American Revolution Landmark To Be Auctioned Off At Sheriff Sale

 

The Worrel-Winter House at 1548 Adams Avenue was built with stones from Frankford Creek. The home is likely one of the 100 oldest buildings in the United States. Charred beams are seen poking through the upper windows, an odd display that a neighbor said was recently done. A sealing notice placed on the front door by the Department of Licenses and Inspection has also been removed. | Photo: Michael Bixler

At 1548 Adams Avenue in Frankford there is a small, modest home with a big, important history. The two-story house is believed to have been built between 1712 and 1718 and is one of the oldest historical structures listed on the Philadelphia Register of Historical Places. The 18th century dwelling, where Thomas Jefferson recited the Declaration of Independence July 4, 1776 before it was read publicly, is currently vacant and in a decaying, fire-damaged state. The property has gone by various names in the past: the Worrell-Winter House, the Wilmerton House, and the Leech House. The home was recently sealed by the Department of Licenses and Inspection and will be auctioned off at a sheriff sale on May 15.

1548 Adams Avenue is thought to be the oldest building in Frankford and it predates existing properties on Elfreths Alley. It was built as a detached structure with stones from the bed of Frankford Creek, which is only a few steps away. The house was likely built by Paul Wilmerton and was occupied in 1718 by a maltster (malt brewer) named John Worrell, who had purchased the land on which the house was erected from Robert Adams (of Adams Road/Avenue). Worrell lived there with a yeoman, George Winter. In 1728, Wilmerton and his wife sold the property to Isaac Leech, a farmer, tanner, and judge. Leech left the house to his wife and his son, Isaac Leech, Jr., who was a cousin of Dr. Benjamin Rush.

Dr. Rush, of course, was a Signer of the Declaration of Independence, but the home’s association with the Declaration goes further than that, for it was allegedly a silent witness to Thomas Jefferson’s reading of the document on July 4, 1776 before it was read to the public at large.

The house is catty-corner from Womrath Park at the triangular intersection of Kensington, Adams, and Frankford Avenues. This green space was once part of the estate and summer home of prominent Philadelphia shipper Henry Drinker. Local historian and longtime Hidden City contributor Jack McCarthy wrote in 2012 that Thomas Jefferson was said to have read the completed Declaration of Independence out loud to the Founding Fathers when they visited Drinker and had a meal there on July 4, 1776. Whether or not this actually happened is up for dispute, but the notion that the Declaration of Independence could have resounded against the building’s walls in 1776 is rather compelling. Womrath Park, incidentally, was renovated in 2012 to convert it into an active stormwater basin as well as a recreational facility.

An overhead view of the neighborhood, looking north, with 1548 Adams circled. From Google maps

An overhead view of the neighborhood, looking north, with 1548 Adams Avenue circled in red. Womrath Park is on the upper right on the other side of Kensington Avenue and the Frankford El. Deal Street is a handful of feet below the bottom of the image, and Frankford Creek is about 50 feet more so. Directly across the street is open space that was once the site of worker housing or workshops of textile manufacturer Joeseph Bancroft & Sons. | Image: Google Maps

The story of the Founding Fathers in Frankford—in that epoch, a small village of a few hundred inhabitants outside of Philadelphia proper—has been part of local lore for years. The little old house at 1548 Adams Avenue had a front seat to the American Revolution from the time of the First Continental Congress until the proclamation of the Declaration of Independence. By looking through the house’s windows adoring this period, 8,000 men lugging pieces of artillery could have seen passing by the King’s Highway i.e. Frankford Road/Pike/Avenue and Adams Road/Avenue.

The house was purchased by the Diehl (or Diel) family in 1785. The Diehls were descendants of some of the first German immigrants in Pennsylvania. Deal Street, in the back of 1548 Adams Avenue to which the property extends, is named after the family. By the late 1890s, the modest structure was converted into an oyster house. It has had many owners since.

The building escaped demolition in the early 20th century when Adams Avenue was projected to be widened between Castor and Frankford Avenues. Seen on period maps as lines showing the expanded roadway, this widening was to have eased congestion in that fledgling area of Northeast Philadelphia. For one reason or another, the work was never completed, sparing the old stone home and many other properties along Adams Avenue that were to have been condemned to widen the street.

1548 Adams Avenue has been the focus of local preservation efforts in recent years. It was nominated for historic designation by the Frankford Historical Society and was placed on the Philadelphia Register of Historical Places on June 14, 2013. Listing a property on the local register provides legal protection against unnecessary demolition and inappropriate alteration. It is the first step in preserving a landmark piece of architecture or a beloved neighborhood gem.

The style of the home is a “classic example of rural Southeastern Pennsylvania farmhouse architecture,” according to Kristin Hagar, the historical consultant who prepared the nomination for the Frankford Historical Society’s Preservation Committee. Hagar ‘s work was funded by the Preservation Alliance for Greater Philadelphia. 1548 Adams Avenue is distinct for both its architecture and its small size. The home is about 18 feet in width and is no wider than a typical Philadelphia row house.

1548 Adams Avenue was placed on the Philadelphia Register of Historic Places in 2013. The 18th century home has since been damaged by fire and neglect. | Photo: Michael Bixler

The house is adjacent to the Frankford Creek Greenway, a plan to connect the Tacony Creek Trail to the Delaware River Trail via a creekside pathway. The development will fill a significant gap in Philadelphia’s current trail network. When completed, a trail will connect from Montgomery County all the way down to the Delaware River.

As a component of Philadelphia2035, the Planning Commission’s comprehensive growth and development plan for the city, the home is mentioned in the plan for Lower Northeast Philadelphia. 1548 Adams Avenue is listed as a historic site that should preserved and rehabilitated through local historic designation, adaptive reuse, and increased awareness.

The house has suffered a fire in recent years, and its entrance has been boarded with plywood. The place is set to go up for Sheriff’s Sale resulting from the non-payment of taxes. This delinquency began in 2014, just after the property’s listing on the local register. Why taxes have gone unpaid is unknown, although the busy and prominent intersection of Adams and Kensington Avenues may be the ultimate explanation. The house appears to be an investment property. Its owner is M. Holmes Investments LLC according to a Philadelphia Historical Commission document, which lists the sale price in 2012 at $1.

In the wrong hands, some fear that the building could be torn down by neglect or hardship and hope that an individual or organization steps up to preserve the storied home. Patricia Coyne of the Frankford Historical Society’s said that saving and the eventual restoration of 1548 Adams is a critical piece of a community development agenda that so far has been missing in the Frankford neighborhood. “The renovation of Womrath Park and early planning for the resurrection of Frankford Creek have neighbors here dreaming.”

According to Jim Young, president of the Historical Society of Frankford, the organization is currently pursuing the acquisition of the property with a goal of incorporating the historic home with Womrath Park and the Frankford Creek Greenway.

The Historical Commission has the legal power to save the home from future demolition, but the sheriff sale in May adds yet another layer of present uncertainty. Perhaps the National Trust, City agencies, and local preservation advocates can figure out a way to incorporate saving the home with the celebration of the nation’s 250th anniversary in 2026. Early thoughts about the semiquincentennial commemoration call for a citywide affair that will include Frankford, Germantown, and other areas around Philadelphia that were instrumental in the nation’s birth.

About the author

Harry Kyriakodis, author of Philadelphia's Lost Waterfront (2011), Northern Liberties: The Story of a Philadelphia River Ward (2012), and The Benjamin Franklin Parkway (2014), regularly gives walking tours and presentations on unique yet unappreciated parts of the city. A founding/certified member of the Association of Philadelphia Tour Guides, he is a graduate of La Salle University and Temple University School of Law, and was once an officer in the U.S. Army Field Artillery. He has collected what is likely the largest private collection of books about the City of Brotherly Love: over 2700 titles new and old.

Send a message!



18 Comments


  1. Thank you Harry K for sounding the alarm on this remarkable survival!

  2. Various family members once lived near this property.
    While at once we reminisce the past, one ponders the future from our perch of the present.
    Sadly, in this area of the city, little action will be taken to preserve the historic property, as there’ll be no cash return to incentivize a government investment, proving our priorities also suffer from neglect.

  3. That’s because all the money goes to New York to preserve there buildings !!!

  4. Very interesting story. Thanks Harry.

  5. I talked to Andy Volodarski, the owner today. He says he has taken care of the tax issue. The stability of the building is another problem but it will not be going to Sheriff Sale in May.

    • The Sheriff Sale Website as of 5/5 still has the property going up for auction sale on May 15, 2018, with the opening bid now moving up from the original $4,100 to an opening bid of $17,200! Well, what-a-ya know!

  6. The stability issue is something of concern as we do not know how structural safe the building is and what would it cost to improve its structural stability plus where would we get the money to do the work? We do not know if the building is going to collapse on itself. Only a structural engineer willing to do pro bono work, would have to examines the building and make recommendations.

    Plus it may well need a new roof, electrical wiring, plumbing and construction of fully functioning bathroom and kitchen. It is clear that the building will have to be converted to a home for individual or family to live in, vice be sited as a museum. Vandalism is one concern if it is left unattended. Remember the Benjamin Rush house was demolished in 1975 and its remnants left on site for use by a contractor to rebuild the house and that never happened at all. Plus, we will have title issues to resolve as the owner has apparently withheld the building from Sheriff Sale after paying taxes.

    At the worst, if the building must come down, we can do an archeology dig to gather as many remnants we can find. Even a long covered over privy found in the backyard could yield thrown broken artifacts which would serve to display the house’s history in a museum.

  7. The beige vinyl-sided building next door appears to be the same vintage as the stone house. Any info about that site, Harry?

  8. Karie Diethorn, National Park Service

    I love me some ‘Hidden City’ because you all really bring the past to life! Respectfully, though, I recommend reviewing this post as there’s a discrepancy. According to Hotchkin’s THE BRISTOL PIKE (1893) page 27, Jefferson read the Declaration aloud to some friends in the summer house at Henry Drinker’s estate, Elm Hill, located in what’s today Womrath Park, i.e. across Adams Avenue from Number 1548. This summer house, an octagonal structure, seems not to have survived into the twentieth century, but it was captured in a circa 1870 photograph (see the Free Library https://libwww.freelibrary.org/digital/item/pdcc00262). The Drinkers’ summer house was a pretty famous retreat. It was actually featured in an 1890 engraving by Augustus Kollner
    https://libwww.freelibrary.org/digital/item/pdck00026 Not to put too fine a point on this, but ‘Hidden City’ actually posted about this in 2012: https://hiddencityphila.org/2012/07/letter-from-the-northeast/

    On the plus side, 1548 Adams Avenue was indeed owned by cousins of Dr. Benjamin Rush, although they actually lived in Cheltenham Township, Montgomery County. 1548 was probably rented by the Leech family to a tenant operating their mills there.

  9. So, instead of going back to Graff House, Thomas Jefferson dropped a token at the 5th Street Station, got off at Church Street Station and walked down to the above mentioned little house to read and practice his delivery of the Declaration of Independence.

    Then on Independence Day, he walked back to the Church Street Station, dropped off another token and zoomed off to 5th Street Station to walk over to Independence Hall and deliver the much written and changed version of the Declaration of Independence to a rabid mob of malcontents blowing off steam and arguing with each other inside Independence Hall.

    Give him the credit for doing the long, dirty work to come up with a document that affirmed our independence and started our journey towards creating a new nation.

  10. Where did this story involving Jefferson come from? Everything I’ve read says Jefferson wrote it in the Graff house and then returned to Virginia.

  11. There were two very similar homes on the block of Adams east of the ‘El’ opposite the south side of Womrath Park. They were demolished approximately a decade ago by the business that surrounded the property.

    Also of note — The Franco-Belgian Society, as documented in the previous HiddenCity article “Fragments Of The Franco Belgium Society In Frankford” authored by Max Marin:

    https://hiddencityphila.org/2015/04/fragments-of-the-franco-belgium-society-in-frankford/

    is located on the block of Deal Street behind 1548 Adams.

  12. Michael Schreiber

    As one of the earliest buildings still standing in Philadelphia, the house ought to be preserved, but as far as anyone can tell, it had nothing to do with the Declaration of Independence. Harry completely misstates the folktale (and it is nothing but a folktale) of Jefferson’s alleged visit to Frankford in July 1776. The legend, as related in Harper’s Weekly of July 18, 1872, and other 19th-century sources, is that Jefferson and other Continental Congress delegates celebrated the signing of the Declaration with a dinner on July 8 (not July 4) at the summer pavilion on the grounds of Dr. Enoch Edwards (not Henry Drinker). The Edwards estate, later called Elm Hill, was not at what is now Womrath Park but slightly north of there.

    Jefferson and Edwards were friends, so it is not unlikely that Jefferson did visit there on some occasion. But the claptrap about Jefferson’s reading the Declaration to other “Founding Fathers” seems to be a modern invention. Why should Jefferson have bothered to read the document to men who probably knew it almost by heart since they had been studying it, and participating in the editing of it, since Jefferson gave them his draft copy on June 28?

  13. I have added some words to the story to soften the claim that Jefferson read the Declaration of Independence at the site of Womrath Park….

  14. Joseph J. Menkevich

    Thank You Karie.

    During Kristen Hagar’s preparation of this nomination, Debbie Klak and myself were on the historic property committee of the Historical Society of Frankford and assisted her with the deed work & chain of title. At the time, I was ignorant to writing nominations, so you can say that Ms. Hagar was one of my mentors for the several nominations I have since filed.

    The Rush Family connection: Rebecca Hall Leech was sister to Susanna Hall of Tacony, who latter married John Rush, gunsmith of Byberry. Susanna was the mother Dr. Benjamin Rush and the Hon. Jacob Rush a Supreme Court Justice.

    During the Leech Family ownership in this mill, Rebecca Leech became a widow. There are no records to indicate whether or not she lived in this building, ancillary to the Frankford Mill Complex.

    Widow Leech remarried Rev. Richard Treat, the pastor of the Abington Presbyterian Church on Old York Road and Susquehanna Ave.

    Deed of the 29th October 1759: “Joseph Leech & Ann his Wife & Richard Treat & Rebecca his Wife (late Rebecca Leech) to George Ashbridge for Two undivided Third Parts of the said Mills Land & for the before mentioned 40 perches of land bought of Henry Paul…”

    The proximity of the Worrel-Winter House was less than a stone-throw from the Gazbo & garden owned by the Henry & Elizabeth Drinker at the time of the Declaration.

    As for the Thomas Jefferson / Frankford Connection, many of Philadelphia’s writers and researchers have looked at this including Harry and myself.

    Oral history or folklore?

    “In anticipation of the Centenial Exhibition’s souvenir-hungry visitors, photographer Robert Newell published views in series, each with a narrative caption. The premise was history; the reality was popular culture. Newell collected and served up ripened Philadelphia lore, with fact often interwoven with fiction. Consider one such story. In the village of Frankford, five miles to the northeast of Philadelphia, lived physician Enoch Edwards. According to local legend (historians have not commented on the matter), Edwards and Thomas Jefferson were distantly related. After the Declaration of Independence had been written and signed, Jefferson ventured out from the city for a visit. On July 8, 1776, in this gazebo behind Edwards’ mansion, Jefferson read the document for the first time in public. Then there was a picnic. ‘Ancient inhabitants of the neighborhood,’ recorded Newell, maintained that this was the first Independence Day celebration. The Edwards family passed the story along to the property’s next owners, the Womraths. And as long as they maintained the elm covered hill with violets, patriotic sightseers were welcome. But…without the gazebo shrine on the hill, the Jefferson legend was soon forgotten.” – Finkel, Kenneth, and Susan Oyama. 1988.

    Where there is smoke, there is a fire.

    Fanny Salter, an eye witness to Thomas Jefferson’s meeting with Enoch Edwards, wrote the following excerpt: “…One day when Mr. Jefferson was on a visit to my uncle, they walked up to this summer-house. He looked round and said: ‘This is the spot on which the signers of the Declaration of Independence dined the day they signed the Declaration.’ …” – Fanny Saltar’s Reminiscences of Colonial Days in Philadelphia https://archive.org/details/jstor-20086261

    Unpublished history lives within cursive writing and where the proof is found:

    Illegible letter in the Library of Congress: 7th May 1801 – Thomas Jefferson to Enoch Edwards: https://www.loc.gov/resource/mtj1.023_0754_0754/

    Excerpt: “…when I am ready at Monticello for carpets. the handsomest I ever saw was on your floor at Frankford the last time I had the pleasure of seeing you there. were mrs Edwards or yourself in traversing Philadelphia ever to have your eye caught by any as handsome as that, I should surely ask you to arrest it for me. present my best respects to mrs Edwards & accept yourself assurances of my friendly esteem and consideration. – Th: Jefferson
    http://founders.archives.gov/documents/Jefferson/01-34-02-0037

    If you consider the above as evidence, it would appear that in 1801, Fanny Salter listened to Jefferson’s Reminiscences of Colonial Days in Frankford.

    Thank You Harry, for keeping this Historic Building in the spotlight

    J.M.

  15. Harry Kyriakodis

    The following just came in to me from Joseph J. Menkevich:

    Harry,

    Thank You for the Article. I just posed a reply:

    Thank You Karie.

    During Kristen Hagar’s preparation of this nomination, Debbie Klak and myself were on the historic property committee of the Historical Society of Frankford and assisted her with the deed work & chain of title. At the time, I was ignorant to writing nominations, so you can say that Ms. Hagar was one of my mentors for the several nominations I have since filed.

    The Rush Family connection: Rebecca Hall Leech was sister to Susanna Hall of Tacony, who latter married John Rush, gunsmith of Byberry. Susanna was the mother Dr. Benjamin Rush and the Hon. Jacob Rush a Supreme Court Justice.

    During the Leech Family ownership in this mill, Rebecca Leech became a widow. There are no records to indicate whether or not she lived in this building, ancillary to the Frankford Mill Complex.

    Widow Leech remarried Rev. Richard Treat, the pastor of the Abington Presbyterian Church on Old York Road and Susquehanna Ave.

    Deed of the 29th October 1759: “Joseph Leech & Ann his Wife & Richard Treat & Rebecca his Wife (late Rebecca Leech) to George Ashbridge for Two undivided Third Parts of the said Mills Land & for the before mentioned 40 perches of land bought of Henry Paul…”

    The proximity of the Worrel-Winter House was less than a stone-throw from the Gazbo & garden owned by the Henry & Elizabeth Drinker at the time of the Declaration.

    As for the Thomas Jefferson / Frankford Connection, many of Philadelphia’s writers and researchers have looked at this including Harry and myself.

    Oral history or folklore?

    “In anticipation of the Centenial Exhibition’s souvenir-hungry visitors, photographer Robert Newell published views in series, each with a narrative caption. The premise was history; the reality was popular culture. Newell collected and served up ripened Philadelphia lore, with fact often interwoven with fiction. Consider one such story. In the village of Frankford, five miles to the northeast of Philadelphia, lived physician Enoch Edwards. According to local legend (historians have not commented on the matter), Edwards and Thomas Jefferson were distantly related. After the Declaration of Independence had been written and signed, Jefferson ventured out from the city for a visit. On July 8, 1776, in this gazebo behind Edwards’ mansion, Jefferson read the document for the first time in public. Then there was a picnic. ‘Ancient inhabitants of the neighborhood,’ recorded Newell, maintained that this was the first Independence Day celebration. The Edwards family passed the story along to the property’s next owners, the Womraths. And as long as they maintained the elm covered hill with violets, patriotic sightseers were welcome. But…without the gazebo shrine on the hill, the Jefferson legend was soon forgotten.” – Finkel, Kenneth, and Susan Oyama. 1988.

    Where there is smoke, there is a fire..

    Fanny Salter, an eye witness to Thomas Jefferson’s meeting with Enoch Edwards, wrote the following excerpt: “…One day when Mr. Jefferson was on a visit to my uncle, they walked up to this summer-house. He looked round and said: ‘This is the spot on which the signers of the Declaration of Independence dined the day they signed the Declaration.’ …” – Fanny Saltar’s Reminiscences of Colonial Days in Philadelphia https://archive.org/details/jstor-20086261

    Unpublished history lives within cursive writing and where the proof is found:

    Illegible letter in the Library of Congress: 7th May 1801 – Thomas Jefferson to Enoch Edwards: https://www.loc.gov/resource/mtj1.023_0754_0754/

    Excerpt: “…when I am ready at Monticello for carpets. the handsomest I ever saw was on your floor at Frankford the last time I had the pleasure of seeing you there. were mrs Edwards or yourself in traversing Philadelphia ever to have your eye caught by any as handsome as that, I should surely ask you to arrest it for me. present my best respects to mrs Edwards & accept yourself assurances of my friendly esteem and consideration. – Th: Jefferson

    http://founders.archives.gov/documents/Jefferson/01-34-02-0037

    If you consider the above as evidence, it would appear that in 1801, Fanny Salter listened to Jefferson’s Reminiscences of Colonial Days in Frankford.

    Thank You Harry, for keeping this Historic Building in the spotlight.

  16. This property should be preserved and can be preserved if only as a stabilized shell. Why? Because you will not find an older house property of this type – a commoner’s home, in the City of Philadelphia, that’s why. Age has its privilege and this house should be honored with that privilege. You cannot build antiquity! The house is older than any house on Elfreth’s Alley for Pete Sake! What does a building have to do to be appreciated in this City as Historic? There is a lot of history to this building that has yet to be told. You can see what an interest there is in this property from the number of comments and views! Anyway, the current owner of the property might not be all that honest about his paying off of the back taxes. As of 5/5, the property is still listed as going up for Sheriff Sale on its website and the opening bid has moved up from the original $4,100 to $17,200. Interesting to say the least!

Leave a Reply

Comment moderation is enabled, no need to resubmit any comments posted.

Recent Posts

“Star Doors” Take Center Stage In A City Of Rows

December 13, 2018  |  Vantage

Like the human eye, exterior doors can be a portal into the soul of a row house. Ashley Hahn drops in with the backstory on “star doors,” a singular piece of Philadelphia charm > more

Sixty Years Of Holiday Cheer At Wanamaker's

Sixty Years Of Holiday Cheer At Wanamaker’s

December 12, 2018  |  Last Light

Patrick Glennon gives us a look at the origins of a holiday tradition at the Wanamaker Building > more

City Archives Opens New HQ In Northern Liberties

City Archives Opens New HQ In Northern Liberties

December 6, 2018  |  Buzz

New digs in NoLibs for the Philadelphia City Archives. Michael Bixler has the details > more

Give a Gift, Get a Gift: 2018 Fund Drive Perks Are Here

Give a Gift, Get a Gift: 2018 Fund Drive Perks Are Here

December 6, 2018  |  Uncategorized, Vantage

Our annual fund drive is in full swing and this year's perks are better than ever, so have a look. Not to mention: all donations will be matched dollar for dollar by NewsMatch! > more

Architecture Trips The Light Fantastic in <em>Philly After Dark</em>

Architecture Trips The Light Fantastic in Philly After Dark

December 4, 2018  |  News

The Athenaeum of Philadelphia shines a light on local architecture at night with their illuminating exhibition, "Philly After Dark." Greg Prichard has this review > more

#GivingNEWSDay Is Here!

#GivingNEWSDay Is Here!

November 27, 2018  |  News

Double your donation to Hidden City today and help us get to the next level of journalism > more