bridesburg

Bridesburg: Weapons factories, the Delaware River Marathon and Ted Koppel’s Nightline moment

It’s all about the neighborhoods here in Philadelphia, and Billy Penn will take a deep dive into many of them with these “postcards” throughout the year. We’ll go over their history, their demographics, community centers and their neighborhood legends — and the most Instagrammable spots. Love Bridesburg? Buy the stuff.

Bridesburg is the northeastern-most point of Philadelphia’s River Wards (don’t you dare call it the Northeast) and was a major manufacturing hub for the city, with companies providing parts or weapons for most of America’s major wars. Though many factories have closed, Bridesburg lives on as popular residential area for working-class, white families. The neighborhood is undergoing a bit of a resurgence, too, with a new park set for development along the Delaware.

Boundaries

Bridesburg is bordered to the north by I-95, to the northeast by Tacony Drive, to the south by the Delaware River and to the southwest by Frankford Creek.

Population

6,465

Population Age 20-to-34

1,452 (22.5 percent)

Racial composition

Rent vs. own

457 to 2,044 (18 percent to 82 percent)

Average Home Price

$64,950, according to Realtor.com.

Name origins

The most common origin for Bridesburg stems from Joseph Kirkbride. He was a ferry operator and bridge owner in the 18th century. The other origin is more fun, if less believable. Supposedly this neighborhood used to be a hotspot for Philadelphia brides to go to on their honeymoons and thus got the name Bridesburg.

Backdrop

In March 1996, Bridget Ward moved with her family to a rowhouse in Bridesburg. A black mother with two young daughters, she immediately became the recipient of racist taunts, graffiti and threats. After less than a month, she and her daughters moved out after she received an anonymous letter threatening to kill her daughters.

Ward’s story was featured that year on “Nightline” as part of its series “America in Black and White.” Ted Koppel hosted a town hall meeting style talk with 12 Bridesburg residents, one of whom blamed Ward and another who said he didn’t want black people like Ward coming into his neighborhood and possibly ruining his “investment.”

Legendary event

People actually used to swim in the Delaware, famous people for that matter, as part of the Delaware Marathon. This 3-mile swim race stretched from Bridesburg to Riverton, N.J. In 1922, then 15-year-old Gertrude Ederle entered the race, along with a host of the best long distance swimmers from America and Europe. Ederle would go on to become the first woman to swim the English Channel four years later. Alas, she was not meant to show her fame to Bridesburg. Though she was entered, she did not race. Apparently the Delaware can even scare away one of the greatest swimmers of all time. The event was won by Lillian Stoddart and Olympian Eleanor Uhl finished second.

History

Much of Philadelphia’s manufacturing past was centered in Bridesburg. At its peak, the neighborhood contained massive factories for the making of weapons, chemicals, leather, as well as a fuel plant. Some of these factories played major roles in American history. In the Civil War, the Bridesburg Manufacturing Company provided 95,000 muskets for the Union.

Photo via River Ward Neighborhoods Facebook page

During World War I, the Frankford Arsenal, located where Tacony and Bridge Streets are today, shipped millions of rounds of ammunition and in World War II served as a testing ground for weapons. Also in World War II, Rohm and Haas (which had bought out a Bridesburg chemical company that dated back to the 19th century) manufactured a chemical for plexiglass in fighter jets. With this manufacturing base, Bridesburg attracted an immigrant, working-class population that was largely Polish. The Polish were often barred from working at factories in other areas of Philadelphia but not in Bridesburg, where they took jobs almost nobody else wanted.

Though many of the factories have closed, Bridesburg is still home to major plants for Dow Chemical and Honeywell. The community remains largely working-class white, with the predominant ethnic background still being Polish, as well as Irish or German. Most residents love Bridesburg and take pride in living there.

Community gathering places

Memorial Day Parade: Way back in 1946, Bridesburg hosted the first of what is known as the city’s oldest Memorial Day Parade. Though financial hardships have threatened the parade in recent years, it keeps happening year after year.

Bridesburg Recreation Center: For years, residents of Bridesburg have come to the Rec Center to play basketball, swim or partake in any number of activities. Councilman Bobby Henon recently committed to renovating the Center, though exact plans are not yet known.

What used to be

Too many factories that wreaked havoc on Bridesburg. In the 80s and 90s, Bridesburg routinely won the unwanted title of Pennsylvania zip code that produces the most toxins likely to cause cancer or birth defects. Philadelphia is still ranked as the second-most hazardous city in the country, with many of those man-made hazards being located in the Bridesburg and Port Richmond neighborhoods.

But things are getting better. The old site of the Philadelphia Coke Company is in the preliminary stages for redevelopment, possibly for industrial use. New park space adjoining the site of the old Coke Plant to the Delaware River is being planned. It would be the first time in modern history residents of Bridesburg would get to really enjoy their waterfront.

Alumni

Bob Kelly, Fox 29 traffic guy.

Controversy

Is Bridesburg a River Ward or part of the Northeast? This is no insignificant matter. Bridesburg has historically been considered a River Ward but in recent decades has often been lumped in with the Northeast. In the 1950s, Frankford Creek’s flow was diverted and rather than flow through Bridesburg it flows directly into the Delaware, south of Bridesburg. Because it is now north of the Creek, Bridesburg could technically fall under the boundaries of the Northeast. But most people still consider it a River Ward.

Instagram this

The Betsy Ross Bridge.

 

#RideHome from #Work #BetsyRossBridge #Philadelphia #WorkFlow A photo posted by Richard HammerTime Mcfeely (@darulaslickrick) on

×
×

Follow this story

×

Success! You're now subscribed to “Neighborhoods sponsored by Beneficial Bank”

You'll get emails from Billy Penn as this story develops. You can unsubscribe in every email.