Saturday, August 24, 2013

The place of the mice

There is so much information available now thanks to the Internet. Take for instance the suburban township that bordered Philadelphia where I lived until I was 12, Bensalem. (I wasn't born in Bensalem though, I was born in Philadelphia.)

Until very recently I had no idea that:
  • Bensalem township, which was founded in 1692, is almost as old as the state of Pennsylvania itself, which was founded in 1682.
  • The origins of Bensalem likely comes from references made by settler Joseph Growden, who named his estate as Manor of Bensalem' in honor of William Penn, the son of peace and the Semitic term for peace Salem. Originally named Salem, the word Ben was added in 1701.
  • The fall line, which separates the Atlantic Coastal Plain region from the Piedmont region, runs through Bensalem, and is visible around the Neshaminy Mall area. The Neshaminy Creek forms the natural eastern boundary and Poquessing Creek forms the natural western boundary of the township.
  • Benjamin Franklin would often travel to Bensalem to visit his friend, Joseph Galloway, at Growden Mansion. At the time, the Galloway family owned all of present day Bensalem Township. 
Knowing Ben Franklin, this does not surprise me - the dude got around. I didn't realize until the past year or so how important Ben Franklin was for Philadelphia. I mean, I knew he was important, there are images of Franklin all over the city, not to mention various societies named after him. Which is only fair, because from what I can tell he freaking made that town.

It turns out that the Growden Mansion, which I had never heard of when I lived in the area was adjacent to the neighborhood I grew up in, which was called, of all things Nottingham.

Unfortunately I still haven't been able to find out what the deal is with "Street Road" which ran through Nottingham and separated my development from Our Lady of Fatima school, and on days when I missed the bus it was a scary walk because for the longest time there was no traffic light at the intersection of Mechanicsville Road and Street Road in spite of Street Road recently having been changed (in 1970) from a two-lane road into a four-lane highway. They finally put a traffic light in after somebody was killed trying to cross Street Road.

I found a Wikipedia article about Street Road, aka Pennsylvania Route 132 - which was part of the original survey plans of William Penn himself(!) but the article provides no information on the origins of its name. Maybe it's some kind of Quaker thing.

I never knew much about Poquessing Creek until I found the Wikipedia article. Although it was at the end of the street I lived on, Mechanicsville Road, I don't think we knew what it was called - my siblings and my friends and I always called it just "the creek" since there wasn't any others. Although we pronounced it the "crick."

The Poquessing is the border between Bensalem Township and Philadelphia - since 1682. Mechanicsville Road ended at Dunks Ferry Road, right at the bridge over the creek. It was a single-lane old stone bridge when I lived there, but that was replaced by a modern bridge in 1990. There is still an old stone bridge over the Poquessing though, at Century Lane, less than a quarter mile north of Dunks Ferry Road. I remember riding my bicycle on Century Lane, thinking how adventurous I was to ride so far from home, and I was very much impressed by that bridge - it had a plaque stating it was built in 1853 which blew my mind - I couldn't imagine something being that old.

You can learn all about that bridge at

We used to walk or ride bikes to Philadelphia all the time over the Dunks Ferry Road bridge, especially in the summer to illegally use (since we were not Philadelphia residents) the swimming pool at the Parkwood playground, although my best friend Laura had an above-ground pool in her back yard in Bensalem that we could pretty much use any time we wanted to. We didn't just go to Parkwood though. On one occasion two of my brothers and I went door to door in the Parkwood neighborhood to sell candy bars for the Our Lady of Fatima candy sale. I just can't believe we did that, on our own, without adult supervision. Wow.

And then there was Byberry and Cemetery Hill, also near the Poquessing. Byberry was a hospital for the criminally insane - its official name was Philadelphia State Hospital at Byberry, but in our neighborhood it was just Byberry, as in "if you kids don't stop driving me crazy I'm going to end up in Byberry!"

But we kids never saw Byberry, we only heard about it. Much more tangible was Cemetery Hill. It was just above the Poquessing on the Philadelphia side and I remember sledding on that hill. Apparently it was part of a city-owned cemetery but the only grave I remember seeing was the one for  The Boy in the  Box. His grave was on the hill just above the Dunks Ferry Bridge. Walking past that grave was the most unnerving aspect of going to Parkwood and back.

I don't remember knowing much about the Boy in the Box in those days, but of course thanks to the Internet I know something now. In addition to the Wikipedia article there's an article about his burial site on Cemetery Hill. And apparently he was moved to Ivy Hill Cemetery in 1998. The Boy in the Box would have been around 60 now.

Like so many other place-names in the Delaware Valley region, Poquessing Creek got its name from the Lenape Indians, before they were overrun by Europeans. According to Wiki the name Poquessing comes from the Lenape "Poetquessnink," meaning "place of the mice."