In “The Neck,” A History Of Stiff Resistance To Change

January 11, 2013 | by John Vidumsky

(Page 3 of 3)

Last Redoubt Of The Neck

By the 1950s, the surviving Neckers were concentrated in a squatter’s community called Stonehouse Lane, at Third Street and Oregon Avenue. From the exterior, Stonehouse Lane looked much like any other patch of 1950s suburbia: trees, car ports and white picket fences. The lane itself was paved with cobblestones and sunflowers grew wild in the fields beyond.

But the residents, who had built their own houses, didn’t own the land they lived on. “They were shanties, but they were clean,” said a former Necker. Many of the houses had electricity, though none were connected to the city’s water and sewer system. Residents took their water from the fire hydrant at 7th Street and Pattison Avenue.

Helen Lang was born in Stonehouse Lane, one of nine children. Her mother cooked and baked on a wood stove, and her father worked for the Pennsylvania Railroad. “We went without all of the modern conveniences, of course,” she told me in a recent interview. “But we didn’t know what we didn’t have, because everyone had the same thing.”

Like generations of Neckers before them, her family raised pigs and sold them to the butchers on 9th street. They also had horses, goats, and chickens. In the winter, she recalls how the children would ice-skate on the frozen drainage ditches on either side of the lane. There was little crime. “We didn’t even lock our doors,” Lang said.

Stonehouse Lane across the Swanson Canal, circa 1895

Stonehouse Lane across the Swanson Canal, circa 1895

But the houses violated modern building codes. As a form of hazing, Philadelphia Police Department recruits were sent to Stonehouse Lane to look for housing violations. Invariably, they came back with a mountain of citations that was filed away and forgotten. One inspection in 1955 turned up over 800 ordinance violations. Still, before 1955, when City officials also began to condemn Eastwick, there was no real effort to evict the squatters.

Philadelphia’s republican mayors were unwilling to lose the support of the Neckers, so they had vetoed every bill to evict them. One resident of Stonehouse Lane told a newspaper reporter, “look, we’ve had inspectors here by the gross. Sometimes we talked to ‘em. Other times we chased ’em. Either way, we knew nothing would ever come of it.”

Philadelphia Bulletin, May 8, 1955. Packer is the cross street for 3501 S. 7th.

May 8, 1955 Philadelphia Bulletin article about the Neck, called “Squatterville,” following the fire that killed Bertha Ibetson and her children. Packer is the cross street for 3501 S. 7th.

Enter The Bulldozers

In 1952, the city elected Joseph S. Clark, Jr. as Mayor, the first Democrat since 1872. He had no reason to curry favor with the staunchly Republican Neckers. Planners began eying Stonehouse Lane as plans were laid for the Schuylkill Expressway and the Walt Whitman Bridge. Then in 1955 a fire caused by a jury-rigged electrical system killed Necker Bertha Ibetson and her four children. In the uproar that followed, City Hall at last took action and drove the squatters out. That same year, a flood from a burst dike made many of the houses uninhabitable. Some former residents contend that the flooding was deliberate, to chase them out. The construction of the Walt Whitman Bridge added urgency to the demolition. One resident, a longshoreman, said “we always chased away those pests who tried to disposes us. But what can you do against a bulldozer?”

Helen Lang was only 15 when her family was forced to leave. Her neighbors, she said, were upset when they had to leave their “shanties.” “That was their life, that’s all they knew,” she said. Most of them moved just a few blocks north, to the 2600 block of South Third Street.

7th & Pattison, 1955

7th & Pattison, 1955

Throughout the decades of the 1950s and 1960s, the City continued filling the land in the neck, bringing it up to grade with the rest of the street grid. Most of Stonehouse Lane is now buried under the on-ramp that connects I-95 to the Walt Whitman Bridge. The canals that once drained the lush green landscape were filled between 1929 and 1942, replaced by modern sewers. By the 1960s, almost every trace of that lost world was buried under ten feet of fill.

Traces of Hollander’s Creek can be seen in FDR Park and the New Greenwich Light Baptist Church, attended by many Neckers, still stands at 121 W. Oregon Avenue. The west wall of the Oregon Diner at 302 W. Oregon Avenue slants at an odd angle, tracing the edge of the cobbled Stonehouse Lane.


About the Author

John Vidumsky John Vidumsky has been exploring abandoned spaces for as long as he can remember. He recently received an MA in history from Temple University, where he studied 20th-century Russian history. Currently, he works for Hidden City as Head of Research and Client Services. In his spare time, John plays Celtic harp, runs a drum circle and does photography.


  1. John Livewell says:

    Great Article!!!!

  2. Scoats says:

    Great article.

    The David Goodis novel Night Squad, which takes place in the Neck, provides a great view of life there in late 1950s. It was really interesting to read about a landscape that completely doesn’t exist anymore.

    1. John Vidumsky says:

      Very cool, I will check that out. I’m not done with this topic by a longshot.

      1. Tom penelli says:

        In 1950s where food disabution center was a place called the rocks a big boulder dump o sorts what was there or what was it we used to play there

        1. Tom penelli says:

          How i remember the rocks a great place of adventure a postcard in time was the rocks fom a old post office torn down i never really found out i also remember the neck and gerello water what great memerios

          1. Bill Crowley says:

            I live 2900 s. Broad. The rocks were the dumping ground from the susquicentennial celebration

    2. Jane DiPaolo says:

      Hi John, I came across this accidentally. I googled Stone House Lane as that was all I remembered. The “Neck” was totally something I did not remember until I saw the words. I was born in 1948 and vividly remember the flood. My mother was born there and I remember my Aunt Sis( Florence Donnelly Kirschner)married Gus and they had a two story stone farm house that was supposedly built by the Hessians. My uncle Gus had an amazing garden and the nuns from St.Carmel would walk there and view the garden. Our Lady of Mt.Carmel is also where I attended first grade.As a child, I remember my mother was the youngest child and just continued to live in her parents house.We had to move after the flood. Golly, the name “The Neck” brings back vivd memories of my parents

  3. Bob Skiba says:

    Thanks, John, you just have to love the pig wars! In May of 1917, the city also shut down eleven piggeries in the other big Philadelphia pig farming section – Wheatsheaf Lane in upper Port Richmond. The Philadelphia Livestock Association on Eleventh and Shunk Streets took up the cause of the pig farmers, circulating petitions in South Philadelphia and publishing ads in the Inquirer with headlines that read “Pigs in the Crisis.” The Association claimed that allegations of odors and diseases caused by the piggeries were groundless. They also pointed out that, as the U.S. was now involved in the War in Europe, the pigs were not only an important source of meat but could be fed cheaply on garbage and waste, conserving scarce grain for human consumption. As they said, “we need all the pork we can get.”

    1. John Vidumsky says:

      Wow, how about that? Do you know where I might find the archives of the Livestock Association, or documents about them? I already checked the Horticultural Society, to no avail.

  4. A. Nonymous says:

    Great research.

  5. Bob Skiba says:

    I’m pretty sure there are no records or archives. Because of its location in S. Philly and the brief mention of it in 1917, I’d bet that the Livestock Association was just a short-lived ad hoc organization formed by the pig farmers themselves. Although there was a long campaign to drive piggeries out of the city, dating from the 1880s, the final push came in the 1910s with the desire to convince Congress and the Navy Department to sink money into expanding the League Island shipyard. Philadelphia had been competing with Norwalk, CT and Norfolk VA for federal funding since after the Civil War. The City Councils were afraid that the proximity of acres of “filthy, disease breeding piggeries” would hinder the shipyard’s chances. It all comes down to money. By the way, really great article and photos, John!

    1. John Vidumsky says:

      Thank you!

    2. sam shay says:

      just a comment: I was born in south Philadelphia and lived at 2600 block of S. 12th Street. The homes were built in 1909 and the original deed for my house states that no piggery shall be allowed on the house property. Great articles and comments! Thanks

  6. Iris Newman says:

    What a fascinating story! Hidden City, indeed. No mention of the fact that pigs poop stinks, and probably stunk up Center City when the wind was wrong.

  7. Nolan says:

    What a strange piece of history. It really does look like sometimes the truth is stranger than fiction. I’m really impressed with the quality of pictures from the early 1900’s.

  8. Beaumont says:

    I’d heard of the Neck but never really understood where it was. Obviously not a native south philian. Very interesting article.

  9. Vincent in Wayne says:

    Looking at the several photos in a row, the far right photo includes a neat row of utility poles. Might you want to check PECO archives and archives of the early telephone company in that area?
    Not just to confirm the presence of such utility service, but the names of customers? addresses of those customers?
    And, churches come and churches go. I gather that the little church in the other photo is no more. Yet when a church congregation or parish is folded up, it is merged into another. Such a merger might be documented in this case, and therefore there might be names of parishioners or congregants. Records of christenings (baptisms), marriages, deaths and burials (where?)….
    My family (various people who would later meet, marry and be our ancestors) arrived in Philly in the 1840s, and when horsecar lines were offered, moved a bit south. Not as far as the Neck, and when the Market St elevated opened, they went to various parts of Overbrook, met each other and married, and didn’t go into the suburbs until the 1950’s etc. They returned to South Philly for the Mummers Parade — into the 1980s.
    But one of those S Philly ancestors did some real estate investing in the 1890s, buying three places further down in S Philly, below St Agnes Hospital. Maybe in the Neck, just as it was being “improved”.
    Great article, you are a really into Local History!

  10. George Aaron says:

    Great article. My grandparents were chased out in the 50’s when the army corps of engineers flooded the neck to make them leave under the guise of building the approach to the Walt Whitman bridge. Until I became an adult, I never knew anything about the neck or stone house lane other than what we were told as children. I love learning about it. Thanks!

    1. Lyonz says:

      Excellent article. I was born and raised near Marconi Plaza park. My father told me stories about Stonehouse Lane and The Neck when I was a kid. My grandmother told me that her father was friends with the people who lived in Bellaire Manor (the old house now inside the golf course at FDR Park. She referred to it as the Singley house. They were guests there on one or more occasions when she was a girl. She told me of the canals that still existed in that area back then.

      1. Rob says:

        Your grandmother may have known my grandfather and/or his parents then! My Mom’s father (a Singley) lived there as a young boy, but the family was asked to move during improvements for the Sesquicentennial Celebration in 1926.

        1. Ellen says:

          My grandmother was Ella Singley. She often talked about the house. Has her name come up in your genealogy?

  11. Kurious2no says:

    Thank you for this great article! My great grandparents lived on Stonehouse lane in the 1920s. My aunt was born there. I remember my great aunt Dora telling us stories at her house at 10th and Oregon, of when they lived “Down the Neck”. They obviously didn’t move far. Those folks were poor and didn’t know it.

    My dad recalled a visit there in the early 40’s to pick up an icebox when my parents were first married. He recalled that at that time much of the area was a dump.

    I suppose you ran across Christopher Morley’s “Travels in Philadelphia” while doing your research. It gives us a romantic view of The Neck in 1920. I would love to see more pictures of the area. Aunt Dora’s stories come alive when I see what she was talking about.

    Thanks again for shedding more light on this now almost forgotten area.

  12. Lou Lescas says:


    Since I have been trying to find the exact location of Farley’s Piggery, on Maiden Lane, seen in a DOR photo from 1913; this article, that I found quite by accident, begs the question: Do you know the exact location of Farley’s Piggery?

    Also, the city at least slightly legitimated the last aspect of the Neck, since in the mid 1920’s, fire alarm box 4598 was assigned to the intersection of Stone House Lane and Johnston Street, not a true “intersection”, but an approximation down Stone House Lane from Oregon Avenue. By 1962, the box was reassigned to another approximate intersection, 3rd and Johnston.

    A look at the 1928 Aerial Survey of the Philadelphia Region, found on philageohistory.org, shows Stone House Lane, and houses zigzagging along it.

    Thanks for a great article, 4 years later.

  13. Harry Short says:

    As a young kid I became aware that my grandfather, Patrick Short, raised pigs. However, I never associated it with the “Neck” because my grandfather raised them in an area closer to the Schuylkill river. The” Neck” I knew about was south of Oregon Ave. close to the Delaware river.

  14. martin haubrich says:

    great article:i lived at 9th &shunk st.and had a class mate who lived down the NECK.his name was howard horner(very tough kid).we use to go to the neck and we all knew it was dangerous as the people down there did not trust strangers.one time we were chased out by a bull.found memories of life in s.philly

    1. John Vidumsky says:

      Chased by a bull? I wish my childhood was that exciting.

      1. Walter Aaron says:

        American Dredging flooded everyone out. I was 10 at the time. We moved to Jersey in 1955. All memories I have of Stone House Lane were great.

    2. Jq says:

      I lived in the Neck until I was 5yrs old (1950) Then we moved to Jersey. We lived next door to the Horner’s. The Tucker’s also lived there. My grandma lived near the horse pasture. It was a rough time back in those days. I remember not having any running water etc. I remember having an aunt Dora. I think some of us are related. The families stuck together.

      1. Susan Saiia says:

        my father had an aunt Dora he was from the 10th street neck. Dora was my father’s grandfather’s daughter. I believe she married a rivell. sounds like the same person.

        1. Christine Nass says:

          My aunt (not Dora), was also married to a Rivell. My Aunt Gert Nass married George. Dora was married to William. George & William were brothers. I started looking into it. Dora’s maiden name was Buck. They actually appear in the 1900 Census on Stonehouse Lane! (I imagined they would have resisted being counted – but maybe weren’t feeling in danger at that point…). Check out this record I found on the Ancestry mobile app https://www.ancestry.com/sharing/29763183?h=5b7e95

          1. Dan Haubrich says:

            My great grandparents lived on McKees street on the northern edge of the neck. The area around 3rd &4th street near Porter st. Their names were John and Carrie Haubrich. The address was 2515 McKee st. On the 1900 census.

  15. Dana Ketterer says:

    My mom grew up in the neck, moved out during childhood in the 50s.

  16. Kelley Wood-Davis says:

    Excellent read. I stumbled upon this article while researching the Neck, as my Vautier ancestors appear to have been some of the early farm truckers of the area. I found an article in The Times (25 April 1891, page 8) in which the Neck Barons are discussed…. my ancestors were listed by surname in that article. Your article helped shed some light on the goings on of the area, even though by 1917 my direct line was not in the Neck anymore.

  17. Elizabeth obst(Ibbetson) says:

    My name is Elizabeth Obst maiden name Ibbetson I was born in the neck I was born in 1952 I remember a lot about the neck and as I read some of the articles I don’t find them to be completely true I know the article about the fire in the four children is not completely true that was my uncle and my aunt who lost the poor children she was not in House at the time of the fire the oldest child was named Bertha and she was in charge of taking care of the younger ones, when the fire started it was believed that she took the younger ones into the bedroom but for fear of her parents she did not want to break the window and that is where they found the four children as far as my aunt Bertha she was alive and well for many years after that the father’s name was Richard Ibbetson the mothers name was Bertha it was a horrible horrible time in my uncle’s life and he had horrible memories for the rest of his life I can still see in my head what it look like And I’m not sure when the last of us left but I remember having to leave and I don’t think I was that young for some reason I believe I was six or seven when we moved out so I don’t understand why they say the last people moved out in 1955 I’m pretty sure we were there 256 or 57

    1. Em says:

      This is the Neck I remember. Knew all names u mentioned. Some were my relatives. I was a Toner. Tommy was my brother.

  18. Bob Quaile says:

    I remember when I was a little kid back in 1942 or later. I was born in 1942. We lived in the Neck, little farm homes, a 4 room bungalow with a back shed. We had no running water, inside bathroom was non existent. We did have an Out House,when it was full my father would dig a new hole and drag the Out House over top of it. New Bathroom.
    I remember many family names. We lived next to the Horners on the west side, on the east side I don’t know their name but the old guy who lived there was Poppy or Lolly Pop or Popeye, not really sure. Next house was Rudolph, I remember because they had a Model T car. I remember the Toners, my buddy was TommyToner.
    South of our house was a 10 ft wide creek with a few planks over the water to get to the other side. A few of the families who lived there were Brady & Mayfield and on the west end of the neck was a row of homes, Mullen, Van Der Vere or something like that. There was fields where they grew crops and a pasture with horses. Up on Broad Street on the corner of Broad & Pattison Ave was a new Drive In Movie, we used to sneak up the hill, under the fence and watch the movies.My Mother’s parents lived next to the pasture across from the barn, the Bucks, there were more families with the Buck name, all were my cousins, many generations of family. Across from the barn there was the only running water for us to fill up our milk churns for drinking water and cooking. The only other water was up the hill on 10th St. at the Fire Plug. The next street north was Packer Ave. I went to Fell School for kindergarden, 1st grade, 2nd grade and started 3rd grade, then we moved to Runnemede, New Jersey in 1950.
    I remember the city trash wagons, horses pulled the wagons, going down 10th St to the dump. The Food Center was later built on the dumps, sanitary huh? I remember the Abbotts milk man, with the Abbotts Horse and wagon delivering milk every day.
    I didn’t know too much about Stone House Lane. I think it was near Front St & Pattison Ave. The area was all houses and dumps in between. I didn’t think we were poor but I guess we were. It wasn’t an ugly place. It was farm land, crops, pastures with animals and not so fancy homes. All friendly people.
    John, If you want to contact me for more info feel free

    1. Martin Haubrich says:

      if i remember the drive in movie was south city drive in?

  19. Buddy White says:

    My uncle Tony Torrella grew up in Martens Village his father was the last lamplighter in Philadephia. I remember going down to the farm.

    1. I lived at 11th and Johnston. My friend lived down the neck til about 1960. Her name was Dottie Elko. We had a sorority with 12 girls so monthly we would meet at each other’s house. Her house was as. Ice as everyone’s. We would go bowling on Broad St. in back of the bowling alley there was a path. We would all say goodbye and Dottie would leave by this path to her home.

      1. Catherine Giovanetti says:

        Hi Darlene. I lived on the same block. Lawlers. I remember everyone sitting on your parents front steps. It was a very easy time!

  20. My Maternal Grandparents lived on Stone House Lane.

  21. ChrisDearing says:

    My great-great-great grandparents, Christopher & Julia Deering, had a large cattle farm on Jones Lane in the Neck. It was located in the 1st Ward in the 1860s and 70s and subsequently became part of the 39th Ward during the 1900s until the 1950s. It was commonly referred to years after the family’s death as Deering’s Farm. Jones Lane intersected Stone House Lane in close proximity to Point House Road. He was an Irish immigrant whose father-in-law, William Duffy, was into the cattle and milking business in West Philadelphia. Christopher was a drover in the 1850s and 60s and found that area of Philly useful for buying and selling large heads of cattle, despite it being marshland and prone to floods. Many families living around them according to the census were farmers and hog dealers. There’s no doubt they were industrious and hard-working people thriving in a remote part of the city.

  22. EDWARD REGAN says:

    I love stories of the Neck. When I was a young boy from Front and Reed in the late 40s and early 50s we would fish down the neck. My grandfather, John J. Regan in 1869 married Sarah Viles who was the daughter of Tom Viles and granddaughter of Samuel Viles who had the dairy farm on League Island Road on the property which is now the Stadium complex, his farm being south of Pattison Avenue. Anything I can read about the Old Neck I read. Thanks for your information.

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