Tacony, Philadelphia

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Tacony is a historic neighborhood in Northeast Philadelphia, about 10 miles (16 km) from downtown ("Center City") Philadelphia. It is the oldest continuously occupied (by Europeans) neighborhood in Philadelphia. It is bounded by Frankford Avenue on the northwest, Cottman Avenue on the northeast, Robbins Street on the southwest, and the Delaware River and Interstate 95 on the southeast. Early Swedish records spelled it Taokanick, a Lenape word for "forest" or "wilderness." Tacony's ZIP code, along with Wissinoming and East Mayfair, is 19135. The neighborhood has a large Irish American and Italian American population. About 18,000 people now live in Tacony.[citation needed]

The Beginning[edit]

The original Lenape called this place Tack-ohn Ing. The land purchase of Hans Kyn (later "Keene" and "Keen"), a Swede, south of modern Cottman Avenue on the river, and the deed for it, dated April 26, 1649, entered on the back of a grant from Governor Andros, March 25, 1676, and still in possession of the family, forms the claim for Tacony being Philadelphia's oldest "neighborhood." In 1676, the government of New Sweden (at modern Tinicum, Pennsylvania) recorded 51 taxable residents living there. In 1679, Tacony was described in a journal of Dutch explorers as “a village of Swedes and Finns. We drank very good beer here, brewed by the Swedes." John Keen, great-great grandson of Hans, born at Tacony in 1747, served with General Cadwalader in the Revolutionary War and was wounded at the battle of Princeton.

William Penn eventually inherited what he would call Pennsylvania and issued an order in 1683 for the establishment of a post office. Penn appointed Henry Waldy, of Tacony, a trading post operator, to be postmaster between Tacony and New Castle, Delaware. It was the first post office in Pennsylvania and operated until 1753, when a new postal system was implemented.

In the 18th and 19th centuries, wealthy and influential families established country seats along the river in Tacony. The British Army raided farms there for horses during its Revolutionary War occupation of Philadelphia in 1777. Tacony's John Lardner crossed the Delaware with George Washington. Not yet a part of the City of Philadelphia, Tacony was then a district in Oxford Township, Philadelphia County.

By at least 1836, the Buttermilk Tavern, a vacation hotel, offering fresh catch for dinner, was operating along the river south of what became Longshore Street.

Coming Of The Railroad[edit]

The most significant event in the development of Tacony was the acquisition of land there in 1846 for a ferry-wharf by the Philadelphia and Trenton Railroad, which had first laid tracks through the town in 1834, along the route from its depot at Frankford Avenue and Palmer Street, Kensington, to Trenton, New Jersey. Banned from traversing the District of Kensington southbound to connect with other rail lines, the Philadelphia and Trenton made its southern terminus Tacony, after earlier looking at land near Pennypack Creek. (The greed of the landowner there forced them to choose less-expensive land in Tacony.) The railroad built the handsome Buena Vista station (named for the recent Mexican War victory) and converted a waterfront mansion on the property into the Washington House (later Washington Park) Hotel at the foot of what would become Disston Street. Through passengers traveling from New York de-trained at Tacony and took the steamboat to Walnut Street, where they could connect with stagecoaches and other rail lines. North-bound passengers did the reverse. Steamboats operating between Philadelphia and Trenton, NJ, and costing only "six-and-a-quarter cents," stopped every half-hour at Tacony. The Kensington Depot continued to be used for freight, but this passenger situation continued until 1867, when the Connecting Railway opened from Frankford Junction to Mantua, near the Philadelphia Zoo, enabling a connection with the Pennsylvania Railroad. Union soldiers passing through Tacony during the Civil War added to the town's name-recognition.

German-Americans formed the Saint Vincent's Orphan Asylum Society in 1855. They purchased 49 acres (200,000 m2) from two farmers and William H. Gatzmer, comprising an area from Princeton Avenue to Cottman Avenue, the railroad to the river. They formed the Tacony Cottage Association, and sub-divided the land into building lots which they sold to cover the establishment of St. Vincent’s Orphanage, still serving the Diocese today at the foot of St. Vincent Street. An 1859 New York Times article related that a group of rowdies, who had come by steamboat to the orphanage grounds for a picnic, caused a major riot when they clashed with militia who were conducting target practice nearby. Fueled by alcohol consumption on both sides, the ensuing violence saw numerous shots fired, 15 to 20 rowdies stabbed, and a number "dreadfully" beaten. Four Philadelphia police officers who responded, also by steamboat, were badly hurt while courageously restoring order.

Also in the 1850s, "Tacony", a Canadian-bred gelding owned by a group of Tacony investors, became one of the most famous racehorses of all time, competing against the top horses of the day. Tacony was the first horse to beat the legendary "Queen of the Turf," Flora Temple and has since been inducted into the Canadian Horse Racing Hall of Fame.[1]

In 1854, the City of Philadelphia consolidated the surrounding county into the city and Tacony became one of its neighborhoods. Philadelphia thus became the only municipality in the US that is both a city and a county.

Three vessels named "Tacony" saw naval duty, one of them for the South during the Civil War. In 1863, Confederate forces captured the merchant vessel Tacony and used it as a stealth raider, CSS ''Tacony'', to capture 15 additional ships. It was burned when the crew upgraded to a larger vessel. A 2004 book, "Seawolf of the Confederacy," chronicles its exploits. Also in 1863, a gunboat named Tacony, built at the Philadelphia Navy Yard, was commissioned and saw blockade duty against the South. During World War I, a sizeable yacht owned by industrialist Jacob Disston was donated to the government for the length of the war. It was refitted, armed, and assigned to coastal patrol duty as USS ''Tacony''.[2]

In 1871, the Philadelphia and Trenton’s right-of-way was leased to the mammoth Pennsylvania Railroad and became the most important connection in that system, the Philadelphia-to-New York section of today's Northeast Corridor.

Disston Moves To Tacony[edit]

In 1872, industrialist Henry Disston, seeing, among other things, easy access to river and railroad, purchased 390 acres (1.6 km2) in Tacony and moved his growing saw and file manufactory there from cramped quarters in Kensington. (Henry's brother had earlier purchased vacation property from the Cottage Association.) This historic company became the largest of its kind in the world for a century, employing up to 5,000 workers at one time. A Time Magazine article claimed in 1940 that 75 percent of the handsaws sold in the U.S. were Disston.

West of the railroad, Disston built a paternalistic industrial village which has been the subject of books, academic studies, and Papal and government recognition. Mr. Disston is still regarded with reverence in the community and his image figures prominently on a large community mural.[3]

Tacony thrived during the industrial age as national and international firms opened branches there. The Tacony Iron Company manufactured the dome of Philadelphia’s historic City Hall and the massive statue of William Penn that it supports. In 1894, Frank Shuman, inventor of wire glass and a pioneer in solar power twice featured on the cover of Scientific American, built a large inventor's compound on Disston Street and there built the first solar-powered steam engine. From experiments conducted there, he later developed solar-powered steam turbines to irrigate land in Egypt.[4]

Carnegie Library[edit]

The Tacony Library opened November 27, 1906. The land was a gift of the Disston Family, and the building was a gift of Andrew Carnegie.

Tacony Palmyra Bridge[edit]

The Tacony-Palmyra Bridge, one of only two Delaware River spans connecting New Jersey with northeast Philadelphia (the other being the Betsy Ross Bridge further downstream), has its Pennsylvania terminus in Tacony. The bridge, which carries Pennsylvania Route 73, connects with New Jersey Route 73 in Palmyra, New Jersey. It opened in 1929, eliminating the need for ferries, used on that route since 1922.

Notable People[edit]

After Henry Disston's death in 1878, his wife, Mary Steelman Disston, and their son, Hamilton Disston, a Philadelphia politician, Fairmount Park commissioner, and early developer of Florida, carried on Henry's paternalistic vision for Tacony.

Eddie Cool – 1912-1947 “The Pride of Tacony” Raised in the 6600 block of Tulip Street, Eddie was a world-renowned professional boxer who fought from 1928 to 1939 in every division from featherweight to welterweight, losing only 28 of 140 bouts. Legendary for his superlative boxing skills, Cool was noted for “laying on the ropes,” avoiding blows and counter-punching opponents. Between 1933 and 1937, Eddie fought and beat 6 world champions (Johnny Jadick, Frankie Klick, Benny Bass, Lew Ambers, Fritzie Zivic, and Freddie 'Red' Cochrane), either before or after they won their championships. This feat, in itself, might be a record. Ambers, while champion, refused to fight Cool, who languished in the #1 contender spot for a year. From 1932 to 1937, Cool was ranked from #6 to #1 lightweight contender by Ring Magazine. At the height of his career, Eddie also owned a vacation bungalow in Philly’s Pleasant Hill neighborhood, which, at that time, featured a large public beach at the foot of Linden Avenue. A portrait of him hangs in Maggie’s Waterfront Café, a popular Pleasant Hill watering hole. Tacony notable Joe “Goople” McCloskey, below, was a pall-bearer at Eddie’s funeral.

William H. Gatzmer, b. 1807, General Agent of the Camden & Amboy Railroad (later President). The man responsible for bringing the Philadelphia and Trenton Railroad into Tacony, where they established their southern passenger terminus. He lived in a riverfront home just north of the Buena Vista Station, on land that would later become Warner Cement's property.

Chick Hartley (1880-1948), star baseballer for the Tacony AA semi-pro club, he played for the New York Giants in 1902. Later rose to the rank of Captain on the Philadelphia Police Department.

Frank Shuman, world renowned for his invention of wire glass and his development of solar power, lived and experimented in Tacony, 1895-1918.[5]

Eight Tacony residents died in the Vietnam War:

Al Schmid, a hero of the US Marine Corps and WWII recipient of the Navy Cross, played by John Garfield in the 1945 movie, "Pride of the Marines", worked at Dodge Steel and married Ruth Hartley, who lived at 6508 Tulip Street. Parts of the movie were filmed outside the house and the Dodge plant.

Joseph C. "Goople" McCloskey (1920-1990), athlete, professional boxer, Philadelphia Police Officer, a founding officer of the Philadelphia Police Athletic League, mentored thousands of area youth over 4 decades through PAL sports programs. Tacony residents are currently raising money for a sculpture in his honor.[6][7]

Frank Legacki, b. 1940, who won 5 NCAA swimming championships while competing for the University of Michigan. He helped the Father Judge Crusaders win the Philadelphia City League championship. He won the 50-yard and 100-yard freestyle events at the National Catholic (High School) Swimming Championships.[1] Legacki went on to a distinguished business career. He grew up at 6600 Glenloch Street.

Harry Silcox (1932-2009), athlete; star basketballer for Temple University; author of books and academic studies on Tacony, the Disston company and family, Philadelphia politics, Black studies, and other topics; principal for decades of Northeast Philadelphia's Abraham Lincoln High School.

Thomas W. South (1847-1922), born in Ohio, cousin and close friend of Hamilton Disston. Civil War veteran. Worked as manager and land-agent for Disston-owned properties, promoting the Disstons’ paternalistic vision for Tacony. Later became a director of Tacony’s Suburban Electric Company; a promoter of the Holmesburg, Frankford and Tacony trolley line; investor with Hamilton Disston in the development of Florida. Organized and was treasurer of the Tacony Building and Loan association, whose building still stands at Tulip and Longshore Streets. Beginning in 1875, was elected five times as Magistrate at the Central Police Court. Philadelphia Evening Bulletin obituary in 1922 called him the “Father of Tacony.” His house still stands, n/w corner Keystone and Disston Streets.

Street names[edit]

Ditman Street - for Henry W. Ditman, Director of Public Schools for Oxford Township as far back as 1853. The Tacony School, at State Road and Longshore, which appears on maps as early as 1855, was later named for Ditman

Disston Street - for Disston's saw works.

James Street - named for James Buckalew, a businessman long involved with the railroad, who also named Jamesburg, NJ, along the P&TRR line.

Keystone Street - for Henry Disston and Sons' Keystone Saw and File Works

Marsden Street - for Disston's smelter, Jonathan Marsden, who lived in a house that still stands, n/e corner Longshore and Keystone.

Princeton Avenue - Major General William Cook, Engineer-in-Chief of the Philadelphia & Trenton Railroad, hailed from Princeton, NJ, and his son graduated from Princeton University.

Longshore Avenue - ran to James Longshore's farm, west of Frankford Avenue

Tacony Eagles[edit]

Tacony has a minor league football team called the Tacony Eagles. The Tacony Eagles were incorporated as a team on February 13, 2008. The team's home field is at American Legion Playground located at Robbins Street & Torresdale Avenue.

The Tacony Eagles won the BNEFF South Conference Championship in 2009. The Team's Second Year of Existence.

Notable Buildings[edit]

The Hamilton Disston School, Mary Disston School, and Tacony Music Hall are listed on the National Register of Historic Places.[8]

Disston AA[edit]

The Disston AA FC, nicknamed "The Sawmakers" was a U.S. soccer team sponsored by the Disston Saw Works from 1909 to 1921. The team played for several years in local Philadelphia leagues before joining the National Association Football League. It was a perennial contender in both league and cup play.


  1. ^ "Hall of Fame - Standardbred - Tacony, 1985". Canadianhorseracinghalloffame.com. Retrieved 2012-07-06. 
  2. ^ "USN Ships-USS Tacony (SP-5)". History.navy.mil. Retrieved 2012-07-06. 
  3. ^ "Disston & Sons, Keystone Saw Works". Workshopoftheworld.com. 1988-12-27. Retrieved 2012-07-06. 
  4. ^ "Frank Shuman's Inventors Compound". Workshopoftheworld.com. Retrieved 2012-07-06. 
  5. ^ "Frank Shuman's Inventors Compound, 1895-1918". Workshopoftheworld.com. Retrieved 2012-07-06. 
  6. ^ "Home". Goople27thPAL.com. Retrieved 2012-07-06. 
  7. ^ "Welcome to Facebook". Facebook.com. Retrieved 2012-07-06. 
  8. ^ "National Register Information System". National Register of Historic Places. National Park Service. 2010-07-09. 

External links[edit]

Coordinates: 40°02′N 75°02′W / 40.03°N 75.04°W / 40.03; -75.04