May 3, 2010
By Alan Jaffe
“Look Up” is a PlanPhilly feature that encourages appreciation of our architectural and historical environment. Each week, the photo essay will focus on a different Philadelphia area neighborhood and its distinctive building styles and details, all of which make up the physical fabric of the city and region.
In the mid-19th century, the area to the northeast of Philadelphia known as Tacony -- derived from a native American word for “forest” or “uninhabited land” – became the terminus of the Philadelphia and Trenton Railroad. Because the rail line was denied access to Philadelphia by the city government, passengers disembarked at Tacony and took a boat downriver. Hotels and taverns sprung up in Tacony to serve travelers en route to the city.
Henry Disston, owner of the Disston Saw Works in the Northern Liberties section of the city, recognized the potential of moving his factory to the rail and water terminus and establishing a company town in Tacony. He purchased 390 acres and laid out a community of riverfront workshops, streets, sewers, schools, a bank, and row houses, with a linear park buffering his workers’ homes from the factories. Disston’s company grew into the world’s largest saw manufacturer.
Though the factories are mostly shuttered now, much of the Disston company town still stands, many of its homes preserved by residents, its institutional buildings reused by the community, and its heritage recorded by the Historical Society of Tacony.