history of Olney

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From four typewritten pages found at the librarian's desk at the Greater Olney branch of the Free Library of Philadelphia, 2002.02.19.

On Mount Pleasant the Fisher Family owned a large estate which later became New Central Park (now the home of Cardinal Dougherty High School). Another Fisher property was later donated to the city and is now the home of Fisher Park. Olney High School is also located on a former estate--the Hunsicker Estate. Farming was the main business of the early Olneyites, and the center of cultural activities were the taverns that greeted stagecoach travelers at Rising Sun and Tabor and at Rising Sun and Roosevelt Boulevard. The coming of the Reading Railroad, first on the street level at Tabor Road and Clinton Avenue (now Mascher Street), moved the center of the town to that area. The Olney Station is still located there, and is a busy stop on the Fox Chase line.

First School. The community started around the Olney Public School opened Sept. 29, 1849 at Tabor Road and Water Street. It is still in operation. There were about 2,200 people in the area at that time. The first Olney Public School was a two-story stucco building with an enrollment of 85 boys and 62 girls. It is interesting to note that John Kenworthy, the first principle, received a salary of $400 per year.

First Church. Four women and three men met in the Feltonville School in 1816 to form the first religious congregation in the Olney District. Two years later, Olney's first church, the St. James Methodist Church, was built on ground donated by George Wentz, one of the early English settlers, at Tabor and Water Streets across from the first school. The church is still active in the community. The Rev. Samuel Harvey was the first preacher. The second St. James church was completed in 1869. The present St. James was erected in 1912 on the same site. There is an old burial ground next to the church with many of the early settlers, including the Wentz family, buried there. The church itself has published an extensive history.

First Stores. Two country stores served the early settlers--Jacob Felton's store and William Fetter's, both at Tabor and Rising Sun Avenue. These stores featured everything including buggy whips, harnesses, kerosene and lanterns. The first Olney Post Office was located in these stores, depending upon which political party was in power at Washington. The present post office is at 4th and Olney. The wagon from Fetter's general store was seen on every street in the Olney area rain or shine. The store opened every morning at 6 a.m. so that the men on the open trolleys could stop and buy cigars to smoke on the long ride to town. The year 1869 brought the trolleys up Rising Sun Avenue and with them came many gay trolley parties with their gorgeously illuminated cars.



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