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.

The Germans. German settlers came after the English settlers, and they became a substantial addition to Olney. The first German families moved to Olney at least a century ago. The Philadelphia Rifle Club was a German club. It was known as the Schuetzen Verein, or Shooter's Club. It was founded in 1845 and contributed many a sharpshooter to the Union Army in the Civil War. It moved to its "suburban" retreat at Olney on 7th Street and Tabor Road in 1895. The German food was excellent there and essen has replaced schuetzen as the principal club activity. The Rifle Club sold its property in the 1980s to a Korean-American group, a sign of the changing ethnic face of old Olney. Another stronghold of German cookery is the Schwarzwald Inn at 2nd & Olney where the local German-American businessmen are still fond of devouring unskinned knockwurst at lunch. This is the favorite restaurant of the local business association and other civic groups for their monthly meetings.

After World War II. The more recent history of Olney began after World War I. Until 1920 it was still a predominantly farming area. In the 20s and 30s Olney grew rapidly as the city expanded to the north. Almost any older Olney resident can recall when there were cow pastures, woods, and vast tilled acres just north of Olney Avenue. Farms gradually gave way to row and rows of neat, pleasant homes. New stores moved into the business area along 5th Street. Factories moved into the area giving work to the new community. Some of the factories which contributed to the development of this area were the Germantown Toll Works, the Olney Foundry, Whitaker Mills, Heintz Manufacturing Company, and Proctor and Schwartz. All are gone in 1985. The last one to leave was Heintz manufacturing which moved further north. The area it covered (33 acres) will be converted into a shopping mall. With the growth of the area new schools were needed. The Finletter School was founded in 1930, Lowell in 1913, Morrison in 1924, St. Helena in 1926, and Olney High in 1931.

In the 1940s, 50s, 60s and 70s a large number of Ukrainians and Poles moved into the Olney area. They, like the Germans, were good property owners, frugal managers and tenacious in their desire to "mind their own business" and keep their obligations paid up.

Parks. There are two park areas in Olney. On the east is Tacony Creek Park wedges along the banks of the stream which is called Tacony Creek, Tookany Creek in areas to the north, and Frankford Creek after it turns east out of the neighborhood. Fisher Park is a beautiful natural woodland area just north of the library. It is a patch of trees worthy of the name forest except for its city location. On warm afternoons gentlemen of the neighborhood gather at wooden tables in its center to feed the squirrels and to take part in bitterly-contested card games. Tennis is the second most popular game in Fisher Park. It is the site of the annual 4th of July festivities sponsored by the Olney Civic Association and the site of the Fisher Park Day Camp every summer.

Cardinal Dougherty High School, the largest Catholic high school in the world, opened in 1956 on the once beautiful Fisher estate just north of 2nd Street and Godfrey Avenue. Two large Roman Catholic churches lie within the Greater Olney area, Incarnation and St. Helena. Incarnation got its start in a store on Rising Sun Avenue.

In the 50s the Greater Olney Community Council (an umbrella organization for many Olney organizations) obtained a first class library (Greater Olney), four new playgrounds, and adult evening school, the Golden Age Club of Olney, and the Youth Athletic program. Olney was a good substantial middle class neighborhood. No rich class and no extreme poverty. The typical citizen owned his home and an automobile and paid his bills promptly. Olney residents had a good credit standing. This was recognized throughout the city. About half of the citizens were white collar workers and the other half industrial employees. Four large concerns in the Olney area provided a high level of industrial employment. The real distinguishing factor in Olney was the great community interest. This spirit appeared in the numerous clubs and the willingness of the majority of the people to contribute time and effort to worthy civic enterprises. In the 1980s with the changing ethnic face of Olney (Asian, Spanish and Black) this community spirit is changing. The older residents still participate and there are still a great many organizations still in the Olney area, but they are losing their membership little by little. Many of the Korean businessmen are not joining the other businessmen in their organizations but are forming their own. The Civic Association finds it harder each year to collect funds for the local 4th of July festivities.



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