References to Wingohocking Creek
The Guide Book to Historic Germantown
Prepared for the Site & Relic Society
by Charles F. Jenkins.
Copyright 1902 by Site and Relic Society, Germantown [Philadelphia]

For the past several years the Philadelphia Water Department has been leading a bus tour (in conjunction with the Mt. Airy Learning Tree) of the now-hidden watershed of Wingohocking Creek, which now runs in a system of sewers. I participated in 2005 for the first time, and the most amazing part of it comes at the end, when we visited the Wingohocking Sewer outfall, which marks where the now-obliterated creek once joined the Tacony Creek to form the Frankford Creek. This 24-foot pipe is one of the largest in the City's 3000-mile sewer system, and I've included a photo of it at the bottom of this page.

For information about the tour, which is held in October, contact the Mt. Airy Learning Tree. The cost in recent years has been $15 per person.

The History of Philadelphia's Watersheds and Sewers

Compiled by Adam Levine
Historical Consultant
Philadelphia Water Department
HomeCreek to sewerDown underarchivesmapsAdam LevineLinks

"This picture was made from the rear of the Flat Rock house, at the Shoemaker Lane Station. It was a very early cluster of buildings,
as part of Shoemaker's Farm. Shoemaker's own dwelling was in the valley below, the same house of 1-1/2 story,
where Wm. Penn on a small rock preached to the people. That house was lately pulled down...."
SOURCE: Free Library of Philadelphia, Print & Picture Collection

[Page 54]
East Penn Street used to be called Shoemaker's Lane for Shoemaker's big house which stood on the northeast corner of this and the Main Street. A short distance beyond the Reading Railway on the left hand side going out is the Rock House. Its origin is unknown, but it is said to be one of the oldest houses in Philadelphia. The low ground behind it at one time was called Mehl's meadow, and, with the Wingohocking Creek winding through it, it was a delightful spot. William Penn is said to have preached at one time from this elevation to the people assembled below him in the meadow. In this meadow before the Battle some of the British cavalry had their encampment.

Excurstion, East Side of Germantown

[Page 133] (The distance covered by this excursion one way is a little over six miles. )

AFTER visiting Stenton (see page 33), return to the Main Street. Just above Wayne Junction, turn to the right out Stenton Avenue to East Logan Street (formerly Fisher's Lane). Then east along Fisher's Lane, and at the bottom of the hill where the road crosses what used to be the Wingohocking Creek, is a little whitewashed stone dwelling said to have been used for the storing of powder and arms during the Revolution and also for the manufacture of gunpowder.

The mills are the Wakefield Mills, established at an early date by William Logan Fisher. His father, Thomas Fisher, in 1771 married Sarah, daughter of William Logan and granddaughter of James Logan, of Stenton. To the left, a short distance beyond the mills, standing back on a knoll from Fisher's Lane, is"Wakefield,"the home of Thomas and Sarah Fisher, built about 1795, still in the possession of their descendants.

After passing Wakefield the Old York Road is soon reached. [PAGE 134] Turning up this road, the Jewish Hospital is passed on the right. Just beyond the tollgate, on the left, with a high wall along the road and a double balconied house with many outbuildings, was the home of Pierce Butler, a member of the Constitutional Convention and a Senator from South Carolina, He bought the property in 1812. He died in Philadelphia in 1822.

Fanny Kemble, having married Pierce Butler, Jr., lived at this place from 1835 until the fall of 1840. Many incidents in connection with her home here and of the neighborhood will be found in her"Records of Later Life,"from which the following is taken :—

"Butler Place—or as I then called it, 'The Farm,' preferring that homely, and far more appropriate, though less distinctive appellation, to the rather more pretentious title, which neither the extent of the property nor size and style of the house warranted—was not then our own, and we inhabited it by the kind allowance of an old relation to whom it belonged, in consequence of my decided preference for a country to a town residence. . . . Subsequently, I took great interest and pleasure in endeavoring to improve and beautify the ground round the house; I made flower-beds and laid out gravel-walks, and left an abiding mark of my sojourn there in a double row of two hundred trees, planted along the side of the place, bordered by the high-road; many of which, from my and my assistants' combined ignorance, died, or came to no good growth. But those that survived our unskillful operations still form a screen of [PAGE 137] shade to the grounds, and protect them in some measure from the dust and glare of the highway."

Just about this point a British outpost was stationed along the York Road.

Proceeding to Branchtown, on the northeast corner of York Road and Mill Street, is the De Benneville graveyard. The house on the north, just beyond, was built by Joseph Spencer in 1746, bought by Dr. De Benneville in 1758, and named by his son"Silver Pine Farm."The Branchtown Hotel, immediately opposite, was erected in 1790 by Joseph Spencer.

On the left side of the turnpike beyond Branchtown and at the bottom of the hill is the entrance to Mr. Charles Wharton's place. Just inside the gateway is a rough stone some eight or ten feet in height. Here are buried four American soldiers surprised and shot by the British as they met around their camp fire, 1777. For a further account of the York Road and places beyond this point, see "The Old York Road and its Associations,"by Mrs. Anne De Benneville Mears, published in 1890.

Returning to Church Lane (Mill Street), which intersects the York Road at Branchtown, and proceeding west (towards Germantown), at the bottom of the hill, about half a mile from Branchtown, the road crosses what used to be Wingohocking Creek. Within a few years the road has been filled up and the [PAGE 138] creek is barely visible on the left of the road; in the northeast angle of the creek and the road was Roberts' Mill, built in 1683, the first in the county. It was built by Richard Townsend, one of the passengers in the Welcomer with William Penn. Later it was sold to the Lukens family and it will be found plotted on the Revolutionary maps as Lukens' Mill. Early in the century it passed to Hugh Roberts, and as Roberts' Mill it existed until about 1873.

''As soon as Germantown was laid out, I settled my tract of land, which was about a mile from thence, where I set up a barn and a corn mill, which was very useful to the country round. But there being few horses, people generally brought their corn upon their backs, many miles. I remember, one had a bull so gentle, that he used to bring the corn on his back."—From the Testimony of Richard Townsend, 1727.

On the rise of ground back of the mill the British had a small redoubt guarding their encampment in Germantown. Here is the Roberts mansion built early in the last century, now unoccupied and fast falling to decay. [Click here for a map of the Battle of Germantown that shows Wingohocking Creek and other creeks in northwestern Philadelphia. JPEG, 620 kb]

Retracing our steps a short distance, at the northeast corner of Church Lane and Dunton Street, standing back from the road and fronting west, with a little white spring house in front on the meadow bank, is the old Spencer farm house, which had been the birthplace and home of Thomas Godfrey, the inventor [PAGE 138] of the quadrant. At his death in 1749 he was buried on the farm, but many years later his remains were removed to Laurel Hill Cemetery through the efforts of John F. Watson, the annalist. During the removal the bones were deposited in the mill just mentioned, and Hugh Roberts, then a boy, relates how he ran for his life on unexpectedly opening the mill door and discovering the grinning skull there in the dusk of the evening.

"To guide the sailor in his wandering way,
See Godfrey's toils reverse the beams of day,
His lifted Quadrant to the eye displays
From adverse skies the counteracting rays;
And marks, as devious sails bewilder'd roll,
Each nice gradation from the stedfast pole."
From the Vision of Columbus, by Joel Barlow, 1787.

When the yellow fever drove the officers of the government to Germantown some of them lodged here, and George and Martha Washington were at one time calling. Hepzibah Spencer, the daughter of the house, then a child of four, crept up and peeped in the parlor window to see Mrs. Washington. After taking a look she turned to her companion and remarked in deep disgust:"Why, she's nothing but a woman, after all."Back of the house is the old brew house. Returning to the Limekiln Pike, and turning up it about half a mile, we reach Pittville. Here, occupying the Bayard [PAGE 140] property, northwest corner of Haines Street and Limekiln Turnpike, is the Philadelphia National Cemetery with many rows of the dead of the War of the Rebellion.

The third house above the tollgate on the right, lately remodeled, is what was called in Revolutionary times the Andrews place, now the home of Mr. Middleton. The left wing of General Washington's army moved down this road and a sharp encounter occurred with an outpost of the British at this point. Isaac Woods, who was standing in a cellar door watching the fighting, was killed by a stray bullet.

Returning to Haines Street and continuing on it westward towards Germantown, the Township Line, anciently dividing Germantown from Bristol Township, is crossed in about a quarter of a mile. On the east side of Township Line, about a hundred yards north of Haines Street, high up on the bank above the road, is an old house that at one time was the home of Colonel Thomas Forrest, a resident of Germantown and an artillery officer in the Battle. Continuing on Haines Street, about one hundred yards beyond the Township Line, is the old Kulp family burial ground, the walls of which are fast falling to ruin. A quarter of a mile beyond, the first farm house on the left, standing close to the road, is a house that was the home of Christopher Ludwig, "Baker-General"to the American Army. Reference has already been made to this. (See p. 90.)

[PAGE 143] Almost opposite is"Awbry"[Awbury], the park-like grounds containing the houses of the Cope and Haines families.

A short distance beyond is Chew Street.

On the east side of Chew Street, some four squares north of Haines Street, standing back from the street, is the Griffith House, which witnessed severe fighting at the time of the Battle.

Continuing on to Gorgas Lane and turning east on it, the tourist will find down in a field alout three hundred yards south of Gorgas Lane and as many from the railroad, the little Unruh house. (See p. 131)

Having now reached this point, the sightseer, if still ambitious, may cross over to the west side of Germantown, up Chew Street to Mount Airy Avenue, to Main Street, to Alien's Lane, to Livezey's Lane, and take in reverse order the excursion described in the following chapter.

Wingohocking Sewer outfall during a rainstorm, October 16, 2005. Photo by Adam Levine.

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Page last modified November 18, 2005