More than 200 years ago, soldiers of the Continental Army marched across the Pennypack Creek Bridge toward a monumental victory in Yorktown during the Revolutionary War. Saturday, neighbors marched across that very bridge to celebrate its historical marker, an honor that Fred Moore and the community of Holmesburg have worked so hard to achieve.
A celebration was held to commemorate the bridge, built in 1697. A section of Frankford Avenue between Ashburner Street and Solly Avenue was closed for the residents to walk across the bridge led by Scottish bagpiper Don Phillips and the Sons of the American Revolution Color Guard.
Moore, the chairman of the Bridge Celebration Committee and the former president of the Holmesburg Civic Association, unveiled the marker. The procession then moved into Pennypack Park where U.S. Rep. Bob Brady, Pa. Reps. Kevin Boyle and Michael McGeehan and Councilman Bobby Henon addressed the crowd of an estimated 500 people.
The entrance of the park was lined with tables where residents could buy snacks and merchandise, or hear more about the history of Pennypack Creek. Historic demonstrations were also performed throughout the event with re-enactors sharing stories of the Revolutionary War. Children were also invited to go on a scavenger hunt and given commemorative bandanas as a prize.
History in the making
Last year, Moore filled out an online application through the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission and in February received the news his proposal had been accepted.
This wasn’t the first attempt to make the bridge a historical marker. Fifteen years ago, during the 300th anniversary of the bridge, an application was denied.
“The fact that the bridge is old isn’t necessarily important enough,” Moore said.
The bridge was part of the route taken by Continental Army troops under George Washington and French troops under Jean-Baptiste de Rochambeau on their way to Yorktown. “Unbelievably, the Washington-Rochambeau route was not mentioned,” Moore said. “People are not aware of how important the French were in our victory against Great Britain.”
Moore said he believes the omitted fact was a factor in the application’s denial in 1997.
The Pennypack Creek Bridge sits on land used by Lenape Indians. William Penn later dubbed the trail “King’s Highway.” He commissioned the bridge to be built by colonists who constructed it with local stone. A massive, five-story mill was also built. In September 1781, the bridge was also used by French and American soldiers in the march toward Yorktown where they would force Lord Cornwallis and his troops to surrender in 1781.
To mark the success and the importance of the historical marker Moore, with the Friends of Pennypack Park and the Holmesburg Civic Association, involved the community in preparation for the commencement celebration. A $5,000 grant donated by the Preservation Alliance covered the cost of the marker itself and its installation, while 24 other donations from the community ranging from $1,000 to $25 went toward the cost of the celebration. Moore also visited neighborhood schools like Edwin Forrest Elementary to get students involved and share the history of the bridge. Students submitted essays through the Pennypack Creek Bridge Writing Project and were also invited to construct bridges using household supplies.
“One of the goals that Fred and I believe is that we want to make sure the next generation understands and appreciates the history so it can be passed on,” Friends of Pennypack Park President Linde Lauff said. “I think people will see the importance and the value of that piece of history and how it helped our nation become what it is now.”
Holy Family University hosted a lecture from historian Robert Selig called “Paris on the Pennypack,” which brought to light that the university grounds once served as a campsite for the French and American soldiers on the Washington-Rochambeau Trail.
“For the last eight weeks, I’ve taken a lot of photographs and it’s like a before and after story,” Holmesburg Civic Association President Rich Frizell said of efforts to clean up the park ahead of the celebration. “The Friends of Pennypack Park over two different clean-ups have hauled over 100 bags of trash out of this park. They came in and helped us recapture this park. It shows you what a community can do.”
Together with the Holmesburg Civic Association and the Friends of Pennypack Park, Moore said he plans to ensure that the bridge continues to be recognized within the community and see to the upkeep of the park. “This isn’t going to stop after the marker is installed,” Moore said. “We’re not going to wait another 15 years to celebrate the bridge again.”
Jessica Lopez and Lucia Volpe are students reporting for Philadelphia Neighborhoods, the publication of Temple University’s Multimedia Urban Reporting Lab.