Bridge Committee Chairman's Review

Following is an article preparred by Bridge Committee Chairman Harvey Cantor, for the November 1997 PennyPacker. It is reprinted here because it gives an excellent overview and due credits to the many participants who helped in this celebration, for those who couldn't attend, and generations hereafter.

" If we tried to sink the past beneath our feet, be sure the future would not stand."

While a million women lend  march down town.   Holmesburg had a three hundred year march across the bridge on  October 25, 1997.  There were many reasons for the 300th birthday celebration of the Frankford Avenue - King's Highway bridge.     One reason was to bring to the attention of the people the rich historic heritage of the bridge and the surrounding Holmesburg community.    Unfortunately,  the bridge has been taken for granted.  It is the one of the most important parts of the history of  the Holmesburg area.   In  the 1850's, the growth of the City of  Philadelphia, and boroughs, districts and townships of Philadelphia County necessitated more services and protection. This resulted in the 1854 Consolidation of the City and County of Philadelphia.   It was at this point, unfortunately, that Northeast Philadelphia began to be stereotyped as a singular entity rather than the villages, towns and rural areas that made it.  Northeast Philadelphia, as many would make you  believe,  is a bedroom community that sprung up after World War II.   It is to the contrary.  As I have participated in writing the history of  Northeast Philadelphia, I found that it was formed by towns and villages, like Holmesburg, with separate identities, cultural differences, and histories.  

Even though the weather was cold an damp over a thousand people attended the ceremony at the bridge.   The people of Holmesburg along with the Friends of Pennypack Park, and local elected officials, crossed the bridge led by the Police Mounted Police Honor Guard, and our own Robert McConnell, Scottish bagpiper.

The program included special greetings from William Mifflin, Executive Director of the Fairmount Park Commission, Joseph Syrnick, City Engineer, Darin Gatti, President, American Society of Civil Engineers Philadelphia Section,  Congressman Robert Borski,  City Controller Jonathan Saidel and a representative for State Senator Frank Salvatore.  

City Councilwoman Joan Krajewski presented a City Council Declaration honoring the day.   The Pennsylvania Historical  & Museum Commission was represented by Douglas Miller, Director, Pennsbury Manor, presented a proclamation from the commission honoring the bridge.  State Representative Michael McGeehan and State Representative Dennis O'Brien  presented a special proclamation from the Pennsylvania State Legislature.  

The program included Fred Moore singing his song "The King's Highway Bridge, the poem "Anniversary of the Frankford Avenue Bridge"  written and read by Cecilia Johnson, and a poem by the Austin Meehan Middle School Junior Honor Society.    

The Crispin Family was represented by  Dr. George Crispin, whose ancestors include William Penn and Silas Crispin.  Silas Crispin was the son - in - law of Thomas Holme.   Silas was to sell the  land that the bridge stood after Holme died in 1695.      

George Crispin eloquently put the day in perspective, as he said: 
It is a profound and deeply-felt honor to be here today, representing the Crispin Family in celebrating the 300th anniversary off the building of this bridge.  In 1697 when this bridge was being built, Silas Crispin, my grandfather seven generations ago, and his family lived within a few miles of here.  He was undoubtedly aware of the building of this bridge, probably contributed funds toward it, and maybe even some of his labor.  He had come to this land with William Penn, his cousin, as part of the Quaker migration to America in 1681, seeking a new life and religious freedom, not just for himself, but for all.  Thus, this area became part of the holy experiment.

At first this bridge was an economic and social thoroughfare.  But in the course of time, it became a political and military passage as well.  General Washington marched his troops across it; President Washington crossed it on his way to his inauguration.  A famous inn was built at one end, and several presidents have trekked over it.  At one time, 14 stagecoach lines utilized its concourse for passengers entering and leaving the growing city of Philadelphia.  And so, the area grew, and with it the use of this bridge.

A bridge is made of stone and mortar.  But a bridge is not just stone and mortar.  In a larger sense, it is the congealment of communal diligence, cooperation, intelligence, vision, and hard work.  Most of all, it is a passageway by which people connect.  This bridge was one of our nation's first bridges, but not the last.  A bridge connects people one to another. In this spirit, the transcontinental railroad was a bridge, the Transatlantic cable was a bridge.  Today, The internet is a bridge, E-mail is a bridge, sojourn is a bridge, voice mail is a bridge, the Apollo spacecraft is a bridge.

This is an age in need of bridge building.  We need bridges between cultures, bridges between races, bridges between men and women, bridges between the young and old.  It is better to build bridges than to build walls.  And so today, we build bridges that connect all people and help us touch the future.  I feel that William Penn, Silas Crispin, the early Quakers and others that came here 300 years ago would approve of the bridge building that Quakers and others are doing today. 

We, the Crispin Family, are glad to have been a part of this bridge's history and are honored to be here today to join in this celebration.  May the future hold for us all the building of bridges that serve us as well as this one.   Thank you.

Miss Eleanor Birkman, Holmesburg Historian, was our special guest.   In promoting the history, culture, and identity of the Holmesburg, no one has been more dedicated than Eleanor Birkmann.  Eleanor has bonded with many of the people of the community, as a link of  generations, so that they might know the importance of their community.  In 1995, when commemorating the three hundredth anniversary of  Thomas Holme's death, Eleanor Birkman and I agreed that we must celebrate the three hundredth birthday of the bridge.  It was because of her that we do. It is with extreme gratitude that we dedicated the day to Eleanor.

The program ended with the singing "Happy Birthday! and the Holmesburg Bakery provided A large Gingerbread cake of the bridge. 

There were many displays exhibited that day.  Roland had many displays, including his reproduction of the toll house that stood at the south end of the bridge.   The display is going to be presented to the museum at Pennsbury Manor.    Pennsbury Manor and the Bureau of Bridges - Philadelphia Streets Department had displays.  The Fox Chase Farm 4-H chapter had a menagerie of farm animals.

I would like to thank  Fred Moore, for putting the commemorative book into perspective, Roland Williams, who provided his display of maps and writings on rich history of Holmesburg, Sherill Croasdale for her cover drawing of the Bridge,  Hall Printing, printers of this book, and Polonia Saving for providing the funds for the printing, and Mr. Alan Rubin for his drawing on the shirt.   Special thanks goes to  our own Linde Lauff, Jim Ryan, and Bill Johnson,  and Jeanette Maliszewski for making special preparations for day's celebration.   The celebration that we have had would not have been possible without the work of the many.  

The list following is to the best of our ability: The Frankford Avenue - King's Highway Bridge Three Hundred Year Celebration Committee, James Boyle, Inspector, Philadelphia  Police Department- Northeast Command, Samuel Curry, Park Manager, Fairmount Park Fifth District, James Kates, Friends of Fox Chase Farm, Peter Kurtz, Pennypack Environmental Center, Kate Lapizinski, Fairmount Park, Director of Volunteer Affairs, Robert  Mc Connell, William Mifflin, Executive Director, Fairmount Park Commission, Charles Patton, Fairmount Park Fifth District, Walter Stankus, Fairmount Park Commission, Joseph Syrnick, City Engineer and Commissioner, Fairmount Park Commission, Abraham Lincoln High School, Austin Meehan Middle School, City of Philadelphia Police Department Eight Police District, Emmauel Episcopal Church, Father Judge High School, Fairmount Park Fifth Park District Staff, Fox Chase Farm, Holmesburg Bakery, Holmesburg United Methodist Church, Holmesburg Presbyterian Church, Joseph Brown Elementary School, Missionary Servants of the Most Blessed Trinity, Mount Zion Baptist Church, Saint Dominic Roman Catholic Church, and the Torresdale Boy's Club Cheer & Dance.      

Finally, I extend extreme thanks to the many members of the Friends of Pennypack that made the day a success.  

- Harvey R. Cantor,  Vice President, Friends of Pennypack Park, and Chairman, Frankford Avenue King's Highway Bridge - Three Hundredth Birthday Committee

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