By Jack McCarthy, Archivist/Historian
The Northeast Philadelphia history community mourns the passing of Frank W. Hollingsworth, local historian and activist extraordinaire, who died on April 28 at the age of 81. Frank was involved in a wide range of history organizations in the Northeast and beyond, serving on the boards of the Abraham Lincoln High School Alumni Association, Philadelphia Irish Center, Northeast Philadelphia Hall of Fame, Glen Foerd on the Delaware and Trustees of Lower Dublin Academy. He wasn’t just a “warm body” with these organizations; he took an active role, always looking for ways to support them and make them better known and appreciated.
Frank was there at the founding of the Northeast Philadelphia History Network in 2007. NEPHN grew out of a small group of people interested in local history who began meeting informally at the Historical Society of Frankford on Wednesday nights in 2006. The key figure in the group was Harry Silcox, the beloved educator and historian who had been principal at Lincoln High (Frank’s alma mater) and was then the preeminent historian of the Northeast. One night when Harry and a few of us were at the society, there was a knock on the door. It was Frank, who explained that he had always been interested in local history and often would pass the society building and wonder what was inside. This particular night he saw that the front gate was open and decided to investigate. Frank and Harry remembered each other from their Lincoln years — Harry had been Frank’s basketball coach at one point — but no one else knew this new person, who quickly became a regular at our Wednesday gatherings. When we established the Northeast Philadelphia History Network (originally called the Center for Northeast Philadelphia History) the following year, Frank was an early, active participant. From there, Frank became involved in several other Northeast Philadelphia history organizations.
Frank was also somewhat of a witness to history himself. His mother had been the social secretary to Leonore Annenberg, the wife of media tycoon and U.S. Ambassador to Great Britain Walter Annenberg. Mrs. Annenberg was the doyenne of Philadelphia high society and served as President Ronald Reagan’s first chief of protocol. Through his mother, Frank got to meet many high-profile people, including the Queen of England when she visited Philadelphia in 1976. When Frank was growing up, his family lived in the Crestmont Farms section of Torresdale and they knew the families that owned the grand estates along the Delaware River in nearby East Torresdale. For a time, the Hollingsworths lived on one of the properties, the Bower Estate. Frank remembered how the once beautiful mansions eventually became abandoned and deteriorating, and recalled vividly the night one of them burned down, a result of arson. Most of the others eventually burned down or were demolished as well. An avid collector of photos, maps, newspaper clippings and other historical materials, Frank kept a thick file on the area, including materials documenting local efforts in the late 1960s to make the area a riverfront park — efforts that were almost successful but ultimately failed. The area is now occupied by the Bakers Bay and Delaire Landing condominium communities.
Frank maintained a strong interest in the history of Torresdale, which led to his service on the board of Glen Foerd on the Delaware, the only surviving example of the area’s grand riverfront mansions. Frank also cultivated (or, in some cases, renewed) personal connections with longtime residents of the neighborhood, hoping to get them interested and involved in their local history. He had the same commitment to the Northeast Philadelphia Hall of Fame, where he served on the steering committee; to Lincoln High, where he served as president of the Alumni Association; and to the Philadelphia Irish Center, where he worked tirelessly to preserve and promote the rich history of the Irish in Philadelphia.
Frank worked closely with Harry Silcox on Harry’s two final books — Remembering Northeast Philadelphia and Northeast Philadelphia: A Brief History, both published in 2009 — and took great pride in the fact that Harry listed him as co-author of the latter work. Those books, and the ongoing work of the many organizations he enriched by his service, serve as testaments to his Frank Hollingsworth’s important contributions to Northeast Philadelphia history.
A funeral service for Frank Hollingsworth will be held Thursday May 6, at 11 a.m. at May Funeral Home, 354 North Easton Road (at Keswick Avenue), Glenside, with visitation starting at 10 a.m. Burial is private. ••