What’s Up With...the Delaware Valley?
When you arrive in Philadelphia you will hear the term “Delaware Valley” bandied about for your new residence as much, if not more, than “Philadelphia.” If you look on a map you will find no “Dela- ware Valley.” If you go exploring you will find no verdant hillsides surrounding a sylvan waterway. What is this cryptic place of which you speak?
The Delaware Valley is media shorthand for the entire Philadel- phia metropolitan area. So Philadelphia is really not just the city but 15 - 15! - surrounding counties in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Dela- ware and even Maryland. You are now part of a pulsating, growing population of more than six million that is the fourth largest metro- politan market in America, not just one of Philadelphia’s 1.5 million residents, a total that has dropped by over half a million from 1950. Today you can live more than 50 miles from where William Penn laid out the street plan for his City of Brotherly Love in 1682 and still call yourself a “Philadelphian.”
What’s Up With...All the Multisyllabic Place Names?
Passyunk, Moyamensing, Cohocksink, Aramingo, Manayunk, Schuylkill, Wissahickon, Conshohocken. Philadelphia is loaded with exotic-sounding place names. They are a legacy of the Lenni Le- nape Indians who fished and farmed the Delaware Valley for 10,000 years before the coming of European settlers. Upon arriving in 1682 to claim the land given to him by King Charles II to repay a debt owed his father, William Penn famously negotiated a treaty with the Lenni Lenape on the banks of the Delaware River in what is today the City’s Fishtown neighborhood. As he set up his
“New Wales” colony Penn retained many of the Lenape names for townships. But when it came to naming his dream town Penn turned not to native languages but to classic Greek - Philadelphia literally means “The City of Brotherly Love.”
Penn earned a reputation for fair dealings with the Lenni Lenape but after he died in 1781 his heirs were not so benevolent. More and more Lenape land was sold off for profit and most of the first settlers were forced to move west until the tribe exists today mostly in Okla- homa. The Lenape Nation of Pennsylvania, however, still numbers about 300 people while continuing to live in their ancestral home- land in the Delaware Valley.
What’s Up With...The Quakers
Following the English Civil War in the mid-1600s dissatisfied Christian splinter groups began to emerge. George Fox, the son of a weaver, was one such religious rebel. Convinced that it was possible to have a direct relationship with the Lord without the benefit of clergy, he traveled far and wide with his controversial message be- fore being hauled in front of a magistrate in 1650 on charges of blas- phemy. When Fox railed against the judges to “tremble at the word of the Lord” he was ridiculed as a “quaker.” And so members of the Religious Society of Friends have been called ever since.
Fox was imprisoned and despite persecution for their unpopular theological challenges and pacifist ways the number of Friends grew to more than 60,000 by 1680. By that time Fox had been in and out of prison and traveled to America to establish the Quaker movement in the British colonies. However there were only two places in the New World where it turned out Quakers were not routinely perse- cuted - Rhode Island and, after a staunch Fox ally named William Penn arrived to claim his inheritance, Pennsylvania.
Quakers have no written creed or fixed tenets of belief and no de- fined program of prayer. Congregants enter a typically unadorned meeting room and sit in silence, perhaps speaking aloud if the spirit moves them. You can experience meetinghouses across the Delaware Valley, including the Arch Street Meeting House that is the oldest still in use in Philadelphia and the largest in the world. Penn donated the land to be used as a burial ground in 1701. The long, center-pedi- mented brick building was begun in 1803 with the wings added in 1811.
The Friends eventually migrated west, settling in pockets of like- minded communities across the country. But after more than 300 years it is still Philadelphia that is most associated with the Quak-
ers. The University of Pennsylvania, even though it is not a Quaker school, has adopted the Quaker as its mascot. The nickname was actually hung on the school’s sports teams by newspaper writers in the 1880s and it just stuck. There have been two Quaker Presidents - Herbert Hoover and Richard Nixon. Nixon’s ancestral roots are in the Delaware Valley; his kin, Quaker ministers, settled in Darby outside of Philadelphia in the early 1700s.
What’s Up With...the Statue of William Penn on Top of City Hall?
When planning began on City Hall in 1871 it was intended to be the tallest building in the world but when it was finally finished 30 years - and eight mayors - later, City Hall was surpassed by both the Eiffel Tower and the Washington Monument. Instead, city boosters hung “Billy Penn’s hat” on the fact that at 547 feet it was the world’s
tallest habitable build- ing, a title it held for less than a decade. To- day, it remains the tall- est masonry building ever constructed. City Hall is topped by a 37- foot, 27-ton bronze statue of city founder William Penn, one of 250 sculptures created by Alexander Milne Calder that adorn the building inside and
out. The statue is the tallest atop any building in the world.
By “gentleman’s agreement” no building was constructed that Billy Penn could not look over in Philadelphia for more than 80 years. Compared to other major cities, the lack of skyscrapers gave Philly a personal scalethat it kept all the way until 1987 when One Liberty Place shattered the unoffical pact and soared almost 400 feet above
Penn’s hat. So much for that tradition. Penn’s statue is hollow and a narrow access tunnel inside leads to a small, 22-inch-diameter hatch atop the hat. It is not open to the pub- lic but an elevator can take you up to an observation deck just below the statue for the best views in the City. Even if it is blocked by a few super high-rises.
What’s Up With...Yo?
“Yo,whataccent?”ThereisaperceptionofPhiladelphianswielding a distinctive accent but you’ll be hard-pressed to tell the natives from the transplants when you get here. Except for a few classic give-away words such as : “wooder” for water, “beyoodeeful” for beautiful, “tal” for towel and, of course, “Iggles” for the much-beloved hometown football team.
Most of America’s impression of the Philadelphia dialect is tied to Rocky Balboa, the fictional pugilist portrayed by Sylvester Stallone for three decades and six movies. His “Yo, Adrian” has become the go-to example of Philadelphia-speak. The attention-grabbing “yo” was popularized by many Italian-American youths in the mid-1900s but has been linked almost exclusively with Philadelphia. The word “yo,” by the way appears in the dictionary but will not be accepted by Scrabble. Play it with a fellow Philadelphian, however, and you will never get a challenge.
What’s Up With...Wawa?
“It’s the convenience store of the gods,” lamented one former devotee who had recently moved just beyond the reach of Wawa food market stores.
It was back in 1892 that George Wood moved from the Maurice River in New Jersey to the rolling hills of Delaware County to start a dairy farm. Wood built his herd from cows that had sailed across the Atlantic Ocean from the British Island of Guernsey. He called his operation “Wawa” after his new hometown; its name derives from the Ojibwe Indian word for “Canadian goose.” The wild Canadian goose in flight was recruited as the company logo.
The Wood family sold milk until people stopped relying on glass bottles delivered to their doorstep in the 1960s. In 1964 the family opened its first food market on MacDade Boulevard in Folsom. That was some 600 stores and countless millions of paper cups of coffee ago. Wawa serves well over 100 million cups of coffee every year - it is the 8th largest seller of coffee in America behind only national chains with names like Starbucks, McDonalds and Dunkin’ Donuts. All that coffee helps wash down the 80 million Shorti hoagies and other sandwiches it sells each year.
Wawa did not start sell- ing gasoline at its stores until 1996. Today one percent of all the gas in America is pumped at a Wawa. That same year Wawa began its now-famous program of no usage fees at its in-store ATMs - a convenience that customers have taken advantage of more than one billion times. Yes, Wawa has saved its customers more than $1 billion in bank fees. No wonder
Wawa has over one million “likes” on its Facebook page.
It will not be long after you move to Philly before you find yourself in a Wawa. You may even come face-to-beak with Wally, the Wawa goose mascot, who is kept busy officiating over individual store mile- stones. Wawa may be without peer as a convenience store but it is not without competition. 7-Eleven is still in the market and Turkey Hill of Lancaster County, with its super-creamy ice cream, offers gas sta- tion-food stores in the western suburbs.
Also in the western suburbs Altoona-based Sheetz has begun opening stores. Sheetz, with its flashy red stores, is to Western Penn- sylvania what Wawa is to Philadelphia. One thing Pennsylvania seems to have perfected is the convenience store. As the two chains have both expanded southwards they are bumping into each other’s territories. Partisans are lining up; battle lines are being drawn. The convenience store wars have even caught the attention of the Wash- ington Post and the New York Times. Remember, you’re in Philadel- phia now - the right choice is Wawa.
What’s Up With...All the Cars Parked in the Middle of the Street?
You will see them there at any time of the day, lined up with impu- nity in the middle of South Broad Street. Supposedly it is illegal to park a car in the middle of the street but no tickets are ever handed out. Why that is so and how the practice began is one of the enduring mysteries in Philadelphia. It has been going on for so long there are as many theo- ries as cars rolled up onto medians. Some say center- of-the-street parking began a century ago when Broad Street was lined with funeral homes and the police gave mourners a pass on illegal parking. Others just point to the thousands of row houses without garages and a paucity of legal spaces. But there are no answers, it just is.
So when you’re in South Philadelphia, give it a try. After all, there is no faster way to earning your Philadelphia bonafides than fighting a parking ticket in traffic court.
What’s Up With...All the Trolleys?
San Francisco’s cable cars get all the fawning love for quaint in- tracity mass transit but Philly’s fleet of antique trolley cars deserve a shout out as well. Just about every major American city has torn up its streetcar system over the years. Philadelphia was busy ripping down as well. There were once 4,000 trolleys on 65 lines across the city. But SEPTA (Southeast Pennsylvania Transportation Authority) stopped short of complete destruction. Five street-level and subway lines still operate in the city and out to select suburban towns on al- most twenty miles of track. The trolley cars run down the center of city streets with passengers boarding from stations perched precari- ously in narrow medians.
In 2005 SEPTA plowed $100 million into opening another trol- ley line along Girard Avenue beside Fairmount Park; the line dated back to 1859 when it was served by horse-pulled cars. You can now ride SEPTA Route 15 on circa 1947 Deco-style trolley cars that were rebuilt from the wheels up to the tune of $1.3 million per car.
What’s Up With...the Mummers?
Only a handful of parades have a national reputation - Mardi Gras in New Orleans, the Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade in New York City, the Rose Parade in Pasadena...and the Mummers
Parade on New Year’s Day in Philadelphia. Mummers date back to antiquity, costumed entertainers who danced in the New Year dur- ing fanciful festivals. The Old World traditions, however, were ignored almost everywhere in America save for Philadelphia. Mummery was recorded on the banks of the Delaware River with the original Swedish settlers in the 1600s. By the 1800s end-of-year revelers had loosely organized into groups who would travel through Philadelphia neigh- borhoods singing songs and dancing in accompaniment to discharging firearms.
The City organized the first official Mummers Parade on January 1,
1901. Over the years costumes became more and more outlandish - especially in the depiction of women who were not allowed to join in the merriment until the 1970s - and clubs staged fundraising events throughout the year to finance participation.
The parade today includes over 10,000 marchers competing in four divisions: Comic, Fancy, Fancy Brigade and String Band. Many of the celebrants labor under costumes weighing 100 pounds or more; a captain’s costume alone can cost $10,000. Weather is always a con- cern leading up to the Mummers Parade with windy conditions being more of a concern than cold due
to the costumes. In addition the parade fans can watch the Fancy Brigades practice and put the finishing touches on props during the Mummer Fest at the Pennsylvania Convention Cen- ter in the days leading up to the New Year.
What’s Up With...the Main Line?
Start listing those area’s in America oozing “old money” and it never takes long to get to Philadelphia’s Main Line. Hollywood cemented the Main Line’s cachet in 1940 with the romantic comedy, the Phila- delphia Story featuring the socialite hijinks of Cary Grant, Katharine Hepburn and Jimmy Stewart.
Back in the 1800s there actually was a “main line” - the tracks built by the Pennsylvania Railroad heading west out of Philadelphia to Lancaster and Harrisburg and eventually all the way to Chicago. The railroad owned most of the land surrounding its tracks and to en- courage development it built way stations two minutes apart from Overbrook in the city out to Paoli in Chester County.
It was not a hard sell to lure wealthy Philadelphians out of the city in the 1800s. Thick smoke from factories choked the skies and horses and rooting pigs fouled the streets making humid summers particu- larly unbearable. Large country estates were favored as much for the “healthy living” as they were for their status. The tiny stations de- veloped into now-familiar towns with names like Wynnewood, Vil- lanova, Gladwyne and Ardmore. Some of the country’s most famous private schools - Bryn Mawr, Rosemont, Haverford - were founded to serve the tonynew communities. And the residents gathered in some of America’s most exclusive clubs - Merion Cricket Club, Gulph Mills Club, the Philadelphia Country Club.
As you can imagine, there are plenty of towns looking to join the “Main Line.” Today just about any affluent town in Philadelphia’s western suburbs will try to squeeze under the Main Line umbrella, especially in real estate listings. That includes such towns as Media (Route 1), Newtown Square (Route 3) and Valley Forge (I-76). But the core of the Main Line remains the original towns born of money along Lancaster Pike (Route 30) and the old Pennsylvania Railroad.
What’s Up With...All the Murals?
Back in 1984 the City of Philadelphia was waging a losing battle in the war on grafitti. A young muralist named Jane Golden was hired to channel the talents of the city’s young street artists into more pro- ductive projects. In the three decades the Mural Arts Program under Golden has shepherded over 3,600 murals into existence and engaged thousands of at-risk youths with art education programs.
Philadelphia has more murals than any city in America. In the process the public art has moved well beyond the purview of aban- doned brick warehouses. At the Philadelphia International Airport the Mural Arts Program has transformed its parking garage with an 85,000-square foot mural called How Philly Moves that shimmers with kinetic energy when viewed from I-95 at, theoretically, 55 miles per hour.