"A GAY OLD TOWN THAT DISAPPEARED"
Of all the little settlements that sprang up in the confines of the area west of the Schuylkill River, Greenville is undoubtedly the least known today. Yet, in its time it was certainly the most colorful and perhaps the most rowdy.
One informant describes it as being that triangle bounded by Market Street, Powelton Avenue and Lancaster Pike (Avenue). Actually, it probably never reached east of 36th Street nor went beyond 41st Street. It overlapped parts of Mantua, as it must have Hamilton Village. Much of Greenville's story must also be told with that of the District of West Philadelphia. At all events it left its mark in the change in direction that the streets west of 39th take in going north from Filbert Street, the boundary of Hamilton Village.
It took its inception from the early custom of the drovers who halted their herds at this point on the drive from the country west of the Schuylkill. Here they spent the night, or longer, before proceeding across the Schuylkill at Spring Garden Street and on to the slaughter houses north of the City. Coming down the dusty Lancaster Pike the drovers were attracted by the taverns around 401h Street, and before taking that last long lap into the City they stopped for a bit of rest, refreshment and pleasure.
"The Drove Yard Tavern" at the intersection of Haverford and Lancaster Roads kept by John R. Green, and "Green's Tavern" at the same intersection seem to have been favorites, although "The Fish House" on Bridge (Spring Garden) Street, after the opening of the Upper Ferry Bridge, was famous for its catfish dinners.
The cattle were herded into an open space between Baring Street and Fairmount Avenue and running from S7th Street to Lancaster Avenue, which as late as 1850 was reserved for that purpose, where they grazed while their drovers plied the taverns.
Perhaps there was a more practical purpose for the halt. After several days march from the country along dusty roads, the cattle would be tired and showed the effects of the long journey. Several days rest, feeding and watering served to restore them to a shape and weight which would command a higher figure on the market.
At all events, as the settlement grew it acquired a reputation for cheap housing, warm hospitality and gay nights. Before long it attracted the teamsters who had to pass that way to or from the west. These drivers and teamsters were a rough, racy crowd who saw no point in spending spare hours in a quiet sanctimonious City which prohibited the worldly pleasures so freely dispensed in Greenville.
From the very nature of its trade the neighborhood became known as a very "horsey" one. Accommodations for beast as well as man abounded, horse and cattle auctions were opened, trading posts were established. Market Street in the neighborhood of 38th Street became a center for harness and feed. It is but a few years since the last of these great harness shops on Market Street near 37th was closed. Another well known harness shop which lasted until but a few years ago was Weidell's, on Lancaster Avenue between 39th and 40th. For years equestrians from near and far came to get their equipment from successive generations of Weidells. Until the turn of the century numerous carriage and wagon works and blacksmiths dotted the area.
For more than half a century a famous hostel, The William Penn Hotel, stood on the north side of Market (Washington) Street west of 38th (Mary) Street. In the latter part of the 19th century it became The William Penn Horse Bazaar. In the 1940's the City of Philadelphia operated it as a wagon yard for its Bureau of Sanitation. It is now occupied by an auto-washing concern. Vestiges of its stables and yards may yet be seen.
The original Saunders Estate on which the Presbyterian Hospital is built was squarely within Greenville. The Hospital and its grounds will be discussed otherwhere in this history.
Most of the streets were poorly developed and in wet weather became impossible quagmires. Nevertheless they existed. Forty-first Street was known as Logan Street north of Haverford, and as Hanley Street to the south. Thirty-eighth Street continued its Hamilton Village name of Mary as far north of Lancaster Pike; 39th Street north of Market was known as Boudinot and 40th Street north of Filbert was the infamous Cedar Lane.
From the 1850's for about a quarter of a century the Bull's Head Tavern stood on the south side of Market (Washington) Street west of 37th Street. Later this too became a teeming horse bazaar. Equally famous as a trading mart for horses was Connolly's Bazaar on the northeast corner of S8th and Market Streets. It was barely a quarter of a century ago that these vestiges of "horsey" Greenville disappeared.
Just to add to the horse reputation of the neighborhood the Hestonville, Mantua and Fairmount Passenger Railway established its terminal at 41st Street and Lancaster Pike, and the Market Street Line had its terminal at 41st and Haverford Avenue. The latter continued in service until destroyed in a $40,000.00 fire on December 13, 1884. It was rebuilt and serves as a bus terminal today.
After the Consolidation of the City in 1854 Greenville settled down to become a respectable section of Philadelphia, though it appears on some maps as late as 1890. As time advanced fewer cattle were driven through its streets, even though it did remain a horse trading center until early in the Twentieth Century. With the advent of trolley cars more and better housing appeared. German immigrants, looking for a space to settle, began to filter into the area. Soon Greenville was the center of a vast German settlement that extended as far north as Westminster Avenue.
The rowdy inns gave way to old-fashioned German family taverns. One of the most famous was Sauer's Hotel on the northwest corner of 40th and Filbert Streets, afterward to become the first pharmaceutical factory of the late Albert Barnes, whose art collection has been so controversial. Fine German bakeries arose, among them the famous Heermann's Bakeries, one of which was on the southwest corner of 40th and Market Streets, and another on Lancaster Avenue west of 40th Street. Just a little more than a year ago the last of these fine bakeries, Essig's, on the south side of Market, one door east of 40th, closed when its original proprietor died. At that time it still was furnished with the original marble-topped counters and wirebacked ice cream parlor chairs, for they made and sold their own ice cream.
Colorful delicatessens, their windows festooned with strings of spicy sausages and rows of cheeses, exuding mouth-watering aromas of zesty foods, ranged alongside of crimson-splashed butcher stalls and fresh-smelling greengrocers shops on Lancaster Avenue and on Market Street at 40th. Striped-poled barber shops, then man's last exclusive retreat, with their bright rows of individual shaving mugs and naughty-pictured Police Gazettes, dotted the neighborhood. Lusty gutterals floated on malt-laden air through the slatted swinging doors of corner saloons, while outside four piece itinerant German bands, strident and hoarse, puffed popular selections.
Just across the street from Heermann's Bakery on Lancaster Avenue an Englishman named Holm kept an electrical store -- a new business in those days -- at 4142 Lancaster Avenue. His son, John Cecil Holm, was raised at that address and became the playwright and novelist whose famous play "Three Men on a Horse" has entertained many.
Despite many building operations the development of the area was spotty. At the turn of the century a farmhouse remained at 41st and Lancaster Avenue, though a few doors down the street toward 40th stood the famous William Penn Theatre, where the repertoire of the famous actress, Mae Desmond, and her troupe thrilled generations of young theatre-goers. This, however, was not the first theatre in this gay area. In September, 1886 the West Philadelphia Theatre had opened at 39th and Lancaster Avenue, and many of the great stage personalities of the late 19th Century appeared on its boards.
With the Germans came their churches, the Emanuel German Evangelical Reformed Church at 35th and Baring Streets in 1873 and the German Lutheran Church of St. Peter at the corner of 38th and Myrtle Streets later the same year.
Not that the community had been without places of worship prior to that. In 1850 a group of Methodist Episcopalians were offering devotions in a private home. In 1852 they purchased a piece of ground at 9th and Elm Streets (38th and Mt. Vernon Streets) and erected a frame church known as the Mantuaville M. E. Church. In 1855 a brick church was dedicated known as the "~8th Street Church," and used by the congregation until the present Christ Methodist Episcopal Church at 38th and Hamilton Streets was erected in 1870.
On the southeast corner of Powelton and Saunders Avenues stands the Princeton Presbyterian Church. The original congregation held services in a chapel on what was then Lexington Street near 43rd and Wallace (Elm) Streets. In March 1857 the frame building was moved to land on 39th (Boudinot) Street near Baring. The present site was given to the congregation by Mrs. Sarah Miller, the widow of Rev. Samuel Miller, of Princeton, New Jersey. The name was changed to its present form and in 1858 the cornerstone of the new church was laid. The present edifice, erected in 1878, is occupied by the Allen A. M. E. Church.
The Western Temporary Home was a voluntary organization providing a home for adults discharged from hospitals, yet too weak to resume their normal activities. It opened its home in 1875 on Market Street below 40th and later the same year moved to 47 North 98th Street. On January 3, 1876 their home on 35 North 40th Street was opened. In 1929 the building was leased to George and Ethel Gushing, who established the Sharon Hall Home for the Elderly, which proudly displayed License No. 1 of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania for such homes. Both Mr. and Mrs. Gushing were leaders in community work and contributed much to the development of the area. After the accidental death of her husband, Mrs. Gushing's health failed, and in 1958 she sold the business to its present occupant.
Unlike Mantua and Hamilton Village, the name of Greenville did not linger to become a designation of a particular portion of the City. Some where, somehow, the name became lost in the corridors of time and nothing remains to remind us of the lusty, pulsating center it once was.
Originally published in 1963.
Reprinted with permission of the West Philadelphia Partnership.
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