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American Revolution Landmark House in Frankford Safe for Now

It’s Time to Save This Piece of History

Hidden City Philadelphia ran a story yesterday (at this link) that the The Worrel-Winter House at 1548 Adams Avenue would be going to Sheriff Sale in May, unless some action was taken to prevent that.  I spoke to Andy Volodarski, the owner of 1548 and 1550 Adams Avenue, who reported that the tax issue has been resolved and the property will not be on the Sheriff Sale list.

1550 Adams Avenue

What is not resolved is the present condition of the house.  As Harry Kyriakodis said on Hidden City Philadelphia: “At 1548 Adams Avenue in Frankford there is a small, modest home with a big, important history. The two-story house is believed to have been built between 1712 and 1718 and is one of the oldest historical structures listed on the Philadelphia Register of Historical Places. The 18th century dwelling, where Thomas Jefferson recited the Declaration of Independence July 4, 1776 before it was read publicly, is currently vacant and in a decaying, fire-damaged state.”

It would be a tragedy to fail to save this piece of history which is entrusted to us here in Frankford.


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Frankford’s Oldest Building Nominated for Philadelphia Register of Historic Places

1548 Adams Avenue

1548 Adams Avenue

Through the work of the Historical Society of Frankford’s Preservation Committee, with the assistance of the Preservation Alliance of Greater Philadelphia funded intern, Kristin Hagar, the nomination of 1548 Adams Avenue for designation on the Philadelphia Register of Historic Places is being presented for a vote by the Philadelphia Historical Commission.  The nomination of 1548 Adams Avenue (believed to be the oldest house standing in Frankford) has been deemed “correct and complete”.  The Philadelphia Historical Commission will consider this nomination at two public meetings:

Committee on Historic Designation
Wednesday, 29 May 2013 – 9:30am
Room 578 City Hall


Regular Meeting
Friday, 14 June 2013 – 9:00am
Room 18-029, 1515 Arch Street (One Parkway Building)


Both hearings are open to the public; the public is invited to speak (Philadelphia Historical Commission  215-686-7660).
Those interested in more background on this site – which appears in the Society’s latest publication (An Illustrated Walking Tour of Frankford) can purchase a copy of the booklet at the Society’s next program meeting on Tuesday, May 14th at 7:30pm.
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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