West Rittenhouse Street

Edwin C. Jellett, "Germantown Historical Miscellany," p. 232.
Germantown Historical Society

Included in this Jellett selection are two newspaper articles by Mr. Mosby published in the "Germantown Independent-Gazette:"

Page 233: article dated October 28, 1898:

"My old friend, 'Mr. Mosby,' sends me the following interesting reminiscent sketch:

"I took a stroll back old Poor House lane, now Rittenhouse street, on Sunday afternoon. This old street was once the farm of Adam Hogemold, who built a house which subsequently became part of the poor house property. My mind reverted to my boyhood days and brought up many reminiscences of the past. The old John Smith place, now the Keyser house, looked quite natural, but the old meadow with the high stone wall was built up solidly. The big stone building, once called Ladley's Hall, which was originally considered something fine, still stands, as does Harkinson's old ice house, now transformed into a miniature settlement. The old Rittenhouse home has been transformed into a great business place. Who fails to remember this old corner store, with 'Uncle Sammy' as 'chief of staff'? This old store was a rendezvous for hundreds of old citizens, who talked over the affairs of 'State.' No human being was better butter expert than 'Uncle Sammy' Rittenhouse.

"What school boy forgets the little stone house, once called the spring house, adjoining the poor house? It was occupied by the good old Monfay family. The spring was entered by a front door and passers-by would stop and drink of its cold water. The good lady made the finest root beer in the country. She would sit the bottles in the running stream and us youngsters who attended the Rittenhouse School became regular customers. Yes, this beer was far better than the lager served out by 'Neddy' Menholta, and the effect was quite different.

"'Uncle' Daniel Stroup now occupies this famous old house. The Stroups were an old-time family and everybody was welcome to use the spring. 'Uncle Dan' was chief quartermaster at the old Wister homestead, 'Vernon.' I looked for Honey run, but the ancient waterway, with its great history, had disappeared. Adjoining the spring house stood the old poor house. All traces except the steward's house had disappeared. This old asylum for the poor contained many acres. The house accommodated quite a number of inmates, who were well provided for. A frame cholera house was erected, but no patients were received. The old graveyard was located near Greene street. The bodies were finally removed to the Potter's field on Queen lane. The cellar of the poor house was once used as cells, and here the law-breakers were brought by Constables Rittenhouse, Stroup and other officers. The old time 'Squires, like Reaver, Thomas and King, and Burgess Hergesheimer, never fooled with the lawless, but down in the cellar they would go. Several funny incidents that happened to the victims of the law who were for a time in the 'cells' could be told, but as they wouldn't look well on paper I would rather give them privately.

"Well do I remember when the Hand-in-Hand Fire Company paid old Germantown a friendly early morning visit. Our people had no objection to giving away a few 'lilacs,' but objected to a general confiscation of their flowers. By the way, our Burgess and constables arrested the early May-day visitors. Our people had no objection to giving away a few 'lilacs,' but objected to a general confiscation of their flowers. By the way, our Burgess and constables arrested the early May-day visitors and brought them, engine and all, to the poor house yard. The boys spent some time sitting on the wood pile and were then allowed to depart (old-time law enforced).

"This home contained quite a number and all were made comfortable by able stewards, men like Stallman, Righter, Edwards and Scheetz. What youngster fails to remember old Josh Butcher, walking all day long in the big yard, rubbing his hands and yelling 'dam!' And then there was old 'Sucky' Boyer, dressed in a Joseph's coat pattern, wearing her 'glory bag' filled with pieces of paper. 'Sucky' was quite a favorite with the school children and kindly accepted their hospitalities. 'Sucky,' it was stated, was once a fashionable young lady, but circumstances caused her mind to become unbalanced and she spent her last years in the old poor house. And then came 'Uncle' Ned Runkle, at times violently insane, chained to the second-story floor. Still, poor Ned at times was rational and entertained the school children by playing on his flute. Then he would lower his shot bag with a string and receive apples, candy and tobacco, much to the satisfaction of all. The inmates were industrious, some working on the farm, others in the house, and still others attending to the stock, etc. Yes, it was an interesting settlement. What a change here! The old poor house property was abandoned over twenty-five years ago and is built up with fine residences, the colored Baptist Church standing on the site of the old building.

"I next turn my attention to the new institution, further back the street, which will compare with any other almhouse in the State...

"By the way, Mr. Man, I'm going back Poor House lane to take a look at the old Rittenhouse School building, in the interest of a bicycle club, and may think of a few reminiscences of that grand old school and surroundings, which I will send you."

Page 232: article dated October 8, 1898:

"Old Poor House Lane.
Some Reminiscences of Men and Things of Ye Olden Days"

"...I resumed my Sunday afternoon tramp back old Poor House lane (Rittenhouse street) and met a citizen who took me to task for not giving more definite particulars in my last article concerning this ancient street; also that I had erred in saying that the old Stroup mansion was still standing. This was a mistake of the types, not mine, as we all know that the ancient house, with its grand old spring, has gone down, while its former occupants have gone up higher. My purpose was tot tell the story of the old street as it appeared forty or fifty years ago, and even then I was inclined to omit the sad death of Father Rittenhouse's old cow, as well as any reference to that wonderful piece of engineering, the sewer which led from Main street to Honey run...the old Fenton pump yard adjoining the run. This was a great industry, and well do I remember Fenton, old Solomon and Dan Tucker, who carried on the enterprise. This business came to a standstill when the Germantown Water Company laid pipes through the streets and supplied good spring water to the inhabitants, quite different from the present supply, although we get the medicinal extract from Norristown, Manayunk and contiguous territory, which contains no 'germs.' Fortunately a few old pumps are not only left to tell their story, but also to quench the thirst of the weary passer-by, germ or no germ.

"But I am digressing. Here on the banks of Honey run were the gas office and outbuildings, which are still standing, and here for years could be seen the familiar faces of 'Pop' Pullinger, Jesse Trout, 'Sam' Rittenhouse and numerous other officials. And then came Smith & Burk's coach factory, which turned out first-class work. Following the Stroup house and the old almshouse, which received attention last week. But you will probably say, 'You omit Axford's big storage house.' Why, that is a modern building and the storage of unused furniture, pots, kettles, mouse-traps, etc., is a modern business. Forty or fifty years ago almost every housekeeper had his own private storage warehouse. Some of them were located in the loft or garret, which generally contained a few hams, pieces of dried beef, a quantity of pudding, sausage and very often a bushel of herbs, which generally saved a big doctor's bill. The storage department in the cellar often contained a good supply of wood and coal, to say nothing of the barrel of pork, potatoes, sauer- kraut and other necessaries of life, which are now generally bought in quantities ranging from a half-peck to a quarter of a pound. Storage! Well, the old-timers used their furniture and fortunately had none to store or none for the constable to seize for rent.

"Well, here I will leave the warehouse and take a peep at the little settlement close by, once called 'Sauer-kraut alley,' not a pretty name like Pelham, of course, but when this old thoroughfare received its name sauer-kraut wasn't pickled cabbage. And, by the way, instead of renaming this ancient thoroughfare 'Pickled Cabbage terrace,' they gave it the more modern appellation of Tull street. This settlement was once composed of old-time residents, all true, devoted 'Native Americans.' They generally kept a pig or two, had nice gardens filled with dahlias, sunflowers, tansey and other herbs. They always made their own sauer-kraut and called it by the old name. 'Uncle Charley' Harmer was the Mayor of the settlement, but they were law-abiding citizens, notwithstanding the fact that they had little love for those who crossed the Atlantic. 'Uncle Gid' Harmer occupied the corner property, where he carried on the shoe business. He, too, was a pronounced 'Native,' and is the only survivor of the old 'Sammy' Harmer branch of the Harmer family. No family was more highly esteemed and respected. It included 'Sammy' Y., Charles Wesley, John Wesley, James, Gideon, Lemuel G., Mary Ann, Margaret and Alice, all of whom were pronounced followers of Wesley. The other corner was occupied for a time by the Rev. Joseph Smith, who was a local preacher. He manufactured hosiery, etc., and gave employment to many of his neighbors. The Smith family came from England, but even the 'Natives' held them in the greatest esteem...

"I called again at the old Rittenhouse School, as I wanted to buy a large building for a new bicycle club, one that would compare with the 'uptown bicycle club quarters,' which Megargee spoke of in the Philadelphia Times. I had been under the impression that the big building spoken of was the property of the Young Republican Club, but I presume I was mistaken. I hunted up School Directors Warner, McCann and others, and found that they were willing to sell the old school house but upon inquiry I discovered that the city owned only the building. 'Uncle' Lambert Lare holding a 'ground rent.' I also learned that in case I purchased the property the syndicate would expect 'Uncle' Lambert and myself to take half the 'stock,' and, moreover, learn to ride a 'bike.' Consequently the sale is off, and the probabilities are that the building will be used at some future time for a colored school. Good enough!

"I also paid a brief visit to what we used to call the 'Dutch Meeting.' Years ago the little meeting house was crowded to overflowing, particularly during revival season. Well do I remember old 'Father' Sentlinger and good old 'Aunty,' likewise many of the old families who worshipped in this little Zion, including the Crouses, the Lauts, the Gruhlers, the Sibels, the Packers, the Baishes and other devoted Christians who were not ashamed to say "Amen' when the spirit so moved them. The new church and the parsonage are decided improvements.

"Well, along we go, and take a squint at the old homes of John and Valentine Wunder. They look natural, as do the old homes of John Weaver Harmer, Alpheus Channon, Samuel Findley, David Harmer, Sr., and David, Jr., William Barnes, Alfred C. Harmer, S. Bockius, C. G. Rose and other oldtimers [some of these names appear on the 1871 and 1885 Atlases for properties on West Rittenhouse between Adams (McCallum) and Greene Streets]. On the opposite side stand the Rittenhouse houses, which were very fine in their day. Many elegant buildings have been erected here during the last twenty years. I halt in front of the Edwards mansion, and observe the genial Select Councilman, now weighing a trifle less than four hundred pounds, fast asleep in the big chair. Two newspapers had fallen on the porch floor...."

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