Inga Saffron, the Inquirer’s maven on Philly’s architecture and related subjects, recently wrote a long article praising the castle-like Frankford El station at the corner of Kensington Avenue and Tioga Street, its most picturesque side facing into Harrowgate Square.
Inga called it Harrowgate Park, but to us natives, it was always The Square. My mother was 20 when they built the Frankford El. She had been commuting by trolley car since she was 14, to the Strawbridge and Clothier store downtown, in the Accounts Payable office, where she was a whiz at using the Comptometer, a mechanical forerunner of the computer, which baffled some of the older women.
When the Philadelphia Rapid Transit Co. built the fancy El station, she spent some time practicing running up the tricky new curved stairways, so she could make a dash at incoming trains if necessary.
Harrowgate Square is where, in 1784, Capt. George Esterly, a Renolutionary War veteran, poking around in Aramingo Borough, Philadelphia County, discovered springs bubbling in the fields.
The famous Dr. Benjamin Rush tested the water and pronounced it healthful for both bathing and drinking. Esterly built a health resort, with an inn, gardens, food and entertainment. Coaches ran there daily from Second and Market streets. He named it Harrowgate, after a famous spa in England.
A town built up around it. That caused the springs to dry up after about 15 years.
Nearby was Cedar Grove, country house of the Paschall and Morris families since 1746. A lane ran from the Frankford road to the Morris property; it’s now an isolated piece of Sedgley Avenue.
A few houses sprung up on the lane. One was bought by my great-great-grandfather, Isaac Hartley, who left his farm in northeast Philadelphia County.
When the Civil War erupted, my great-grandfather, George W. Hartley, and his two brothers joined the army. George survived some big battles. His brothers both died of disease, and are buried in Virginia.
My grandfather and my mother were born in the Harrowgate house. In 1921, when the Pennsylvania Railroad built noisily through the area, the family moved a few blocks away, where I was born.
In 1926, John Morris and his sister Lydia left Cedar Grove and moved to their property in Chestnut Hill. It became the Morris Arboretum. Lydia donated the Harrowgate house and its furnishings to the city, and it was moved to Fairmount Park.
The Morris family had a school house built for Harrowgate. It became the I.P. Morris Public School. My great-grandparents were the last custodians. It was later divided into two houses, and, by complete coincidence, my father’s father later lived in one.
The full city block of the old resort remained a grassy, tree-dotted park, except for the front on Kensington Avenue. A row of houses stood there until the Frankford El was built. My grandfather worked on the crew that tore them down.
Through the years in the square, many a baby carriage was pushed, and many a touch football game played, and some twilight smooching often done on one of the benches.
I suspect that such activities still are conducted in the Square.
There’s a big city recreation center elsewhere in Harrowgate now. It’s named after Bobby Heitzman, who ran sports teams for local youths years ago. He was our next-door neighbor.
Harrowgate declined a bit, but is now undergoing what folks like to call gentrification. I wish the new Harrowgaters luck as they climb those fancy curved El station stairs.