Neighborhood Profile: PORT RICHMOND

Posted on: August 12, 2013

History:  Port Richmond is a neighborhood in the River Wards section of Philadelphia. It is notable for its extremely large Polish immigrant and Polish American community. The neighborhood is also home to sizable Irish, German and Italian communities as represented in the various churches and organizations. In more recent years, a sizable Albanian community has moved in. Adjacent neighborhoods are Bridesburg and Frankford to the northeast, Juniata to the north, Kensington to the west, and Fishtown to the south.

In colonial times, most of today’s Port Richmond was owned by Anthony Palmer, the founder of Philadelphia’s Kensington neighborhood.

During the 1800s, with the advent of the steam engine aboard ships, Port Richmond was a major terminus for colliers who received coal from the Reading Railroad facility at the port, and transported it to steam ships at other locations.

Colliers, as well as other merchant and military ships, continued to visit Port Richmond for coal until after World War I when coal-burning steam engines on ships were replaced by more modern oil and diesel engines.

Port Richmond, at the beginning of the 20th century, was a working-class neighborhood, and most workers simply walked to their nearby workplaces with lunch pail in hand. Cars were not common and those who had them stored them in stables. Streets – unlike now – were generally free of parked vehicles, allowing vendors space to easily proceed down the narrow side streets with their horse and wagon on a daily basis.

Port Richmond played a major maritime role in American wars from the American Revolution and onwards through World War 2. The William Cramp & Sons Shipbuilding Company, established in 1830 and located nearby, provided skilled work for local workers, who built the battleships USS Indiana and USS Massachusetts for the Spanish-American War in the late 19th century.

The shipyard, and others in the area, also built surface ships during the Civil War- such as the USS Kensington – and during World War 1 and 2 when Cramps’ workforce employed 18,000 skilled workers.

During World War II, Port Richmond contained numerous docks and wharfs for the loading and unloading of war cargo. In addition, the riverside area contained numerous ancillary facilities, such as warehouses, work shops, and offices.

The Reading Railroad had used the port as a terminus for the transfer of coal, and, during the war, railroad service remained a vital function of the port, for its ability to quickly transfer goods to and from the port. The old Orinoka Mills in Richmond, was used as a training and wartime production facility in association with Mastbaum during the war.

Today, the port is a shell of its former World War 2 self, although some marine services still remain, such as the Tioga Marine Terminal at Tioga and Delaware Avenue.

Today, Port Richmond is a vibrant neighborhood with a deep and proud cultural history encompassing several centuries.

Stores, some located down side streets, are small and numerous because of the nature of the existing row home architecture where row homes and homefronts have been converted to use as stores. However, many of these stores and drinking establishments offer food, drink and charm which is unique to the neighborhood. There are many Polish delis and restaurants throughout the neighborhood, evidence of the Polish ethnic background of the neighborhood. The neighborhood continues to attract Polish immigrants.

In addition to the area’s Polish ethnicity, Lithuanians – who have historically always been strongly linked with the Polish nation – hold their festivals and dances, as well as catered affairs for the community, at the Lithuanian Dance Hall on Allegheny Avenue, just a few blocks west of Richmond Street. The Lithuanian Music Hall is currently the home of the Theatre Company of Port Richmond, a community theater providing entertainment to the community since 1984.

Many Port Richmond homes have been refurbished and are now occupied increasingly by younger people, who no longer walk to work at the once bustling Port Richmond docks or to the tanneries and looms of their predecessors, but are employed in various parts of the city of Philadelphia, returning home in the evenings to the comfort of their picturesque neighborhood. (From Wikipedia)

Boundaries:  The neighborhood is bounded by the Tacony Creek to the northeast, Cumberland Street to the southwest, I-95 and the Delaware River to the southeast, and Aramingo Avenue to the northwest.

Zip Codes: 19134.

What to See and Do: Yelp- Port Richmond

More Information: Not For Tourists: Port Richmond and Fishtown

Schools: School District of Philadelphia Public SchoolsOur Lady of Port Richmond, Mother of Divine Grace, James Martin School, St. George School

Public Transportation: SEPTA Bus Routes 25, 73, 60Route 15 Trolley

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