Saur-Kraut Alley (West Rittenhouse Street)
Perkins Collection (Compiled by Helen C. Perkins, 1900-1909), volume 62, pages 55-58
Historical Society of Pennsylvania

Newsclipping dated November 20, 1903, with text and photo of Samuel Finley, and the above sketch of "Mammy Sauerkraut's Row":

" A Pen Picture Of Old Poor House Lane Fifty Years Ago
How the Colony of 'Native Americans' of 'Saur-Kraut Alley' Lived and Thrived in the Good Old Days
No. 2 By N.K.P."

"The story of old Poor House lane (now West Rittenhouse street), from Germantown avenue to Little Tull street, with the exception of some improvements, including James Axford's storage warehouse, was given in last week's edition. Opposite the old Poor House stood Harkinson's old ice house, the big cellar filled with ice from Kelly's old dam. Over this ice cellar three houses were erected, and the colony grew to great proportions. Subsequently the ice cellar was discarded and filled up. The former tenants had one advantage over the present colony from the fact that they were continually 'on ice.'

"A Native Village

"Next to the ice house, and opposite the old Poor House, was a side settlement once known as 'Saur Kraut Alley,' which contained a number of neat, plain homes, each having a nice garden, a pump, a pig and lots of nice flowers, including dahlias, sunflowers and hollyhocks, and lots of room to raise potatoes, beans, cabbage and all kinds of herbs, including peppermint and other 'necessaries of life.'

"The colony at one time was composed strictly of 'Native Americans,' with 'Uncle Charley' Harmer as boss. They were a prosperous, hard-working people, and when winter came the inhabitants were blessed with the products of their farms, to say nothing of the stock of saurkraut, etc. Later on the settlement changed and the name of Tull street was substituted for Saur-kraut alley, our esteemed townsmen, F.D. Tull having bought most of the property as an investment.

"'Uncle' Gideon D. Harmer, a pronounced 'Native,' built the brick house on the west corner, also a shoe factory in the rear. Here most of his family were raised. 'Uncle' Joseph Smith, an old-time, manufacturer and local preacher, occupied for a long time the big building on the east corner, and gave employment to many of the neighbors, sewing stockings, etc. Most of the old- time residents of this once interesting settlement have gone up higher, where 'saur-kraut and speck' are unknown.

"Old Rittenhouse Public School

"To do justice to this grand old institution of learning would take volumes, but I cannot pass it by without a kind word for the old-time directors, the faithful teachers, as well as the pupils, the latter composed of both boys and girls.

"The original building was erected about the year 1844, and was for many years the only public school for miles around. When quite a youngster I was placed under the protecting wing of Maria McClelland...'general-in-chief' of the primary department in the first story...Prof. Wilson, principal of the higher grades in the second story...The female department was in the third story...Most of the families for miles around sent their children to the old Rittenhouse School. Hundreds of our best business men and women received their early education here...members of the State Senate and Legislature, one as president of the Germantown Mutual Insurance Company...

"Now it is the home for colored pupils. New modern school houses now loom up everywhere. May old Rittenhouse continue to do good work...

"Adjoining stands Old Zion, years ago called the 'Dutch Meeting.' Old Zion was once a power for good. Well do I remember when this little church was crowded with faithful worshipers, old reliables like the Sibels, Lauts, Crouses, Gruhlers, Packers, Housemans, Walters, Constables and other grand old families. The congregation grew and then followed a big addition to the church, an infant department and a neat new parsonage, too. Later on dissensions arose in the conference, and then came an unfortunate dissolution, much to be regretted. To-day most of the survivors are connected with another conference, and Zion with its great history and with its graveyard containing its illustrious dead is 'for sale'...

"Further on towards Greene street stand a number of old homes old once occupied by the Crouses, Rittenhouses, Wunders, Channon, Finleys, Princes, Marples, Harmers and other old-time citizens.

"One of the oldest of these now living is Samuel Finley, who will be 90 years old next July [1904]. Mr. Finley was born in Ireland in 1813, and came to America in 1831. Landing in Philadelphia...[walked to] Limekiln pike, above Washington lane, where he secured employment as a farmer. He remained there for about six years, when he came to Germantown and took charge of Samuel Harvey's place, which was on the site of the present Town Hall, extending back to Wissahickon avenue. He remained with Mr. Harvey until about the time the Town Hall was built, in 1853, when he started in business for himself as a teamster. He bought the old property at the corner of Lehman and Rittenhouse streets, and later on purchased the property 126 West Rittenhouse street, where he remained until about ten years ago, when he retired from business...

"Mr. Finley was the last of the old-time teamsters in Germantown to continue in business. He, together with Joe Ladley, Pete Hinkle and Sam Hager, hauled all the lumber for Ashmead's and Langstroth's saw mills and extensive lumber yards in the days before lumber was brought to Germantown in freight cars. Indeed, Mr. Finley has seen the evolution of transportation from the old stage coach to the running of cars on the Germantown and Norristown Railroad and to the trolley, the automobile and the 60-mile-an-hour train. He has rode in almost every sort of a vehicle, but has thus far fought shy of the festive 'red devil' autos.

"In the good old days Mr. Finley, Joe Ladley, Bill Shriver, Charley Greeves, Jack Still, Sam Hager and other old-timers would congregate daily at the old toll-gate at Main and Rittenhouse streets, and swap stories with Enos Springer, the keeper of the gate.

"The old toll-gate was removed in 1872, and then these old cronies transferred their headquarters to Charley Weiss' coal yard...[later] drifted across the street to Oliver Jester's stove store, on the site of Vernon Park. On Sundays the headquarters would be Joe Ladley's place, on Haines street, beyond the railroad, where those already mentioned, together with William Mills and John C. Miller, and occasionally Charles Wister, would meet and discuss politics, horses, etc. They were all solid old citizens, rough diamonds, as it were, and were highly respected by all who knew them...

The newsclippings continue with descriptions of "old Poor House lane, from Greene street to Wissahickon avenue." Included in this section of the street were a number of "modern" as well as old residences; a drug store, butcher shop, and manufacturing establishment; the new almshouse (dating from 1871); the Pennsylvania Railroad; a former meadow and "skating park" which later became the site of two big coal yards.

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