For The Love Of Carpenter Lane

 

854 Carpenter Lane. | Photo: Michael Bixler

Carpenter Lane, a pitch-perfect example of a walkable urban thoroughfare, runs for one mile between Germantown Avenue and Wissachickon Avenue in Mt. Airy. The fleeting stretch is a mix of stucco farmhouses, Victorian twins, old storefronts, a school, a church, and a train station. Without historic plaques or interpretive signs to guide the way, one must read the architecture to understand the street’s long, rich history and its 300-year journey to the present day.

Prior to the 1854 consolidation of Philadelphia County, Wissahickon Avenue (once called Township Line Road) marked the boundary between Roxborough and Germantown Townships. Carpenter Lane served as cross-street, connecting Germantown Avenue (known in the 19th century as the Germantown and Perkiomen Turnpike) to Manayunk by way of Kitchen’s Lane and a bridge over the Wissachickon Creek. 

By some accounts, Carpenter Lane likely dates back to the late 18th century. It appears as Morgan’s Lane in A plan of the City of Philadelphia and Environs Surveyed by John Hills published in 1808. The street’s name evolved over time, appearing as Trullinger’ Lane in 1843 and Carpenter’s Street in the late 1800s. To eliminate confusion with Carpenter Street in South Philadelphia, it became Carpenter Lane in the early 1900s. 

320 Carpenter Lane, the former rectory of the Church of the Annunciation next door. The stone cottage is now being used as a rental property. | Photo: Michael Bixler

One of the most fascinating things about Carpenter Lane is the mix of housing styles that do not form a linear progression, but rather show a history of infill and development along its length. These homes include row houses, twins, and singles, providing examples of nearly two hundred years of Philadelphia architecture. Some of the oldest homes occur in the 800 block, between Wayne and Wissahickon Avenues. Here, on the south side of the street, are a series of attractive mid-18th century farmhouses. A recent real estate listing for 854 Carpenter Lane claims that a portion of the house dates back to the early 1700s. According to the current owner, the original stone structure, possibly a barn, was built in 1690 by Scottish hog farmers. While documentation of this claim remains elusive, the front portion of the home appears to be the oldest structure along the lane. Farmhouses from the 1800s pepper the 500, 600, and 700 blocks. At 734 Carpenter Lane, a lone, wood-framed home stands out among all of its brick, stone, and stucco neighbors. The history of this house reflects the evolution of the street’s architecture, with the front portion constructed with cedar-framing in the 1840s, the side porch likely added in the 1880s, and a two-story rear addition rounding things out in the 1920s.

734 Carpenter Lane. | Photo: Michael Bixler

Contemporary to these mid-19th century homes was one of the most interesting pieces of Carpenter Lane history. Glen Echo Mills (namesake of nearby Glen Echo Street) is long-gone, but its memory still serves as a key example of the pre-suburban development and industrial function of this part of Philadelphia. The mill once occupied what is now Carpenter Lane and Lincoln Drive. It was operated by McCallum, Crease, & Sloam and produced wool army blankets during the Civil War. Afterwards, the mill manufactured a variety of carpet types. A mill existed in the this location along the Monoshone Creek (also known as Paper Mill Run) since the early 1800s, and wonderful illustrations of this mill throughout its history can be found within the pages of the Hexamer General Surveys, 1866-1896 (see plates 294, 529, and 1513 below). By some accounts, Glen Echo Mill was the largest of its kind in Pennsylvania during the mid-1800s. With the extension of Lincoln Drive in the early 1900s, all traces of this industrial site were obliterated. 

Two garages, two different uses. Left: 730 Carpenter Lane. Right: 752 Carpenter Lane. | Photos: Michael Bixler

The demise of the Glen Echo Mill on Carpenter Lane coincided with the arrival of suburban railroads into northwest Philadelphia, marked by the 1884 opening of Carpenter Station as part of Pennsylvania Railroad’s expansion of service into Germantown, Mt. Airy, and Chestnut Hill. The extension of the train line, now known as the Chestnut Hill West Line, served as a harbinger of the shift from farming and industry to widespread suburban development. The transition is reflected in a wave of Victorian homes along the Carpenter Lane. Stunning signposts of the era include sets of twin homes near McCallum Street and three Queen Anne-style single homes opposite Charles W. Henry Elementary School. On the eastern end of Carpenter Lane closer to Germantown Avenue are a series of large, single homes built during the development of the Pelham neighborhood in the late 1800s. They are punctuated by pre-World War II single homes. 

Carpenter Station. | Photo: Michael Bixler

The most prominent building along Carpenter Lane is the C. W. Henry Elementary School, which occupies nearly the entire 600 block. The original section of the school, placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1988, was built between 1906-08 and designed by prolific Philadelphia public school architect Henry deCourcy Richards. The architecture of C.W. Henry reflects the progression of neighborhood development. Following the handsome, original building a more streamlined addition was added in 1949, which included the current auditorium and gymnasium. The late 1960s addition, while architecturally much out of context with the rest of the school and neighborhood, is very functional and better experienced on the inside than out. The mid-century section replaced a neighborhood horse stable. Living adjacent to the school, I have found horseshoes while digging in my garden. 

C. W. Henry Elementary School at 601 Carpenter Lane. | Photo: Michael Bixler

The commercial district of Carpenter Lane, at the intersection of Greene Street, demonstrates similar architectural changes over time. Clearly there were more businesses in the past, but vibrant shops still flourish today including an independent bookstore, Weaver’s Way Coop, two dry cleaners, two art studios, and a coffee shop. According to the owner of Gem Cleaners, the longest continuously operating business in the neighborhood, this section of storefronts previously contained a bakery, pharmacy, and hardware store. One of the Weaver’s Way buildings, 542 Carpenter Lane, was previously a garage and service station. There two other old garage buildings on the 700 block. Fuller’s Fine Art Auctions has the clerestory story windows running along its roof ridge and Carpenter Lane Garage still has an old-fashioned pedestal car tire pump in front of the building.

There goes the neighborhood. A bulky condominium box was recently built along the 500 block of Carpenter Lane. | Photo: Michael Bixler

A new condominium was recently built along Carpenter Lane’s expressive architectural timeline. Its boastful scale and lack of context greets the harmonious tone of the street with indifference. Perhaps, with time, the neighborhood will absorb the brassy new development. 

Until then, a walk along Carpenter Lane provides a fascinating insight into clues of the past and one of the closest experiences Philadelphia has to time travel.

About the author

Tony Aiello is Curator and Director of Horticulture at the Morris Arboretum of the University of Pennsylvania. This position has allowed him to travel throughout the U.S., Europe, and China to find novel plants suitable for growing in the Delaware Valley. He has written extensively about his travels, a variety of trees and shrubs, and the history of horticulture. A native Philadelphian, when he is not gardening, cooking, reading, or spending time with his family, Tony enjoys exploring the city, often in search of the ideal taco or slice of pizza.



29 Comments


  1. I have lived on the 500 block of Carpente Laner for 34 years.Tony absolutely cuts to the chase in his comments about the new out of scale condo development which has turned the rest of the block into Lilliput! That sucking sound you hear is the charm and funk of the marvelous 500 block as it goes down the drain.

    • Indeed!! How do aberrations like this soulless piece of garbage get built? No zoning, appearance, other hurdles to clear? As 45 would say, #sad!

  2. Great article, Tony! Thanks so much. I never knew about Glen Echo Mills; fascinating.

  3. Loved the article and photos, Tony. We lived half a block from Carpenter Lane for close to 30 years and often walked by the buildings that are pictured. Very nostalgic!

  4. People look at me askance when I tell them that I used to ride horses from the stable on Carpenter Lane in the mid-1950’s. Thanks for confirming my memories!

    • By not going to Ollie’s or Babe & Frank’s, we saved our allowance money to ride for $2/hr in Carpenter’s Woods to “The Monastery.” Growing up on Sedgwick Street, going to Henry School – indeed, living in Mt. Airy – was a rare privilege.

  5. Wonderful article on a fascinating street in a wonderful neighborhood. I’m so glad that you discovered the neighborhood stable that was razed to make way for the 1960’s expansion of Henry School! In addition to the businesses noted in the commercial cluster at Carpenter Lane and Greene Street, there was a little luncheonette “Babe and Frank’s” which was a couple doors west of the High Point and a tiny grocery store across the street from the hardware store – it looks like there’s a bookstore there now. At Wayne Avenue, the 53 trolley terminated with a ‘turn’ at Carpenter Lane – if you look at Google ‘street view’ you can see the last vestige of the tracks in front of the tow truck that’s parked next to the family practice clinic. I think there may have been a little store in that location at one time. I lived on the 600 block of Westview Street from 1960 until I left for college in the 1970’s. Amazingly, the commercial area on Carpenter Lane seems more vibrant now than it was then when we used to get penny candy at Mr. Swank’s drugstore and play the pinball machines in Babe and Frank’s.

    • Sue Harland Zuke

      My memories exactly! I grew up on the 600 block of Sedgwick and went to Henry School. A WONDERFUL place to grow up!

  6. Tom McCarron and Richard Keiser

    I have fond memories of spending spring, summer, and fall (all you have to do is call) in the expansive backyard of 728 Carpenter Lane, where my husband’s aunt and uncle had lived since 1912. They were Alan and Elsie Dewees, and their family had intermarried with the Rittenhouse family, and established several paper mills on the Wissahickon Creek in the late 1600’s.

    • Hi Richard,

      Aunt Emily (Dewees) Gibbs was my Godmother and I sang in the Epiphany choir with Alan.

      • Tom McCarron and Richard Keiser

        Hi Janet, nice to hear from you! I remember well talking with you on the phone around the time your father died. And later, at Aunt Emily’s funeral, your mother gave a tribute to her as your godmother. I hope is well with you and Wayne.

  7. My parents lived on the 600 block of Carpenter Lane. I was born in 1952 and lived there until 1956. I remember the stables next to Henry School, and feeding the horses. The cleaners used to be Catherine’s Grocery Store. Adam’s Tailor Shop was the third shop down from there, and we lived in the apartment above.

  8. Hi Tony,

    I enjoyed your tour of the western end of Carpenter Lane. In 1960, when I was 9y/o, we moved to Carpenter Lane. I remember the horse stables next to Henry School. What a treasure to find horseshoes in your garden! I also recall a luncheonette at the 53 trolley turn-around, now home to Mt Airy Family Practice.

    In the early 1960s, the Carpenter Lane station had a ticket agent/station master who lived on the second floor with his family.

    In high school (Girls’ High) I sang in the choir at Epiphany Episcopal Church, Carpenter Lane & Lincoln Drive. This was before the 1975 fire.

    Perhaps you’ll do a more in depth tour of the eastern end of Carpenter Lane, including Cecilian Academy. The convent on Chresheim Road was the barn for the George Washington Carpenter estate, Phil-Ellena. I understand this is the only extant building.

  9. So glad I came across this most interesting article. Thanks, Tony.

  10. Thank you for this wonderful article – truly a trip down memory lane for me! I grew up at 616 Carpenter Lane. My parents Dorothy and Emory Guy bought the 3 story house in 1956 and raised their 6 children there. We all went through Henry School, reveling in the short 1 minute walk to get to school each morning. I remember the horse stable, but being the youngest in my family, my recollections of that are fainter than my siblings. When we were in high school, my sisters and I used to take the trolley from the Wayne Avenue corner (which was the end of the line where the trolley turned around), to get to Girls High. We used to press our ears to the pole that supported the trolley power lines, to hear if the trolley was coming from a few blocks away.
    My mother helped to start the Weaver’s Way Co-op, and we all went round the corner to Summit Church services every Sunday morning. I remember Catherine’s, Babe and Frank’s, and the Brymans Rug Store. There was also a barber shop just past Swanks drug store where my father used to get hair cuts and the barber would always give me a pretzel rod if I came along with my dad.
    My roots on Carpenter Lane run deep and strong. It was a wonderful place to grow up and I still enjoy trips back to the ‘hood to take walks and shop at the Co-op.

    • Sue Harland Zuke

      Hi Shannon….good to see a familiar name here! How wonderful to share such special memories. Hope you and your family are well. Peace.

    • Shannon, I remember a family who lived at 612 Carpenter, the first house past the block of stores, that had a son named Arty. Sound familiar?

  11. What a fun piece. It was great to learn of some of the history.
    I live in one of those Queen Anne-style houses in the 600 block. Would love to know more about them. Was told when I bought that they date to the 1870’s. Yet they are incredibly sturdy, while being beautiful and functional.

  12. I live on the 800 block of Sedgwick, for the last 20 years, and Carpenter Lane is my backyard. Thank you for the far back history. I really appreciate it!
    Do you know anything about Carpenters Woods? The houses across the street (including mine) were built in the 1920’s. Rumor has it there was some kind of Mill there? Is that where “Carpenter” comes from? I do find odd old relics whenever I garden.
    Lastly – what about our Co-op?!! 😊 No mention?

    • Hi Pam,

      Carpenter probably come from the 300-acre George Washington Carpenter estate, Phil-Ellena (1844-1892), that was demolished for the Pelham development. The estate was between Carpenter Lane and Pelham Rd along Germantown Ave. The former Cecilian Academy convent, 6818 Creisheim Road, is reported to be the only extant building of the Carpenter estate.

      • Hello:
        One source that I have (Mermaids, Monasteries, Cherokees, and Custer, by Robert I. Alotta) states that the name of Carpenter Lane pre-dates G.W. Carpenter and was likely named for Samuel Carpenter, an English Quaker who purchased land from William Penn in the late 1600s.
        Tony

        • Hi Tony,

          Many thanks for the reference – Mermaids, Monasteries, Cherokees, and Custer – that I found on Amazon.

          Janet

  13. My father grew up on Gorgas Lane and attended Henry School in the 1930s. Whenever I am in the area, I visit the architecture of my youth. Thank you for the memories.

  14. Hello everyone. Thank you for all of the great responses and information about Carpenter Lane. It has certainly helped fill in some of the gaps of information and paint a fuller picture of its history.

  15. Tony – Really enjoyed the article. I like to haunt the neighborhoods as well to photograph now.

  16. The notion of “infill” is a useful one; when you grasp it, it helps you evaluate time and style–and wonder what was in that space previously! One correction, Tony: “clerestory” is the more usual spelling.

  17. Thanks for the memories, and especially the photo of 320 Carpenter. I grew up in that house. My father, Rev. Milton Leber, was the rector of Church of the Epiphany (predecessor to Annunication) from the early 1960’s until his illness in the mid 1980’s. I went to Henry, and also have (admittedly faint) memories of the stables before the ‘new’ section was added. The hardware store you mention was called “Woodson’s”, and many a time my brother and I stopped in on the way home from school and bought nails from old Mrs. Woodson to use on building and expanding our treehouse. Her store was packed from floor to ceiling, and you had to pick your way through a narrow path from the door to the counter in the back. (Our treehouse was also carpeted with scraps picked from the trash at Dianne Bryman’s.) Of course I also remember Mr. and Mrs. Dewees, not only from the Epiphany choir, but also Alan’s long service as a member of the Vestry. I lived through the experience of the arson fire at Epiphany that destroyed the original building, leaving only the parish house which was converted into the new sanctuary. We were jolted from our beds early in the morning of March 7, 1975. Later, I held a flashlight steady for Fire Marshall Eugene Turnipseed as he took evidence photos – a trail of burnt matches used by the thieves to make their way through the building. Such a shame that magnificent original building was lost, all to steal a few pieces of altar silverware. I hope development doesn’t destroy the wonderful nature of the neighborhood.

  18. Does anyone know if there is anything I can do about tire damage to my car? I’ve had to get my tires patched three times because of construction and now I’ll have to replace a tire because a piece of metal went through the sidewall. I’m so sick of this sloppy and inconsiderate construction company. They will have easily cost me 300 dollars in damages in less then a year.

  19. Dear Tony,
    I live in the carriage house on Carpenter Lane, just above the train station. I’m wondering if you know much about the history. I believe it was once part of an estate called Carpenter Estates. Any information would be appreciated.
    And thank you for a well-written article.

    Best,
    Gretchen H.

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