America’s Oldest Road Takes Center Stage In New Documentary

 

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Filmmaker Jason Sherman follows The King’s Highway to tell a story of forgotten American history and the fight for historic preservation in Northeast Philadelphia. | Image: The King’s Highway Film

Tourists flock to Philadelphia to visit Independence Hall and the Liberty Bell in Old City with the notion that the city’s most important historic monuments reside within just a few short blocks. The King’s Highway, a new documentary, directed by Jason Sherman, challenges this assumption by highlighting a wealth of overlooked American stories and national monuments concentrated in Northeast Philadelphia, including Disston Estate, Frankford Arsenal, and Glen Foerd on the Delaware. The documentary premiers tonight, Tuesday, December 6 at 7PM at the Kimmel Center.

“If you know the story of Philadelphia and America, a lot of information was left out. The film focuses on all of the information that is missing,” says Sherman.

The film’s name comes from a 1,300-mile stretch of highway that spans from Boston, Massachusetts to Charleston, South Carolina and runs through what Philadelphians know today as Frankford Avenue.

Use of the King’s Highway dates back to before European colonization of North America, when it was a foot path traveled by Native Americans. It evolved into what became the longest continuously used road in the United States. Today, the road abounds with historic markers that most don’t pay much attention to, including the filmmaker himself.

“I live two blocks from the King’s Highway,” says Sherman, “I didn’t even know what it was.”

After reading about Lenape artifacts found in Pennypack Park near his home, Sherman became consumed with researching the highway. He began interviewing local historians and quickly found that the film would not only illuminate an important piece of the past, but provide an urgent call-to-action for the present.

“There are lots of places in danger of being lost. The buildings that we’re losing have links to our forefathers that everyone cares about in Old City, but nobody cares about in Northeast Philadelphia,” Sherman says.

On the set with Sherman and a family of reenactors. | Photo courtesy of Sherman

On the set with Sherman, left, and a family of reenactors. | Photo courtesy of Jason Sherman

Historians interviewed for the film consistently noted the loss of sites along the King’s Highway. Adjusting his focus, Sherman began exploring historic preservation issues. Rather than being a purely historical narrative, The King’s Highway highlights the story of hard-fought battles to preserve parts of regional and national history like the Byberry African American Cemetery and the Lower Dublin Academy.

Joseph Menkevich, one of the historians featured in the film, submitted a nomination for historic designation that eventually granted Lower Dublin Academy its historic status. He has worked for a number of years to keep historic properties protected from developers who sought to demolish them for redevelopment. He believes that The King’s Highway provides a clear view of just how dire the situation is for many sites.

“The film is a statement on how weak the City’s stance on preservation is,” Menkevich says.

Sites like the Pennypack Bridge, which once carried horses and today carries cars across the King’s Highway, are in dire need of restoration. Sherman hopes that the film will inspire others to become more invested in the city’s history and encourage the preservation of sites that speak of U.S. history with just as much import as Independence Hall.

“The United States of America was not decided in Old City, it was decided in Frankford on the King’s Highway,” says Sherman. He hopes that the film, which he researched and produced for over a year and a half, will enlighten audiences with a new take on a well-worn historic narrative.

Sherman screened an early version of the film in August for an audience of 300 at the historic Devon Theater, the oldest theater located along the King’s Highway. The film was then recut and refined for the First Glance Film Festival, where it was voted Best Feature Documentary. The screening in the Perelman Theater at the Kimmel Center on Tuesday will be the first general public showing of the award-winning theatrical cut.

Purchase tickets to the premier of The King’s Highway HERE.

About the author

Tyler Horst is a filmmaker, writer, and photographer living in Philadelphia. He is a senior writer for JUMP Philly and a contributor for SPOKE Magazine. He won an Emmy for his short documentary "Born-Frees in Hip Hop" filmed in South Africa. The main interest of Horst's work is exploring the interaction between community and place.



6 Comments


  1. Is this the same Kings Highway that you find in Haddonfield, New Jersey?

  2. King’s highway sounds like a British moniker on a busy road to honor the King for letting people settle in America.

  3. I keep looking for a map showing clearly the route through Pennsylvania and New Jersey with no luck. If it went through Frankford where did it cross into New Jersey?

  4. Joseph J. Menkevich

    The 2016 King’s Highway documentary was done on a budget of about $10,000 of donated money from a go-fund-me & donated interviews. Additionally, there was plenty of out of pocket cost to Mr. Jason Sherman which he will never recover. It was a labor of love for everyone involved. No one got paid a cent. It was the completion of a great project and well done!

    The history of many Kings’ Roads goes back to New York Patents of April the 9th 1666 – Colonel R. Nicolls & Lord Arlington.

    By 1677 William Edmundson traveled from New York through Jersey: “Next morning we took our journey through the wilderness towards Maryland, to cross the river at Delaware Falls. Richard Hartshorn and Eliakim Wardell would go a day’s journey with us; we hired an Indian to guide us, but he took us wrong, and left us in the woods.” -https://archive.org/stream/friendslibraryco02will#page/120/mode/2up/search/Falls

    In 1679, Jaspar Danckers and Peter Sluyter Drank some very good beer in Tacony (Oxford Township) that was brewed by the Swedes. -https://archive.org/stream/journalofvoyaget00danc_0#page/176/mode/2up/search/Beer

    Danckers & Sluyter got there by crossing at the Falls of the Delaware. – https://archive.org/stream/journalofvoyaget00danc_0#page/n511/mode/2up/search/Burlington

    Kenneth W. Milano (who appeard in this documentary) Created a Shackamaxon Timeline: http://kennethwmilano.com/page/Encyclopaedia/Shackamaxon/ShackamaxonTimeline/tabid/209/Default.aspx

    Here is our history of laying out the road, crossing to over to Jersey from Bucks County:

    ‘Governor Andrew Hamilton, of New Jersey, took the initial step by writing to Governor Markham in October, 1696,— “That It was formerlie with great difflcultie that tho post could goe to Philadelphia by Land, to the great Inconvenience of correspondents and trade, and yt for remedie whereof and accommodation of Travellers a ferry hath been erected on Jersie side att a great chairge, but that the way was not yet returned from the Landing on the Pennsylvania side to King’s road wch is three quarters of a mile and easily cleared; and therefore Requesting the Gov and Council to approve the said road and give the necessarie orders for clearing it.”

    Governor Markham complied with this request by issuing a warrant to Surveyor Thomas Fairman “to lay outt the kings road from dunck Williams Landing (the nearest & most convenient yt may be had & Least predujicial to the Lands and improvements of the neighborhood) Into the King’s great road that leads to phila, and that a Return in words of Courses etc protracted figure thereof be made into the Secries office in order to be filed and recorded there as a finall Confirmacion thereof, and the Justices of the Peace for the County of Bucks be ordered to expidite the clearing of the road.” Situated a little north of the upper boundary of Philadelphia County, this crossing was for many years known as Dunck’s Ferry…’

    By 1729 Postal Roads were established:
    https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/8/88/1729_Moll_Map_of_New_York%2C_New_England%2C_and_Pennsylvania_%28First_Postal_Map_of_New_England%29_-_Geographicus_-_NewEnglandNewYork-moll-1729.jpg

    Yes, Jersey did have a King’s Highway: http://www.nj.searchroots.com/EG/kingsroad.htm

    Here is one of my favorite Revolutionary War maps, courtesy of West Jersey History Project: http://www.westjerseyhistory.org/maps/revwarmaps/hessianmaps/index2.shtml

    J.M.

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