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East Falls Historical Society oral history collection


Held at: East Falls Historical Society [Contact Us]3728 Midvale Ave, Philadelphia, PA, 19129-1633

This is a finding aid. It is a description of archival material held at the East Falls Historical Society. Unless otherwise noted, the materials described below are physically available in their reading room, and not digitally available through the web.

Overview and metadata sections

"Originally a settlement of the Lenni Lenape, a Native American tribe, East Falls was a collection of villages located in the vicinity of the falls of the Schuylkill River. . . . In 1732, Fort St. David, the first fishery in East Falls, was built and attracted many similar investments. Catfish were so plentiful in this part of the Schuylkill River that fishermen's nets could barely hold the abundant catch (Wissahickon is derived from "Wissha mechan", meaning "catfish"). Catfish became even more popular in the area because of the "catfish and waffles" delicacy introduced by Mrs. Robert Watkins, owner of the Falls Tavern. The creation of the Fairmount Dam three miles down-river ultimately submerged the falls, leaving only a few rocks remaining protruding from the river.

"As America began to industrialize, the river provided residents with waterpower to build mills along the Wissahickon and Falls Creeks, encouraging a small community to form. . . . During the Civil War, the Dobson Mills were built, which produced woolen blankets for the Union Army. Dobson Mills was demolished in 1872 by the Fairmont Park Commission and then rebuilt and moved to Scott's Lane where it flourished until the 1930s.

"The Powers & Weightman Chemical Company, which started in 1848 on Ridge Avenue, was yet another important business that brought East Falls more economic and social success. William Weightman, considered the wealthiest person in Pennsylvania at the time, built the "Ravenhill" estate on School House Lane, next to the mansions of other industrialists, such as railroad tycoon Frederick Kimball's "Red Gate". These historic properties were eventually charitably bequeathed to Philadelphia University which continues its careful stewardship of them as part of its campus.

"As was standard at the time, both Dobson Mills and Powers & Weightman also built homes for its employees, developing many of East Falls' still existing attractive row house neighborhoods. As more and more people gathered around the successful industries, East Falls continued to expand and develop. More homes were built, quickly followed by schools, churches, and neighborhood corner stores. East Falls became a town where people both lived and worked.

"East Falls is also known as the childhood home of Grace Kelly, Academy-Award winning actress and Princess of Monaco, who was born in 1929 and began her acting career at the Old Academy on Indian Queen Lane, which is still operating as an amateur theater in the neighborhood ( She was born into a new but prominent family in Philadelphia society: her father, Jack Kelly, was a self-made millionaire and a triple gold-medal-winning Olympic sculler at the height of rowing's popularity. Her brother, John B. Kelly Jr., followed in his father's footsteps, winning the Sullivan Award in 1947 and the bronze medal in the 1956 Summer Olympics, which he presented to his sister as a wedding present. She married Prince Rainier III of Monaco and had three children."


Quoted text from: East Falls Development Corporation. "A History of East Falls." Accessed March 26, 2012.

This collection consists of about 30 oral history interviews, conducted circa 1981-2011 by the East Falls Community Oral History Project (Series I) and by the East Falls Historical Society Oral History Program (Series II). Interviews were recorded onto audiocassettes, micro-audiocassettes, and CDs. The collection also includes transcriptions of most of the interviews, release forms, and interviewee data sheets. There are copies of photographs and newspaper clippings with some of the oral histories.

Series I: East Falls Community Oral History Project, conducted circa 1981-1983 by Cherie Meier Snyder. Interviewees included Lisanne and Peggy Kelly (the sisters of Grace Kelly) and Paul Costello (cousin of John Kelly, and triple Olympic-champion rower).

Series II: East Falls Historical Society Oral History Program, conducted circa 2009-2011. Includes interviews with individuals, and interviews about organizations including Philadelphia University, Old Academy, and the local Methodist Church.

Oral histories recorded by the East Falls Community Oral History Project and the East Falls Historical Society, 1980-2011.

East Falls Historical Society
Finding Aid Author
Finding aid prepared by Celia Caust-Ellenbogen and Michael Gubicza through the Historical Society of Pennsylvania's Hidden Collections Initiative for Pennsylvania Small Archival Repositories
This preliminary finding aid was created as part of the Historical Society of Pennsylvania's Hidden Collections Initiative for Pennsylvania Small Archival Repositories. The HCI-PSAR project was made possible by a grant from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.
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