Tacony, Philadelphia

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Neighborhood of Philadelphia
Tacony–Palmyra Bridge as seen from the New Jersey shoreline looking at Tacony
Tacony–Palmyra Bridge as seen from the New Jersey shoreline looking at Tacony
Country  United States
State Pennsylvania
County Philadelphia County
City Philadelphia
Area code(s) Area code 215

Tacony is a historic neighborhood in Northeast Philadelphia, about 8 miles (13 km) from downtown ("Center City") 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.

Tacony's ZIP code, along with Wissinoming, is 19135. The neighborhood has a large Irish American and Italian American population. A substantial influx of German and German-American inhabitants helped to swell the population after 1855. About 18,000 people now live in Tacony.[citation needed]

The Beginning[edit]

The name "Tacony" is derived from a Lenape word for "wilderness." The deed for the land purchase of Hans Kyn (later "Keene" and "Keen"), a Swede, south of modern Cottman Avenue on the river, dated April 26, 1679, entered on the back of a grant from Governor Andros, March 25, 1676, is still in possession of the family. In 1677, the government of New Sweden (at modern Tinicum, Pennsylvania) recorded 65 males between 16 and 60 living there, reflecting a population of, perhaps, 150 persons. 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. Tacony resident John Lardner crossed the Delaware with General Washington and fought at Trenton, Princeton, Brandywine, and Germantown. Farmer John Knowles fought in the war and was a prisoner of the British in 1778.

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 1778. Not yet a part of the City of Philadelphia, Tacony was then a village 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 modern Frankford Avenue and Montgomery Avenue, Kensington, to Trenton, New Jersey. Banned from traversing the District of Kensington southbound to connect with other rail lines, the Philadelphia and Trenton built Tacony Depot, an important early transportation hub. The depot and the community which grew around it was, for a short time, called Buena Vista, named for the recent Mexican War victory. A waterfront mansion on the property was converted to the Washington House Hotel at the foot of what would become Disston Street. Through passengers traveling from New York de-trained at Tacony and took a steamboat to Walnut Street, where they could connect with stagecoaches and other rail lines. North-bound passengers did the reverse. Steamboats and steam ferries stopped at Tacony several times a day for over eight decades. The railroad's Kensington Depot continued to be used for freight and some passenger traffic, but the steamboat transfer continued until 1867, when the Connecting Railway opened from Frankford Junction to Mantua, near the Philadelphia Zoo, enabling a connection with the Pennsylvania Railroad.

Between 1861 and 1865, Tacony Depot was the major conduit for soldiers from New England, New York, and New Jersey traveling to and from the campaigns of the Civil War, greatly adding to the village's name recognition.

German-American Catholics formed the Saint Vincent's Orphan Asylum Society in 1855. They purchased 49 acres (200,000 m2) from two farmers and William H. Gatzmer's land association, 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 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, 2 rowdies shot and 15 to 20 stabbed, and a number "dreadfully" beaten. Four Philadelphia police officers who responded, also by steamboat, were seriously injured while courageously restoring order.

Also in the 1850s, Tacony, a Canadian-bred gelding owned by Tacony investors, became one of the most famous racehorses of all time, competing against the top horses of the day. Only the second horse to do so, Tacony 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.

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 ''Florida No.2'', 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 made by 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 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. Daily use, 50,000 vehicles; 18.25 million per year.

Notable People[edit]

William H. Gatzmer (1807-1895) - President of the Camden & Amboy Transportation Company; founder of modern Tacony and a community leader and resident there for 48 years in a riverfront estate below modern Princeton Avenue.

M. Louise Thomas (1825-1907) - A remarkable, internationally-known 19th Century feminist, author, and business leader who greatly contributed to Tacony's cultural growth.

  • Henry Disston - Industrialist who founded the Keystone Saw Works in 1840 and developed the surrounding neighborhood of Tacony.
  • Chick Hartley - Major League Baseball outfielder, played for the New York Giants in 1902.
  • Frank Shuman - Inventor, engineer and solar energy pioneer.
  • Al Schmid - United States Marine who was awarded the Navy Cross.

Eddie Cool (1912-1947) - "The Pride of Tacony" World-ranked lightweight boxer for several years in the 1930s who beat six champions before, during (non-title), or after their reigns.

Joe "Goople" McCloskey (1920-1970) - An all-around athlete and pro boxer, McCloskey was a founding officer of Philadelphia's Police Athletic League. McCloskey coached and mentored hundreds of Tacony youth during his 37 years there with PAL. He was a friend and pall-bearer of legendary boxer, Eddie Cool.

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 Buckelew, 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, the Tacony Eagles, incorporated on February 13, 2008. The team's home field is at American Legion Playground, at Robbins Street and Torresdale Avenue.

The 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.[5]

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. ^ "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