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Historical Society of Frankford small manuscripts collection


Held at: Historical Society of Frankford [Contact Us]1507 Orthodox St., Philadelphia, PA, 19124

This is a finding aid. It is a description of archival material held at the Historical Society of Frankford. 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

The Frankford neighborhood of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, is located in the lower northeast section of the city and is bordered by the Frankford Creek on the south, Castor Avenue on the west, Cheltenham Avenue on the north, and roughly the I-95 expressway on the east. Originally a village, Frankford was incorporated as a borough in 1800 and was later absorbed into the City of Philadelphia in the 1854 Philadelphia city/county consolidation.

The area now known as Frankford was originally inhabited by the Lenni-Lenape Indians and later settled by Swedes, who started a village and gristmill in the 1660s. The village grew significantly after William Penn founded Pennsylvania in 1682 and members of the Religious Society of Friends, commonly called Quakers, established a meeting in Frankford. The village was part of a large tract of land known as the "Manor of Frank" that was granted to the Society of Free Traders, a group of mostly London-based Quaker businessmen that was led by William Penn. A well-used Indian trail in the area became known as the King's Highway in 1683 and was later renamed Frankford Avenue, one of the oldest country roads in continuous use in the nation. The location along the King's Highway was a significant factor in Frankford's growth as an important center of commerce and trade.

During the 19th century, Frankford became a thriving manufacturing center. Immigrants of English and German descent settled in the area, opening textile, powder, grist, and other mills along Frankford Creek. These mills, along with Frankford's commercial growth, attracted farmers from neighboring townships who sought mills to process their raw materials and farm products. The first textile mill was erected by Samuel Martin in 1809 and in 1820 Samuel Pilling established the first mill for the block printing of calico. The first dye house in Frankford was established in 1821 and in 1843 the first mill run by steam power in Frankford was started by Richard and John Garsed. The nearby Frankford Arsenal was constructed by the federal government following the War of 1812 and completed in the 1820s.

With the development of industry in Frankford, its population grew quickly with immigrant workers. In addition to mill workers, free African Americans settled in Frankford, establishing fraternal and religious institutions, including Campbell African Methodist Episcopal Church, which was founded in 1807 and is one of the oldest AME churches in the nation. A number of churches were established in Frankford in the 18th and 19th centuries, serving the area's various religious denominations and ethnic groups. In 1831 the first savings and loan institution in the United States, Oxford Provident Building Association, was created in Frankford to assist local workers in purchasing homes.

In 1854, the Borough of Frankford, along with the various townships, districts, and boroughs within the County of Philadelphia at that time, was annexed into the city of Philadelphia through the Act of Consolidation. After consolidation, Frankford continued to grow, as the area became increasingly industrialized and numerous mills, predominantly in the textile industry, opened. By 1869, there were forty major manufacturers in the area. In 1867, the Globe Dye Works was opened by Richard Greenwood and William Bault. Immigrants continued to move to Frankford to work in the factories and churches and schools continued to be established in the area. Vacant-farmland was developed into Victorian twin homes and rows of smaller homes to meet the needs of the mill workers and a growing middle-class.

Construction of the Frankford Elevated Railway, connecting Frankford to Center City and West Philadelphia, was completed in 1922. Frankford Transportation Center became the terminal station for the line and helped Frankford grow as a major shopping district in the early 20th century. Industry in Frankford declined markedly after World War II, part of the overall de-industrialization of Philadelphia that occurred in the post-war period. Most of Frankford's manufacturing companies closed or left the area in the latter part of the 20th century.

As middle class families began to migrate to the far northeastern parts of the city or to the suburbs outside of Philadelphia in the later 20th century, African American and Asian families began to settle in Frankford. As of 2015, Frankford is a working-class neighborhood with a diverse population, including a large number of African Americans, Asian Americans, Polish Americans, Italian Americans, Hispanic Americans, and West Indian Americans.


Auwarter, Barbara M. and Joyce Halley. "Frankford." Workshop of the World. Wallingford, PA: Oliver Evans Press, 1990. Accessed November 2, 2015.

Harris, Brian H. Images of America: Frankford. Charleston, SC: Arcadia, 2005. Historical Society of Frankford. "History." Accessed November 2, 2015.

Sadler, Diane. "Frankford." Historical Northeast Philadelphia. Accessed November 2, 2015.

Smalarz, Matthew. "Northeast Philadelphia." The Encyclopedia of Greater Philadelphia. Accessed November 2, 2015.

This collection includes small groups (less than 1 linear foot each) of various manuscript materials from local individuals, families, and businesses in the Frankford neighborhood of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, circa 1774-1990s. The materials include financial and insurance papers, property documents, marriage certificates, briefs of title, autograph books, diplomas, newspaper clippings, ephemera, photographs, research on Frankford, journals, school notebooks, and other materials. Following is a partial inventory of these materials: Aaron Y. Coates day book, 1855-1858 Albert Welsh papers, circa 1900 Andrew Lindsay school notebook for practical geometry, 1845-1850 Baker family genealogy research, 1920s Caroline Smedley papers, circa 1832-1960s Cramp family register [one page in a devotional book of family births and deaths], 1817-1901 David Simmons Rorer cipher book, 1840 Dudley family papers and research, late 19th century-mid 20th century Duffield family diaries and papers, circa 1820s-1850s Edna Randolph Worrell papers on the Daughters of the American Revolution, 1920s-1950s Franklin Smedley journals, 1904-1923 Franklin Smedley tribute book, 1924 Handwritten history of the Frankford Car Service, undated Harriet T. Lewis family genealogy research journal, 1931 Henry Stewart Donut collection of family photographs, late 19th century-mid 20th century Hilton family Civil War letters, 1863 James Ashworth certificates, 1869, 1876, 1877 John B. Laird tribute book, 1953 Judge Edward Becker legal papers relating to the neighborhood of Northwood's deed restriction, 1960s-1990s Kitts and Hartley family papers, 1861-1904 Manuscripts about Frankford by David Rorer, Guernsey Hallowell, Henry Borneman, Eleanor Wright, and others Pilling family legal papers, 18th century-19th century Typewritten biographies and research on Frankford physicians Worrell family papers, 1874-1924 Yerkes family school copybooks, 1825-1843 Yerkes family writing books, early to mid 19th century

Of special interest are the Caroline Smedley Papers, consisting of letters, photographs, printed pamphlets, Quaker publications, and other materials belonging to Caroline Webster Smedley (1870-1962), long-time teacher at Frankford Friends School and Secretary of the Historical Society of Frankford (HSF) from the 1920s to the 1950s. In addition to her personal papers and correspondence, there are some HSF and Frankford Friends Meeting records in the collection, including reports, financial records, and correspondence.

Also of interest are the Hilton family Civil War letters, a collection of some 20 letters written from 1862 to 1864 between members of the Hilton family who lived in Frankford, including John Hilton and his son James who were both serving in the Union Army at the time. James died in a Confederate Prison; John survived the War but sustained injuries that plagued him the rest of his life. The letters describe conditions of military life, battles and campaigns, and the correspondents' thoughts and feelings about the War and their situation.

Summary descriptive information on this collection was compiled in 2014-2016 as part of a project conducted by the Historical Society of Pennsylvania to make better known and more accessible the largely hidden collections of small, primarily volunteer run repositories in the Philadelphia area. The Hidden Collections Initiative for Pennsylvania Small Archival Repositories (HCI-PSAR) was funded by a grant from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

This is a preliminary finding aid. No physical processing, rehousing, reorganizing, or folder listing was accomplished during the HCI-PSAR project.

In some cases, more detailed inventories or finding aids may be available on-site at the repository where this collection is held; please contact Historical Society of Frankford directly for more information.

Historical Society of Frankford
Finding Aid Author
Finding aid prepared by Sarah Leu and Anastasia Matijkiw 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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