1660 – 1800
Frankford is a historic gateway to Northeast Philadelphia. The area was first inhabited by Lenape Indians and later settled by the Swedes around 1660. The name “Frankford” originates from the “Manor of Frank,” a land sale from William Penn to a group of London Quaker businessmen called the Free Society of Traders, that dates to 1687.
The village established in the early 1680s grew in the late seventeenth century with the building of a Quaker meeting house, the opening of an inn and post office, and the continued operation of the mills. The existing Indian trail that ran through this area became the King’s Highway and was established by a royal warrant in 1683. Then known as Main Street, and later Frankford Avenue, it is the oldest country road in continuous use in the nation. It has served as a major transportation route and commercial corridor for over 300 years.
1800 – 1865
In 1800 the village was incorporated into the Borough of Frankford and in 1854 absorbed into the City of Philadelphia through the 1854 Act of Consolidation. Frankford was a wealthy suburb of Philadelphia in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Many stately mansions graced the area during this period. During the Civil War Frankford served as the center from which companies of Union soldiers were deployed to the battlefront and the site of several Civil War encampments, where soldiers drilled and trained before marching south.
1865 – 1930
The period following the Civil War was a period of great growth for Frankford. Larger mills were built and immigrants came to Frankford to work in the mills, first from England, then Ireland, France, Belgium, Italy and Poland. Churches were formed and more schools were built to accommodate the new residents.
Institutions such as hospitals, banks and the Frankford Arsenal were established early in the nineteenth century. With the growth in prosperity came the establishment of cultural institutions. Landowners began to develop the vacant farmland into Victorian twin homes for the growing middle class and rows of smaller homes for the mill workers.
In 1893 trolley cars replaced the steam powered dummy cars. The Frankford Reading Railroad opened in July of 1894. The Frankford Elevated Railway began construction in 1905 and was completed in 1922, reaching to Bridge Street. While creating a strong link between Frankford and Center City, it may have also contributed to the weakening of the area’s village charm.
The last building boom in Frankford took place in the 1920s and 1930s in the Northwood section, originally known as Large’s Wood. Northwood was advertised as a suburban neighborhood with tree lined streets of quaint mission cottages and Tudor revival twins. Wealthy residents moved into the large Georgian and Tudor revival single homes. Building had begun in Northwood in 1905 but did not catch on until after World War I.
1930 – Present
Frankford Avenue remained a thriving commercial area well after World War II. The theaters built in the 1930s and the many shops and restaurants drew local resident to Frankford Avenue on Friday evenings. The neighborhood continued to reflect the diverse architecture and culture during this period.
Frankford remains the oldest continuous manufacturing and industrial community in America. Many community groups, religious and educational institutions, historical groups, parents associations, block organization, recreation centers, parks, and others throughout Northeast Philadelphia are committed to enhancing the quality of life throughout this area.
Historical Society of Frankford
Click here for an interactive map and boundaries of Frankford