Going down in history

The Northeast Philadelphia History Network is celebrating 10 years of Northeast Philadelphia.

Historical perspective: The Northeast Philadelphia History Network discussed the importance of the group at its monthly meeting at Pennepack Baptist Church.

On Nov. 1, the Northeast Philadelphia History Network held its monthly meeting at Pennepack Baptist Church on the 8700 block of Krewstown Road. This meeting held a special importance for the group, as members joined one another to celebrate its 10th anniversary.

In 2007, local historians Jack McCarthy and the late Harry Silcox were working on a number of projects together when they had the idea of forming a group to discuss the history of Northeast Philadelphia.

“We knew that there were a lot of people in the Northeast who were very involved in their local history; whether it was Tacony or Holmesburg or Torresdale, there were a lot of people that we knew personally, who were already doing this kind of work,” said McCarthy. “All we were proposing was to bring them together into a network or consortium. We knew the interest was there, we knew people would be very receptive and that’s how it all started.”

The group held its first meeting on Nov. 15, 2007 under the name “Center for Northeast Philadelphia History.” The goal of the group from its inception has been to “bring together the many local historians and historical organizations of Northeast Philadelphia and provide a forum for sharing information and ideas for preserving and promoting the region’s history.”

Fred Moore, secretary for NEPHN, has been involved with the group since its third meeting and was one of those immediately drawn to it. Moore had been very invested in the history of Northeast Philadelphia and recalls the curiosity he had of this area.

While he was a sexton at Emmanuel Church, Moore stated, “I became aware of all these gravestones and wondered, who are these people?”

Moore was infatuated with the history of the area in which he was living and said he’s been involved ever since.

For the first three years, the group was under the supervision of the Historical Society of Frankford. The group was very much enjoying the discussions being held, but there was a growing desire to branch away from the guidance of the parent organization. It wasn’t until 2010 when the group became independent and chose its current name.

Moore said, “We wanted to be independent and not have to be answering to anyone and that’s when we kind of broke off from them and have been pretty much independent since.”

Although the group was no longer under the control of the Historical Society of Frankford and would no longer go by Center for Northeast Philadelphia History, the purpose of the network has never strayed away from its original mission.

In 2011, after four years of meeting at a variety of locations in the Northeast, NEPHN decided to make Pennepack Baptist Church in Bustleton its primary meeting location, and has called it home to this day.

The monthly meetings at Pennepack Baptist Church include a presentation on local history, followed by discussion.

Paul Steinke, executive director of Preservation Alliance for Greater Philadelphia, delivered the presentation on the 10th anniversary celebration. The Preservation Alliance for Greater Philadelphia formed in 1996, with the mission of “promoting the appreciation, protection and appropriate use and development of the Philadelphia region’s historic buildings, communities and landscapes.”

Although Steinke’s position is tailored toward focusing on the city of Philadelphia as a whole, he is well versed on the history of Northeast Philadelphia because he was born and raised here.

Steinke grew up in Burholme and is a graduate of Northeast High School.

“What’s neat about the Northeast is to uncover these landmarks that tell that story of a rural part of Philadelphia County that has grown up into a part of the big city.”

Steinke’s presentation included the work the Preservation Alliance does on a daily basis and some background on historical locations in the Northeast. Steinke detailed just how unique the city of Philadelphia is in regard to historical landmarks.

For example, the city of Philadelphia has the third-most total buildings in the country (behind New York City and Los Angeles) and the highest number of building parcels per square mile (4,078).

Despite the large number of buildings, members of NEPHN were troubled to find out that only 2.2 percent of the buildings were under the local historical designation, while the average of the 50 largest cities was 4.3 percent.

“My hope is that both city government and the people of Philadelphia increase their appreciation for the history of the city,” said Steinke. “Philadelphia is famous for the Declaration of Independence and the Liberty Bell, but there is so much more that this city has contributed to this country.”

The presentation was followed by a Q&A and a bite to eat in the back of the church.

At the conclusion of the event, McCarthy expressed gratitude for what the group has become.

“Watching it grow has been really gratifying, so that we know that every month reliably, we’re going to 30, 40, and maybe today there was 60 people,” McCarthy said. “The real thing that keeps it going is that there’s a lot of people really interested in Northeast Philadelphia history. They’re really passionate about it.”

There is no membership fee to join the group.

The next meeting will be held Dec. 6 at 7 p.m. ••