Uppers, lowers, and a brief history of moving up in East Falls
Our recent article about local growing pains between “upper and lower” parts of East Falls got us thinking about the terms, and how so many people living here identify this way, still. Though the lines between the upper and lower Falls blur today with new construction below the train tracks, there was no mistaking the divide in the 19th century.
Much like Manayunk and other mill towns on the Schuylkill, you weren’t a financial success until you moved “up the hill.” Case in point? The Hohenadel family and their house on Indian Queen Lane.
East Fallsers often use the term “mansion” to describe the house, which is a stretch. The property is imposing, but hardly an estate: 6 bedrooms, 3 baths, 3900 square feet. Grace Kelly’s childhood home on Henry is 56 square feet bigger, yet locals rarely call that a mansion.
No, the Italianate villa once occupied by our area’s most illustrious brewer was a “mansion” only relatively — in comparison to the middle class community that it anchored. Because this part of East Falls has always been…scrappy.
East Falls was a world away from center city (and the moneyed estates of suburban West Philadelphia) in the mid 19th century.
In fact, it wasn’t even known as East Falls, it was Falls of Schuylkill Village and the peaceful name belied the humming industrial mills that churned along the riverfront.
And boy was it dirty. People today pay top dollar for waterfront property, but in the old days you wanted to be as far away as possible from the shoreline.
Our poor Schuylkill, Wissahickon and other local streams would turn colors as textile mills dumped their waste water — different dye from different factories — mixing into various shades until finally the water ran thick and black.
And it wasn’t just hard on the eyes, you had to have a handkerchief at the ready for your riverfront stroll because of the rotting sewage from homes, businesses & slaughterhouses emptying into the river.
According to a city commissioners report from 1877, one of East Falls’ streams, Saw Mill Run,
“carried all the drainage from the factories, slaughterhouses, and houses in the vicinity and Nicetown into the Schuylkill. At the mouth of this sewer, all were obliged to hold their noses closed on account of the foulness arising from the place. It would be hard to conceive of a filthier spot.”
Newspaper account from the 1880s also state that Mifflin’s Run, another stream near Ridge Avenue, carried the “garbage and waste water of about 155 houses below the Norristown Railroad.”
No wonder those who made their fortune bolted for the high ground at the first opportunity (probably stepping carefully as they climbed to avoid the refuse that meandered downhill through stone gutters, wooden pipes, streams, culverts and roadways toward the river).
So what was Hohenadel doing on that small plot of land just a few hundred yards from the river — with icky Mifflin’s Run practically right out their back door, yet?
The John Hohenadel who moved to Indian Queen Lane in 1875 was no “beer baron” — he made a decent but humble living with his local brewery and related enterprises but never struck it rich. He’d barely built the new factory at Conrad & Indian Queen Lane, when he died of a lung infection, leaving his wife, Mary, to manage the business until their son, John, was able to take over.
The house, too, reflects the family’s modest beginnings. An entire story, possibly, and a whole staircase and back rooms were added later. Most likely John Hohenadel, the son, expanded and embellished the house & grounds to reflect the family’s growing wealth as Hohenadel Beer came to dominate the local market from the early 1900’s until Prohibition.
Despite their new-found prosperity, the family’s neighborhood on Indian Queen Lane remained an interesting blend of schools, churches, and a “mixed bag” of blue and white collar workers, civil servants, local business owners, and minor land-holders.
For the Hohenadels, this area was a “way station” while they worked for the wealth that could lift them higher, above the river, above the railroads.
His Colonial Revival estate is now known as “Timmons House” on Penn Charter’s campus, and is a posh venue for parties and events.
But the Indian Queen Lane place represents Hohenadel history more authentically — reflects an East Falls family’s growth, change and resiliency through generations working hard to further their common success. Which is, pretty much, the story of most of the homes lining our neighborhood’s oldest byway.
NOTE: This is an excerpt from a larger article. For more info about the history of our middle class mansion and the Falls, click here.