3618 Hamilton St.
       The 1910 census lists a widow, Emma Southgate (age 58), her unmarried daughter, Eva (34), and a boarder, Samuel Zacharias (70). Zacharias is listed as a widower who was the superintendent of a trust company. A brief obituary for him provides insights into his varied past.

1915: “Samuel M. Zacharias, 74 years old, who died Sunday night at his home, 3618 Hamilton street, was for 30 years superintendent of vaults of the Guarantee Trust and Safe Deposit Company. Mr. Zacharias was born in Lingletown, Dauphin County, and was graduated from the Philadelphia College of Pharmacy in 1863. That year he joined the Union Army, serving in the Sixth Pennsylvania Volunteer Cavalry. Following this he entered the grain business with his father, and later was appointed Deputy Collector of Internal Revenue for Juanita, Mifflin and Snyder Counties.” (Evening Public Ledger, Jan. 26, 1915)

3624 Hamilton St.
       A few doors down the block in 1920, we find Bridget Connor (age 75). She lived with her son, Bernard (38), her married (but separated?) daughter, Genevieve, and two granddaughters. Bernard was single and the manager of a fertilizer company. However, a newspaper story about a simple robbery offers some interesting details.

       “Jewelry Taken From Crippled Victim Near His Home.
       “A one-armed man was held up by four men in a motor and robbed of jewelry valued at $4000 within a half block of his home at midnight. The victim is Bernard Connor, 3624 Hamilton street, owner of a fertilizing business at Twenty-sixth and York streets. The hold-up was at Thirty-seventh and Hamilton streets.
       “Connor looked over his shoulder when he heard the motor approaching. He saw it slow down, and three men jumped out. With his only arm, his right, he struck and knocked down the leading man.
       “The others drew revolvers and threatened their victim.
       “One of them snatched a diamond stickpin from Connor's necktie, another took off a diamond ring and the third went through his vest pockets and found a gold watch. They did not bother with his wallet which contained $45.
       “The highwaymen left in their car and Connor ran along Hamilton street until he stopped a motor and persuaded the driver to give chase. The two machines sped out to Fortieth and Baring streets where the bandits' car eluded the pursuing one”
(Phila. Inquirer, March 1, 1921)

3629 Hamilton St.
       Across the street, was Augustus Keil (age 39) and his family: wife, Rebecca (31), son Robert (10) and daughters, Henrietta (8) and Anna (2). They also have a nanny, a 35 year-old black woman who was widowed. In 1920, they have another daughter, Rebecca. Robert was then 19 and working as an electrical engineer building organs. However, two small newspaper articles give some idea of what life was like for the Keil family between the censuses.

August, 1918: “Private Keil., Company M, 109th Infantry. Reported missing in action on July 15, 1918. He was eighteen years old, and enlisted in the old First Regiment, N. G. P., in May, 1917. He received his training at Camp Hancock, and sailed for France in May, 1918. The last letter received by his parents was dated June 27, 1918. Prior to enlisting he was a student at West Philadelphia High School. He lived with his father, at 3629 Hamilton street.” (Evening Public Ledger, August 16, 1918)

January, 1919: “The War Department announced today the names of one officer and 264 enlisted men of the American expeditionary force, who have arrived in France after being released from the German prison camp at Rastatt…. Among the enlisted men from this city… Roger H. Kiel, 3629 Hamilton street….” (Phila. Inquirer, Jan. 4, 1919)

       A death, a robbery, and a POW returning home are not everyday occurrences. In each case, they reveal something about these individuals. However, they also give us some feel for the neighborhood. These events were known to all the neighbors and, to some extent, they were shared losses and celebrated victories -- shared experiences that make a neighborhood (or a village) more than a list of names with ages, occupations and places of birth.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Families and Neighbors – The Ties That Bind

       Powelton’s history includes a surprising number of prominent individuals. However, the lives of the majority of Poweltonians have never been chronicled. Despite this, the histories of many families have emerged. One such family is the Butler-Dent family, three generations of whom lived in the same house in Powelton over a period of about 100 years.
       James P. Butler was born in Connecticut about 1821. In 1850, he was living in Philadelphia. He went through a number of occupations: “cork henster” (whatever that is), bookbinder, coal dealer, and silversmith and jeweler. His first wife, Emma M. Foering, died in 1858 at age 33 leaving him with two young daughters, Mary Ella (born 1853) and Fanny (1856). He soon married Mary Baker.  In 1860, they moved to 3401 Baring St. and about 1862-‘63, they moved to 202 N. 35th St. where the family lived for about 100 years.
       About 1871, his daughter, Mary Ella Butler, married Joseph H. Dent. Dent was orphaned at a young age.  His parents, Elizabeth and Joseph W. Dent, a gold beater, apparent died in the 1850s.  In 1860, Joseph, age 10, was living with his aunt and uncle, Lydia (Hansell) and Samuel Lloyd.  Lloyd was a successful brick maker.  At age 10, Joseph was listed in the census with real estate valued at $10,000.  In 1870, he and the Lloyd family were living at 3322 Bridge (Spring Garden) St. and he was working as a store clerk.
       Mary and Joseph Dent had three children: Mary (1872), Joseph (about 1873), and Ella (1877). They also lost an infant son in 1876 when they were living at 3626 Powelton Ave. Joseph began working as a real estate agent. Tragedy struck again in 1879 when Joseph died suddenly. In 1880, Mary and the three children were living with her parents at 202 N. 35th St.
       In 1900, James Butler (now 77) and Mary (80) were still living with Mary Dent and her two daughters. Grandson Joseph H. Dent was a 2nd Lieutenant in the U. S. Army living in the Philippines where the Philippines-American War was just coming to an end. On August 28, 1902, the New York Times reported

The best man,  Roswell (Ross) E. Williams, Jr., was Dent's cousin who lived at 46 N. 36th St..
        What the Times failed to mention is that the Savage family was just in Atlantic City for the summer. They lived at 3425 Race St., right across 35th St. from the Butler and Dent families.  Anna Savage was the daughter of Albert and Ida Savage. Albert was born in Virginia in 1859. It appears that he was practicing law in 1880, but by 1900 he no longer listed an occupation. They moved to Powelton about 1898.
       James Butler died in 1901 at 78 and Mary died two years later at 83. In 1930, Mary Dent was 76 and living in her parents house at 202 N. 35th St. with her daughters. Mary Emma and Ella were 57 and 52 and neither had married. Mary Emma worked as a public school teacher and then at the Board of Education. Ella never listed an occupation.
       Meanwhile, their brother, Joseph, remained in the Army until 1909. In 1910, he and Anna were living with her maternal grandparents in Baltimore. Joseph worked as a bookkeeper and, later, an auditor. When he died in the 1920s around age 50, Anna moved back to Philadelphia with three of their five children.
       In 1950, Anna Savage Dent (age 65) was living at 3425 Race St. where she spent her adolescence. Her sister-in-law, Mary E. Dent was still living across the street in her grandfather’s house where she had lived almost all of her 74 years.
       It is many families like these that make Powelton a village.

A shorter version of this appeared in the Powelton Post, January, 2012

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Doth No Good Plea Go Unpunished?

     The following story from 1873 demonstrates that some things in Powelton haven't changed (i.e., problems with brick sidewalks and battles between neighbors) while other things (the role of churches) have.

     “A New Point Of Faith.—In the Philadelphia Central Presbytery it is necessary to salvation that one should believe not only in the Five Points of Calvinism, but also in mud-puddles. The First Presbyterian Church of Mantua [*] kept on its sidewalk a system of dirty pools, and an elder of the Church, Mr. A. S. Ashmead, made so bold as to address to 'Ye Honorable ye Board of Trustees' of the Church a petition, couched in antique English, praying for the abatement of the nuisance. No disrespectful language was used, and the only sentence in the petition—which lies before us—into which any exceptionable meaning can possibly be injected is this:
      'It being a scandal to ye whole neighborhood, moreover, that ye ladies (God bless 'em!) in order ye better to avoid soiling their dresses, are compelled to lift ye skirts therefore higher than would otherwise be necessary, and causing ye ladies aforesaid to ruminate upon ye old saying, 'Cleanliness is next to godliness,' etc.
      For sending this note, which was characterized as scurrilous, Mr. Ashmead was arraigned before the session of the Church, for 'immorality and unchristian conduct,' and was suspended from the sacraments [unless and until he issued an apology]. The case being appealed to the presbytery, the judgment of the session has been sustained; and poor Mr. Ashmead is cast forth as a heathen man and a publican because he does not believe that mud-puddles are part of the ways of the Lord's house."   (Reprinted from the Independent in The Ladies' Repository. Methodist Episcopal Church. General Conference. 1873. Pg 67.)

     * The First Presbyterian Church of Mantua was located at 3500 Spring Garden St.  It became the Northminster Presbyterian Church when it moved to 3500 Baring St. in 1875.

      Albert Ashmead was a prosperous merchant who was married to Sarah Graham, the daughter of a grocer on High (Market ) St.   About 1859 the Ashmeads moved with their seven children and her mother from 36th and Bridge (Spring Garden) streets to 3500 Hamilton St.  When the Civil War started, he joined the 29th Pennsylvania Infantry at age 37.  He served as an Assistant Quartermaster throughout the war.  After the war, he rejoined his family at 3500 Hamilton St. and became a real estate agent.
      Ashmead's  appeal to the Philadelphia presbytery of his suspension from the First Presbyterian Church was covered in two long articles in the Philadelphia Inquirer.  His alleged offense was not the content of the petition (as implied  by the gleeful Methodists), but the fact that he allegedly submitted it anonymously and that he denied having sent it.  Whatever the truth of these allegations, it is clear there must have been more to the story.  It is likely that the back story centers on some other difference of opinion between Albert Ashmead and his neighbor, Alexander Andrews (3507 Baring St.).  (I have previously written about the long history of the relationship between the Andrews family and the Northminster church.)
    When Ashmead wrote his unsigned "petition," he sent it to Andrews who was the President of the Board of Trustees of the church.  Ashmead stated he had attached a note to Andrews stating he would be happy to gather signatures, if that was necessary.  Andrews showed the letter to the pastor and the other elders but otherwise sat on it for 16 months before making it public and bringing charges against Ashmead.  Pastor Henry Augustus Smith (3413 Hamilton St.) testified that when the matter was brought up, Ashmead responded with hostility toward the church.  (Perhaps it is worth noting that Rev. Smith, who was the pastor from 1864-1882, was married to Alexander Andrews's daughter, Louisa.)
    It is not known whether Albert Ashmead ever issued an apology and was reinstated in the church.  However, the matter might simply have become mute when the Ashmead family moved to Lower Merion a few years later.  What is clear is that Powelton, like any village, was not always peaceful and neighbors were not always friends.