Tacony/Tookany Creek Creates a Lasting Impression
By Rita Yelda
Tookany/Tacony-Frankford (TTF) Watershed Partnership is partnering with Ambrose Liu of the Olney Culture Lab and Dr. Matthew Smalarz of Manor College to record in-person interviews with community members as part of a two-year Tacony Creek Park Stories project. Manor College, which sits along the Jenkintown Creek at the headwaters of the TTF watershed, is developing an Oral History repository.
Tacony Creek Park Stories is a two-part effort collecting and sharing park and neighborhood history and memories, and then working with local artists to bring these stories to life, making the collective story of Tacony Creek Park more accessible to the community. As part of this project, TTF is proud to share this blog with you based on a December 2018 interview with Dan Donahue, a Philadelphia resident with family history in Olney.
Our childhood experiences still inform who we are today as adults. Formative experiences such as playing on swings, falling in the creek, or spotting a new bird can become etched in our memory. This can certainly be said for Philadelphia resident Dan Donahue, who grew up in Olney and has lasting memories of Tacony/Tookany Creek and what it meant for him to be able to play outside.
With his mother and two grandmothers living in Olney and Feltonville beginning in the ‘’40s and ‘50s, Dan’s family is no stranger to Northeast Philadelphia. His grandmothers, mother, and his seven siblings all grew up in the area during different decades, watching the neighborhood grow and change with them.
“My one grandmom lived at Fifth and Fisher, which is in Olney; my other grandmom lived on Second Street, Second and Wyoming, which I think technically is Feltonville. But they were connected by Incarnation Parish, which is at Fifth and Lindley, which is kind of in the middle,” Dan explains. “We lived on a little street around the corner from my grandmother in Feltonville/Olney kind of area, just under the boulevard… it was actually a little street called Mentor Street.”
Growing up in a developed, urban environment, space for biking, walking, and relaxing in nature can seem few and far between. But like many children, growing up for Dan meant not staying inside the house during the summer. It was during this time that Dan began to realize the important role of green, open space for him and his siblings.
“We lived in a very little, kind of tight little street with no green around us whatsoever,” recalls Dan. Though Dan’s parents moved to New Jersey in the 1970’s, he and his siblings would come back to visit their grandmothers regularly. The children would spend weeks at a time in Feltonville and Olney during the summer, leading to the discovery of Tacony/Tookany Creek. Almost fifty years later, Dan and his sisters remember the playground near the Tacony/Tookany Creek and the time they spent playing near its banks.
“Olney, but even more so Feltonville, there wasn’t greenspace, so going there was probably a really big deal for us and that’s why all my sisters remember it so well, and we talk about Tacony/Tookany Creek all the time,” he says.
This exposure to open, green space created an enthusiasm about urban environmentalism within Dan and contributed to his passion for preserving greenspace in Philadelphia. Now living in Center City, Dan admires projects like Schuylkill Banks and the converting of old railroad tracks into parks and trails. “I just love when they kind of take areas and not only take advantage of the greenspace, but make public access to it.”
Tacony/Tookany Creek has provided an opportunity for Dan, and likely many other children, to access the natural world when they might not have otherwise. “In the ‘70s, Tacony/Tookany Creek was probably our only access to greenspace, because we didn’t really leave the city much,” adds Dan. “I’m positive that Tacony/Tookany Creek had a major impact on all of us appreciating nature, because it was our only exposure to nature. Like, we didn’t go to the beach. We didn’t go to the Poconos.”
Do you have a story to share? Whether you’ve been visiting the park for 50 years or just a few months, we’d love to hear from you. We are committed to gathering stories from the wide range of perspectives in our culturally and ethnically diverse park community. Interested in sharing your stories from the park? Contact firstname.lastname@example.org or call 215-744-1853. This project has been made possible with support from the Joseph Robert Foundation.