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Neighborhood History

Initially development in Tacony was mostly limited to the area along the Delaware Riverfront. Pennsylvania’s first post office was established in Tacony in 1682.

1840 – 1870
The development of the railroad led to Tacony’s first significant population expansion. The line ran to Tacony from New York and shortly after, the Tacony Land Company was established. This was the area’s first land development company which also helped establish a ferry service to Palmyra, New Jersey. Tacony was the terminus of the railroad until the 1870s, resulting in modest development east of the railroad right-of-way. Saint Vincent’s German Catholic Parish established a church and orphanage on the Delaware River and expanded several times, eventually serving the community for over 150 years.

1870 – 1945
The arrival of Henry Disston in 1871 precipitated Tacony’s rise from a sleepy village into an industrial town. Located along the Delaware River at Unruh Avenue, Disston’s factory became the largest manufacturer of saws worldwide and his saws were famous for their strength and durability. Other manufacturing buildings and prominent employers helped to make Tacony symbolic of Philadelphia’s status as the “Workshop of the World.” Henry Disston eventually acquired nearly 400 acres of contiguous land west of the railroad and created a residential area where his workers could affordably buy or rent a home in close proximity to the factory. The Disston Estate, stretching from about Magee Avenue north to about Tyson Avenue on both sides of Torresdale Avenue, was mostly built up by 1900, as well as most blocks east of Torresdale Avenue.

Although the Disston Saw Works expanded for World War II contracts which included armor plating for tanks, the company’s 24/7 operation took a toll on its machinery and its bottom line.

The residential community was reaping the benefits of Henry Disston’s utopian vision for Tacony into the 1930s. Deed restrictions and ample parkland gave the community a distinct edge over other urban areas and was viewed as a model neighborhood by various governmental publications. Churches of nearly every denomination had opened both within and outside the Disston Estate by the 1930s.

Tacony was renowned as a center of technological brilliance. The mammoth statue of William Penn, still the largest piece of public art to top a building anywhere in the world, was cast at Tacony Iron and Metal Company. The construction of Tacony-Palmyra Bridge in 1929 opened up areas at the south and west ends of the communities for development of row style housing.

The will of Mary Disston stated that upon the death of the last named heir, which occurred in 1942, the Disston real estate holdings would be sold, with the tenants given a right of first refusal.

The physical character of the neighborhood slowly changed after the Depression, followed by a loss of manufacturing jobs in the mid- to late -20th century. Tacony’s aging housing stock began to exhibit glimpses of blight while some of its larger grand homes were converted to multi-family use and some homeowners could no longer afford to maintain the unique but delicate exterior Victorian features of their properties.

Trolley service brought new development to Torresdale Avenue which impacted negatively upon the character of Tacony’s original “Main Street” of Longshore Avenue, from which it has never fully recovered. The conversion of larger homes to apartment units, in some cases prior to the development of a municipal zoning code, had a negative impact on the community. The end of Prohibition brought with it a flurry of establishments dispensing alcoholic beverages throughout the Disston Estate. It wasn’t until 1938 that the neighborhood successfully enforced the Disston deed restrictions and forced several clubs to move outside the boundaries of the Estate.

1945 – 2000
From the 1940s to the 1980s the migration of families to the suburbs, a severe loss of manufacturing jobs and the aging infrastructure/architecture were all factors which led to a decline in neighborhood conditions in Tacony. The Disston family sold the company in the mid-1950s, which eventually consolidated to Virginia. The Dodge Steel Company was one of the last major industries to close its doors in the early 1980s. Conversions of residences to multi-family properties continued both legally and illegally. An increasingly transient population eventually impacted the business district along Torresdale Avenue, whose traditional commercial enterprises had given way to lower budget retailers catering to a poorer clientele.

Various neighborhood organizations were formed in response to increasing quality of life issues in the community.

2000 – Present
The historic area, known as the Disston Estate, retains much of its architectural integrity and community fabric. Although slightly shifting social demographics and challenged economic conditions have impacted the quality of life in small pockets of the neighborhood, on the whole Tacony is still considered a stable area. Various community organizations are in place which have operated independently for between 10 and 30 years each and have galvanized to help improve the community.

The residential areas, while seeing more tenant occupancy, has remained relatively healthy with only an occasional blighted or abandoned property viewed from block to block. Longshore Avenue has seen measured improvement with private investment evident at various multi-family properties and at the restored Tacony Music Hall.

Tacony is at a critical crossroad in its evolution. The area is generally stable, although pockets of blight remain, especially along the Delaware River at underutilized or vacant industrial sites.

Neighborhood Resources

Historical Society of Tacony
Tacony Civic Association
Historic Tacony Revitalization Project

Tacony is bounded on the north side of Robbins Avenue, extending in a northerly direction to the south side of Cottman Avenue and the Delaware River in a westerly direction to the east side of Frankford Avenue