The Price of Inaction at Adams Avenue

The prospect of some gentrification of Frankford, with the assistance of some well-developed historical sites, here and there, makes careful preservation of buildings like 1548 Adams Avenue, the nearly-three-centuries-old Worrell/Winter house, an exciting concept.

But, Frankford and historical enthusiasts note well the following word-to-the-wise…

In the Spring of 1968, while I still lived in Frankford, I was a Sophomore in Father Judge High School up on Pennypack Creek, off Frankford Avenue. Our American History instructor was Father Leon Bonikowski.

Fr. Bonikowski loved American history with a passion. He loved historical buildings from colonial times even more. And the historical building he loved most was the Benjamin Rush house, at Red Lion Road and Keswick Road in Northeast Philadelphia. He decided to dedicate himself to personally push for reconstruction and exhibition of that colonial era structure.

One day in late 1967, Fr. Bonikowski was driving down Red Lion Road toward the intersection with Keswick Road. As he came abreast the Benjamin Rush property, he saw an astonishing sight: The Benjamin Rush house was simply gone! It had vanished!

Filled with rage, when the Spring, 1968 semester at Father Judge came around Fr. Bonikowski made, as the topic for his American History class student term papers, “What happened to the Benjamin Rush house?”

When I came home that day, and brought the subject up at the dinner table, my father fell dead quiet. This was discouraging to me, because my father was a civil engineer who was Chief of Field Operations in the Department of Licenses & Inspections in Philadelphia. If anyone could help me find the answer to the fate of the Benjamin Rush house, he could.

I nagged dad about the subject a few times more, with no result.

Finally, one night, dad brought home a file from work. He said, “Pete, I can tell you who took away the Benjamin Rush house, and show you the City’s file on it, so long as you let me review it and, if necessary, edit the your term paper, after it is completed.”

Excited, I agreed, and said, “Who took away the Benjamin Rush house?”

Dad said, “I did.”

I said, “What?????!!!!!”

Dad explained that though the Benjamin Rush house was on the Philadelphia Historical Commission’s list of premiere historical properties, the building began to fall apart, and to become an eyesore, and a gathering place for thugs. So, Licenses & Inspection boarded-up the doors and windows — exactly the way 1548 Adams Avenue is boarded-up — and put up signs, and warned the Historical Commission by certified letter that these things had been done and that building was in serious trouble.

The Historical Commission did nothing, and weather took its toll on the building.

A few years later, a portion of one of the exterior walls fell onto a child and injured him. A complaint was telephoned-in to Licenses & Inspection; my father dispatched a building inspector; and the inspector carefully examined the building and declared it “in imminent danger of collapse.”

The legally required response to that declaration was demolition. A demolition contractor was hired by the City, itself. The Benjamin Rush house was demolished. The building materials were carted-away and dumped. The basement was filled-in with fill dirt. And, suddenly, the building was no more.

My father and his boss, the Commissioner of Licenses & Inspection, read my paper and approved it, I think mostly because Licenses & Inspection had been warring with the Historical Commission for years, and they were sick of their failure to actually do something to preserve historical properties, while they protested demolition by Licenses & Inspection once the properties became a threat to life and limb.

When Fr. Bonikowski read my term paper, he was astonished to see the story, in full detail, with documentation attached, and, though my father was the actual “bad guy” who authorized destruction of the building, I received the highest grade. The paper brought Fr. Bonikowski a little peace, I think, because when he saw all of the evidence he realized that what had happened was inevitable.

You have just read the future of 1548 Adams Avenue, the nearly-three-centuries-old Worrell/Winter house, if nobody does anything, beginning now.

Peter J. Dawson

21 November 2011

 

 

About the Author

Peter Dawson
Peter Dawson grew up in Northwood and has a wealth of stories to tell.
  • Jim

    Great post, history and current events. That’s quality.

  • Joseph J. Menkevich

    Mr. Dawson, that is a Wonderful narrative. You make a great argument for historic preservation.

    This is almost unknown, but here is the other side of the Benjamin Rush Coin:

    Vol.53, No.7, September 1977

    MEDICAL NUMISMATIC NOTES,
    XXII: THE BICENTENNIAL RETURN
    OF A MEDAL OF BENJAMIN RUSH

    ROBERT E. JONES, M.D.

    Chairman, Benjamin Rush House Committee
    Clinical Professor of Psychiatry
    Jefferson Medical College

    Editor
    Transactions and Studies of the College of Physicians of Philadelphia Philadelphia, Pa.

    THE October 1975 issue of the Bulletin of the New York Academy of Medicine carried a charming story by G. Gramiccia, M. D., of Geneva about his discovery in the capital of the Beaujolais region of France of a medal of Dr. Benjamin Rush.

    Struck in Philadelphia by the United States Mint in 1808 in honor of Rush, who served as Treasurer of the Mint from 1797 until his death in 1813, the medal was found by the author in an old junk shop in the small town of Beaujeu and purchased for 20 centimes.

    I am happy to report that the medal now has returned to its native city, as a gift of Dr. Gramiccia to the Benjamin Rush House Committee in honor of the American bicentennial.

    Its return across the Atlantic Ocean occurred as follows:

    A friend who knows of my strong interest in Benjamin Rush sent me a copy of Dr. Gramiccia’s article.

    Since 1969 I have been the chairman of a committee which has aimed to preserve Rush’s birthplace for the 1976 bicentennial. The little stone farmhouse in which Rush was born on Christmas Eve, 1745, was built by his first American ancestor, John Rush, a captain under Oliver Cromwell who came to Pennsylvania in 1683 and farmed at Byberry township (now incorporated into Philadelphia). Efforts to preserve the house, the only home of a signer of the Declaration of Independence remaining in Philadelphia, were initially thwarted when the city demolished the house by mistake in March 1969. Dr. and Mrs. Daniel Blain rescued the stones and some woodwork and placed them in safe storage on the grounds of Philadelphia State Hospital, where the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania gave permission for rebuilding the house if private funds could be raised. Along U. S. Route 1, the rebuilt house would serve as a welcome center for visitors, as a community meeting hall, and as an educational and inspirational landmark.

    Our efforts have been crowned with more success than we dreamed possible. Most important, through State Senator Craig Lewis, we succeeded in introducing legislation to create Benjamin Rush State Park, a new 275-acre park in Philadelphia. The bill passed the Pennsylvania Senate in July 1975 (48-1) and the House of Representatives in November 1975 (191-3). On December 22, 1975 Governor Milton J. Shapp came to the site and signed the act to create the park. The new park will preserve open space and provide a youth hostel, nature-study center, bicycle paths, an ice-skating pond, and basketball and volleyball courts. The focal point will be the Rush House set on a 27-acre colonial farm with a new barn which will house a visitors’ center and an interpretive display about Rush and American medicine. The Bureau of Parks has completed a blueprint for the park. We hope to lay the cornerstone for the house in 1977 and complete it in 1978.

    The largest contribution has come from the American Psychiatric Association, whose members have raised $25,000. The Pennsylvania Medical Society has raised $12,000. In gratitude, these organizations will receive gavels made from a wooden beam of the Rush House. The New Jersey Medical Society and the Medical and Chirurgical Faculty of Maryland have contributed more than $1,000 each. School children, women’s clubs, and civic groups in the area have held fund-raising events. Several pharmaceutical houses have contributed and Turner Construction Company has offered its professional services. (I only regret that the American Medical Association did not make this its bicentennial project also. More funds are needed for furnishings.)

    As soon as I received Dr. Gramiccia’s article, I wrote him as follows:

    December 29, 1975
    Dear Doctor Gramiccia:

    I read with interest and delight your article in the Bulletin of the New York Academy of Medicine about your happy discovery of a Rush medal.

    As chairman of the Benjamin Rush House Committee, which aims to rebuild and preserve the birthplace of Benjamin Rush in Philadelphia in time for the 1976 American Bicentennial, I have been interested in materials relating to Rush. Under separate cover I shall send you an article I have prepared about his portraits (The Magazine Antiques, July 1975).

    The interpretation of the river on the medal is that it represents the Schuylkill River as it flows into the Delaware River (which you interpreted as a pond in the foreground), thus indicating the site of Philadelphia. Rush named his country house “Sydenham” after the great Engligh physician whom he admired.

    If there is ever a chance that you plan to part with the medal, will you kindly let me be the first to know?

    Sincerely,

    Robert E. Jones, M.D.
    Chairman Benjamin Rush House Committee

    A reply came immediately:

    9 January 1976
    Dear Dr. Jones,

    Thank you for enlightening me on some of the details appearing on the medal of Benjamin Rush.

    I am unable to resist the kindness of your letter,and am sending you under separate cover the medal for the Benjamin Rush House Committee as a modest contribution to the celebrations for the 1976 American Bicentennial.

    The only thing I regret is that I shall have to discontinue the offer,pledged in my article,of a glass of Beaujola is to the people who come to see the medal.

    You will have to find a substitute arrangement,as I shall,from now on, re-direct them to the Benjamin Rush House Committee.

    Wishing you a Happy New Year.

    Yours sincerely,

    Dr. G. Gramiccia
    Assessment and Training Division
    of Malaria and Other Parasitic
    Diseases World Health Organization

    We sent Dr.Gramiccia a letter of thanks:

    January 19, 1976
    Dear Doctor Gramiccia:

    You cannot imagine the joy with which we received the Benjamin Rush medal which arrived safely in the mail-the Benjamin Rush House Committee accepts it with heartfelt thanks for your great generosity.

    I have spoken to the Franklin Mint about the possibility of reproducing the medal in order to sell copies to raise funds for our project. If we succeed in reproducing it, I shall send you a copy.

    On December 22, the Governor of Pennsylvania visited the future site of the Benjamin Rush House and signed an act to create Benjamin Rush State Park, a new 275-acre park which will honor Dr. Rush.

    When the park and house are ready, we shall invite you for a glass of Beaujolais!

    Thank you again for your extreme kindness.

    Sincerely yours,

    Robert E. Jones, M. D.

    Since receiving the medal I have located the source of the words
    “READ/THINK/OBSERVE” engraved on a block of stone in the fore-ground.

    In his 1801 lecture titled “The Progress of Medicine,” Rush concluded his address to his students:

    “Observation without principles is nothing but empiricism….If I have not removed any part of the rubbish which surrounded the fabric of our science, nor suggested any thing better in its place, I feel a consolation in believing, that I have taught many of your predecessors to do both, by exciting in them a spirit of inquiry, and a disposition to controvert old and doubtful opinions, by the test of experiments. I have only to request you to imitate their example. Think, read, and observe. Observe, read, and think, for yourselves.”

    Examples of the medal are rare, and may be found at the American Numismatic Society and the College of Physicians of Philadelphia. Dr. Samuel X. Radbill called to my attention that Horatio R. Storer of Newport, R.I., listed several states of the medal in an article entitled “The Medals of Benjamin Rush” which appeared in the Journal of the American Medical Association, September 7, 1889, and which said that copies could be found at the Boston Medical Library, which is now part of the Countway Library.

    Copies may be found at Evergreen House, Baltimore, as listed by Sarah E. Freeman in her catalogue of Medals Relating to Medicine..in the Numismatic Collection of Johns Hopkins University (Baltimore, 1964). It is listed in the Katalog der Sammburg Medicina Nummis by Dr. Josef Brettauer (edited by Dr. Edward Holzmair, Vienna, 1937).

    Below the scene on the reverse is the inscription M. Furst Fec. Moritz
    Furst was a diesinker who emigrated from Hungary to the United States in 1808 and was an assistant engraver at the mint when the Rush medals were cut.

    In 1808 he advertised that he was an “Engraver of Seals and Dye Sinker on Steel” and other metals, asking for Philadelphia patronage. He engraved a number of medals awarded by Congress to military heroes of the War of 1812.

    How did such an unusual medal of this unusual man happen to be lying in a bowl of coins in a forgotten junk shop in the heart of Beaujolais, asks Dr. Gramiccia?

    Could Rush have sent it to Lafayette?

    Earlier, Rush had sent to Lafayette a lock of hair which he had snipped from Franklin’s head after his death. More plausible, however, is the theory that Rush sent it to Louis Valentin, M. D. (1758-1829). Valentin was a graduate of the University of Nancy who served as a military physician in San Domingo, spent five years in the United States,then returned to France to practice in Marseilles, Lyon, and Nancy. He was a member of the American Philosophical Society and he wrote to Rush frequently for current medical information. (Rush’s leters of reply may be in that junk shop!) Valentin proposed Rush for “admission into the medical institution of Paris,” for which Rush thanked him in a letter of September 16, 1808.

    In his article Dr. Gramiccia offered a glass of Beaujolais to anyone travelling to Geneva to see the Rush medal.

    I offer the same to Dr. Gramiccia, with a toast-the closing sentence in Rush’s leter to Valentin: “Health, respect, and friendship from your brother in the republic of medicine!”

    _____________________END of Article__________________

    The source of this article (which contains some illustrations) is this PDF:
    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1807387/pdf/bullnyacadmed00143-0083.pdf

    A photograph of the Rush Medal may be viewed at Stack Auction House: http://legacy.stacks.com/Lot/ItemDetail/87448

    The Rush House in Byberry may be seen here:
    http://lcweb2.loc.gov/pnp/habshaer/pa/pa0700/pa0790/photos/139098pu.tif

    J.M.

  • Fred Moore

    Excellent synopsis of a sacrilege!

    Whereas the Rush house was apparently crumbling and in danger of harming someone, the Worrell house looks to be in pretty good conditon, at least at the Adams Ave front.

    BRT lists 1548 Adams owned by CARTAGENA JIMMY, COLON-GALARZA HECTOR X with a sale date of 6/3/2011 for $1 and taxes paid through 2010. They also own 1550 Adams – same sale date. What are Jimmy’s and Hector’s plans? Are they aware of its historical significance?

    Waiting for the Historical Commision to act is proabaly not a good idea.

  • Joseph J. Menkevich

    As an example of an endangered historic property the thread began on Adams Avenue in Frankford.

    Peter Dawson told a contemporary history of the Rush Hous & Byberry Farm as a example of what often (too often) happens to historic buildings.

    I really liked Mr. Dawson’s Rush theme as it filled in some gaps for me on what happened to the building up there.

    Continuing on the Benjamin Rush in Byberry theme – there was one more story about a couple of doctors who came from Salt Lake City to Philadelphia and then decided to save the house.

    Somehow his story becomes me.

    It was after reading “The dreams of Benjamin Rush,” by CARL A. L. BINGER M.D., that I experienced a eureka moment.

    In Philadelphia on July 13th, 1812, Benjamin Rush wrote to John Adams:

    “My Dear Friend.—Can you bear to read a letter that has nothing in it about politics or war? I will, without waiting for. an answer to this question, trespass upon your patience, by writing to you upon another subject.

    “I was called on Saturday last to visit a patient about nine miles from Philadelphia. Being a holiday I took my youngest son with me, instead of my black servant. …”

    This letter may have inspired Dr. Binger to visit Philadelphia write upon the dreams of Benjamin Rush.

    “Two Journeys to Byberry

    … Dr. Rush had traveled nine miles from town to visit a patient. He took with him, to do the driving, not his Negro servant but his youngest son, William, then a boy of 11. After visiting his patient, Rush realized that they were within three or or four miles of the farm on which he had been born and where his ancestors for several generations had lived and died. The farm was in a settlement known as Byberry, about 12 miles up the Delaware River from Philadelphia.

    As they approached the place, Rush found himself particularly agitated. Everything seemed exactly as it had been 60 years before when, at the age of six, he had lost his father, and his mother had moved away. He went to see the graveyard in which four successive generations of Rushes were buried, all desended from Captain John Rush, who had commanded a troop of hours under Cromwell and whose sword and watch Benjamin inherited.

    While standing near his grandfather’s grave, Rush’s thoughts became confused. He saw his forebears risen from their graves and surrounding him, dressed in their home-spun and working clothes. They said, “What means that ‘gentleman’ by thus intruding upon us?” And then in his imagination, Rush soliloquized and spoke to them:

    “Dear and venerable friends! be not offended at me. I inherit your blood, and I bear the name of most of you. I come here to claim affinity with you, and to do homage to your Christian and moral virtues. It is true, my dress indicates that I move in a different sphere from that in which you have passed through life; but I have acquired and received nothing from the world which I prize so highly as the religious principles which I inherited from you, and I possess nothing that I value so much as the innocence and purity of your characters.” (3,II,p1152).

    A century and a half after Rush had had this daydream, I took occasion to repeat Dr. Rush’s pilgrimage. I was accompanied not by an 11-year-old son but a young and much admired colleague and friend, Dr. Eugene Bliss of Salt Lake City, who drove me, not by horsedrawn buggy but in a rented car, to Byberry and Rush’s birthplace, reached after miles of ugly urban sprawl. The old house was at once recognizable by its stone exterior and square columns that support the roof over the porch. But it was all in great disrepair, lacking paint, impoverished, and shabby. And in the garden, which Rush recalled nostalgically, had been converted into that worst of all blights—a car dump. Dr. Bliss and I simultaneously had the idea that our Association shoal acquire this house and restore it to the dignity that our patron merits. This was our dream.

    Benjamin Rush’s life was made up of dreams. Dreams of universal education, dreams of emancipation of women, dreams of the liberation of slaves and the fair treatment of of Negroes, dreams of reform in the management of hospitals, dreams of the humane treatment of the insane, dreams of equal opportunities for all. As a child of the Enlightenment, he believed with his great contemporaries in ideals of liberty and equality. America still cherishes these dreams and indeed realized many of them. But Rush knew and we know that dreaming is not enough.”

    ___________page 1659End of Article___________

    To find the above article, I actual found & purchased a cheap copy of the The American Journal of Psychiatry, for June of1969.

    I was pretty well acclimated to walking through Greenwood Cemetery in Northwood (once owned by Dr. Benjamin Rush) looking for some answers.

    But after reading the above article, in an attempt to receive some inspiration on a spiritual level, I decided to do exactly what Rush did – visit the Rush Family graveyard in the Byberry and reenact the Dream of Dr. Benjamin Rush.

    I was almost immediately channelling a Rush of energy.

    Answers to my many questions were being answered on a sub-conscience level. As a researcher, I often find myself dreaming the dreams of my deceased research subjects. I think of it as Enlightenment.

    They almost always deliver an answer.

    J.M.

    P.S.
    For me to find that article, I actually purchased a cheap copy of the The American Journal of Psychiatry for June, 1969.

    However, an online copy may be purchased here:

    The Dreams of Benjamin Rush, CARL A. L. BINGER M.D.
    Honorary psychiatric consultant, Harvard University Health Services
    http://ajp.psychiatryonline.org/cgi/content/abstract/125/12/1653

  • Joseph J. Menkevich

    It was my hope that my name would be replaced by the other people (who) demand provocative thought and intelligent comments, but – I find myself alone.

    To complete the Rush/Byberry history cycle in the scope of the present context – I further indulged into History; leading me deeper into a mystery. – – –

    The donation of the “Rush Medal” went to a “Benjamin Rush House Committee” …. which left me with a question as to if they (the Benjamin Rush House Committee) sold the Rush Medal at Stack’s Auction ??? –

    It brought back thoughts – of unfulfilled promises – BS about a Public Park; Government Grants; Mis-placed $$$ money (which crossed party lines).

    I did a Google on “Benjamin Rush House Committee.”

    A more simple question is “Where’s The Money?”

    A Google search also shows the same name associated with the bankruptcy of a 501 ( c ) 3, non profit corporation: IRS list of Pennsylvania non profits and charity that lost tax …

    And:

    A State Park Lies In A State Of Limbo
    July 26, 1987|By Lisa Ellis, Inquirer Staff Writer

    The house, originally on a site near Academy and Red Lion Roads, was demolished by city bulldozers – accidentally, officials said – in 1969. Rosenthal’s group, the Benjamin Rush House Committee, saved the stones and woodwork, however, and kept them in storage. http://articles.philly.com/1987-07-26/news/26199367_1_paved-bicycle-trail-weeds-parking-spaces

    Details Help Company Win Byberry Contract
    November 27, 1988|
    Of the three who took the test, only one could be chosen.
    So the former teacher brought up a classroom analogy.
    “When you give a test, the very first mark has to do with whether the student responded to the assignment,” Harold Rosenthal, now a lawyer, told fellow members of a committee overseeing disposition of the land now occupied by Philadelphia State Hospital, or Byberry.

    In this case, the task was to incorporate community as well as development concerns in planning what will happen to the site and a neighboring park after the hospital closes in June. …
    http://articles.philly.com/1988-11-27/news/26245326_1_first-community-meeting-byberry-committee-members

    Where is Benjamin Rush State Park today?

    Answer: Still a political carrot/victim to a ~~~~ system.

    J.M.

  • Joseph J. Menkevich

    My introduction from last post should have read: I find myself alone [in my thoughts].

    My point is this “Preservation” of Benjamin Rush State Park has been on-going for over 40 Years depending on when you start the clock.

    November 27, 1988 -In the end a consulting firm got a $150,000 contract to study potential uses of the Byberry land and draft a master plan that was due in February 1990.

    “I think the recognition of Benjamin Rush and what that means to the community . . . was a major thing for me,” said Rosenthal, who is the attorney for the Benjamin Rush House Committee.

    The house committee helped get the park established. But the state has never landscaped it or fulfilled a plan to reconstruct Rush’s house on the site.

    Future development should emphasize the Byberry site’s history and reuse of buildings, Killinger Kise representatives said, noting that 17 of the 19 buildings are eligible for federal historic listing.

    Matthew Kremer said: “The people in the Northeast are tired of being perceived as a cultural wasteland. . . . I did not make this up. This is what I heard from people in the Northeast.”
    http://articles.philly.com/1988-11-27/news/26245326_1_first-community-meeting-byberry-committee-members/2

    On December 2, 2010 the Rendell Administration Announces $2.7 Million for Major Improvements to Benjamin Rush State Park in Philadelphia:
    http://www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/rendell-administration-announces-27-million-for-major-improvements-to-benjamin-rush-state-park-in-philadelphia-111202034.html

    Explore a map of the proposed improvements to Benjamin Rush State Park http://www.dcnr.state.pa.us/ucmprd2/groups/public/documents/document/dcnr_005145.pdf

    We have a new Govoner named Corbett and he is not so generous in giving the Public what already belongs to them.

    I’ll Believe it when I see it.

    J.M.

    P.S.

    Where are those “17 of the 19 buildings are eligible for federal historic listing”?

    I do not see them on the map or in their plan.

  • Peter J Dawson

    Mr. Menkevich, perhaps you and I could meet to discuss the Worrell/Winter House.

  • joeblow55

    The benjamin rush house destruction was actually a fk up by the city. They got the addess wrong and tore down the rush house by mistake.