What’s in a Name? East Falls, Philadelphia: Street by Street

How did your street get its name? How did any of them?

We’ve got three “Queen” lanes in East Falls — Queen, New Queen, and Indian Queen  — but does anyone know who this “Queen/queen” is?

Any googling fool can tell you that Philadelphia’s Queen Village was named for Sweden’s Queen Cristina, but our local sovereign’s identity is not so apparent. A yellowed newspaper clipping we found in the old Baptist church‘s archives next door to Hohenadel House describes the legend of Indian Queen Lane:

“Originally an Indian trail, it was named for an Indian Queen who is supposed to have lived in the house at the bottom of the hill after she abandoned the wigwams of her forebears for the four-walled comforts of the white man.” 

A convenient little tale that doesn’t tell us anything, really. But records do!

Indian Queen Lane has been on maps as far back as 1692, when it was the main trail from the Falls to Philadelphia. This former Native American path wound up from the river, past what is now the Queen Lane Reservoir.

The name refers to a nearby hotel  which most likely was named for the more famous inn at the other end of the road, the Indian Queen Tavern in colonial Philadelphia.  Lafayette recovered here after being wounded in the Battle of Princeton, and historians believe Thomas Jefferson once kept a second-story room here to write and study (and certainly NOT get drunk and fraternize with the help, ahem).

By the way, “Indian Queen” is apparently an ironic nod to the “notorious Indian-massacring Paxton Boys,” who supposedly shot up the adjoining stable when they stayed there in 1755.  Yeep.

Anyhoo:  today, Indian Queen Lane is just the little part closest to the river; the old highway to Philly is now chopped up into Queen Lane, Abbotsford and Germantown Avenues.  A few other streets in East Falls have changed names over the years, too, as industries have come and gone, and politicians die to be memorialized.

WHAT’S YOUR STREET’S STORY? Some long shots and big old shrugs. Still researching & updating. Tips (and clues and hints) welcome!

AINSLIE  The “Ainslie” family tree in America started with two English settlers who both landed in Philadelphia, Robert in 1796 and James in 1800. Neither seem terribly remarkable, nor do any other local Ainslie’s at that time. However, wiki has a story about a James “Annesley” with a brief connection to Philly during a crazy life that possibly inspired the novel “Kidnapped” by Robert Louis Stevenson.

APALOGEN  A Lenni Lenape word for “to come from work.” (more Native American words here)

ARNOLD  (aka “Hohenadel Street” till end of 19th century)  A Benedict Arnold connection? He frequently stayed at the Mount Pleasant estate overlooking the Schuylkill with his Philly-born wife Peggy Shippen.

Update From the Chadwick Papers at the East Falls Historical Society:  Michael Arnold (originally from Virginia) apparently was a early 1800’s proprietor of Falls Tavern — also a highly-respected president Judge of the Court of Common Pleas.

BARCLAY  Possibly named for Thomas Barclay, Philadelphia merchant and diplomat who negotiated the US’s first treaty with the sultan of Morocco in 1786.

BOWMAN  Ummm could it be named for Thomas Bowman, the dude who first owned the land where Belfield/the Charles Wilson Peale house is now located?

CALLOWHILL   Understood to bear the name of William Penn’s second wife, Hannah Callowhill.

CALUMET  (used to be Spencer)  Native American word for “peace pipe.”

CONRAD  Robert T. Conrad, first mayor of Philadelphia after the Consolidation Act of 1854. Fun fact: all of the streets in East Falls that crossed Midvale used to be numbered — they were renamed after former Mayors: Conrad, Vaux, Henry, McMichael, Stokely & Fox. 

COULTER  Possibly for Colonel Richard Coulter who led the 11th PA Regiment into battle at Gettysburg? He later became a big coal and railroad dude, and left behind a cool journal as a soldier in the mid 1800’s. Even cooler:  Edgar Allen Poe’s travelogue about the Wissahickon, which appears on a website for Coulter Street Supply (a Germantown art gallery/espresso bar).

CRAWFORD  Andrew Wright Crawford, Philadelphia assistant city solicitor, city planner and speaker at 1909’s First National Conference on City Planning in Washington, DC.

CRESSON   Elliot Cresson, Philadelphia philanthropist/Quaker abolitionist who established the Franklin Institute’s “Elliot Cresson Medal” (for a useful contribution in arts or sciences) and helped found Moore College of Art & Design.

CRESWELL  (used to be Elizabeth)  Creswell/Cresswell Iron Works (Samuel Creswell & Son), which had a factory on Cherry Street from 1835 – 1969. Manhole covers by SJ CRESSWELL IRONWORKS can still be found on streets all over Center City.

DOBSON  Dobson Mill, duh.  John and James Dobson owned many textile mills, which were powered by a small tributary of the Schuylkill River running thru Germantown, Nicetown and East Falls known as “Dobson’s Run.”

DIVISION  The dividing line between the Jets and the Sharks home turf?

EARLHAM  Bit of a stretch, but a famous Quaker named George Fox  traveled the colonies in 1672 and evidently made a big impression in this general vicinity because Swarthmore is named after the home residence of his wife back in England. Anyway, there’s a Fox street in East Falls, and plus this guy founded the Earlham School of Religion so there you have it. (?)

EVELINE  Awww come on, google! We got nothin’ here. Are there no famous Philadelphians with the surname “Eveline” ??

FREDERICK  Lots of historical “Fredericks” turn up in Philly but none as a surname. Maybe this street is named for the King of Prussia, Frederick II? He’s the namesake of an 18th century tavern run by Quakers that was conveniently a day’s travel from Philly — the joint was so popular a rest stop, the whole area came to be known by it. Perhaps there’s a connection somewhere?

FISK  Well this is interesting. Looks like Jim Fisk was a big Erie railroad tycoon in the late 1800’s, who was murdered in a scandalous love triangle with a mediocre actress who eventually wound up living in Philly. Dunno if this is the same dude the street is named after but a good story nonetheless. Also —  “Fisk Ave” appears to be the name of a possibly-defunct street style company in Easton, PA.

GYPSY  Appears this street may have actually been named for the “gypsies” who camped out on the banks of the Schuylkill near Belmont at the turn of the 20th century.

FOX  George Fox, founder of English Quakerism? Actually it’s named for Philadelphia mayor Daniel Fox, but it appears the 1869 election he “won” was contested on charges of fraud so…. the Quaker guy it is!

HAYWOOD  Rev. Benjamin Haywood, a Philadelphia & Reading Coal and Iron company exec who spent some time in the area and then wound up in Pottsville?

HENRY  Alexander Henry was mayor of Philadelphia from 1858 to 1865, and credited with his defense of the city during the Civil War.

KRAIL  Possibly George Washington Krail, who appears to have lived and died in East Falls. Or his brother John. Or his father Alexander, who was involved in a legal case that got all the way to the Supreme Court in the mid 1800’s. There was a whole covey of Krails in this town! Oh wait, wrong covey.

MERRICK  Samuel Vaughan Merrick was a cofounder of The Franklin Institute in 1824, and he also donated the land for our Falls of Schuylkill library (along with the Warden estate). No relation to John/Joseph Merrick.

MCMICHAEL  Morton McMichael was mayor of Philly from 1866 -1869 and a political and civic reformer. Editor-in-Chief of the Saturday Evening Post  and namesake of our beautiful park.

MIDVALE (used to be Mifflin) Midvale Steel was a Nicetown company whose steel supplied railroad companies, the Us Navy, and the builders of the Brooklyn Bridge. Closed in 1976.  Check out eerie photos of the old plant hidden in a SEPTA depot.  Interesting article in Chadwick Papers, Vol 10.

THE OAK   This road was built by Henry Waterston Brown in the early 1900s as part of his estate, which ran from School House Lane to Midvale Avenue. The road was named for an ancient oak, which Brown built the road around. The tree was toppled in a storm in recent decades and has since been replaced.

OSMOND  With no evidence of any Donny & Marie connection, the best we can do with this one is Bertram Osmond, who was one of six teenagers who drowned in the Flat Rock Dam Incident of 1901, when unexpected currents on the Schuylkill swept their rowboat under during what was supposed to be a fun day of picnicking with the Elm Social Club. BTW, people are still falling prey to those pesky Flat Rock Dam currents…

PENN  Named for one of the William Penns, either the guy who made treaties with our area’s Native Americans or his late father the English admiral and House of Commoner for whom our state is named.

POWERS  If the historic company Powers and Weightman was the Simon & Garfunkle of 18th century manufacturing chemists, this teeny-tiny street/driveway off Calumet recalls the “Garfunkle” of the pair. No one seems to remember Thomas Powers, but Weightman’s got his own Wiki! His street is much bigger, too….

RIDGE  An easy one — literally the “ridge” between Wissahickon creek & the Schuylkill, which was already a good path worn by Native Americans when the colonists arrived.  Interesting article in the Chadwick Papers, Vol 10.

SCHOOLHOUSE   Originally an Indian trail, the road was referred to as the “Cross Street to Schuylkill” in the 17th century. Sometime later, it became “Bensell’s Lane” and then changed to School Lane when the “Germantown Union School-house” (later Germantown Academy) opened in 1761. (The name changed yet again in 1893 to Schoolhouse Lane.) Charles Bensell was one of the founders of the school. Interestingly, the school’s bell was brought to America by the Beaver, the same ship that delivered the tea for the Boston Tea Party.

Another obscure fact: The “Schoolhouse Lane Company” was owned by the family of William G. Warden, a major figure in Philadelphia finance and industry (with his own East Falls street).

SCOTTS  Thomas Alexander Scott, another local railroad tycoon. Some interesting street history here (from December 27, 1934‘s Chadwick Papers) which names Hugh Scott of Ireland as the area’s namesake, though.

SKIDOO  23 Skidoo is American slang from the 1920’s that generally refers to leaving quickly, usually for your own advantage (as in, to “get out while the gettin’s good”). Maybe this tiny crooked street was once a shortcut workers used to sneak or otherwise high-tail it from their mill jobs on the hill to the homes & saloons below on Ridge?

Although we’ve been unable to confirm the reason for the change, we do know that in 1982 Councilwoman Ann Land’s bill officially changed the name from Cresson to Skidoo. (Ann Land passed in 2010 so it’s not like we can ask her). 

PS See Sue P’s adorable update in the comments section for another great explanation for the name… 

STANTON  (used to be James)  Most likely Edwin M. Stanton, an American lawyer out of Pittsburgh, Secretary of War under Abraham Lincoln, with an elementary school in SW Center City named for him, as well.  Famous Lincoln quote, “If Stanton said I was a damned fool, then I must be one for he is always right…

STOKLEY  William Strumberg Stokley, mayor of Philadelphia from 1872 to 1881, buried at Laurel Hill. Apparently involved in some sorta altercation with hobo mobs threatening the city…?? Stokley’s son, Horatio, was a real estate assessor at the time of his father’s death and may have assisted in having the street named.

SUNNYSIDE. Because who wouldn’t want to live on Sunnyside?

TILDEN  Famous local tennis whiz, William J. Tilden, who was overwhelmingly voted the greatest tennis player of the first half of the 20th century in an Associated Press poll only six weeks after being released from prison for his second conviction surrounding “unwarranted advances” with teenage boys.

TIMBER  Certainly seems to be a lot of trees on this dead-end off Schoolhouse that backs up to the Wissahickon, but lumberjacks disagree on whether to yell “TIMBER” when chopping one down (the Fairmount Park Commission, however, is unanimous on not felling their trees in the first place).

VAUX   A busy family: Richard Vaux, the father, was a well-known local Quaker, and his son, Roberts (with the “s” on the end), was a lawyer, abolitionist and a philanthropist in education and penal reform. His son, Richard, who served briefly as Philly mayor from 1856- 1858 is this street’s namesake. Note: despite the French-ish spelling, it’s pronounced “Vawks” (rhymes with hawks). 

WARDEN  William G. Warden, a NYC “Rockefeller-esque” entrepreneur, in 1870 founded the Atlantic Refining Company which became the giant monopoly Standard Oil (now Sunoco/BP). Big finance and industry dude. Looks like his family was still fighting over his money in 2010.

WEIGHTMAN  William Weightman was a chemical manufacturer (“Powers and Weightman”) and one of the largest landowners of the US during his time.  Big lab/factory on Ridge.  Introduced quinine for the treatment of malaria. Owned a whole line of streetcars. Lived with his daughter, Anne, at Ravenhill until his death in 1904.

WIEHLE  Really reaching here:  “Wiehle” was the dream of  Dr. Carl A. M. Wiehle, a  Philadelphia physician, who retired at 35 to purchase 3500 acres around the Alexandria, Loundoun and Hampshire Railroad to create a self-named utopian community, which never quite happened. Instead: he died, the land changed hands, yadda yadda yadda:  Reston, Virginia!

WINONA  Ummmm…. Ryder? JuddBueller…?? Anyone….?? ANYONE..???

11 thoughts on “What’s in a Name? East Falls, Philadelphia: Street by Street

  1. I am happy to see the names of the streets. I can still picture where each street is. Thanks for researching all of this!

    My grandfather Martin Higgins was Warden’s overseer for his properties in the School House Lane/ Warden Drive area. Martin and Mary Jane (born Mariah Egan) were from Ireland arriving in the early 1900’s and were married in 1905 at Holy Cross Church in Mt. Airy. Martin came from Galway and Mary Jane from Ballina in County Mayo. They had five children an lived in the house on Vaux St. near Warden Drive. Mr. Warden asked Martin, Mary Jane and their children to live in the house that is now the Philadelphia University’s president’s home. He had the home built for his daughter who was widowed after a very short time. The house remained empty for a year or two until Martin Higgins’ family moved in for ten years. Martin later bought the last house with the long driveway, on Warden Drive next to the golf hills, called “the NUTs” by the kids who would go sledding there. Martin’s son Walter owned a gulf refinery station with his brother Tom and later he became a Philadelphia police man. Walter was the only child who bought a house in East Falls and lived most of his life on Queen Lane. He married Ann Cross and they also had five children.

    1. Wow, this is wonderful Dottie! We love this kind of “first-hand” history. Do you have any photos from those bygone days?

    2. Dotsie (sorry, can’t help myself). This is a terrific history. I didn’t know you family went that far back in the Falls.

  2. So Indian Queen Lane is named after Indian Queen Tavern, but how did the tavern get its name?
    An English composer, William Purcel,(approx. 1600s-1700s) wrote an opera called The Indian Queen. Possible connection?
    Pat Adams, 3643 Indian Queen.

    1. A friend who is an expert on Indian place names agrees that the tavern and street are named for the opera. There were Indian Queen taverns and Inns all over the world! I believe the opera was based on incas?

  3. I’ve lived at Calumet and Skidoo for 42 years and the explanation for Skidoo always referred to the nuns from St. Bridget school who used to walk the kids to the bridge at the end of the school day. After their regular chant “go around the pole” the nuns would tell the kids to skidoo.

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