• Richmond Branch mystery

  • Discussion Related to the Reading Company 1833-1976 and it's predecessors Philadelphia and Reading Rail Road and then the Philadelphia and Reading Railway.
Discussion Related to the Reading Company 1833-1976 and it's predecessors Philadelphia and Reading Rail Road and then the Philadelphia and Reading Railway.

Moderator: Franklin Gowen

  by Bill R.
A little background for my question:

I recently had occasion to visit the Visitation BVM R.C. Church located at "B" Street and Lehigh Avenue. While there, the priest indicated that the stairs that had been installed on the front exterior of the church building were necessitated by a >10 foot reduction in the grade of Lehigh Avenue at this point. The priest claimed that construction of the Frankford Elevated structure required the street level to be lowered.

Something struck me as being incorrect about the assertion, given the "el" bridge span over Lehigh Avenue. I then consulted my copy of a commemorative book that was originally distributed at the opening ceremonies of the Frankford section of the "el" in 1922. A paragraph in the book specifically addresses construction of the span over Lehigh Avenue, and states:

"Where the structure crosses wide streets, such as Girard and Allegheny Avenues, columns were placed in the center of the cross street, but at Lehigh Avenue the are double (street)car tracks curving north from Lehigh Avenue into Kensington Avenue. This and the height of the structure of the structure at this point made it undesirable to place columns in the street, and the steel arches of 112 feet 6 inches span were designated to carry the structure. The arches were placed over the sidewalks of Kensington Avenue near the curb line with abutment piers of concrete carried down to rock. The tracks were spread at this point to bring loads out adjacent to the arch ribs and to the columns which support the span over the Richmond Branch of the Reading Railway, which adjoins the arch on the north."

The inference, due to the reference of the structure height and lack of reference to any changing of street grades, is that the street grade at the Intersection of Kensington and Lehigh Avenues was already low. After looking at Google maps streetview, it occurred to me that the act of creating a grade separation of the Richmond Branch over Kensington Avenue may very well have required that Kensington Avenue be lowered, and that the lowering of Kensington Avenue in turn required the lowering of the grade of Lehigh Avenue. Lehigh Avenue slopes uphill toward "B" Street west of Kensington Avenue.

So, after all of that, my question is:

Is it true that the grade reduction along Lehigh Avenue in the vicinity of Kensington Avenue resulted from the Richmond Branch?

If so, does anyone know what year the street was lowered, and if the work was performed by the Reading and/or associated contractors or by The City of Philadelphia?
  by westernfalls
The PhillyHistory website has pictures of that area that may help with your mystery. In particular, the intersection of Lehigh and Kensington Aves. is depicted before and after the grade was lowered, and then later of the construction of the el.
  by Bill R.
Thanks for the info, westernfalls. Would you believe that I have phillyhistory.org saved to my desktop, but it never once crossed my mind to visit the website.

Great pictures of the intersection. There is a photo looking NE toward the Richmond Branch pre-grade separation dated August 12, 1912 and then another photo in the same direction post-grade separation dated May 4, 1914. So obviously it happened at some point during that slightly less than 21 month time period, and it existed about two years before construction of the "el" through the area. With this evidence, and having found online the annual Dept. of Public Works report to the Mayor of Philadelphia from the year 1910, I would say that the lowering of the street grade was definitely due to grade separation of the Richmond Branch.

P.S. I know this is the Reading Forum, but anyone interested in the history of the Market Frankford Subway Elevated will find great pictures of the construction. Type 'E Lehigh Ave & Kensington Ave' into the search text box marked Address.
  by JimBoylan
The style of concrete steps for houses near that church was common on many of the streets lowered for grade crossing eliminations in Philadelphia.